The Bizarre World of Florida

Vampires, nudists, snakes: Nobody does wacky like Florida April 7, 2014


By: Scott Maxwell

Last week, news broke that a congressional candidate in Gainesville had a secret pastime: impersonating vampires. And superheroes.

Some people would call this nutty.

In Florida, we just call it Tuesday.

Seriously, that’s not even our highest-profile vampire story. Remember the “vampire killings” from Lake County?

Some of our stories are heartbreakingly tragic. But so many are also mind-numbingly strange.

In Florida, we do weird the way Kansas does wheat.

Here, giant pet snakes escape. And breed. And then invade our national parks.

We have fish that eat people, alligators that eat people and people who eat people.

Two years ago, when news of the “cannibal attack” broke, the nation let out a collective gasp … until learning it was Miami. Then it all made sense.

We have killer amoebas, hanging chads and diaper-wearing astronauts. (All of which would make awesome rock-band names, by the way.)

We have a town named Christmas … where it never snows. We have the world’s smallest post office and a couple trying to build America’s largest house.

I used to think Florida attracted wacky people. Now I think it creates them.

Take my grandfather, for example.

Early in his life, he was a NASA engineer in Virginia — and as strait-laced and buttoned-down as they came. His passions were photography and crossword puzzles.

Then he moved to Florida. After Grandma died, we worried that our sober and contemplative grandfather would become listless and uninspired.

He became neither of those things. Instead, he became a nudist. (Lending more credence to the notion that it’s never the people you want to see naked at a nudist resort.)

At first, we were all: What the heck, Granddad?

But you know what? He found new life and inspiration. He’d travel down Interstate4 from Ormond Beach to Cypress Cove, where he’d pay strict adherence to the two main rules: Never take pictures, and always place a towel on the bar stool before you sit down.

Florida liberated him. And he spent the remaining, widowed years of his life happy. So you go, Granddad.

By the way, nudity is another one of our weird themes.

•”Nude man found dead on killer whale’s back”

•”Florida Lotto winner seeks to open a nude dude ranch”

•”Blind woman sues nudist colony over heavy dog”

Florida newspapers carry such headlines the way other papers carry horoscopes.

Some of that is understandable. It’s hot down here.

And I don’t mean happy, sand-at-your-toes, wind-in-your-hair hot. I mean sweaty-thighs-stuck-to-your-car-seats, armpit-stains-like-dinner-plates hot. It’s enough to make anyone nutty. And naked.

But it cuts both ways. When it’s hot, it makes us crazy. When it’s pleasant, we attract other states’ crazies. I mean, if it’s January and you’re already planning to run a scam, con or heist, would you rather do it in Buffalo or Boynton Beach?

This state is also lousy with newspapers and TV stations, meaning we have more ink-stained wretches and blow-dried broadcasters than your average state to tell all the weird stories.

Finally, there’s our melting-pot effect.

You simply can’t throw so many different cultures together and not expect some fireworks.

But you know what? That is also part of what makes this state so splendidly unique.

We have character and texture — a bouillabaisse of native and newcomer, sinner and saint, scholar and simpleton.

It’s a fusion that produces a weeklong bacchanalia in Key West and pioneering medical research at the Burnham Institute.

It’s the reason Orlando can turn out just as many people for a Veterans Day parade as it does for Come Out With Pride.

And it explains how a mild-mannered rocket engineer can feel inspired to start a new life by ditching his pocket protector — along with everything else he’s wearing.

And, yes, it’s also how we end up with some of the wackiest politicians in America — including a vampire-impersonating, superhero-mimicking, punk-rock lawyer running for Congress.

Just what we need … another lawyer in Congress.


Man, 83, was having a bad day … he fights off three attackers then has his car stolen the next day April 2, 2014

poorguy_12881527_8colAn 83-year-old Pinellas Park man who was ambushed, beaten and stabbed by three teenagers is a victim again! This time it looks like those same suspects came back and stole his car.

All of this started Tuesday around 10 a.m. when Charles Clark was getting out of his car at his apartment complex, when one of the suspects came from behind and started beating him and then stabbed him. Another person tried to beat Clark as well, but Clark was able to fight him off. He then screamed for help and once neighbors noticed what was going on, the three teens fled on their bikes.

At the time police didn’t think the teens were able to steal anything, but Clark said he thought they wanted his car. It turns out the suspects did steal his car keys and at some point late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, police believe they returned and took off in Clark’s car.

