SAO declines charges in EMS rape case

Screen shot 2014-03-12 at 11.47.45 AM


By Merab-Michal Favorite

The 12th Judicial State Attorney’s Office has declined to file sexual battery charges against a 39-year-old EMS paramedic accused of raping his partner in December, due to a lack of evidence.

The incident allegedly occurred in Holmes Beach July 5, 2013, at the West Manatee Fire District Station, 6001 Marina Dr, where the coworkers were assigned as partners during an overnight shift.

The woman, 23, filed a formal report to the Manatee County Human Resources Department Aug. 14, 2013, alleging that the suspect had entered her bunk while she was trying to sleep and choked and raped her. The two had not previously worked together.

Courtney Hollen, the assistant state attorney assigned to the case, said she decided to take no action because she believed the state would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect had committed sexual battery. On Feb. 28, she issued an interdepartmental memorandum declining any further action.

“Even with the victim’s cooperation, there were no witnesses, no injuries, no excited utterances and no admission from the defendant. Therefore, the charge will be declined,” Hollen wrote in the memo.

Hollen also wrote that because the woman did not report the crime for over a month, there was no way to determine whether the intercourse was forced.

The man allegedly admitted to having sex with the woman, but said it was consensual. He also stated in the report that the woman became upset the next morning when he didn’t ask for her phone number.

Law enforcement officials interviewed the woman’s regular paramedic partner who had relieved her of duty so she could file the complaint Aug. 14. He stated that he believed the sex was consensual based on some of the statements the woman made, according to Hollen’s memo.

The male paramedic was dismissed from his EMS position in September with a stipulation that he could not be rehired for three years, according to the county human resources department. He had worked for the county for over five years.

He was first put on a six week unpaid suspension, then terminated on sexual harassment charges, according to officials.

The woman is still employed with Manatee County, according to Teresa Kersey, of the human resources department.

According to the police report, the woman alleged that while she and the man were on duty, he began making sexual comments to her and showing her nude pictures of himself. When she decided to go to sleep in the bunks provided for employees, he allegedly climbed into bed with her and began kissing her neck. When she pulled away, she said he choked her and forced her to have sexual intercourse with him.

After she reported the incident, law enforcement officials asked her to do a controlled phone call to the man, but she refused to participate. She later told the prosecutor she had declined the controlled phone call because she didn’t believe it would work.


The Forgotten Coast

Published Sunday, March 2, 2014 12:05 am _apalach2.jpg
A fishing boat is pulled up to the dock in downtown Apalachicola.

Arriving in Apalachicola is like stepping back in time. As part of Florida’s so-called “Forgotten Coast”, the town with a population of 2,300 still focuses on fishing, shrimping and oysters as its main source of industry, much like it has for nearly 200 years.

Of course, today the town has a nice tourist slant, one that draws people to discover a true version of the fabled “Old Florida.”

However, old Florida isn’t just a buzz word in Apalachicola, it’s not something used by realtors or a chamber of commerce to sell an era that doesn’t really exist anymore.

Apalachicola is old Florida, a quaint, southern town where, in a restaurant, you’re eating what just came off the boats as they pull in from the Apalachicola River and bay.

The town started as a trading post along the Gulf Coast called “Cottonton,” but was incorporated as West Point in 1827. Four years later, the town was named Apalachicola.

Before the advent of the railroad, Apalachicola was the third busiest port in the Gulf of Mexico, behind  New Orleans and Mobile, Ala. It thrived because of its location of course, but also because of the abundance of oysters and shrimp, an industry for which the town is still known today (In fact, 90 percent of all Florida’s oysters come from Apalachicola Bay).

But as the years ticked on, Apalachicola would find itself in the center of history in the making; one of the America’s most noted botanists, Dr. Alavan Wenthworth Chapman, settled in the town in 1847, where he practiced medicine and wrote his seminal work, “Flora of the Southern United States”, which was the first book dedicated solely to the plant life of the south. Chapman spent years researching the book in Georgia and other parts of Florida, and chose Apalachicola as the place to compile his work.
Boats of all kinds line the docks of a canal.

In 1849, another Apalachicola physician named Dr. John Gorrie created the first refrigeration process, and patented the first ice machine in 1850. At the time, Gorrie applied the technology in a medical setting, as a way to cool down patients that were experiencing extremely high fevers.

