Showing posts with label Florida. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Florida. Show all posts

18 January 2024

The Uses of Mystery part 3: Tim Dorsey

It is probably a sign of old age, but lately I seem to get book recommendations from the New York Times's obits. Depressing as that may be, Tim Dorsey's December 2023 obituary led me to more interesting examples of the uses of our favorite genre, which in Dorsey's hands becomes the capacious satiric receptacle for obsessions and complaints, along with sex, drugs, rock and roll, fart jokes, and digressions on US policy and the CIA.

At least, that's the total for The Maltese Iguana and the opening pages of No Sun Screen for the Dead. But as Dorsey racked up 22 other novels, I am sure he found lots more of the Sunshine State to include.

In fact, that's certain. Dorsey, a former Tampa Tribune reporter, has not only a genuine love for his home state, but an encyclopedic knowledge of its history, geography and culture. Much of which he gifts to Serge A. Storms, his central character, who operates with his drugged up and alcoholic wingman, Coleman, a man with an uncanny ability to regain sentience at crucial moments.

These occur in rapid succession because the charismatic and voluble Serge combines features of two favorite mystery/ thriller protagonists: the lone avenger/ protector and the serial killer, an unusual combination that works for Serge. He's a one man consumer protection bureau, out for grifters, unscrupulous sales people, pandemic profiteers, and computer criminals, with a special look out for elderly victims.

Totally on the side of the angels is Serge, with just a little weakness for the extra-judicial punishments that, by the end of The Maltese Iguana, have left a body count to rival Hamlet. But don't expect blood spatter and weapons a la Dexter. Besides his knowledge of the weirder aspects of Florida history, Serge has science at his fingertips.

I won't spoil future reading pleasure with the details, but death by ping pong balls was never on my radar, and while the cause of the so called Havana Syndrome has eluded all experts, Serge not only knows the instrument but has his own version. 

In The Maltese Iguana, Serge and Coleman are the spine of the story, flitting in and out of the action while running The Underbelly Tours of the Florida Keys. Around them are two story lines, one, a CIA op in Honduras with a lively cast of wannabe militia types, an honest Honduran cop, and a CIA bodyguard in a sequined cowgirl costume. And two, and only slightly less flamboyant, the trials and tribulations of Reevis, an honest reporter in Miami.

How these story lines merge in a spectacular denoument involving the culminating shoot of a major motion picture is a thing of beauty, and Dorsey gets high marks for plotting as well as his marvelous titles. Who can resist monikers like Florida Roadkill, Atomic Lobster, or The Tropic of Stupid

The latter could, I suspect, be the title for any of his novels, for Serge, and in Iguana, Reevis, too, inveigh against stupidity in many forms, including foreign policy, the degradation of the press, corporate consultants, rampant marketing, and crowd think. 

The lively mystery is an armature for Dorsey's satiric observations, and genuine bad guys like the dubious "Colonel" come in for vicious caricatures. There are no shades of gray in this moral realm, and that is rather odd, given that Serge, himself, is equal parts White Knight and serial killer.  

But Serge is perhaps an acquired taste. While admiring the construction and the flamboyant prose of The Maltese Iguana, I did not really take to the protagonist, who, to my mind, is an irritating motor mouth of slender social skills. 

Still, conviction and energy count for much in prose, and Tim Dorsey has both in abundance, along with a lot of strong opinions and evidence of buried malfeasance. In his hands, mystery easily stretches to satire and social critique without ever losing its footing.



The Falling Men, a novel with strong mystery elements, has been issued as an ebook on Amazon Kindle. Also on kindle: The Complete Madame Selina Stories.


The Man Who Met the Elf Queen, with two other fanciful short stories and 4 illustrations, is available from Apple Books at:


The Dictator's Double, 3 short mysteries and 4 illustrations is available at:

04 June 2023

The Week in Pictures

For friends who claim I don’t reveal much truly personal, pfffft. End of month, I’m getting a colonoscopy. So there. That’s personal.

It’s not my first and afterwards, like Poe, I bought a pallet of bricks and walled up the bathroom remains in an attempt to protect future archeologists from planetary collapse.

Those so-called flavor-packs… what are they thinking? Brake fluid would taste better. At least this doctor, a gastroenterologist, allows Gatorade in the prep. And he has a sense of humor. Note this sign in their parking lot:

But what really prompted this article was a license plate on a nearby car. As I snapped the photo, a lady came strolling up, nicely, not aggressively. I explained why I was taking pictures of her car.

Nancy didn’t mind and explained it was her husband’s. He’s a writer, a real one, not merely professionally published, but award winning. Peer closely at the license tag and notice the frame around the plate. He’s a winner of the Bram Stoker award for Best First Novel and a Stoker award for Lifetime Achievement. Pretty damn cool.

Obviously he writes in the horror genre. He goes by Owl Goingback and happens to be the only other non-romance fiction writer I’ve come across in Central Florida.

Computer programs that generate tag numbers are designed to weed out certain combinations. Obscenity is an obvious category, whether automatically generated or requested by a car owner. Florida rejects about 500 request a year, not counting those manufactured by the state in the format of XYZ•123.

But vulgarity isn’t the only filtered category. You won’t see plates with certain combinations:

  • FBI-123     CIA-123     IRS-123
  • DEA-123     ATF-123     IBM-123
  • and so on…

IBM? True. It’s among the many forbidden combinations. Thus I was surprised to pull up behind a vehicle bearing a tag certain to outrage Florida’s book-banning obscenity police.

As I returned home, a traffic light caught me at Lee Road (they misspelled my name) and I-4, I noticed a license tag.

I can’t wait til the governor discovers this affront to book burners across the state. It must be a conspiracy. Its left part is as pornographic, lascivious, lecherous, licentious, libidinous, and scabrous as the right. Our governor will clutch his wee pearls. Surely, that cannot be an accident.

Will the governor’s appointees plan a plate burning? Or bonfire the entire car? Or torch the hapless party who allowed this… this… this lewd, rude, dirty, filthy, vulgar, foul, coarse, crude, gross, vile, nasty, disgusting, offensive, shameless, immoral smut to sully America’s roads?

That’s personal.

24 May 2023

Moms Get Mad (and Get Lawyers)

Back in February, I wrote a piece about publishers cleaning up writers who’d fallen out of fashion, or more to the point, whose work would sound offensive to the contemporary ear – specific examples being Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, and Agatha Christie.  This is a practice commonly known as bowdlerization, after Dr. Thomas Bowdler, who published a 19th-century edition of Shakespeare with the naughty bits eliminated.  Aside from the insult to the authors, my chief complaint is that it irons out context.

Mencken once remarked that a Puritan is someone who’s afraid that somebody, somewhere, is having fun.

The latest iteration of book-banning has dragged in Satan worship and the predatory sexual grooming of children, so plainly, calmer heads haven’t prevailed.  It’s belaboring the obvious to say that the fight against Woke is consciously a fight to marginalize the ‘other,’ and personally, I think the rest of us would be better off if these mouth-breathers were out of the gene pool, but far be it from me.

Which brings us to Ron DeSantis.

  DeSantis is fighting above his weight class, going after the Mouse.  Disney is going to wipe the canvas with him.  And instead of being a savvy, calculating political animal, triangulating his every advantage, he’s advertising himself as a vindictive little shit, who simply isn’t ready for prime time.  Are we meant to take any of it seriously?

Here’s the next wrinkle.

  A group of Florida moms have taken aim at book-banning by filing a lawsuit in federal court.  This is a direct response to a national right-wing organization known as Moms for Liberty, which spearheads the effort to remove titles from school curricula and public libraries.  (565 books were targeted in Florida, during the 2021-2022 school year.)  This lawsuit has been joined by PEN America, by some of the writers whose work has been censored, and by Penguin Random House – Penguin of course a division of Bertelsmann, the biggest publisher in the world.  Stop and think about that for a minute.  Does the state of Florida really want to take on Bertelsmann, in the wake of the Disney mess?

Bertelsmann has a dog in this fight.  The way to wrap your head around it is to realize the big money isn’t in James Paterson or Diana Gabaldon, no disrespect.  The big money’s in textbooks.  And a state like Texas, or Florida, has an oversize influence, because they buy a lot of schoolbooks.  In practice, this means that what passes muster in Texas or Florida, then winds up in Massachusetts and California.  The tail wags the dog.  You can’t produce different editions of a schoolbook for different states and political persuasions.  It defeats any economy of scale.  What just might be happening in this case, though, is that a major publisher is putting Florida on notice.  You may recall the DeSantis administration, or more specifically, the Florida department of education, recently rejected a very large percentage of textbooks, complaining they were tainted with Critical Race Theory, among other transgressions.

The most interesting thing about this new lawsuit is that it doesn’t challenge Florida statute, head-on. We might acknowledge that school boards or library trustees have the authority to pull books, under established process.  But the suit considers First Amendment issues.  The official – governmental – suppression of disfavored ideas is clearly a violation.  This could have legs.

See you in court.

19 February 2023

Florida News – Fakes and Frauds Edition

Florida postcard

Whenever I finish one of the Florida news articles, out of sheer exhaustion, I doubt I’ll write another. But when one lives in such a state with a cornucopia of crazies, it’s impossible and ungrateful not to embrace such riches.

As before, items here are ‘news’ only in the sense events have transpired since the previous edition. If nothing else, you must read the last item.

No Dead Lawyer Jokes, Please

Pinellas County, FL.  The attorney who defeated the state’s helmet law dies in a motorcycle crash while, wait for it, not wearing a helmet.

That Father-Daughter Relationship

Nassau County, FL.  Two stand-your-ground road-rage warriors decide to settle matters with a gunfight. Their aim is as poor as their judgment as they accidentally shoot each other’s daughters.

The War Postponed

Putnam County, FL.  Dude wants to ignite a war on Sunday. He’ll have to wait– he got himself arrested.

The War Continued

Polk County, FL.  Good Samaritan rings doorbell to deliver mis-delivered medication … stand-your-ground something …  recipient and son arm themselves, figuring the coming Sunday war has arrived … shoot up innocent woman on her cell phone … Celebrity Sheriff Grady Judd explains it better than I.

Mathematics in Black and White

Leon County, FL.  You may have heard our governor banned more than 4 out of 10 math books (7 of 10 under grade 6) because of BLM and CRT and, um, dark arithmetic stuff. People who actually read all 54 rejected books found only one possible reference to the dark arts and sciences… but one commonality seemed to be black authors. Meanwhile in response to think tank recommendations, the governor said he is considering shutting down all advanced placement programs to prevent indoctrination of our precious students.

FBI Raids Orlando Museum of Art

Orange County, FL.  In a town in a county in a state that confuses family entertainment with the arts (or the lack thereof) and confuses black with binomial, the FBI forged ahead with a raid of Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings (or not) that raises interesting questions.

Yo-Yo Car Dealers

Sumter Co, FL.  Know that feeling when you purchase a bright and shiny automobile and before the new-car smell wears off, the dealer calls you back in, saying you have to negotiate a new deal with worse terms? No? You must not live in Florida.

Thieves Call 911

Polk County, FL.  Genius criminals call 911 for help hauling goods and catching a flight.

Operation Nightingale

Date County, FL.  FBI raids again! This time they’ve taken on a number of nursing schools in South Florida, which have churned out 7600 falsified nursing certificates amid a number of legitimate certificates. (Reports claim three schools are affected, but the real number is five or six schools under three different legal entities.)

Sign of the [Tampa Bay] Times

Hillsborough County, FL    At Brad Raffensperger’s press conferences, I found myself fascinated by one of his sign language interpreters, the bald guy with the white beard. His listen-up, wimps, don’t make me repeat myself, no-nonsense demeanor hammered home the rivets of the Georgia Secretary of State’s message.

Not Florida (Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger press conference)

That’s sign language! Here in Florida, uh, not so much. A television press conference sign language interpreter volunteers for the Sheriff’s department and turns out to be… well, not an interpreter. She is a fake, a marvelous forgery in the flesh. Note: Authorities aren’t certain if she was a former nursing student.

04 September 2022

Florida News Part 2

Florida ashtray with misspellings

Continued from last time…

Kids Say the Darnedest Things

An Alaska Airlines plane was isolated at Orlando Airport after a 10-year-old lad with an iPhone radioed the plane had been hijacked. Fun fact: The minimum age for federal crimes that usually apply to planes is 11.

Lavender Lights

Mood lighting has come to Central Florida streets. For reasons authorities don’t understand, more than 600 malfunctioning LED lights have turned purple from their original white. Locals are now asking for disco balls and dance music.

Another Day, Another Gator

Social media marveled at a bicyclist calmly waiting for an alligator to cross the road. A person remarked that the cyclist must be local. Unfortunately the Bureau of Tourism appears to have removed the video, perhaps from fear of scaring away visitors. If gators are going about their business and you stay out of their way, they’ll leave you alone. Last year a bike rider was bitten– he’d fallen off his bike and landed virtually on top of the startled reptile.

And Yet Another

Alligators up to four, less than five feet (~1⅓m) are manageable, but after that, a human is outclassed in mass and strength. Imagine an 11-footer (more than 3⅓ metres) in your swimming pool. Nuh-uh, that’s a bit much even for me, especially during mating season. And crocodiles… Yiii! I avoid.


And Another

My friend Thrush sent me this item. B-b-b-bed? Seriously? Look, when raised young, they can make good, clean, quiet, protective pets, not a girlfriend. One of those arguments, “Brr. Your feet are freezing,” might not turn out so well.

And Another

The headline, ‘Florida man dies while searching for frisbees in a gator-infested lake,’ might sound of levity, but the story is sad to the extreme. We're talking pricey frisbee golf discs, and homeless men wade in lakes, hoping to retrieve enough to sell for food.

Bearly Here

Bad enough Floridians find alligators lazing in their swimming pools, but some, like my friend Thrush, put up with bears. Given a choice, I’d rather deal with a gator than a bear as this video demonstrates.

Bearly There

What‽ I have no idea how to caption this: grocery store, pitchfork, whip, stabbing an SUVAdditional information made it worse. How do you link teddy bears to pitchforks and whips?

Hog Haven

And if wild bear isn’t enough, what about wild boar? The retirement community of Sun City is supposed to offer drama-free living, but feral swine have settled in.

Homicidal Sand Dunes

If you’ve managed to avoid alligators, wild boars and bears, watch out for murderous sands. The strange fact is that lovely sand can be dangerous, even deadly, and the lethal physics of wet sand, dry sand, and dunes are all different and life-threatening in different ways. Dry sand might be the worst because you will almost certainly require outside assistance. Here are survival tips.

Another Reptile

A jewelry store owner averts a multi-million dollar diamond theft by locking the would-be perpetrator in the vault.

Hot Pursuit

Motorcycles in Florida… it’s a thing in a state where Bike Week lasts three hundred and sixty days. Osceola reportedly receives a complaint bikers are harassing motorists and waving pistols at them. Deputies follow a random rider who appears oblivious to the drama and pulls into a Kissimmee service station. They guy uncorks his tank, starts pumping fuel, and wham!

A deputy tases him. The ‘suspect’ erupts in a fireball ‘cooking him alive.’

Gasoline → fumes → spark → explosive, right?

The taser-happy deputy may have been denser than the oak of a nightstick, but he wasn’t trying to kill the guy. The victim suffered devastating burns over more than three-quarters of his body and survival is still touch-and-go. But here we have a problem.

After ages of no apparent reaction and refusals to bring in FDLE (Florida’s state police), the sheriff announced he’s charging the victim with four counts despite no evidence he was associated with marauding bikers and casually took time to top off his tank. No gun was found on or around the victim, nor anywhere on gas station premises. At this point, locals express doubt the victim was involved with an crime, suggesting Osceola County might be trying to forestall a liability lawsuit. Police should have considerable video coverage from air and road, but the Sheriff's Department is not responding to FOIA requests nor releasing video.

Rick Voldemort Scott
Senator Rick Scott

What Did You Expect?

The Republican Senate Campaign fund is missing tens of millions of dollars– perhaps a couple of hundred million– including tens of thousands for private air charters buried in a Waffle House line item. Only one man knows for sure and he’s on a yacht elsewhere. Florida’s Rick Scott who masterminded the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in history. His fine alone was $1.7-billion, that’s Billion with a B. So when the GOP wanted a financial genius to care for precious donations, who did they put in charge? Wait, you peeked!

Twerking While Intoxicated

An arrest warrant was issued for a woman who invaded a McDonald’s, partially trashed the place, and then, er, twerked upon exiting. Fortunately we do not have video.

Driving While Distracted

A couple crashed into a FedEx truck whilst engaged in an, uh, moving violations. (So many possible puns.) I cannot improve upon the observation of the Yahoo reporter: “The only package harmed was the one being attentively gift-wrapped by the passenger of the SUV.”

21 August 2022

Florida News Part 1

Florida postcard

Like Whack-a-Mole, the Sunshine State germinates and hatches weird news stories faster than a journalist can pursue them. The delay… yeah, the delay is the coronavirus’ fault. The stories had to go into quarantine. Yeah, that’s it. I can’t keep up, so the best I can say is that these are ‘news’ since my previous installment. We’ll begin Part 1 with privilege and politics.

Movie Theatre Murder Update

In 2014, we reported retired police captain Curtis Reeves murdered Chad Oulson and wounded his wife who, during previews, was sending a text message to their babysitter. Movie previews. The captain pled self-defense, which seemed farfetched even in this shoot-first / stand-your-ground state of insanity. But lo and behold, a jury earlier this year acquitted Reeves, who claimed he’d been in fear of being attacked… by popcorn.

Matt Gaetz Privileged Driving Award I

Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse was driving one fine evening when a tree, apparently intoxicated, leaped in front of Kruse’s Ford truck. Commissar Kruse did what any sensible man of means would do, he phoned his wife. After a little more thought, he phoned police. By the time deputies arrived, Kruse was sitting in his wife’s car. We’re not here to say he was drunk, but when he exited the car he was schlurring shyllables and schtumbling and schtaggering. Wifey blamed the “shitshow asphalt,” whatever that means.

Since police couldn’t place him in the wreckage of the truck, he was let off, but took swings at his critics, claiming he is the victim of a political witch hunt. Unfortunately authorities utterly failed to investigate or interrogate the tree.

Matt Gaetz Privileged Driving Award II

Flagler County Commissioner and Vice Chairman Joe Mullins likes to drive very, very fast in his red Ferrari and his Mercedes, and he pulls his privilege card whenever stopped for speeding, more than 90mph twice in the month of June alone. Even when cops give him a break by knocking a few mph off his speed, he warns them not to make any career-ending moves and informs them he “runs the county.”

Charming fellow. He helped arrange bussing of protestors to the January 6th insurrection, although afterwards he claimed he feared getting too close to the crowds storming the Capitol. When asked to resign as Commissioner, he refused. Then he was accused of fraud and racketeering, selling counterfeit Masters Golf Tournament tickets and phony badges to a travel company, a scheme that approached and might exceed a million dollars. Once again, the perpetrator claims it’s a political witch hunt and remains in office.

Ron DeSantis Abuse of Power Award

But guess who doesn’t remain in office? An elected State Attorney that Governor DeSantis stripped of his title following critical remarks about abortion laws. Previous Governor Rick Scott once attempted to remove Orange County’s elected State Attorney whom he didn’t like, but stopped short, merely taking cases away from her. In this case, State Attorney Andrew Warren is suing the governor, citing free speech and blatant abuse of power.

Matt Gaetz Jeffrey Epstein Award

Which reminds me, Matt’s ‘wingman’ (his words, not mine) in the world of teenage lust, Joel Greenberg, would finally, absolutely, most certainly be sentenced this month. Except he won’t as cooperation continues in what Gaetz considers a political witch hunt. Greenberg’s next sentencing date is 1 December.

If our (allegedly) corrupt politicos are correct, nary a hunted witch or warlock shall remain in Florida, not even Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. How do we manage to keep electing these creatures?

02 March 2022

Two Truths and a Lie

Lisa Sandlin's The Do-Right (2015) was one of the two best debut private eye novels I have read in decades.  (The other was Joe Ide's IQ.)  The Private Eye Writers of America wisely agreed with me, giving her the Shamus Award for best first.  The sequel, The Bird Boys, was nominated for best paperback private eye novel in 2019, and the New York Times proclaimed it one of the ten best crime novels of the year.  I invited her to write something for SleuthSayers and she sent us a review of a highly relevant book.

— Robert Lopresti


by Lisa Sandlin

Ellen McGarrahan’s book Two Truths and a Lie: A Murder, A Private Investigator, and Her Search for Justice (Random House, 2021) has been categorized as a memoir and as true crime. It’s both. What makes it remarkable, what caught all my attention, was not only the expressive, dynamic, honest writing, but the motive for such writing. McGarrahan’s book is a soul search. A crusade she can’t quit until her soul quietens enough to let her go.

At seven a.m. on February 20, 1976, a Florida trooper and his friend, a visiting Canadian constable, pulled their cruiser into a rest stop to check on a beater Camaro. They found two men asleep in the front seat, one with a gun at his feet, and in the back, a small sleeping woman, a boy, and a baby. Shortly, the two officers were dead. The Camaro’s occupants abandoned that car when they hijacked a Cadillac and its terrified, elderly owner, then crashed the Cadillac into a police roadblock. One man eventually testified against the others. The second man and the woman ended up on Death Row.

The author was a cub reporter in May 1990 when she covered a Florida execution. She faced Jesse Tafero, convicted of the murder of the two officers, strapped into the Chair. He in turn scrutinized each of the witnesses to his death. For the beat of six seconds, his gaze locked onto Ellen McGarrahan’s. Tafero looked defiant. And afraid. The execution went awry, inflicting on the condemned even more suffering than this particular cruelty commonly produces. 

Two years later, the news program 20/20 quoted McGarrahan’s story and asked, “Could the State of Florida have executed an innocent man?”

McGarrahan froze. Her life had gone on, of course, she became a skilled private investigator and married a man she loved. But an uneasy place inside her, the place Carl Jung called “a living and self-existing being,” began to clamor to know the ultimate truth of what had happened to land Jesse Tafero in the electric chair.

In 2015, Ms. McGarrahan takes all her P.I. experience and talents on a search for the facts. This is where the book resembles a mystery novel: the many witnesses and participants she finds and questions, one leading to another to another. The truck drivers who saw the shooting, old friends of the convicted, prosecutors, defense witnesses, P.I.’s, the boy in the backseat, the woman. 

Her search takes her to a Florida prison—and other spots—to interview Walter Rhodes, the man who testified against his friends, and to interview him again and again as he recants, confesses, recants, confesses, and so on. The search takes her to Australia to talk with the grown up boy, to Ireland to question the woman, freed and the subject of a play proclaiming her wrongful imprisonment, her innocence. With each interview, the author must confront reluctant or combative strangers and manage her own fear and doubt. She has to co-exist with a penetrating force that won’t allow her to leave off and go home. 

The book’s suspense comes from both sources, the drive for the truth and what the quest demands of Ellen McGarrahan. Two Truths and a Lie is true crime, it’s memoir—and it’s breath-taking. 

23 January 2022

Company Town, Part 2

Last week we peeked in on a Florida spy town and a couple of planned utopian communities. Today we’ll visit a few other curious ‘company towns’.

Celebration, Florida postcard

No Mickey Mouse Operation

Walt Disney World is the only corporation I know that’s also a government entity greater than a township, for most purposes a Florida county, the Reedy Creek Control District. Its handpicked residents comprise a few Disney loyalists who ‘vote’ whatever needs voting on. RCCD provides the government-friendly structure for WDW and Disney controls RCCD.

Disney also built the town of Celebration. While retaining critical properties and office buildings, Disney sold houses and apartments to those who could pay, guided with an invisible three-fingered hand through its homeowners association.

Nothing is nefarious. Buyers either agree to ultra-strict rules involving their property or they buy somewhere else without an HOA.

But once upon a time, a trouble-making scofflaw was afoot. In the dark of night, a wicked, subversive rebel crept through Celebration’s oak and cypress. He ducked under well-groomed hanging moss, and planted pink plastic flamingos on neighbors manicured lawns. Plastic pink flamingos (PPF) were strictly forbidden.

The community was outraged! Worse, the PPFs seemed to breed and multiply. These crimes had to be stopped before society collapsed.

The sheriff’s department investigated. Security Officer Obie took 8x10 glossy photographs and fingerprinted the PPFs. Twice they almost captured the miserable miscreant, but the perpetrator faded into the shadows before police could turn their cars around. Terrified residents claimed a chilling voice laughed with abandon, “Mwah-ha-ha-hah.”

Early one morning the tables turned. Authorities caught the bad guy pink-handed, populating neighbors’ lawns with PPF.

Except he was also a good guy. A local minister on a mission, a pastor with a passion for challenging authority whilst having fun.

But fun is precisely how evil takes root. Prosecutors proposed a fine and the PPF reign of terror came to an end.

Holiday tip: Evenings in Celebration are a fun place to visit during the Christmas season with caroling and Disney ‘snow’. (The flakes are made from a soapy substance.)

Sarasota, Florida postcard

The Circus Comes to Town

In years past, baseball teams, carnivals, and circuses liked to winter in Florida. Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey favored the Gulf Coast. In 1927, Ringling bought property in Sarasota and the influx of circus residents influenced the look and feel of the town.

Forty-some miles distant, the ‘The World’s Strangest Couple’, 8½-feet tall Al Tomaini and his 2½-foot tall wife, Jeanie, built a camp at the hamlet of Gibsonton. They established a fire department and police department. The fledgling town became popular with so-called carney ‘freaks’ and sideshow denizens. It became a home where folks couldn’t be judged by outsiders. It developed a carnival ambiance with bright lights and tents, and a sense that residents awaited a call to the big top.

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey combined shows, buying up additional land in Florida, including Haines City, where entrepreneurs built Circus World and later Boardwalk and Baseball.

Circuses no longer bore the cachet of turn-of-the-century traveling entertainment extravaganzas. Perhaps Circus World’s park was too close to Disney or too far, but various owners struggled to make a profit. Visitors can sense theme park desperation, and the Haines City projects were doomed.

Meanwhile, tourists were welcomed to visit Ringling’s Sarasota estate with its museums and entertainment venues. Perhaps the most fascinating was an extensive diorama explaining the complex operation of a traveling circus, from the advance man who visited towns arranging for an empty field, permits, water, feed, food, and other servicing, to the clean-up crew that followed the circus. It portrayed the kitchens, medical staff, the vets, the accountants and bookkeepers, housing, administration, and security. Little wonder running off to join the circus fascinated little boys.

Cassadaga, Florida postcard

I Foresee a Town…

The town of Cassadaga calls itself the Psychic Capital of the World. The village isn’t what I expected. I don’t understand: It has road signs. Residents listen to weather reports. Posters advertise clairvoyant meetings. Hey, shouldn’t psychic citizens simply know?

Seers have no shortage of prophecies and prognostications when it comes to criminal cases. Invariably, predictions prove wrong.

In 1979, St. Cloud, Florida police relied upon Cassadaga fortune tellers rather than criminal science to assist in the homicide of a preacher's wife. They failed miserably.

In 2008, nearly ninety psychics weighed in on the search for little Caylee Anthony. Having pointed police in wrong directions, they failed miserably.

Perhaps most embarrassing was a 2001 case of missing Lillian Martin and her grandson, Joshua Bryant. Cassadaga mediums claimed…

  • A trucker abducted them.
  • The grandmother killed the grandson.
  • The parents killed both the grandmother and the boy.

Wrong. The body of Joshua would be found three years later  virtually on Cassadaga’s doorstep, the victim of a confessed killer.

The FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children maintain that to their knowledge, psychic detectives have never solved a single missing-person case, not one, not ever.