Around 4 a.m. police noticed Clark’s car was missing and found three bicycles near his parking spot. His vehicle was later found abandoned in a St. Petersburg neighborhood. It is currently being processed for evidence.

Police describe the suspects as two teenage boys — one in his early teens and the other in his late teens — and a girl in her early to mid teens with a heavier build and reddish, brown hair which she was seen continually trying to stuff into a gray hooded sweatshirt.

Below are surveillance images of two of the suspects riding bikes shortly before Tuesday’s attack:


Man, 80, robbed while visiting hooker named Amy, err … make that Frank March 27, 2014

sfl-boca-raton-robbery-prostitute-20140325A Deerfield Beach man arranged an afternoon rendezvous with a prostitute, but instead of getting a sexual favor, he got robbed, according to Boca Raton police.

The 80-year-old man was expecting to meet with a female prostitute named Amy just before 1 p.m. on Sunday at the Quality Inn at 2899 North Federal Highway, but when he got there, he quickly figured out that “Amy” — clad in a leopard-print leotard —was actually “Frank.”

And when the victim left the room, another man came around the corner and took the victim’s cell phone and wallet, according to a police report.

The victim told police that he had met “Amy” online, and the two agreed to meet at a hotel room. Police did not know if the victim knew whether “Amy” was a man or a woman.

After arriving at the hotel on Sunday afternoon, he saw “Amy” face-to-face and told him that something didn’t feel right. He told “Amy” he needed to leave, according to the report.

Security footage posted to Boca Raton Police Chief Dan Alexander’s Facebook page shows the 80-year-old standing outside the hotel room when a different man walks up from behind.

The victim went to the lobby to wait for police and saw the man who robbed him leave the hotel, police said.

Police have not arrested the robbery suspect, but think he goes by the alias “Chief,” and is in his 20s or 30s.

Boca Raton police spokeswoman Sandra Boonenberg said police don’t know whether “Amy” and the unidentified suspect were working together. She said “Amy” is cooperating with police and is not facing any charges.

Alexander on his Facebook page urged people to remember “trysts” with prostitutes often lead to robberies.

“There are certainly better [and safer] ways to find companionship,” he wrote. “Let’s be careful out there.”


Man beat dad, 87, with sledgehammer in fight over vacuum March 20, 2014

allen-croskey-marion-031914A Marion County man has been arrested after Ocala police say he attacked his elderly father with a sledgehammer over a vacuum cleaner.

Detectives said Allen Croskey, 55, got in a fight Wednesday with his 87-year-old father because of a ruined vacuum.

Police said Croskey told detectives he had come home from eating at a soup kitchen Wednesday morning to find his father in the carport. His father yelled at him about breaking the vacuum cleaner and, while holding a sledgehammer in his hands, told Croskey to leave.

Detectives said Croskey then went to a neighbor’s house, took a piece of pipe from a chain-link fence, and struck his father in the head with the pipe.

Once his father was on the ground and knocked out, police said Croskey picked up the sledgehammer and hit him in the face with it twice.

Police said Croskey, believing his father to be dead, got rid of the pipe and sledgehammer, dragged his father’s body into some bushes and covered it with blankets.

The father remains in critical condition, police said.

As police took Croskey into custody, he told us his dad was a paranoid schizophrenic who, in his words, “went berserk.”

Croskey also said his father “deserves a couple years in the hospital” over the vacuum cleaner issue.

We asked Croskey what led up to the attack, but police closed the doors to their patrol car and drove him to the Marion County Jail before he could answer us.


How an 81-year-old woman ended up in jail with no bond February 1, 2014

24606118_BG1The court clerk of Highlands County says it’s possible that 81-year-old Mary Musselman, the woman accused of feeding bears and threatening several law enforcement officers, will remain in jail until a hearing on March 3rd.

Authorities say she fed bears outside of her home, despite repeated requests to stop.

Tonight, friends are desperate for the justice system to find an alternative to incarceration.

A group of the former middle school teacher’s physical education students five of her former physical education students prayed outside of her home on Friday night.

“She taught us girls how to walk, talk, do our nails, stand up straight, and be respectful,” said former student Karrol Tedder.

“Dear Lord, we are just here for Mr. and Mrs. Musselman. We just pray that you will give the justice system guidance,” said another former student, Karen Andrews.

