The frigate birds are back (above). I see these greedy ghouls soaring high above, looking for all the world like prehistoric pterodactyls. This can only mean one thing: The baby turtles are starting to hatch and the annual dash of death begins.
Between the frigates and the sea gulls and the ghost crabs and the coons and the Manasota Key Beach Bully ("The Beach Bullly Blues,"2.24.12), and between a myriad of predators waiting in the water, I do not understand how even ONE small, helpless turtle can manage to survive. We also have some very rare Ridley Turtles nesting on Manasota this year.
Good Luck and God Speed to all the little turtles.
Full moon? Solar Flairs? Incense?—Everyone, I suppose, has heard by now of the gentleman who was shot dead in his birthday suit while dining on a human head steak down at Miami. Just when one thinks the world cannot get any more gorier or any more depraved, it does. Imagine, you are a tourist from Iowa, Indiana or Ireland and this is your first visit to Miami Beach. You are packed and ready for a fun day in the sun and you see this bloody spectacle in progress, in broad daylight, right beside the road—a naked male is on top of another naked male, covered in blood, with man meat hanging from his chewing chops. Will the visitors think that this is everyday stuff and think little of it? Or, as is more likely, will the visitors cut their vacation short and promise themselves never to return to such a place?
Some blame the horror on the new rage for smoking incense; some say that this was the catalyst.
Speaking of human pit bulls. . . . There were some oh-so-familiar quotes in the paper by the family and friends of this face-eating fiend. A younger brother of the cannibal called him a “sweet person.”
“I wish they didn’t kill him so he could tell us exactly what happened,” said the brother. “This is very uncharacteristic of him.”
Does that description--after the fact--remind you of any other life form that seems hard-wired for murder and mutilation?
Whatever, the following is chapter 4 of my new book, Toledo Blade—The True Story of the Abduction, Rape and Murder of a Cop’s Daughter. Obviously, judging by the horror in the piece above and judging by the horror in the piece below, if one wishes to enter the true crime writing genre, there can be no better place on earth to reside than right here in the Murder Capital of the World, Florida.
The Wounded Bird
yler’s dad travelled a lot for work. He would take off for days then come home. He was a heavy drinker and very jealous so, I think it just progressed to where he would get jealous, then, you know, accuse me of this and that, and beat me. We’d fight and he would decide to push me and knock me around. But it got to where he would actually beat me like a man, you know, like a man beating a man. I had long hair back then and he would hold me by the hair and literally beat me and keep me in the bedroom and not let me out. When I didn’t want to be intimate with him any more he would just force himself on me.
I used to have a little angel collection. He broke that into pieces. He broke the kitchen table into pieces too. One time he grabbed me in front of everybody, by the hair, and dragged me through the yard into the house. He actually got arrested a couple of times for domestic.
On New Year’s, and his birthday happened to be on New Year’s, I told him I was going to be leaving, I could no longer live in that condition. I made my bed and I laid in it for as long as I could because I had a son with him. I didn’t feel the kid should keep hearing the screaming and crying, because at one point, Tyler even called 911. So I told him that and I took my son to a restaurant and a friend called and said, you know, he was threatening himself; he was threatening his life. My friend said, “Stay away, Jen,” and I said, “No, you can’t do that. If somebody’s gonna do it, you at least have to go and talk to him.”
And so, when I got there, he was threatening to kill himself, but when I got close he decided to grab hold of me and he held me by the hair and put me in the car. I had put Tyler in the back seat and when I, you know, sat up to fight him and threatened to jump out of the car he stuck a gun to my head. He had me by the hair with the gun to my head and the door was wide open. I had my foot out the door, dragging as we went. I begged him to take my son to his mother’s so he would be safe. Whatever he wanted to do to me, it was in God’s hand, just don’t let the kid see it all happening. He said that we’d both go; that he didn’t care.
When we got to his mother’s, he let Tyler go. I guess I was pretty bloody and didn’t realize he had broken my nose. He was drunk, messed up, and there was a lot of swearing. He accused a lot of people of, you know, trying to flirt with me and whatnot. I told him I would go back home with him and everything would be okay. I talked to him long enough and, you know, his sister had already called the law and when they came there I didn’t want to make. . . . I told them that the door actually whammed me in the nose, but the officer, he’d seen too much domestic violence and he knew that wasn’t the truth. He got arrested for that one.