Of course, the same ideas would later be applied to modern refrigeration and air conditioning and Gorrie was an unknowing pioneer in those fields. Now, Gorrie’s work and legacy is enshrined in a state park in Apalachicola at the John Gorrie Museum, where a replica of his ice-making machine is on display along with exhibits chronicling the colorful history of Apalachicola.

Apalachicola came into the spotlight during the Civil War when the gunboat USS Sagamore and 186-foot steamer USS Mercedita captured the port, a massive victory for the union forces that were trying to gain a foothold in southern ports. Both ships were important members of the fleet, with the Sagamore sailing the Suwannee in 1864, while the Mercedita helped to capture Charleston Bay in 1863, but in 1862 both ships were crucial in helping to secure the port.

Today, Apalachiocola is a crucial hub of the so called “Forgotten Coast,” a relatively raw and undeveloped section of coastline along Highway 98, which stretches from Mexico Beach to Apalachee Bay.

Just minutes from Apalachicola, the Nature Coast continues to unfold, flowing east to St. George Island, where beach communities and state parks offer an abundance of recreational activity, and then west to Port St. Joe, where the old Florida commercial fishing industry also thrives.

Apalachicola remains the commercial hub of the western panhandle, a place where commerce and history collide.

Of course, its role in the fishing and shipping industries has changed, but in the era where history is manufactured, Apalachicola has reinvented itself by simply staying true to its roots.

Exploring Dune Lakes of the Panhandle

Published Sunday, February 23, in, 2014 12:05 am

SANTA ROSA BEACH — When I was around eight years old, we visited my cousins home in Santa Rosa Beach, a quiet beachfront town in the panhandle, near Panama City.

A walk down the shore with my brother revealed a large saltwater-fed pond produced by the Gulf tides via a saltwater stream, which meandered through the sand.

Not understanding the physics of that particular beach system, my brother and I took one look at it and like any reasonable kids, we decided the stream that ran to the gulf could be better if it was straighter.

The stream was only about five or six feet from the breaking waves; however it seemed to stretch for a long distance paralleling the shoreline before finally meeting it. My brother, Elan, and I took buckets and shovels and began digging.

It seemed to take hours, although time doesn’t mean the same when you are a child. It felt like the single greatest construction project of all time. As we finally constructed a foot-wide passage from the beginning of the stream to the shore, we hardly anticipated what would happen next.

The pressure from the lake widened our small passage instantaneously, caving in the sand and quickly tripling, then quadrupling our manmade canal.

We tried to stop the spillage, but to no avail; by then the current was too strong and we could only watch in horror as hundreds of lakefront homes lost their waterfront in a matter of minutes. Afloat boats that were tied to docks were suddenly aground and sea life that was previously underwater littered the beach.

Even my parents were horrified, telling us to get back to Aunt Barb’s before someone figured out that it was our family that had so effortlessly managed to decrease property values and destroy an entire ecosystem just because they wanted to build a small mote for their amusement.

“Don’t mention this to anyone,” they said, looking at each other with a sigh and saying simultaneously, “Only our kids could cause such destruction.”

That was over 20 years ago.

Last weekend, my boyfriend, Drew, and I revisited my Aunt Barb in Santa Rosa Beach. As we drove down Hwy 98, we passed several “dune lakes.” As we approached each one, I wondered if that had been one my brother I had drained as children.

When we got to Aunt Barb’s house I broke my decades-long silence on the topic and spilled the beans about the, well, “lake spillage.” Barbara said that the lakes naturally broke through the sand about once a year draining the lake and spilling tanic water into the azure-colored saltwater that made up the Emerald Coast.

Whew, I thought, what a relief. The event had only been weighing on my conscience for over twenty years.

I would later learn that the coastal dune lakes where I played as a child are rare. They occur in only two places in the United States: the Florida panhandle and the northern Pacific Coast. To make them even more exotic, they can be found at only three other places in the world – Madagascar, Australia and New Zealand.

According to the Walton County website, they are formed by streams, groundwater seepage and rain. However, a storm surge creates intermittent connections (the meandering streams) to the Gulf of Mexico, called outfalls. “This periodic connection empties lake water into the Gulf, and, depending on tides and weather, salt water and organisms from the Gulf flow back into the lakes,” according to the website.