Because she was already on probation for allegedly feeding bears, when she was arrested this time, the court says she is not eligible for bond.

Plus, authorities say she resisted arrest and threatened to kill the officers.

Close family friends say she is suffering from dementia.

“I just can’t imagine her intentionally breaking the law,” said Andrews.

The FWC reiterated feeding bears can make them aggressive towards people, and also incapable finding food on their own.

They even say one of the bears Musselman fed had to be put down.

Despite repeated requests and educational efforts by the FWC over three months, they say Musselman’s actions could have led to danger.

“We sympathize with her and her husband. This is a situation that deteriorated through time. It’s an unfortunate outcome,” said FWC spokesman Gary Morse.

We did speak to a family friend who told us that he supports what authorities are doing.

But the FWC’s sympathy didn’t help Musselman’s former students, who visited the outside of the jail, even knowing visiting hours for inmates were over.

“I’m sure she’s probably scared,” said Tedder. “I would be, and I’m not 81. I would be totally scared. I hope they have her somewhere where she’s safe.”

The court says a special bond hearing can’t be held until she hires a lawyer, which so far has not happened. “

It will be a long weekend for these former students, but maybe longer for Musselman.

“I’m sure she’s confused and scared and sad and wondering what the heck is going on,” said Andrews.


Dentures dislodged in tire wear tiff December 28, 2013

An argument over where a mother-in-law should sit in a car so the weight ratio would even out on the tires turned into a denture dislodging dispute, according to recently released records.

oneal_velina_MUG-thumb-150x155-15004A 68-year-old man told Port St. Lucie police Dec. 8 that he was in a car being driven by his wife, 63-year-old Velina Oneal. The man’s 92-year-old mother also was in the vehicle, and they were driving back from a church service.

The man said Oneal started arguing about where his mother was seated.

“Velina stated to him that she needed to sit in the middle of the back seat so that the weight ratio would even out on the rear tires,” a report states. “(The man) told Velina not to insult his mother, and an argument erupted.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the 92-year-old woman’s location in the vehicle could impact tire wear.

The man said Oneal hit him in his dentures, which started to fall out.

“To keep them from exiting his mouth, he bit down unaware that her finger was still in his mouth,” the report states.

The 92-year-old woman gave a similar account, saying Oneal gets violent toward her and her son. She said Oneal “constantly” harasses her over her weight.

Meanwhile, Oneal said she and her mother-in-law don’t speak. She talks to her mother-in-law through her husband.

“She told (her husband) to tell (her mother-in-law) to move to the center of the back seat to even out the weight distribution on the back tires,” a report states.

Oneal said the demand angered her husband, who grabbed her hand, put her finger in his mouth and bit down.

Oneal eventually said “she swung her left hand at (her husband) and made contact with his dentures.”

Oneal, of the 700 block of Southwest Crean Terrace in Port St. Lucie, was arrested on a battery (domestic) charge.


Packing a surprise sucker punch is a fun game? November 29, 2013

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office has arrested a juvenile in connection with two random attacks reported in Lee County.

24078378_BG2Traveshia Blanks, of Fort Myers, is charged with two counts of battery on a person 65 years of age or older.

On Tuesday around 3:50 p.m., deputies responded to a report of a group of people who randomly attacked an unsuspecting victim in the area of South Pointe Boulevard.

“I was in shock. Who would expect anything from out of the blue to happen like that. There’s no reason had I done something or said something,” said the 72-year-old Fort Myers victim.

The victim stated that while he was weeding his garden, someone kicked him from behind, knocking him to the ground. The victim says he saw a teenage girl laughing at him before she walked back to join a larger group of teens.

“I didn’t hear anything. There was nobody in the area at all. It was very quiet [when] all of a sudden I felt a blow to my hip and I was on the ground. I turned around to see what happened and there was a girl standing there laughing,” he said.

Concerned citizens saw a group of suspicious teenagers walking down a nearby street and took several photographs with their cell phone, providing investigators with what would later be a crucial piece of evidence.

The investigation into the first incident continued and on Tuesday, a second victim contacted the sheriff’s office.

Harry Hurvitz, 89, told deputies that someone rang his doorbell, and he looked and saw several well-dressed teens standing outside his door and one of them appeared to be holding a cell phone or camera.

When he opened the door, one of the juveniles suddenly and without provocation slapped him in the face.