Clearwater, Florida postcard

Imagine a secretive organization…

  • infiltrating more than a hundred US government agencies, embassies, and foreign powers using 5000 or more spies and agents.
  • engaging through its intelligence arm in kidnappings, burglaries, wiretapping, false imprisonment, covert surveillance, and attempted assassinations.
  • declaring war on the FBI and IRS, and breaking into federal courthouses, DoJ and IRS offices.
  • plotting bombings.
  • framing a reporter for murder.
  • framing the mayor of a Florida city for sexual impropriety and reckless/drunken driving.
  • infiltrating newspapers critical of the organization.
  • disappearing the wife of its beloved leader, David Miscavige.
  • taking over a Florida city at the same time it declares itself a victim of persecution.

Now imagine this is no foreign power, no insidious 007 SMERSH, but instead a cult/church/corporation/criminal enterprise called Scientology. We’re talking the religion founded on a bet amongst science fiction writers, a bet gone horribly wrong.

Scientology’s internal Guardian’s Office operates as an intelligence bureau to investigate Scientology’s ‘enemies’. The FBI uncovered an astonishingly lengthy list of clandestine operations. While posing as a religion, Scientology regards its tenets and teachings as trade secrets, its symbols trademarked properties, and, unlike a real church, doesn’t hesitate to take opponents to court. The Church of Scientology (CoS) has not hesitated to use illicit and illegal means to silence its critics.

Scientology fought a ‘war’ with the IRS for recognition as a real religion, eventually overwhelming the agency with unceasing political and legal pressure, as well as infiltrating the IRS and other government bodies.

Shelly Miscavige, wife of current CEO David Miscavige has not been seen since 2006, notwithstanding a reported sighting by the National Enquirer. Former members believe she is held captive at the Church’s compound outside San Bernardino. Although not claiming to have seen her face to face, Los Angeles police believe they spoke with her by telephone.

For the past half century, Scientologists have attempted to surreptitiously take over the city and government of Clearwater. Around 2000, the ‘church’ doubled its land holdings via a thousand secret purchases through shell companies. They've bought up much of the city's waterfront. In a downtown sale of a lot, the seller chose to sell it to the city at a third of the price the 'Church' had offered. Unsurprisingly, the Church sued, claiming religious discrimination. In an attempted coup d’état, Scientologists plotted smear campaigns against the mayor in an attempt to remove him from office.

To me, the most compelling crimes inflicted by the cult of Scientology were against author Paulette Cooper. At the height (or depth) of the plots against her, Scientologists attempted to sue her and her father into bankruptcy, defame her with false accusations about pedophilia and other rumors, and ultimately frame her for bomb plots. At one point they planned to attack her (and according to one report assassinate her) outside Clearwater.

Exciting times. Rather than leave upon a sour note, Let’s visit a couple of company towns outside Florida.

Hershey, Pennsylvania postcard

Hershey, Pennsylvania

Mmm, chocolate. It’s a tasteful company town, for sure. Milton Hershey founded the town in 1903 for company workers and their families. Hershey-built homes provided the most modern amenities of the era, including electricity, indoor plumbing, and central heating. The town maintained a public trolley, free schools including a vocational school to train orphans and the underprivileged. In later years, Hershey built parks, golf courses, a community center, a sports center, a zoo, and an amusement park.

When I visited as a teenager, I took the factory tour, but the part that stuck in my mind was the street lamps– they were shaped like Hershey Kisses, some silvery with the tag of paper in the foil, some just chocolate as shown in the photograph.

Naked City’s Sundial
Naked City’s Sundial

Naked City, Indiana

An hour south of Chicago, a pair of nudist resorts outside of Roselawn, Indiana saw the 1930s launch of a different kind of company town. At one time, the village hosted the Mister and Miss Nude pageants. The state brought obscenity charges against Naked City, which included the showing of an X-rated film, and brought about the resort’s demise. It is now called Sun Aura, which seems to have retained the famous leggy sundial sculpture (at right).

Hoosiers need not worry. Indiana has other nudist camps and colonies, including Our Haven Nature Sanctuary in the town of French Lick, which…

Hey Janice! Stop giggling. Eve! Decorum, you two. Stop it! Ladies! Behave!

16 January 2022

Company Town, Part 1

A staple of Westerns features small towns embroiled in takeovers by criminal gangs or religious cults or power-hungry land/cattle/mining/oil/railroad barons not above skulduggery, the Greek tragedies of our era: Giant, Billy Jack, There Will Be Blood, Dallas, Yellowstone. Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood crafted the movie subgenera into a cottage industry.

In modern times, we need look no further than Florida. Numerous developers and con artists have molded lands into their image. Some built monuments to themselves… literally castles. Roughly a dozen castles (including Cinderella’s) dot the Florida landscape. Two infamous local examples have been torched with redneck lightning in recent years, Glenn W Turner’s Turner Castle in Winter Park and the scandalous Mikey Busey’s Sausage Castle in St. Cloud. (Home of Sharon, who prompted this two-part series by sending me the following CIA article.)

Sanibel postcard


Friends in Minnesota loved vacationing on Sanibel Island, which was the extent of my knowledge at the time. It gives new meaning to ‘company town’, assuming you’re au fait with espionage parlance.

I confess I wasn’t familiar with author Randy Wayne White’s Marion ‘Doc’ Ford series. The protagonist is a marine biologist and not-so-retired former spy based in– you guessed it– Sanibel.

It turns out the island is loaded with former spies including some brought out of retirement from time to time. And when backed into a corner by county commissioners, they came out fighting. They built this city, not so much brick by brick, but with legal filings: “Don’t condo our island, you snot-wipes!”

So enjoy the article before we move on.

Stereotyping an Article

The COVID quarantine has taught me something about myself– I’m a mystery character cliché. The forced alone-time drives some people crazy, but others thrive. I’m one of the latter– solitude suits me. Roots probably extend back to childhood where plowing and planting, haying and harvesting, feeding, milking and mucking didn’t provide time or proximity to people. And it stuck.