People are allowed to fish, kayak, canoe and paddleboard in the lakes but motors are prohibited. Altering the natural outfalls of the lakes are also prohibited (whoops). The website also says that both freshwater and saltwater species of fish can be caught in the lake, which makes them uncommon but also an efficient asset to anglers.

When I visited this time, I didn’t feel the need to dig the sand or alter them in any way. Instead, I simply recounted the story to Drew, who jokingly said, “Well, I bet this was a nice place before you guys ruined it.”

We spent the day roaming the beach, checking out the dunes and the lakes, taking pictures and having fun. They were beautiful and again I was amazed at the geology of my home state, a place that offers just about any kind of beach you could imagine.

I look back on that day when my brother and I tried to connect the lake to the Gulf and it makes me laugh. It’s nice to know that sometimes you can revisit your past, even if it’s not quite the way you remember it.

Southwest Florida’s Last Land Grab

Published Sunday, January 26, 2014 12:05 am
The 5,770 acre tract for sale in Sarasota County is the last of its kind.

NORTH PORT – Florida has long been the promised land for speculators, as developers and real estate magnates have helped to shape the state in both good and bad ways over the years.

The urge by state leaders to populate Florida goes back even further: the Armed Occupation Act of of 1842 was responsible for populating southwest Florida, promising 160 acres for any man willing to bear arms for the state and defend their new homestead with their lives against attack from Native Americans.

Of course, things are much different now and for one to make history they simply have to have enough money – evidenced by a 5,770 acre tract of land in eastern North Port to be auctioned off Feb. 13 to the highest bidder.

The land, once eyed for a sprawling, high end subdivision called Isles of Athena, was supposed to feature thousands of homes, pools, golf courses and other amenities.

Instead, it has led a quiet, if not ideal, existence following the economic downturn, when the housing market collapsed and ruined thousands, if not millions of lives. The land looks much like it has for thousands of years; deer, wild turkey and hogs freely roam the property, which is dotted with streams, bass-stocked ponds and strands of oak hammocks.
The property will be auctioned off on Febuary 13 to the highest bidder.

According to William Bone, president of Gadsden, Alabama-based National Auction Group, the seven square mile property dubbed McCall Ranch is a rarity, a veritable “Last of the Mohicans” type of opportunity that exists nowhere else in South Florida.

It’s the largest piece of privately owned land left in the southern half of a state still grappling with unchecked urban sprawl, and in some cases, communities like North Port who are still grappling with their identity.

While other properties of this size still exist in South Florida as parks and preserves, they too may not be safe from development. The Manatee County Planning and Zoning Board set a recent precedent when they voted in favor of rezoning a 6.9 acre-property on the eastern side of Terra Ceia Island. With one vote, the land, which is owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), went from a conservation zone to a mixed use property. The parcel is adjacent to a preserve and considered a flood zone.

Bone’s company will be overseeing the February auction, which he describes as having the potential to be “quite an event,” one that could draw as many varied interests such as developers, private investors or environmentalists.

It costs $200,000 just to register for the auction, Bone said, and the property has been listed for sale with various real estate agencies over the years. Most recently it was listed at $36 million, although appraisal information was unavailable.
The property, for the most part, remains untouched.

According to Bone, a property that size simply does not exist anymore, unless it’s in the hands of federal or state agencies.

While it’s doubtful that the land would be preserved by local legislators, Bone did say that it’s possible an environmental group could snatch the land up in order to keep it in its pristine, natural condition.

But the land will likely become what so many others across the state have turned into, like the sprawling and epic Lakewood Ranchcommunity in Manatee County, that spreads over nearly 31,000 acres and boasts 11,000 residents in 5,000 homes.

Lakewood Ranch was so successful, developers decided to create another sprawling residential development in northern Manatee County, dubbed “Lakewood Ranch Jr.” by the Bradenton Herald editorial board.

The success rate of these types of developments is spotty at best, especially in a post-housing collapse world.

Just to the south of McCall Ranch, a 17,000 acre property called Babcock Ranch spans two counties and was envisioned by developer and former professional football playerSyd Kitson as a green, futuristic community that was powered entirely with solar energy.