One time he broke into one of my places I had. KayLynn was a baby. And when I got home there he was laying in bed, eating food, in my own place! I did call the law that time. And they had him leave, whatever, and when I went to leave, he came back, grabbed my keys and went back in the house. Instead of calling the law again, I just left. A second time, he came through my kitchen window.
If someone said they saw me with a guy, or if he caught wind . . . if you’d hear the message he left on my son’s birthday. “I’m not going to hurt you, but you better tell whoever it is to look to their shadow.” And then when we talked about it later, he says, “I know I need to work on it and I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m like that. I’ll probably be crazy about you till the day I die. No more, I’m not going to bother you. I’m not going to mess about your life. You can date, talk to who you want.” But then, I take Tyler and KayLynn over for him to watch them for a while he’d say things like: “Go ahead kids, put your bags there so your mom can go fuck somebody.”
KayLynn’s dad didn’t beat me up, he was a pusher, he drank, he is an alcoholic. As far as beating me, no, but he was a big thief. There were a lot of times I’d come home and there’d be stacked dishes and he’d be sitting on his tail end and I could smell the liquor. With an alcoholic, you can smell it on their skin and so I could smell it automatically, and he would slur and I would get kind of gruffy and say, “these goddamn dishes here and you sit on your ass, this kind of lifestyle. . . . My dad was right on the kind of person you are,” and I would tell him he’d have to go and he would get into my face and I would get back up into his face and when I did he would push. He wouldn’t get down on me and beat me like Tyler’s dad.
It got so bad where I found out he was borrowing money from Tyler’s piggy bank, his words were “borrow.” I got home one time and went to use the DVD I just bought the previous two weeks and it was gone. He said a friend had taken it and I go to find out he pawned it. I went in my jewelry box—I’m a real jewelry fan—and he probably got rid of nine rings, a necklace and bracelet and not too long after that, I got a call from his mother and somebody broke into her house. Now, mind you, if somebody steals from his own parents, you’re real low.
I confronted him. I said, “I can’t have it. This is where we have to end it. You lied to me about everything, so now you are a liar AND a thief. I can’t enjoy having a beer in the fridge and having a beer with you, or having a thing of tequila—which I like—or to have it around to have next week, or the week after.” He told me he got into drugs and he needed the help, and I said, “I can help you but I can’t help you in this house.”
So that pretty much ended us in that note. I really don’t see much of him. As for child support and money for KayLynn, I gave up on that. In the last two years I’ve gotten $72.
Despite the name, “Paul’s Parrots” had pretty much come down to fish. Gone from the shop were the cages filled with noisy parrots, toucans, and cockatiels and in their place were aquariums of neat, clean, quiet fish. Back in Ohio, back in his heyday, Paul Robb had a full-blown pet store. Back then Paul had bred many of the feathered critters sold in the shop and the place was a bedlam of squawks, screeches and “Polly wannas.” But after the move to Florida thirty some odd years ago, Paul had cut back and cut back and cut back some more until now, his shop was as quiet as a library. And as he cut back, Paul had turned over more and more of the store’s operation to his only surviving child, Jennifer.
Jen enjoyed it. She was good at it. She loved helping her dad. She was punctual, she was courteous, she kept the fish fed and healthy, she even lent an ear to the local loafers who came in each day because they had nothing better to do. But to everyone--even to Jen herself--it did seem strange. Odd, that this slight young woman--spiked hair, tattoos, piercings, the whole nine yards--should pass her days in such quiet surroundings feeding fish, reading, chatting with frumpy old women, when her past—and her present, for that matter--had been anything but quiet and peaceful. If only the old ladies knew.
Except for those fish and a few close customers, there weren’t many to share her troubles with. The job and kids kept her social life tied up mostly. Her mom, once a refuge to run to, was now terminally ill and only a shadow of her former self. If she were alive, Buffy would have been there for sure. She would have understood. The two sisters had been not only close in age but kindred in spirit. But then, that quickly, she was gone. One day the sisters were doing yard sales and laughing, the next, with a burst aneurysm, Buffy was dead.
And so, here she was. Alone with her thoughts. On this warm, overcast day in Homosassa, Florida, a Thursday afternoon in January, for Jen it was neither a good day or a bad day. It was simply another day.
Dreamy little Homosassa, population 2,000, home of Manatees and curtains of Spanish moss hanging thick and sad from the huge oaks like funeral drapery--Homosassa, still stunned, still struggling, still suffering from the events of several years before.
