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Eight Skeletons, Weird Town

You want a fascinating crime story, check out Audra D.S. Burch's piece on the eight human skeletons discovered in a wooded area in Fort Myers. Eight sets of bones, all of them from white men who were killed between 1980 and 2000.

The theories on the March 23 discovery range from it being the work of a bad funeral home, a serial killer, or the Mafia. And, in weird Fort Myers, all three are feasible. I worked at the News-Press there for five years and got my fill of all three of the above.

As Burch points out, Daniel Conahan, the so-called Hog Trail Killer, is one suspect. His M.O. was to lure his gay victims to wooded areas, where he'd have his way and kill them. I didn't cover Conahan much, just a couple of stories, but it was enough that a friend of mine who was looking into the case found a deposition in which he referred to me as "that asshole Bob

Norman." I think that was what he called me, anyway. What was strangest about it was that the SOB remembered be my name since I barely covered his case (you want to talk about Conahan, talk to Peter Franceschina, another former News-Presser now in the Sun-Sentinel's Palm Beach bureau).

But I would bet money it's not Conahan. He worked farther north and I don't think he was that good at what he did to produce that kind of a bone pile. It might have been another serial killer, but I don't favor the theory in general. So what about the funeral home director theory? Well, that's a grotesque idea Fort Myers is all too familiar with, as well. A director named Finley Carter, who had a crack habit and other more disturbing personal problems, left I think 13 bodies to rot in a storage shed back in the mid-1990s. It was the dead of summer and one of them exploded to the ceiling. Then four mummified babies were found.

But this isn't the work of a funeral home director. The odds the director would dump only men aged 18 to 49 are way too long. It would be a hodgepodge of bodies. So that leaves the Mafia-crime syndicate idea, which I favor. For one, the mob has a long well-established presence in Fort Myers. I discovered while working there that the owner of a well-known hotel on Fort Myers Beach was a mob associate from Rochester NY with close ties to a slew of major Mafiosi, including infamous capo Tom Marotta. My old partner in crime writing, Jim Greenhill, and I uncovered all kinds of things from FDLE records and FBI agents about the hotel owner that I won't go into here.

Here's the kicker: The hotel owner was the chief political contributor to then-Sheriff John McDougall, who used to hold campaign events at the Lani Kai. Jim and I had FDLE reports that mentioned the relationship with the sheriff's high command while they were investigating activities at the hotel. For icing, McDougall also made the hotel owner an honorary sheriff's colonel and gave him a badge.

Here's the other kicker: The Gannett-owned New-Press was so damn lame that it wouldn't let us report this stuff in the newspaper. I'll never forget sitting down with the executive editor at the time and laying out the iron-clad evidence. He listened, then asked me, "Is it against the law?" That was his way of saying it was a non-story. That's when I knew for sure that the News-Press held no future for me. I mean, this was a story I could have kicked out in a month for New Times, made a big impact, and moved on. Instead it gummed me up for a year and nothing came out of it but frustration and misery.

Oh well. Don't get wrong. I'm not saying that I think the hotel owner had anything to do with the bodies. I don't. The reason I bring this up is to show you that there are Mafia influences in Fort Myers and that law enforcement there has been known to be less than fastidious in dealing with them. And to impress upon you that in Fort Myers -- which has had more unbelievable stories per capita than any other town in the USA -- anything can happen.

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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

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