The development has started and stalled over the years, and even been infused with $40 million worth of public dollars. It was supposed to serve as both preserve and city, with free wireless internet that spanned the entire property, dozens of schools, light industry, manufacturing, shopping, dining, business parks and more than 8,000 homes.
The parcel is located in eastern North Port.

If a developer with deep pockets and a renewed sense of ambition thinks McCall Ranch is going to be the next great community in Southwest Florida, then it’s got some competition to both the north and the south; that is, if Kitson ever breaks ground on Babcock, which is now scheduled for 2016.

The developer would also have to contend with the glut of vacant and foreclosed homes that pepper not only North Port but all of southernSarasota County; so in addition to deep pockets, they would have a deep well of patience.

Lakewood Ranch took nearly 20 years to grow to 11,000 residents. So if McCall Ranch does one day become yet another planned community, it would likely take decades for it to flourish. Of course, as those years roll by, an entire generation of young Floridians will not have access to the land, not unless they want to buy it, and the chance to preserve these kinds of opportunities will lessen.

Is there a balance that can be found? Of course. But one way or the other history will be made on Feb. 13, as a final piece of Florida’s heritage will be handed to the highest bidder.

FHP: Keeping Roads Safe for 75 Years

Published Sunday, February 9, 2014 12:05 am

FHP train in Bradenton. Photo: Florida Memory Project

FHP train in Bradenton.
Photo: Florida Memory Project

It was 7:30 a.m. on May 9, 1980, when a blinding thunderstorm caused the MV Summit Venture freighter to strike one of the Sunshine Skyway’s concrete pilings.

The accident collapsed 1,250 feet of the southbound lanes of the bridge and caused the deaths of 35 people after seven cars and a bus plummeted to the water before traffic could be stopped.

Florida Highway Patrol traffic investigators were tasked with sorting out the details of those 35 deaths, and a final report tallied 570 pages. It was one of the many times the agency has played a part in Florida’s history. Over the years, their contributions to the state and its residents have been invaluable.

Even in 1980, as investigators pieced together the tragic end to those 35 lives, the agency was a long way from its roots. Like much of Florida, they were born out of a modern frontier-like landscape that owed more to agriculture than beaches, Mickey Mouse and vacation resorts.

In the Beginning

It was the early 1930s and the American automobile was on the rise.

People were more mobile than ever, as families started to steer away from train travel to the empowering feeling of driving their own cars. The growth of automobile travel of course coincided with the expansion of the nation’s roadways and the start of a migrating population, one that was captured by John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.”

With this newfound mobile freedom, people were more attracted to Florida than ever, but this rise of an automobile culture also came with the increased need to patrol the roads.

Florida was overwhelmed by the sudden need to enforce the laws on roadways, especially after former Governor Doyle Carlton deemed it the responsibility of the state’s newly formed road department in 1931.

Two unidentified troopers on the side of the road circa 1941. Photo: Florida Memory Project

Two unidentified troopers on the side of the road circa 1941.
Photo: Florida Memory Project

It wasn’t until 1934 that the Florida Highway Patrol first took shape, when Governor Dave Sholtz decided that a division dealing strictly with traffic enforcement was needed after the state’s road department was overwhelmed with keeping up with infrastructure needs while dually enforcing traffic laws.

By 1936 there were 25 traffic inspectors in the new traffic enforcement divison. Outfitted with a green military color style uniform, the unit was led by a man named H. Neil Kirkman, a former Army Major who had an expertise in engineering. The state’s roads were now being policed and overseen by an agency that had the leadership they needed.

But it would all come crashing down in 1937, when Governor Fred Cone dismantled the department in what he said was a cost saving move, forcing the state legislature to create the State Department of Public Safety and its two divisions; the Florida Highway Patrol and the Division of State Motor Vehicle Drivers Licenses in 1939.

The state legislature authorized the hiring of 60 officers, and 5,000 men applied. Eventually, the first troop, consisting of 31 officers, was assembled and the first academy was taught at the Bradenton Municipal Pier, which in the present day is Pier 22. Troopers were housed at the Manavista Hotel and trained at the site of present day Bradenton City Hall. They were paid $1,500 per year; thereafter, the salary would increase $120 a year until a maximum of $2,000 a year was reached.