Back in 2005, a local loser, a crack head named John Couey, had kidnapped nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford. Like everyone else in the community, when word first got out that the child was missing Jen was horrified. Worse, as a mother of a little girl herself, she was terrified. Her son even went to the same church as the missing child. Jen didn’t even have to think. She and a friend, like everyone in Homosassa, quickly joined the search. Jen did not know the Lunsfords personally nor did it matter; they were parents, they were human, and that was enough. Three weeks later, the body of the pretty little girl was found. She had been raped and buried alive. It was a horrible moment; a moment that shook not only the community, but the state, shook them right down to their roots.
Not only did she suffer through her own personal misery, but Jen shared a social sadness with each and every other person in little Homosassa.
Men—either she was on a run of really rotten relationships or Florida was filled with a bunch of bums. Admittedly, Jen Robb was no saint. She pushed buttons. She had a wild streak a mile wide. She had the heart of a red-hot chili pepper on the inside which perfectly matched her spiked red hair on the outside. Even though she was less than five feet tall you could see at a glance that Jen Robb was one tough cookie who took no shit from no one, no time, no way, no how. But really, she did deserve better than this.
There had been several boys in high school, but her first serious man thing, 9-year-old Tyler’s dad, turned out to be a total disaster. Perhaps only animal heat and lead in the water had brought the two together in the first place but whatever it was, the party was over pretty damn quick. The guy was a control freak; a mean-spirited chunk of raw anger with all the emotional control of a child. Pathologically jealous, he would knock Jen around for imagined infidelities, then whine and beg for her to come back when he sobered up. Then there was KayLynn’s dad. The good news: This chap didn’t beat Jen bloody like the first. The bad news: He was a drunk and a thief who quickly graduated to being an addict and a thief. No broken noses, no hair-dragging, no guns to the head with this one, just a lot of pushing, cussing, booze, swag, and a dreary day-to-day drug existence.
Looking back over the past ten years, Jen’s life, her relationships, all lay scattered about like some debris field following a horrible hurricane. Her souvenirs were a ton of bad memories, two kids to raise, and no daddies in sight. And that was pretty much it for her “man” history.
Oh yes, there was one more. . . .
And what of this, what of Jennifer Robb’s most recent relationship? Well, it was the most painful of all, though for far different reasons. She was still beating herself up over this one. Even though Jen was still steamed over the affair, she sensed, no, she knew, that she had dropped the ball on this one and let a good thing slip away.
Jen met Mike at a friend’s wedding three years before. At the reception she did some eyeing, some flirting, then even asked him to dance. She found him quiet, polite, a bit shy, but best of all, she found him sober! Jen took a shine to him right then and there.
And what came next? Well, with two young singles, what would? Sex . . . a lot of sex. Both of them liked it; but Jen liked it more. Jen led; Mike followed. Jen was dominant; Mike was dominated.
“I was the dirty one,” she admitted.
Whatever, Mike was the willing tool for whatever she did--and she did plenty—because whatever he did he did to please her. But, she thought, if only he had been just a little kinky, a little aggressive, a little rough.
And he was self-conscious about his chubby body, his big belly. He hated to strip down.
“Why are you attracted to me?” he once innocently asked.
“Your belly,” she laughed.
Mike was also a bit of a prude and easily embarrassed. Once, in a busy clothing store, Jen was feeling saucy and had pointed to some skimpy male attire.
“Hey, go and try this on!”
As Mike’s face reddened, Jen couldn’t resist.
“Hey, you want to do it in here?”
“Jen! There’s a lady right there.”
But sex Jen could have gotten from just about any poor mope. Problem was, it usually came with a ton of baggage. Mike was different. He didn’t smoke. He didn’t drink. He didn’t drug. He didn’t steal. He didn’t cuss. He didn’t scream. He didn’t shout. He didn’t push. He didn’t shove. He didn’t even beat her or break her nose. Although he was no rocket scientist and lied more than any ten people she had ever met, as they got to know each other better and better, Mike lied less and less. He had a good job, made lots of money but best of all, even though her hair was short, spiky, red, not long and straight and brown like he preferred, it was clear that he was falling head over heals for her . . . for her! It seemed too good to be true. Jen kept waiting for the first shoe to fall.
“Baby, I got everything I want with you,” he told her. Jen didn’t fall for that old hustle ‘cause she didn’t trust the words of any man. Jen had two little kids to fend for and as far as inviting another man into her life, well, she had been there, done that. No way was she jumping into another rotten romance simply because some man, high on free sex, croons a tune of love.