But it worries me. The age line is very fine between solitude guy and crazy old coot.

Live on a boat, live on a secluded island, for me that’s paradise. As delineated below, one person’s heaven is another man’s hell.

27 June 2021

Blue Light Special

Back in the summer of 1980,Miami was an open town. The Cocaine Cowboys were riding high with cash, guns, killings and lots of product. Enterprising pilots, flying under the radar, clandestinely dropped parcels of cocaine and bundles of marijuana into the swamps to be recovered by ground crews. Mother ships loaded with marijuana out of Colombian ports ran the high seas headed north. Dealers used grocery sacks to take their money to the bank. Get in a wreck with a van load of marijuana on the Interstate? Walk away, there will be another load. Homicide cops responding to killings of major league dealers found large quantities of money. Temptation set in. After all, the owner of all that cash wasn't alive to complain about his loss. But, when those big payouts went dry, some entrepreneur cops decided to make their own killings. And, guess who did the homicide investigations on those deceased dealers? It could be an exciting time...... if you lived.

That summer, I caught a special and got loaned out to our office in Miami for a few months. Twelve of us agents from various offices across the U.S. were temporarily assigned to the same task force to replace the group of local agents who were being relocated further south to conduct surveillance on clandestine landing strips known to be on several islands in the Caribbean.

Part of our duties were to partner with U.S. Customs out of the port of Miami in order to intercept smugglers along the Florida coast at midnight as they tried running in from the Bahama banks. We hunted in wolf packs with go-fast boats and a Customs tug boat which operated a radar set. Whenever the tug's First Mate got a speeding blip on his radar screen, he radioed the information to the appropriate go-fast boats and the chase was on. At the time, Customs used a flashing blue Kojak light to signify their presence. Some smugglers then idled their engines and trusted to their hidden compartments to get them through. Others goosed their engines and ran for it.

Meanwhile, on the Gulf side of Florida a few enterprising redneck entrepreneurs who didn't have the cash nor connections to purchase large quantities of controlled substances on their own came up with the bright idea of acquiring their own flashing blue lights. This situation made for confusion and adrenaline, not to mention what you might call a touch of modern day piracy conducted under a false flag.

With all of this fodder for a short story, I couldn't resist when Mystery Weekly Magazine put out a submission call for humorous stories to publish in its Die Laughing anthology. My story, "Blue Light Special," was accepted earlier this month, the e-contract has been signed, PayPal has delivered the payment and now I'm somewhat patiently waiting to have the anthology in hand.

Yes, you may sleep easy in your beds at night. Worse thought-out plots of nefarious action have occurred on the high seas in the dark of night. So, pleasant reading to you and yours, and have a few laughs while you're at it.

PS ~415 stories were submitted to the anthology, 44 were accepted. A hearty congratulations to SleuthSayers Rob Lopresti and Bob Mangeot for making the cut.

02 May 2021

Certifiable — Florida-Arizona News

         Arizona ‘fraudit’ Conspiracy Theories NEXT   Next

Popcorn time. I’ve been following the ersatz election audit in Phoenix. Viewing it from a computer wizardry background, I bring to the table a few observations and opinions.

not a genuine ballot
possibly not a genuine Arizona ballot

Recounting the Recounted Recount

After recounts and audits, people ask why yet another? The political goal isn’t to overturn the election, but to cast doubt upon it in a tantrum by politicians who didn’t get their own way.

Thus it has come to pass, a minuscule Florida computer assistance company has carved an outsized rôle for itself in a vain (either meaning of the adjective) attempt to smear the Arizona election. Cyber Ninjas, which sounds disturbingly like a Saturday morning cartoon show, claims to have between “2 and 10” employees. I’d hazard if it employed anywhere near six or eight, or even four or five, it would say so.

Nothing is wrong with small computer consulting companies. I headed one. Our client base comprised Fortune 500 firms, governments, and large foreign concerns. Previous to May’s events, Cyber Ninjas largely seems to advise customers to take backups, install anti-virus software, and don’t click on random download buttons, a ‘Geek Squad’ without Best Buy.


Douglas Jay Logan, the owner of Cyber Ninjas (I’m learning that’s a damn awkward company name to type), involves himself in Q•Anon-inspired politics, even devising a ‘Stop the Steal’ white paper of discredited talking points.

He’s probably a nice guy, indeed, he supports charitable ministries in Haiti. We share that much in common, helping Haitians.

But I don’t know Doug Logan. No one I’ve asked professionally seems to know his company, not Florida election people, not security experts, and certainly not within my sphere, computer forensics and fraud. It simply means he’s not a household name outside of vocal conspiracy theorists. Until now.


The pubic face of a company is its opening web page. It shapes the impression it wants the public to have. Sometimes it reveals more than it intends. They make a big deal about web security and design. And they do it confusedly… their ‘about’ page is their home page.

I can say with certainty computer experts Cyber Ninjas aren’t very computer experty. Set aside the peculiar stock photos and peer at paragraphs 1 and 3 of their home page. Notice those odd characters? “we’ve” and “Ninjaâ„¢”?

Paragraph 1 with errors

Although their page HTML has been improved since I first viewed it, they still haven’t sorted out UniCode encoding. Best guess for the first error– they meant “we’ve”. I have no clue what they meant for the second unless it was “Ninja©” or “Ninja™”. Simple, junior-level errors like that don’t give me warm, secure feelings. But, let’s move on.