Portrait of Florida Highway Patrolman Bill Norris, graduate of the 1941 patrol school in Lakeland, Florida. He was said to be one of the best riders on the highway patrol and stationed in Orlando, Florida, according to the Florida Memory Project

Portrait of Florida Highway Patrolman Bill Norris, graduate of the 1941 patrol school in Lakeland, Florida. He was said to be one of the best riders on the highway patrol and stationed in Orlando, Florida, according to the Florida Memory Project

Now entering its 75th year, the Florida Highway Patrol has grown into one of the busiest agencies in the state, a longstanding tradition that began during its first year of operation when those scant 31 troopers clocked 154,829 hours of patrol time, investigated 1,000 accidents, examined 127 motorists killed, patrolled 1,938,564 miles, aided 1,132 persons injured and  arrested 4,836 motorists.

The 1940s saw the number of Troopers increased by 190, along with an added $150 a year for those eager to sign up for the busy and increasingly important line of work.

In 1952, the state was divided into sectors or different troops, designated by an alphabetic system that still exists today. The first speed sign in Florida was erected in 1953.

Many of the organization’s signatures, including the tan uniforms and their insignia that featured the state’s largest cash crop at the time, the orange, were introduced in the 1950s and remain largely unchanged.

But as the 1950s rolled on, the FHP would face one of their greatest challenges – a nationwide interstate system, which would be contracted by the federal government.

Interstates Change the Game

Simeon "Simmie" Moore holding his daughter Frances "Teenie" Moore in Madison County, Fla. circa 1937 or 1938. Moore drove an Indian motorcycle and was later Madison County sheriff (1948-1972). Photo: Florida Memory Project.

Simeon “Simmie” Moore holding his daughter Frances “Teenie” Moore in Madison County, Fla. circa 1937 or 1938. Moore drove an Indian motorcycle and was later Madison County sheriff (1948-1972).
Photo: Florida Memory Project.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower enacted the Federal Highway Act on June 29, 1956, pledging $25 billion to build 41,000 miles of the newly designed interstate highway system.

Florida was almost immediately thrust into the action, as construction of Interstate 95 started in 1957, and work on Interstate 10 began in 1958.

Work on Interstate 75 wouldn’t begin in Florida until the mid 1960s, but by then the agency was already in the swing of patrolling the new roadways, which now connected the entire nation in a way that it had never been before.

By the end of the 1950s, the agency had already instituted new tactics and technologies to make their jobs easier. This included a new teletype system which allowed the different troops to communicate effectively, according to Lt. Greg Bueno, the current public affairs officer for Fort Myers-based Troop F, which serves 10 counties including Sarasota and Manatee,

The agency celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 1959, having grown from 31 men to 461 “well trained and well equipped officers,” Bueno said. It expanded to 11 troops, which still exist to this day and patrol all corners of the state.

Other highlights include:

  • The 1960s saw the agency take to the skies, as they started using two Piper aircraft to enforce traffic laws. By the 1980s the fleet would grow to 11 planes and eventually include the use of helicopters in the 1990s. Three pilots have been killed in the line of duty.
  • 1971 saw a trooper named Joe Willie DeCoursey join the ranks, beginning a 25-year career with the agency. DeCoursey, who served as a traffic homicide investigator, would retire in 1996, making him the first African-American trooper to reach 25 years of service.
  • The 1980s saw the agency having a hand in some of the more prominent Florida events of the decade, including assisting with the processing of 125,000 Cuban refugees following the Mariel Boatlift; FHP homicide troopers investigating the 35 deaths that resulted from the collapse of the Sunshine Skyway in 1980, after a cargo ship struck the bridge’s concrete pilings; 100 troopers from across the state being sent to Liberty City, to help bring order to a community that had a crime rate spiraling out of control. During that time troopers made 58,000 arrests.

By the late 90s Florida had the fourth largest population in America, with 14.7 million residents. Four hundred and fifty people a day were moving to Florida by 1998, according to stats, and the FHP had to develop new ways to ensure law and order on the state’s roadways.

Florida Highway Patrolman Ralph Moore , Tallahassee, Fla., stands by the cab driven by murder victim Adam William "Bud" Jenkins. Photo: Florida Memory Project

Florida Highway Patrolman Ralph Moore , Tallahassee, Fla., stands by the cab driven by murder victim Adam William “Bud” Jenkins.
Photo: Florida Memory Project

According to Bueno, by the year 2000, the agency was dedicated with using the latest technologies in their vehicles, including mobile data computers, mapping software, finger print scanners and two camera systems.