But to her surprise, Jen found herself falling for him too. Jen didn’t trust men but this one was making a believer out of her. A month went by: He still didn’t drink, still didn’t smoke, and the sex was still red hot. A year went by: She watched him closely around the kids . . . and she liked what she saw. Whereas the others had been indifferent at best, mean at worst, Mike was patient and caring. It was clear that he actually enjoyed, even loved, being around the kids. KayLynn was his little jewel, his pride. “KK” he called her. She was like an extra limb growing from Mike’s chest; he carried her around like a doll. That was good enough for Jen; she decided to give it a shot.
When Mike and Matty moved in to Jen’s double-wide one day, it became official—they were a unit, a family. Despite growing up as an only child, Matty made the adjustment as well as any. In fact, he accepted the other two like they were his own brother and sister. No problem with sharing. Jen called him an “awesome kid.”
After he weaned KK off the sippy cup, Mike bought fruits and vegetables and got all the kids eating healthy. He made sure they brushed their teeth and scrubbed behind the ears. When the kids were bad, Mike was a no-show; a total marshmallow. Not a good thing in the long term, but in the short term Jen could and did overlook it. Better that, she told herself, than the sort of discipline the other dudes had dished out.
Jen, Mike and the kids planned their menus together, cooked together, ate together, washed the dishes together.
“Actually, he did the cooking and he had no problem,” said Jen. “He didn’t gripe about it even if he just got home from work. He didn’t gripe about anything I made which sometimes it probably didn’t taste all that good, but I guess Mike would eat anything.”
There was lots of outdoor grilling together, boating together, fishing together, even yard-saling together. Everything together. In fact, Jen began to wonder if she and Mike could ever do anything without the kids. She had to laugh. One dark evening she came home from work to find the table set, dinner on the stove, candles lit, romantic music, Mike waiting . . . and all the kids sitting around the table. There were times when she wished there was a little less togetherness.
It wasn’t all Ozzie and Harriet. Jen didn’t solve her anger issues overnight. Jen was still Jen. She still had a trigger temper. She could blow over anything . . . or nothing. Well, it was something to Jen. Little spites, petty slights--festering gremlins that gnawed near the surface from a forgotten tiff weeks before could, with the right amount of stress, explode in a fiery flash. Three kids to raise, her mom--then her dad--both failing fast. And then there was Mike himself. Though he meant well, he had a hundred ways of irritating her.
“I wanted to throw a dish at him everyday,” she said. Well, not really, but when Jen was pissed she could throw and slam with the best of them. And when she did, Mike’s usual response was: “Why’d ya do that?”
One time, when he came home late from the tanning salon, Jen was boiling. She had his favorite food, macaroni and cheese, on the table, ready, waiting, and . . . cold. When he wimped out and mumbled something lame, Jen flung the food on him, then stormed out the door to her mother’s. Though that incident was soon paved over, there were other issues.
“I told him to get rid of the Corvette because no way would it fit a family of five,” she recalled. Jen wondered why it would take anyone that damn long to figure it out. Grudgingly, but dutifully, Mike sold the shiny red sports car. They settled on a sane and safe Ford Expedition. Mike called it her “Barbie car.”
Though he tried, Mike himself wasn’t very good at throwing fits. One time he had announced, rather passively, that he thought he might go back to North Port for a while. That was Mike’s way of showing anger; it was his weener way of saying, “I’ve had enough.” After spending the night at a Homosassa hotel, he was back the next day. Jen laughed, but only to herself.
But as a rule, there were few serious spats, and nothing approaching a knock down, drag out. Mike was far too laid-back for yelling or hair-pulling and Jen had experienced quite enough of that in her past to want more. Gradually, they settled in.
Two incidents stand out in Jen’s mind. One was the night she was attacked. On that particular evening, she had on the uniform she normally wore at the pet shop which looked a lot like hospital scrubs--her father thought a uniform looked more professional than some of the wild stuff his daughter wore. As Jen made her rounds of the grocery store she couldn’t help but notice that the same guy always managed to be in the same aisle as she. When she left the store the stalker left too. Too late, Jen wished she had not parked in left field this dark night to avoid a ding in Mike’s shiny new truck.
“You fucking nurses . . ,” growled the maniac as he suddenly grabbed Jen from behind, “you should be wearing a white cap.”
The struggle was fast, furious and, of course, potentially fatal. Small, but wiry, Jen fought like a cat, then broke free. When a family appeared from no where the guy gave it up. Nevertheless, Jen took home from the encounter some ruffled feathers and some severe bruises. She debated whether to even tell Mike about it but when she did he was far more shaken by the incident than she. Was she hurt? Had she been raped? Did she know the guy? Where did he live? It was clear that Mike wanted to hunt the devil down right then and there. She calmed him down. Instead, both agreed to call the cops.
Jen knew Mike was not merely making macho; he was stone serious. On another occasion, when he saw a screaming woman surrounded by some men, Mike didn’t think twice. He turned his truck around, jumped out and threw himself straight into the mix. As it turned out, it was a domestic flare up and the woman had drawn a crowd by blowing off steam, but both events spoke volumes to Jen.
“Mike would do anything to protect a woman, anything.”
Then, around Halloween, 2007, Jen noticed a change. Mike became different; he was not himself.
“He was sad, quiet, cold. He was real depressed; you could see it in his face.”
He had trouble sleeping. He complained of headaches, ringing in his ears, buzzing in his head. He became increasingly paranoid. He pulled the blinds. He peeked from the curtains. He locked the doors. He relocked the doors. It was spooky. Jen tried to joke her way through it, then ignore it. But it did eat at her.
Then, while the family was living at Mike’s home in North Port, things nose-dived. Mike and Jen made a lot, but they spent a lot more. Bankruptcy loomed. A blow-up coincided with her mother being hospitalized and placed on a ventilator. In a rage, Jen grabbed the kids, slammed the door, then went back to be near her mom in Homosassa. Instead of saying, “Fine! Good! Go! And don’t come back!” Mike meekly packed his bags and followed her north. There, he took care of the kids, shopped, cleaned, and gave Jen time to camp out at the hospital. He also commuted everyday to his job near North Port, a three hundred mile, six-hour round-tripper. When she discovered a foreclosure notice on the North Port home that he had hidden from her, Jen felt duped, deceived. When Mike suggested that they all move back to North Port and fight off foreclosure, Jen refused.
Matters came to a head Thanksgiving Day. Late the night before, Jen and the kids had baked pies and fixed trimmings. With her mom failing fast, she was determined to share a final Thanksgiving with her. But when Jen, Mike and the kids gathered around the table at her parent’s the next day, it was clear that her mother was worse than imagined. Midway through the dinner she became sick and could not even finish her meal. The sights and sounds were terrible. Added to everything else, the stress was too much.
Mike may have said something, or nothing, Jen doesn’t remember. It didn’t matter. Her anger needed a vent.
“Mike, just give me one fuckin’ reason to be thankful for, just one, or get the hell out of my life . . . just get out!”
And that was that. No papers, no lawyers, no courts. A natural separation. Not long after, Jen knew she had made a mistake, a big one, maybe the biggest of her life. It wasn’t just the money crunch she would soon find herself in; it was the hundred other little things, like picking up the kids, taking out the trash, getting groceries, the fun, the love, the support. She cried. No man had ever helped her like he had. The only decent man to enter her life and she drove him away.
After he was gone, the silence rushed in. “A million times,” Jen felt the bed next to her . . . and felt nothing; she looked at the couch for a familiar figure . . . and saw nothing; she watched as little KK toddled along . . . alone; she glanced out the window to a driveway . . . now always empty. She kept thinking, hoping, that he would just drive in some day, just like he had a thousand times before and then all would be well again. But he didn’t. Instead, he did it the passive way, the shy way, the Mike way--he called . . . and called . . . and called.
Jen described herself as a hard-ass, high-strung and head-strong. She was all that, and more. She was proud and stubborn; too proud and stubborn to answer the phone.
One of the few, and last, times she did answer was in early January, 2008.
“I need to know,” he asked in that sad, soft voice, “do you still love me? I just need to know.”
Jen felt that stubborn knot rising in her throat again. In spite of her heart, she told Mike coldly that she was at work and didn’t have time to talk. If he wanted to discuss it he should call at another time. She hung up.
Mike did call again, but Jen never answered.
Now, in a pet shop as quiet as a lava lamp store, on a day like all the rest, Jen had plenty of time to think. She wanted Mike back. This she knew. She wanted him back but she didn’t know how to take him back. She had failed at love so many times. She felt that she had been let down yet again. She told herself that there was no rush with this one; that she could reel him in anytime she wished, on her terms. Maybe in a month, a week, or even tomorrow, she would answer the phone if he called; in a softer moment, she might even call him if he didn’t. And then, all would be well again as it once was. Then, together, with their kids, a family once more, they would work out their problems—in her heart, that’s what Jen wanted more than anything else in her life.