“I stepped out to see what she was pointing to and there was another girl standing here and wammmmmm,” explained Hurvitz.

The entire group then fled, laughing as they ran toward Principia Drive.

Hurvitz says he doesn’t want the teen behind bars, saying she needs treatment instead.

He adds he’s glad it was him and not someone else.

“There are lots of old ladies here who have guns and revolvers in their possesion and will not open the door unless they are fully armed,” he said. “And they will just let loose.”

Due to the age of the victims and the random, unprovoked nature of the attacks, the Major Crimes Unit began to investigate. With the assistance of the Youth Services Division, all of the teenagers captured in the witnesses’ cell phone pictures were quickly identified, including the suspect.

After being interviewed by detectives, the suspect admitted to both random attacks, which were witnessed by other teenagers.

At Blanks’ first appearance, a judge ordered her to spend 21 days in secure detention. Blanks can have no contact with the victims or co-defendants. Blanks’ family was in court but declined to comment on the incidents.

Her next court appearance is December 19th.

What’s all the hype?

We talked to students from nearby Cypress Lake High School who didn’t seem to think the teens did anything wrong.

“I’m not gonna say it’s not right and it’s not fun, because it is fun,” said a teen familiar with the game.

In many cases across the country, teens are recording the punches and kicks on their cell phones then posting them online. The attacks are often impossible to predict and prevent.

“What’s not fun about it? Just go up to a random person, slap them and run away,” said another teen.

This story also has personal ties to Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott. Last October, his daughter was sucker-punched on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University. The man who did it was caught and found guilty.


It looks like this dude apparently flipped his burger at a fast food restaurant October 1, 2013

sfl-flduh-beating-up-senior-mcdonalds-20130930-001A man accused of beating up a 69-year-old man at a McDonald’s faced a judge Sunday, who ordered he remain jailed.

Herbert Berganza, 20, started yelling obscenities and banging on the counter inside the Orange County McDonald’s, deputies said.  When the victim told employees, Berganza started punching Stephen Kirchon, said authorities.

Investigators said Kirchon then went into the bathroom, and Berganza followed him.

Kirchon told authorities Berganza started punching him again, and Kirchon fought back in self-defense.

Witnesses said they tried to help, and that Berganza was screaming he was going to sue everyone.

A witness stated that Kirchon was pleading for help, but Berganza refused to stop punching Kirchon.

Officers arrived and arrested Berganza, who authorities said made several spontaneous utterances while being transported.

They said Berganza stated that his hand hurt from punching Kirchon in the face. Officers stated that Berganza said he was going to sue everyone and he was going to make the officer lose his job for arresting him.

Berganza told the judge he became angry because someone stole his money.

Kirchon suffered a severe laceration to the right temple and complained of neck and back pain, but will be OK.


Laundromat bully accused of attacking elderly couple September 29, 2013

sfl-flduh-laundromat-bully-20130926-001Earlier this month, a 75-year-old man and his wife were spending an early morning washing their clothes at the Coin Laundry in North Fort Myers when a stranger approached them and told them not to use a “his” dryer, according to a report from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

The stranger’s order apparently agitated the senior, and the two exchanged words before the 6-foot-tall 220-pound man forcefully pushed the victim to the ground, then kicking him several times, according to the report.

When the man tried to call 911, his attacker reportedly took his phone and smashed it onto the ground.

It looks like this bully wasn’t about to come clean and take responsibility for his actions – the coward allegedly then ran away.

Wednesday night, detectives said they arrested the suspected bully, Ken Wood, just hours after several Crime Stoppers tips came in.

Wood, 55, has two prior arrests in Lee County – both for battery charges, records show.

Now he’s facing charges of battery on a person 65-years of age or old and property damage for smashing the victim’s cellphone, thus preventing him from calling 9-1-1 for assistance.

Maybe Wood should just come clean – authorities say the whole episode was recorded on surveillance video.


Woman looking for love scammed out of $50,000 September 6, 2013

sfl-flduh-love-scammed-50000-20130905-001A 66-year-old Ocala resident is a victim of a popular scam. The pitch: “I’m a contractor who is in the process of building a bridge in Malaysia and I need money to start the project.” This is a SCAM!

In this most recent incident the victim met the suspect via a popular online dating site. As their online relationship progressed, the victim told detectives she wired funds to help with the “building project.” The victim lost $50,000.

Remember, if something looks too good to be true, then it is most likely some form of a scam.



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