The agency’s mission has stayed the same, even through the tools have changed, Bueno said, to protect both the safety of the public and the troopers, many of whom have fallen in the line of duty.

Forty-eight troopers have died while on the job since 1936; Trooper Royston E. Walker was the first to fall, when he was shot and killed on Aug. 31, 1936 by a motorist he was trying to stop for having faulty headlights. Walker had been a trooper for seven months. The most recent trooper to fall was William H. Dyer III, who died in a single vehicle crash in Leon County, after serving as a trooper for 16 years.

As the agency celebrates its 75th Anniversary, the FHP is undoubtedly looking ahead while honoring its past. For three quarters of a century, the agency has grown as the state has, answering the call while often paying for it with the ultimate sacrifice.

As more and more people will continue to be drawn to the state, the role of the FHP will continue to grow, in order to meet the demands of public safety and to meet all of the challenges ahead.

Sunday Favorites: Welcome to ‘Midget City’

Sunday Favorites: Welcome to ‘Midget City’

Published Sunday, December 1, 2013 12:05 am

A member of the Doll family rides an elephant at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Baily Circus. 

Photo: Florida Memory Project

In the 1950s, just three miles south of the Sarasota City limits, there were plans to build a Florida version of Munchkinland, with buildings and roads designed for people less than four feet tall. 

A female promoter, Mrs. Neal Chaplin Swalm, wanted the site developed into a small-scale city called “Midget City” with only little people living and working within the limits. 

Those residents would serve as a spectacle for tourists who would be renting rooms at a nearby “normal sized” hotel, but window-shopping in undersized storefronts and dining in restaurants run entirely by dwarves. 

Sound odd? It wasn’t the first time a group of people had been imported purely for show.

Sarasota had become a mecca of strange and outlandish tourist attractions ever since John Ringling announced that his beloved Sarasota would serve as the winter headquarters of the “Greatest Show on Earth.” The show had been based in Bridgeport Connecticut in years prior. 

The move was anticipated to provide much-needed employment opportunities for Sarasotans and an incentive for tourism after a major hurricane in Miami in 1926 contributed to the end of the Florida land boom during the 1920s. 

The world’s circus barrens had made it their mission to seek out unusual humans and show them off to the world. 

In 1929, a man by the name of Dr. Eugene Burgonier brought 12 Ubangis women from Africa to be featured in the circus. The women, who considered it a sign of beauty to stretch out their lips with ceramic disks, were paraded around the arena in front of circus goers and advertised as “the world’s most weird living humans.”

Florida Governor Fuller Warren meets with little people in Sarasota. 

Photo: Florida Memory Project

In his book, Hidden History of Sarasota, Jeff Lahurd describes how the circus theme had spread throughout Sarasota County by the 1950s. He lists a handful of attractions including Sarasota County Horn’s Cars of Yesterday, the Glass Blowers and Texas Jim’s Animal Farm to name a few. 

Lahurd writes that Swalm came up with the idea of “Midget City” while interviewing Nate Eagle, “Midget Impresario,” for a book he’d been writing about managing little people in other “midget cities” around the world. Eagle managed famous stars including Dottie Williams, who was often referred to as “the miniature Rita Hayworth,” and others like Dot Wenzel, a singing and dancing personality and Trinidad Rodriguez, who Lahurd refers to as “the smallest woman in the world.”

By the 1930s a worldwide fascination with little people and the popularity of the movie the Wizard of Oz had prompted several other theatrical performances starring little people. Small-scale villages were popping up all over the world and Swalm believed her miniature endeavor would be the perfect fit for a city already associated with humans of every shape and form.

The 40 acre tract that Swalm had plotted for her town was to be incorporated and completely run by little people; they would have their own mayor, police department and fire department.

Two little people pose in front of a circus train. 

Photo: Florida Memory Project

Swalm’s plan was to attract little people to the location by offering them free rent if they would spend their winters in the town she had created just for them. Swalm believed her residents would make money for their utilities and amenities by running the businesses that she would build onsite. And one can’t forget that the miniature people would bring miniature fruit to sell to guests when they arrived on the bus. The whole endeavor would cost an estimated $290,000. 

