Backyard Bloodbath, Part 2

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Rich, stunned from the blow, stumbles backward. Frankie runs. But the smaller boy winds up cornered between a pool enclosure and a plywood wall. (Almost two months later, Rich will still be a bit hazy about the events that ensued. All he will remember seeing are images of his father.) What the crowd sees is Rich storming up to Frankie, wrapping his huge hands around the boy's neck, and lifting him off the ground. Frankie doesn't breathe. His tongue is forced from his mouth, his feet shake helplessly a foot above the ground, and his eyes roll back into his head.

After a few seconds, Rich lets Frankie fall to the ground like a rag doll. A friend of Frankie's then throws two vicious punches to the same spot over Rich's left eye. Rich falls like a redwood tree straight back into a large bush. The bush doesn't stand a chance; it is broken into pieces.

Frankie gets to his feet and runs onto the street. Rich, as if rising from a dream, stands up and follows him. Blood flows from above Rich's eye. Out on the driveway and street, the two shout taunts at each other.

"I'll lay you out, you fat bitch!" Frankie repeats over and over.

Then three police cars pull up and Frankie escapes down the street. The mere presence of the cops acts as a sedative; the threat of violence recedes. The spectators disperse, and medics arrive. Coral Springs police officer Brian Tarbox finds John; the self-inflicted razor blade wound has reopened, and blood drips down his chin.

Tarbox says there's little he can do to stop the kids from wrestling, so he focuses on John's parents' liability. "Do you know if somebody gets hurt doing this 'rassling thing, their parents are going to own your parents?" Tarbox asks John.

The boy just nods.

"How old are you?"

"Sixteen," John answers.

"Plenty old enough to know this is stupid."

On their radios the police call in medics to treat John and Rich. "This is the stupidest thing I've ever seen," Tarbox mutters. Gio stands quietly in John's front doorway. "I can hardly breathe," he says to one bystander. "I think I may have to go to the hospital."

Officer Rex Kirkpatrick of the Coral Springs gang unit arrived in a bulletproof vest. He announces to EFW members milling about outside: "This is over. You do realize that don't you? You can't do this ever again."

The boys nod.

Medics soon determine that John needs emergency medical care. In addition to the cut, he also has a hematoma on his forehead, likely from a chair shot. The EMTs wrap a collar around his neck, lay him on a backboard, and load him into the ambulance. Rich's mother arrives and tells the police about her son's problems: the threats, the lack of child support, the probation, and the anger.

Finally John's mom, Carolyn Lister, comes home. In a blue spring dress over a bathing suit, she appears to have been at the beach. (She said later that she was getting her hair done.)

"You need to get control of your kids," Tarbox admonishes her.

Lister tells the officers she has tried to no avail. John has taken over the house, she complains.

"Has he hit you?" Tarbox asks.

"No, but he's thrown and broken things," she says.

Before heading to the hospital to see her son, Lister complains the authorities simply don't understand. For her, backyard wrestling isn't a troubling trend, it's an inevitability. So she calls for official regulation. "I just wish the city would get a place where they could do this under some kind of supervision," she says. "They could use fake blood."

In the end Tarbox decides not to arrest anyone. He says he hates what he sees, but since it's all consensual and takes place on private property, he's powerless. With no victim there's no crime, and he believes charging Lister with child neglect is unwarranted.

Though the bloodbaths continue, the Coral Springs Police Department has managed to slow them down. They've been called to John's back yard, mostly following neighbors' complaints, a half-dozen times in the past couple years. Indeed EFW doesn't charge admission anymore because cops threatened to arrest the wrestlers for running an unlicensed business.

The February 24 show went further and got uglier than planned. The wrestlers didn't want the police to come. John didn't want to lose a gallon of blood (though he was determined to lose a cup or two). Gio didn't want to injure his chest. Rich didn't want to get in a fight or gash his eye. He's still a bit hazy about the fight and says he was in a sort of trance when he was holding Frankie by his neck. "All of a sudden, I thought, What am I doing?" Rich recalls of the moment before he let go.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman