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    Entries in Orlando (4)

    Sunday
    Jul232017

    “I CAN MAKE THEM DISAPPEAR...”

    I began writing this article in June, 2009 and finished it in May of 2010. Today, I’m compelled to reprint it because I cannot stop thinking about Tracy. I did bring pertinent information up-to-date.

    In February of 2009, Chris George’s car was found abandoned near a wooded area in Apopka, Florida. Also known as George Onda, family members and friends didn’t think much of it because he often took off to go on drug-induced binges. Three weeks later, the family called Apopka police and a search ensued. One of the volunteers was a guy by the name of James “Jimmy” Hataway. He was one of only two people who last saw George alive. When the case went cold, police closed it out, but reopened it later. Today, the Ocoee Police Department has linked a total of 6 victims to James Virgil Hataway. In 2011, Chris George’s bones were found in Lake Carter, about 15 miles outside of Orlando.

    Tracy Ocasio was last seen on May 26, 2009, leaving the Tap Room bar on Raleigh Street in Orlando’s MetroWest neighborhood, at 1:30 AM. Her car was found abandoned about 15 miles from the bar, not far from Hataway’s home.  A year later, the Ocoee police department named him as the only suspect in her disappearance. Until then, he was merely a person of interest.

    Soon after Tracy went missing, I went to pick up a few prescriptions from the pharmacy. As she was ringing up my purchase, I asked the always friendly woman behind the counter if she knew anything about the missing woman and the guy police have in custody (on another charge) who might also be tied into Jennifer Kesse, last seen on January 24, 2006. (It was pretty big news around Orlando for both women.) At first, she didn’t quite know, so I mentioned the bar a mile or so away called McGuinnty’s Irish Pub. I told her he used to go there.

    “Oh, yeah, I remember seeing him on the news. I thought he looked familiar,” she said. “I think I used to see him in here.” I told her McGuinnty’s was one of his hangouts because he lived nearby at the time.

    As a single mother, I just don’t picture my clerk as much of a drinker and, needless to say, neither am I any longer, but I was more of one back then and I knew who this guy was the first time I saw his picture on the local news. McGuinnty’s has been closed for about ten years now, but I can remember some of those times like it was yesterday, and I can easily remember the people who oftentimes frequented the place.

    I never befriended James Virgil Hataway at that bar and there were some very good reasons why. The people he hung around with were skinhead types. Hoodlums, plain and simple, and most of the time the regular crowd stayed on one side while they planted themselves on the other. They were young - mid 20s to early 30s - the way I saw it. Today, Hataway would be around 36. They shaved their heads and had goatees. They were a tough group hanging with rough, but good-looking women. There were a few I knew by name, but not much else. Dallas was a good guy. Today, I don’t remember most of the names but I do remember the faces. To give you an idea, Matt had at one time been a nice young man until he got mixed up with that bunch. His change was overnight. Clean cut one day, shaved head the next, with tattoos and piercings all over and a nasty, punk, degenerate attitude. He went from saying hello and friendly conversations to wanting to beat the living crap out of anyone in his way and for no good reason. Of course, I never said a word to him again after he snarled one night. These were the guys who had no respect for anyone but their own small clique of friends. They had the ultimate chip on their shoulders. They had no respect for anyone but their own and it’s clear that Hataway had no respect for human life after information emerged from law enforcement accounts.

    Hataway was always the quiet one in the crowd, never starting trouble, yet it didn’t surprise me in the least that he became the only suspect in Ocasio’s disappearance. A surveillance video from the Tap Room showed Hataway and Ocasio leaving the bar together. Allegedly, she offered to give him a ride home to Ocoee, a couple of miles northwest of the bar. Although never charged with her disappearance, he was found guilty of first-degree attempted murder, burglary, robbery, and false imprisonment, and sentenced to life in prison in 2011. That incident occurred in 2008. He choked his victim, Rachel Clarke, tried to snap her neck, and repeatedly slammed her head into the pavement. Fortunately, there were witnesses that heard her screams for help and she was rescued.

    Hataway was a guy who fancied himself “the worst criminal in the universe” by using the alias Vader McGirth on his now closed MySpace page, named after the Darth Vader character in Star Wars. He was no stranger to police because of his extensive criminal record dating back to 1993. It includes kidnapping causing bodily harm, drug possession, and many traffic offenses.

    When I questioned one of the former bartenders at McGuinnty’s, she told me he used to ask her for a ride home once in a while. Did you ever give him one? “No,” she said, “I always told him I live in the opposite direction.”

    I asked her if she was glad she didn’t and she emphatically responded, “YES,” but she never would have thought that he could have done such a thing, other than because of the type of crowd he was always hanging with. Where did they all come from, I wondered. Why did they congregate at McGuinnty’s? She said many of them lived in the trailer park behind the bar. She also told me that most of them had since outgrown that skinhead phase, and some are married. For the record, much of that trailer park is now a housing development.

    “He wouldn’t care who it was, he would make them disappear, just like he told me. The way he would talk about people … what he would want to do,” said a former roommate who did not wish to be identified, because he said he had received threats from some of Hataway’s friends.

    Before his arrest on drug charges in 2009, Hataway lived with his father in Ocoee. He also worked with his father dredging ponds. Clearly, police wanted him off the streets.

    “This Jimmy has a preponderance to do violence, he snaps, he gets angry, it’s always a woman, ride home, end up alone,” said Sgt. Mike Bryant of the Ocoee Police Department, in June 2009. “He’s very familiar with going out into open land at night and not getting caught dumping land debris and waste, that’s a concern…”

    “We believe he did it. He’s always been a suspect,” the detective added. “He is suspected of killing her.”

    Too bad for Tracy because this young woman was a true blue Orlando Magic fan. That’s why she went to the Tap Room bar that fateful Tuesday night on May 26, to watch her team win, and win they did, against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Too bad another James, James Hataway, was there to watch her lose her life in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. No one ever saw her again. Just like magic, he made her disappear.

    She needs to be found.

     

    Sunday
    Mar052017

    Did Obama Tape Him?

    Joe Burbank is a senior photographer with the Orlando Sentinel. I got to know him during the murder cases I wrote about. (He was the main photographer during the George Zimmerman trial.) Joe’s a really good, down-to-earth guy. The Sentinel was responsible for all still images that went over the news feed, while CNN handled video. This is one of his photos taken for the newspaper when President Trump visited Orlando on Friday. I think it’s worth a Pulitzer.

     

     

    Saturday
    Mar122016

    Whiskey River and the 3 Marlboro Omelet

    This is a piece I wrote in February, 2006, although I did edit it when I last published it in 2012 and again today. The message is the same. Times may change, but it’s not always for the better. Yesterday’s Chicago fiasco is a stark and sickening reminder that prejudice still divides us. This is one story, but in reality, it’s not limited to one side. Winds blow in all directions.

    §

    When I was doing art & design work for a local printer, we had a film stripper who set up our work to make plates for the presses. He was a really good guy and we got along quite well. I was from New Jersey and he was a Florida native. A lot of people from here have a fair amount of resentment towards people from other parts of the country, especially northerners. If you were from Alabamee or Mississippa, you were OK. The northeast? Eh. Not so much.

    Ron and I used to tease each other about northern and southern differences - the Civil War, the South Rising Again! That sort of thing, but it was all done in a good-natured, friendly manner with no implied intent. Whenever he tried to goad me with some Yankee insult, I had a standard reply; one he could not defend, “Well, at least I didn’t have a hangin’ tree in my back yard.”

    Ron was, by no means, a racist. He lived in Apopka, which is a relatively rural town northwest of Orlando. Plenty of the deep south has areas of racial hatred, including parts of Apopka. I’m not trying to single out any community. They’re everywhere, all across America, and most of the town is not like that, but there’s a long history steeped in racial bias and, yes, hangin’ trees that should have been chopped down a long time ago. Ain’t been no hangins’ around these here parts in a long time, yet there still exists a small faction of folks who believe the old rules of the deeply segregated south should never and shall never change.

    When I moved here in 1981, I found a place in Winter Park called Harrigan’s. My sister used to work there. It’s been gone a long time now, but one of the bartenders ended up buying an established business in downtown Orlando on the corner of Orange Avenue and Pine Street called Tanqueray’s. It used to be part of a bank and housed the vault. You walk down a flight of stairs from street level, step inside, and immediately feel the warmth of the friendly crowd.

    Many of the regulars from those days were professionals who worked downtown and stopped in for a drink or two to unwind and socialize. It was known as a hangout for local lawyers and it always seemed to be a well mannered, intellectual group. That’s where I met attorney John Morgan, later of Zenaida Gonzalez fame, but that has nothing to do with this story. I seldom go downtown anymore, but if I do, I try to stop by, since I’ve known Dan a long time and he always has a few good jokes to tell, plus he’s an all-around great guy.

    One day, I dropped by for happy hour. I had to go into the city for some reason and, I figured, why not go see Dan. I took a seat at the bar, near the front door, and we exchanged some friendly banter. The place was quite busy, so we didn’t have much time to talk. Moments after I arrived, some guy appeared on my immediate left. Talk about rough around the edges, he didn’t quite fit in with the rest of that crowd. He ordered a draft beer and said to me, “Yup, I was at Whiskey River at 7 o’clock this morning.”

    Whiskey River is a liquor store on S. Orange Blossom Trail. It’s certainly not in one of the nicest parts of the city. There are a few scattered around and they have a reputation for catering to hardcore drinkers - the labor pool and unemployment collecting types who live off their pay buying cheap booze and cigarettes. That was a perfect description of this particular fellow. I have no idea why he chose me out of the crowd to enlighten, but there we were…

    “Whiskey River? At 7 AM? So, tell me, what did you have for breakfast?” I asked.

    “I had me a 3 Marlboro omelet,” he responded in his gruff, seasoned and rather pickled sounding voice.

    “Hmm. Sounds delicious.”

    “Yup. It was.” Suddenly, out of the blue, he blurted, “I’m a card carrying member of the KKK.”

    “No. No way.”

    “Yup.”

    I had never met anyone with any sort of affiliation to a white supremacy organization. You know, you always hear stories, but have you ever met anyone like that for real? “OK. Let me see your membership card.”

    “Ain’t got one. Don’t need one.”

    He didn’t come across as some sort of nasty fellow. He didn’t seem to have gone in there to start trouble. I think he just wanted someone from the “big city” to talk to. Maybe, I looked slick enough. I seem to collect those types, anyway, but I don’t mind. I guess I have a friendly demeanor that people pick up on.

    After telling me he lived in the outskirts of Apopka, I thought to myself, why not give the guy a chance to speak his mind. I would try to rationalize everything he says and come back with an appropriate response. I asked him how he could feel this way. How could you harbor so much hatred inside?

    “They’re animals. Damn [N-WORD] are monkeys.” I think he really wanted to test me, yet I sensed sincerity in his statement and a certain curiosity on his own part, like he was questioning his own tenets; the ones I’m certain was a huge part of his upbringing.

    “Animals? What if you had sex with a monkey, could you get her pregnant?” No need to question his own sexual identity.

    “Nah, of course not. That’s stupid.”

    “What if you had sex with a black woman, could you get her pregnant?”

    “Yeah, of course.”

    “Well, what you are accepting is that if black people are animals and you could get that type of animal pregnant, then you are an animal, too; a monkey. We’re ALL monkeys!”

    “Uh… uh…” I don’t think he knew what to say.

    With every racist claim he made, I had a response. At one point, I asked him, “What if you were in a horrible accident and needed a blood transfusion? What if you later find out it was the blood of a black man? A NEGRO. AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN. What would you do? Would you try to bleed yourself out? Would you tell your card carrying KKK members that you are now tainted with the blood of an animal? Would they hang you from the highest tree?”

    No responses to my queries made sense, yet he stuck around to hear everything I had to say. He didn’t necessarily agree with me, but I could tell he was grasping, if not absorbing, everything. He really WAS trying to understand the other side. I brought up the “be they yellow, black or white, they are precious in his sight” song from Sunday School days of my youth. He knew the song, but many southern racists are born into religious families that adhere to odd and distorted interpretations of the Bible, as if Jesus was lily-white and black folk dangled from fig trees.

    I asked him about black heroes who had saved plenty of white hide during our nation’s wars throughout the world, like WWll. A lot of us wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for good ol’ blackie, would we?

    The conversation had taken on a kind of flow. It was never a heated exchange and we showed each other respect. I couldn’t judge him for his status in life, but I surely did question his morals and prejudices with a vengeance. Our discussion began to wind down without ever really unwinding. The conversation had just taken its natural course. At the end, I had one final thought.

    “What if we were on a deserted island — just you, me and a really good looking black woman…” Suddenly, the door opened up and a group of very good looking women sauntered in, one of whom was black. “HER!” I exclaimed. She didn’t see or hear a thing. “What if it was just you, her and me?”

    “I’d kill YOU, not HER. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” I knew what he meant. Sex. Ain’t no way this dude was gonna go for me, Deliverance-style.

    “You mean to tell me you’d kill a white man to save a black woman? Wait a minute. Doesn’t this go against your entire credo? People you’ve hated all your life? What would the KKK say about that? Kill a WHITE to save a BLACK?”

    “You’re confusing me, man, you’re confusing me!” Aha! Gotcha, I thought to myself. “You know, you’re right.” he continued, “Yup, you are, but I’ll never tell my friends about it. I can’t. They’re my friends and they’d kill me.”

    I guess I felt some satisfaction in thinking I had gotten through to the guy, but did I really? He had listened to enough, I reckon, and I’ll never know for sure.

    “Thanks for the talk. Gotta go.” He gulped what little beer he had left and off he went.

    What surprised me the most was that the patrons sitting at the bar had listened intently to our conversation, unbeknownst to me. After the guy walked out and the door closed behind him, they broke into a loud applause. They, too, thought that, maybe, just maybe, I had gotten through to him. Perhaps, I did, but I doubt it.

    Occasionally, I think about the KKK man who sucks Marlboros for breakfast — the guy who went home to the hangin’ trees that still stand and sway; returned to the recollections of fiery crosses from yesteryear. I hope and pray those fires will be extinguished from our memories and that warm breezes of kinship will sweep through the minds of people like him. Gone with the wind.

     

    Monday
    Dec122011

    For Michelle

    I had a rather busy Saturday this past weekend, but before I go into that, I want to clarify a couple of things. One, Jeff Ashton is aware of my contest. There are no hidden agendas whatsoever, so don’t be afraid to enter. Two, the original media reports focused on the Hoffner Avenue bridge as the location where Michelle Parker’s cell phone was tossed and discovered after police received a tip. That information is incorrect. It is the Nela Avenue bridge location, and I made the correction on my Over Hell and Dale report. The maps now reflect that change. Sorry for the confusion.

    On Saturday morning, I drove to Costco in Winter Park to have copies of Jeff Ashton’s book signed. You know, Imperfect Justice… the one I want you to win. From there, I drove down to the area where Michelle Parker’s Hummer H3 was found on November 18, the day after she disappeared. My trusty iPad GPS app guided the way to the 4700 block of Walden Circle, in southwest Orlando. While there, I had the opportunity to speak to several people who actually live in the immediate neighborhood. On the outside perimeter, I asked three or four men if they knew where the vehicle was found and what, if anything, did they know about it. The consensus was clear about where it was found and two of them stated that they had seen the Hummer parked in proximity of that spot 3 or 4 times over the past month. They said, because of her tanning business, she may have had a customer living on that side. They told me they had been questioned by law enforcement and that’s what they told them. If true, it could point to someone other than Dale Smith II as the perp. On the other hand, why would someone in that complex be involved and point evidence their way? The men all agreed that they had seen the vehicle with the “GLOW Mobile Airbrush Tanning” decal clearly visible. This time, they said, the decal was gone.

    When they pointed to the spot where the Hummer was found, I drove across the street, parked my car, and walked around. Several men were sitting on their small enclosed porches. I asked them what they knew. I told them about the men across the way and what they said. They showed me exactly where it was found, and a couple of them told me there was another black Hummer that used to park toward the back area as the apartments (or condos/townhouses) extended inside the perimeter.

    CLICK ANY IMAGE TO ENLARGE - LARGER IMAGES ARE HIGHER QUALITY

    HUMMER FOUND HERE

    AREA WHERE OTHER HUMMER PARKED

    My real point of Walden Circle and what I found out is very important in one sense. Dale and Michelle had been broken up for a fair amount of time by then. How would Dale know about the Walden Circle location unless he was stalking her? Or if she had this very customer while they were still together, as in long-term, why wouldn’t the witnesses have said they saw it over a longer course of time than a month? Something isn’t quite adding up as far as I’m concerned.

    After I left the complex, I drove to the intersection of Vineland and Conroy Roads. On the southeast corner is a patch of woods, and on Vineland, there is a utility road into those woods that’s used to access two elevated billboards. If I was in the neighborhood looking to hide evidence, there’s a place I would consider, so I decided to take a look. Don’t let the overhead view fool you. The brush is a lot thicker in there, as the photos will show.

    LOOKING INTO WOODED AREA

    I didn’t investigate further because of the tangled brush and, well, the place just gave me the creeps. I left.

    What an Incredible Outpouring of Support

    From there, I hopped on I-4 and drove up to The Barn in Sanford, where she tends bar. I milled around snapping photos. There was a $10 admission charge and all of the gate money was to go to Michelle’s children and family for search efforts. [This could be a legal issue if Dale Smith II demands the money as father of the twins.]

    There were plenty of vendors plying their goods, and they all donated a percentage of the take, mostly 50%, to the same worthy cause. There was food, music, clothing for sale, a bounce house, face painting and more. Lots of fun! I didn’t hang around too long because I’m not much into large crowds any longer and my health cuts into the amount of time I am out and about. I stayed for an hour or so, and when I left, the nice woman at the gate answered “at least a thousand by now” when I asked her how many people were there. I was really hoping for a second wind so I could return, but it just wasn’t in me. Anyway, the festivities continued until 2:00 am after it was moved inside around early in the evening. Not only was the parking lot filled with people, the very large bar also held quite a few. There was a silent auction that you could bid on all day, with donated goods and services, and highest bids picked that night. There was a truck tug-of-war and other challenges, including a cornhole contest.

    SILENT AUCTION

    Like I said, I wish I could have spent more time at The Barn, but by late afternoon, I was beat. Yesterday on the local news, one station reported that at least 2,000 people showed up. The event was a huge success, in other words. Now, if we could just have the same success with Michelle, she’ll be back to her bar this week, waiting on her loyal customers.

    NEVER GIVE UP!