Paragraph 3 with errors

Man versus Machine

To be clear, I too have criticized voting machines, but with diametrically opposed conclusions. Logan’s approach is all about secrecy and sorcery. He’s refused in court to reveal his ‘trade secrets’, which computer people likely agree means he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

When it comes to the public, transparency counts. I advocate voting machines should employ ‘open source’ programming. Open Source means it’s open to anyone to be viewed and studied. Nothing in it is proprietary or secret. That’s the only way citizens can feel assured their votes are fairly counted.

hacker in winter ninja gear
genuine Cyber Ninja™
complete with winter gloves,
woollies, and balaclava toque

Mr. Logan… not so concerned. He wants a closed shop, closed source, and, if he had his way, a closed audit. As it is, he and his backers have fought to keep the recount out of the public eye. That’s understandable if, as many surmise, he doesn’t know how to run a recount. He apparently hadn’t read the Elections Procedures Manual.

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts decrees, “Sentence first, verdict afterwards.” Most would have deemed it wise not to advertise the results of the recount before you’re hired. Sure, it helped win the no-bid contract, but it doesn’t make fair-minded people feel secure.

Capitol Stormer? Daily Stormer? No Problem

This attitude trickled down amongst the tabulators, which include Q•Anon conspiracists, Oath Keepers, and Anthony Kern, the latter who participated in the January 6 Washington DC insurrection. When a reporter noticed Kern’s presence, the reporter– not the Washington rioter– was ejected.

That has been a big theme of the recount– ban journalists. The initial reporter allowed in– because she registered as an observer and not a journalist– was banned for noticing workers on the floor were using black and blue pens, a huge verboten no-no around ballots.

Inspection at 365 nanometres

Another questionable bit of gear has been ultra-violet lamps. I speculated they might attempt to prove ballots were chemically altered, but mystified election experts point out UV light damages ballots. Others speculate the alternative light might be used to dazzle the public with ☆woo-woo☆ science.

Besides pens and far spectrum lamps, recounters are given something else– discretion. They are authorized to gauge intent, to interpret ambiguity, and personally judge whether or not ballots are illegal. Those, says the Secretary of State, would be discarded.

According to election officials, this should never be allowed. Ballots should be held to standards and not guessed at. Divination is not an option.

And yet…

Have you been following the recount? What is your opinion?

18 April 2021

Florida News: Dirty Tricks

Further to the Matt Gaetz investigation…

Florida's gerrymandered 5th Congressional District
The ultra-thin district (at one time three discontiguous plots) stretches more than 200 miles (>320km).

Florida remains the seat of breathtaking corruption. I don’t even have room to discuss Florida’s legislature passing a bill requiring students to assess professors’ political beliefs and providing for teachers to be secretly recorded at any time. We’re uncertain of persistent rumors Tallahassee will be renaming our state capital the Kremlin.

We at SleuthSayers work to avoid politics, but when it’s unavoidable, we strive to be fair. Registered as an independent, I aspire to equal opportunity offensiveness, but I’m afraid America may lose a grand, old party, which even the opposition doesn’t wish to happen. To mitigate controversy, I’ll be referring to political parties as the Eloi and Morlock, and you can decide which is which.

Thanks to a halt in ballot counting of the infamous hanging chads, Florida never learned whether Bush or Gore won the 2000 election. Two years later, Sarasota County reportedly failed to record 20 000 votes. The county Supervisor of Elections explained it this way: Twenty-thousand people came in to vote, but chose not to.

On that foundation, let’s visit 2010’s gubernatorial election.

Fool You Once

Four main candidates emerged in 2010. The Eloi backed a woman, Alex Sink. The Morlocks had three. The Morlock Party was irritated at Charlie Crist (who was sidelined and forced to run as an independent Morlock) and officially backed Bill McCollum. One other candidate inserted himself into the Morlock primary, Rick Scott, who’d engineered the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in history, triggering a fine of $1.7-billion. That’s $1 700 000 000 for the fine alone. That should have ended his candidacy.

Naturally, Florida elected the fraudster. Millions of ill-gotten gains won the election.

That’s sealed history. What isn’t as well known is what happened to Alex Sink and her beautifully designed web site,, which included a subdomain begging for donations, It had a problem. It wasn’t her web site, it belonged to the other party. Donations to her were diverted to the Morlock Party and used to fund Alex Sink’s defeat.

Turns out this isn’t illegal.

Fool You Twice

So what skullduggery might top that bit of cleverness? Fake candidates. No, I’m not talking fake voters or fake ballots, but sham candidates.

You can think of them as ghosts in the political machine. Morlock Party operatives ran sham Eloi candidates in an effort to split votes between the faux candidate and the real one. It worked in at least three elections. In one district, the true Eloi candidate would have won by 6000 votes but lost by 32, thanks to a fake candidate, Jestine Iannotti. She abruptly moved to Sweden where she can’t be extradited.

Again, these dirty tricks aren’t illegal, but dirty money is. Political manipulators have gone to great lengths to hide money, much which remains unaccounted for. When the false candidate stunt was pulled in 2012, donations were traced to lobbyists, consultants, attorneys, fake donors and secret donors.


A fourth Florida attempt ended in failure for Matt Gaetz. An extremely shady former legislator and lobbyist Chris Dorworth has separated from his Orlando firm, Ballard Partners, after his involvement was revealed.

Meanwhile, Gaetz seems to have left his girlfriend at home with her crayons and coloring book, and hopped a ganja flight to the Bahamas, courtesy of Orlando marijuana majordomo and hand surgeon Jason Pirozzolo. There they enjoyed presumably grown-up prostitutes.

Gaetz attempted to get his generous friend Pirozzolo nominated for Florida Surgeon General. When that fell through, Governor Ron DeSantis appointed Pirozzolo to another lucrative position on the board of the Greater Orlando Airport Authority.

Investigations continue. Please remember, all parties are considered innocent until the rotten miscreants are proven guilty.

Thanks to Darlene, Sharon, Cate, Eve, and Thrush for contributions to this series.)