The biggest money making businesses, Swalm predicted, would be television publicity and a small-scale girls fashion industry where children could buy “ladies’ clothing” that resembled there mothers’ attire but fit their small stature. 

It is unknown why her plan never came to fruition. But despite the lack of development, the legends associated with Swalm’s vision have had a lasting effect on the Sarasota Community. It was believed that Ringling built small-scale houses for the Doll family, a clan of little people that toured with his circus. 

Anita Bartholomew was sure she’d purchased one in the 90s when she signed the deed for a Norman Revival style home, also known as “the midget’s house,” that was built in Indian Beach in the 1930s, then moved to the Sarasota mainland several years later.

A man poses before a show.

Photo: Florida Memory Project

In an interview with the Sarasota Herald Tribune in 2012, she describes the “circus lore” attached to the building and tells the reporter, Marsha Fottler, how her cat Murphy’s “funny reaction” to “something,” which she believed to be the ghost of a little person,  at the bottom of the staircase prompted her to hire a feng shui practitioner to neutralize the home. 

Bartholomew turned legend into fiction when she authored a book, “The Midget’s House … A Circus Story, A Love Story, A Ghost Story,” that is currently available in the gift shop at the Ringling museum. She stresses in a prologue that her book is simply fiction and lacks historical evidence to confirm her romantic tale. 

Sarasota remained the headquarters for the circus through the 1950s, and then in 1960 it moved to Venice, which is still known as “Circus City” to locals. 

While “Midget City” never materialized its impact on the Sarasota community remains active and every time one drives on U.S.41 from Sarasota to Venice, they can squint their eyes and try to imagine Swalm’s big dreams for the little city.

Authorities: Body ingarage was alleged shooter

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Thursday, June 20, 2013



PORT CHARLOTTE — Authorities have confirmed that the remains found in a Port Charlotte home Tuesday belong to the man suspected of burning it down.
Donald Hierspiel, 51, broke into his ex-girlfriend’s home on Riviera Lane early Tuesday morning and threatened her with a gun, according to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office. He allegedly fired multiple shots and set the house on fire, but the woman managed to escape uninjured and ran to a neighbor’s home to call 911.

A body was found in the garage several hours later, and authorities Wednesday said an autopsy showed it was Hierspiel.

The relationship between Hierspiel and the victim had turned sour in recent months, court records show. The victim could not be reached for comment.

On May 10, she petitioned to have a restraining order against him, because she was worried that his behavior was ‘escalating from verbal abuse to mild physical abuse,’ according to a court document.

The victim had known Hierspiel since 2009 and had taken him into her home when he was released from prison in 2010. He had served 14 months for grand theft and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, records show.

Facebook posts from July 2011 show the couple exchanging banter.

‘Love you lots my crab-stomping, grass cutting, bing bing-fixing UFO!’ she wrote on his page.

‘You better,’ replied Hierspiel.

But Hierspiel, who owned an electronics business, changed after he started taking pain medication for an injury, she wrote in her petition.

The pills make ‘him angry, abusive and destructive because I don’t think he takes them as prescribed,’ she wrote.

After two incidents of what she referred to as ‘mild physical abuse,’ the victim began to fear for her well-being.

‘I know he has at least one gun somewhere,’ she wrote. ‘I don’t know if it is still in the house, and if it is I don’t know if he will get mad enough to use it on me or the dog.’

The restraining order became final on May 21. Hierspiel was barred from contacting the victim or coming within 500 feet of her, according to court documents.

On May 31, the victim posted a hopeful comment on her Facebook page: ‘No more hate and discontent. No more mud wallowing and middle school games. No more looking backward when there’s so much to look forward to!’

According to Kay Tvaroch, executive director of Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies, about 300 domestic violence offenses are reported to law enforcement each day in Florida.

‘It’s about power, it’s about control, and the threats and intimidation become a useful tool to keep someone,’ she said. ‘The best thing to do is get out, and we are here to help.’

There are 220 to 225 domestic homicides per year in Florida, Tvaroch said, citing Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence statistics.

In this case, she said, the victim did the right thing by taking steps to ensure her safety.

‘She was on the right track and she came out alive,’ Tvaroch said.