Seven months ago, Karen Winters lost her husband when strangers beat and robbed Fred Winters for his disability check, leaving him to die beside a rural road.
Sandy Sanford apparently took pity on the grieving widow, who had stopped eating and rarely left her home. He moved in, made her meals and took her grocery shopping.
But in a macabre chain of events Sunday night, investigators say, Sanford shot Karen Winters in the head, killed her brother-in-law -- Fred's younger brother -- and then torched her mobile home.
Police on Monday charged Bernard "Sandy" Eugene Sanford Jr., 62, with murder in the death of his friend, Nathaniel "Zane" Winters, 45, of 3624 Sid Jones Lane.
Sanford also was charged with second-degree arson and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury in the shooting of Karen Winters, 46, of 3733 Sun Catcher Lane.
The brawl may have stemmed from an attempt to evict Sanford from Karen Winters' mobile home, said Elaine Winters, Zane's wife.
Friends and family sorted through charred keepsakes Monday night near the mobile home and said the maelstrom of events was surreal.
"Everyone involved were nice people," neighbor William Blanton said. "You would just never think that anything like this would happen."
Police arrived shortly after 10:20 p.m. Sunday and found Zane Winters and Karen Winters on the mobile home's lawn, each with a gunshot wound to the head, said Jim Sughrue, police spokesman.
Moments later, smoke escaped from the rear of the cream-colored mobile home, Sughrue said. A third person emerged from the home, which had burst into flames.
Sanford suffered burns at the scene and was being treated at N.C. Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, police said.
Karen Winters was in stable condition Monday night in the intensive care unit at WakeMed Raleigh Campus and faces surgery to repair her face and airway.
Zane Winters died Monday afternoon, Sughrue said.
The blaze destroyed the mobile home in northeast Raleigh. An accelerant was used to feed the fire, said Fire Marshal Larry Stanford of the Raleigh Fire Department.
Raleigh police, including Chief Jane Perlov, returned to the scene Monday to investigate.
Sanford had lived at 3716 Sun Catcher Lane, several doors away, for many years. He left his brown mobile home, neighbors said, and moved in with Karen Winters in October, after the death of her husband, Phillip "Fred" Winters Jr.
After Sanford moved in, neighbors said, they saw a change in Karen Winters. Opinions about Sanford were divided Monday.
"[The move] was more for protection of Karen," Blanton said. "He really did that to help Karen and protect her."
Shattered by her husband's slaying, Karen Winters had become withdrawn, neighbors said. Sanford made sure she ate and got groceries, friend Rachel Matzner said.
Neighbor Denise Goodwin saw it differently.
"That man came in and took over her home," Goodwin said.
After Sanford moved in, Karen Winters grew silent, said Goodwin, a friend of Karen Winters' for more than 20 years. "It was like she was scared or something."
Investigators with the Franklin County Sheriff's Office arrested three people in November on charges of robbery and murder in Fred Winters' death.
In December, Sanford stopped paying the $235 monthly rent for his mobile home, court records say.
Last week, Southern Commercial Properties sued Sanford for $1,110 it says he owes for past- due rent, according to court records.
When Sanford learned he was being sued, he was afraid, said neighbor Betty Moore.
She described Sanford as smart but easily unnerved. "He would just go all to pieces," she said.
Zane Winters and his family lived in a mobile home about a block away. A father of two, Zane Winters watched after his family and was a guiding hand for his brother's widow, friend Angel Walker said.
"He was the glue that kept everyone together," Walker said.
(News researcher Brooke Cain assisted with this report.)
Staff writer Jennifer Brevorka can be reached at 836-4906 or email@example.com.