Fault Lines
19 August 2017

Crime in Florida is Weird and Wonderful

February 8, 2017 (Fault Lines) — As Chris Seaton pointed out in his uproarious post last week on Fault Lines, crime in Florida is sui generis. As all lawyers know, “sui generis” is Latin for “laugh your ass off.”*

Since the early 50s, I have made the study of crime in Florida a passionate avocation. This is largely because I lived in Pass-A-Grille during part of my childhood and I have yet to recover. As kids, we used to congregate on the beach in front of a home near the aptly-named and especially garish Don Cesar hotel.

We peered over a retaining wall of a beach-front home local lore suggested belonged to Johnny Torrio, the mobster. Once in a while, we would get chased away by large men in suits. What we didn’t know was that Torrio no longer owned the property. He had sold it (no doubt at arms-length) to Sheriff Hugh Culbreath, triggering an investigation by Kefauver’s Senate Crime Committee.

Sadly, my dad, doing a passable imitation of Willy Loman, went broke and we left Florida. But by then I was hooked on comedy and crime in Florida.

Even so, I try my best to keep up on the off-the-wall crime in the Sunshine State. The best chronicler of the eccentric nature of crime in Florida is the famous writer for the Miami Herald and crime novelist, Carl Hiaasen. He was born and raised in Florida. His novels begin with the bones of a true story taken from the pages of the newspapers.

Consider this free excerpt from his new novel about crime and Florida, entitled Razor Girl:

On the first day of February, sunny but cold as a frog’s balls, a man named Lane Coolman stepped off a flight at Miami International, rented a mainstream Buick and headed south to meet a man in Key West. He nearly made it.

Twenty-seven miles from Coolman’s destination, an old green Firebird bashed his car from behind. The impact failed to trigger the Buick’s airbags, but Coolman heard the rear bumper dragging. He steered off the highway and dialed 911. In the mirror he saw the Firebird, its grille crimped and steaming, pull onto the shoulder. Ahead stood a sign that said: “Ramrod Key.”

Coolman went to check on the other driver, a woman in her mid-thirties with red hair.

“Super-duper sorry,” she said.

What the hell happened?”

“Just a nick. Barely bleeding.” She held her phone in one hand and a disposable razor in the other.

“Are you out of your mind?” said Coolman.

The driver’s jeans and panties were bunched around her knees. She’d been shaving herself when she smashed Coolman’s rental car.

“I got a date,” she explained.

“You couldn’t take care of that at home?”

“No way! My husband would get so pissed.”

But I can’t depend solely on Carl. There is so much material that one must also troll the pages of the newspapers and the internet. After all, there is no substitute for independent research. And that brings me to Tallahassee

Tallahassee is the Capital City of Florida. It is located among the hills, moss-draped oaks, and stately pines of Florida’s panhandle. Panfilo de Navaez, the one-eyed Spaniard, first passed through the area in 1528.

Later, Ralph Waldo Emerson called Tallahassee “a grotesque place…rapidly settled by public officers, land speculators, and desperadoes.” Over 150 years ago, Tallahassee’s Police Department was formed to end this lawlessness.

But, as I next explain, the T-town police, despite their years of experience, have not been entirely successful. Consider the recent case of a very angry man who chased a pastor and threatened to kill the godly man with a gun.

Here are the frightening details:

A well-known Tallahassee pastor was forced to flee naked after a husband came home early and found him having sex with the man’s wife.

. . .

According to a Tallahassee Police report, officers went to the Sienna Square apartments on Capital Circle Northeast in the middle of the afternoon of Jan. 17 after a woman called to report that her husband was angry and had a handgun after he encountered his wife and [an a pastor] having sex in the daughter’s bedroom. The man came home early after the school called him to pick up his sick son. The school had tried unsuccessfully to reach the wife.

. . .

After the husband interrupted the tryst, he yelled “I’m gonna kill him” and ran to the master bedroom for his handgun; [the pastor] fled the apartment naked and hid behind a nearby fence.

. . .

The wife then called the police and her husband left with [the pastor’s] clothes, wallet and car keys, which he threatened to drop off at the church. He also threatened to expose [the pastor] on Facebook.

As it turns out, the police negotiated with the aspiring assassin. After a long talk, the man turned the pastor’s clothes and such over and delivered his gun to a neutral third party. State Attorney Jack Campbell, “citing the interests of all involved,” decided against prosecution.

