Longform

Florida Panther's Return Spells Doom for Gladesmen

Jack Laban swears a cat was out here raising hell just this morning. Mosquitoes slurp blood through the 94-year-old shirtless Gladesman's baggy skin as he hobbles across a landfill of empty Pepsi cans and settles into a folding chair. The former Miami plumber with a full head of white hair uses a rope for a belt and keeps a .45 in his scuffed brown boot. He's lived out here in the Big Cypress Preserve for 35 years -- one of the last people to hold out and not sell their land to the government.

A Heinz 57 mutt barks madly in the front yard, apropos of nothing. Despite this guard dog, Laban is so paranoid that he rarely leaves his boarded-up house, which is 12 feet wide and looks like a trailer.

Although the father of two thinks grifters are out to steal his stuff, there are at least two things wrong with that assumption. First, there are only five residences left out here on Turner River Road, a dusty, chalk-colored path that forces Google Maps to go wonky and can make a pristine, light-green hatchback quickly resemble a grape dropped in playground sand.

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.