Pour me another Orange Blossom!

Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge (Nebraska)

*“Sui generis” can also be used to describe a particularly perverted but hilarious sex act. It involves a species of farm animals (Latin name Sus) and seven emotionally-enlightened young people of various sexual orientations. Since this is a family friendly criminal law blog, I go no further with that particular use of the words.

13 Comments on this post.

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  • CLS
    8 February 2017 at 10:46 am - Reply

    Judge:

    It is wonderful to know you and I share a common interest in the lunacy coming from Florida, or as I’ve heard it called, “God’s waiting room.”

    And you are really far too kind regarding my bad jokes.

  • Catherine Mulcahey
    9 February 2017 at 9:55 am - Reply

    For your amusement, I suggest checking the topic “Florida” at FARK.com from time to time. People submit links to news stories that could keep Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey and Dave Barry writing “truth is stranger” fiction for years. One of today’s links is “Firefighters rescue man trapped in garbage truck in Tampa.”

    • RICHARD KOPF
      9 February 2017 at 10:34 am - Reply

      Catherine,

      God(s) bless you! All the best.

      RGK

      • CLS
        9 February 2017 at 10:51 am - Reply

        Judge, I can confirm that when I start looking for weirdness, the Florida tab at Fark is usually my first stop.

        • clonedaddy
          10 February 2017 at 1:36 am - Reply

          and here I thought you woke up every morning to check Dreamin Demon.

  • Wilbur
    9 February 2017 at 10:19 am - Reply

    I’ve worked as a state prosecutor in Miami for 30+ years. For a long time, I was naturally skeptical that more weird stuff happened here than other places.

    However I’m finally coming around to the belief that this may be a meme with some validity.

    • RICHARD KOPF
      9 February 2017 at 10:45 am - Reply

      Wilbur,

      As you say, “naturally.”

      “There Are None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See.” I completely understand. After all, for the longest time, I thought I lived in metropolitan Lincoln in the center of the universe, Nebraska.

      All the best.

      RGK

    • Anon
      14 February 2017 at 7:39 pm - Reply

      As memes go, it’s true but slightly unfair. It’s the third most populas state, and the second most visited, with everyone crammed into a relative small habitable area. Throw in the perpetual Spring Break character, copious amounts of drugs, and the natural ecology, and every day offers the possibly of one nudist getting chased by another nudist swinging a three-foot alligator. Mostly, though, the Government in the Sunshine Act magnifies everything. Everyone place has weirdos: Florida just doesn’t hide its in the closet.

  • Adam Gillette
    9 February 2017 at 6:35 pm - Reply

    One should not forget the late, great Elmore Leonard set some of his best crime novels in Florida, e.g., Rum Punch and Maximum Bob. Although he might have found the story of the pastor too implausible.

    • RICHARD KOPF
      10 February 2017 at 9:40 am - Reply

      Adam,

      Indeed! Leonard’s writing reminded me of a flickering neon sign that hung in the diner that drunks (like me?) would find late at night. What a wonderful writer.

      All the best.

      RGK

  • David Meyer Lindenberg
    10 February 2017 at 10:45 am - Reply

    Your Honor,

    I’m ashamed to admit it, but when Scott and I interviewed Mario, I had a moment of doubt about the whole Floriduh thing. But I was able to rationalize it away. AFter all, I told myself, Mario was born in Venezuela, so his formative years were spent in a comparatively civilized place.

    Now I learn you grew up there. This is alarming. I may need to actually reconsider my beliefs.

    All the best,
    David

    • Richard Kopf
      11 February 2017 at 9:01 am - Reply

      David,

      There is no other place in the world where a deft writer like Carl could accurately use “sunny but cold as a frog’s balls” to describe the weather and a sense of life that is just as wacky as the weather.

      If you are looking for an empirical explanation, I have none. Truly.

      All the best.

      RGK

  • andrews
    13 February 2017 at 5:35 am - Reply

    Of course we have more unusual events here. People come from other states, and they stay here. [ob. remark about leaving and bi-state improvements omitted.]

    In this case, however, the writer left out the oddest part of the lady shaving story. She could well have been from out of state. So could her ex-husband, who was steering while she shaved, on her way to meet her boy-friend.