Virginia Larzelere: Sentenced to Death for a Murder She Didn't Commit

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But she couldn't shake the memories of abuse. "They made her who she is," says her daughter, Jessica Larzelere, who's now 36 years old. And that first marriage, which lasted less than a decade and was marred by domestic violence, injected more conflict into her life. This perhaps caused her to be, at times, callous, manipulative, and given to impulse. "She is very intelligent and she had looks," Jessica added. "She used that to her advantage. She used sex to get whatever she wanted."

But her wants were often capricious. After that first marriage fell apart in late 1978, she bounced through two more husbands during the early 1980s, the second of whom she wed illegally because she was, technically, still married to the first. She developed a keen sense of business and by the mid-1980s was president of a construction company called V-Lar, based in Edgewater, a forgotten highway town of 15,000 along I-95.

On a weekday afternoon in 1985, Virginia visited a nearby dental office on Knapp Street, where she met a dark-haired dentist named Norman Larzelere. She now says she adored him from the start. The two made an odd pair: he wonky and careful, she vivacious and sexual. They married quickly, on June 14, 1985, and Norman Larzelere, whom everyone called Doc, soon adopted his new wife's two children, Jessica and Jason.

The family moved into the dentist's multiwing mansion in DeLand, which had housed aristocrats from a U.S. congressman to John Graham, president of First Union Bank. "Norm was my best friend," says Virginia, chestnut eyes electric with memories. "It's rare in life when you meet someone you can talk to about anything in the world."

Juanita Washington, who's now 82 and still in DeLand, was the Larzelere housekeeper. She remembers tending to an archetypal nuclear family. "There was nothing but love in that household," she says. "Nothing but love."

According to a financial statement from those years, times were indeed good for the dentist. He had a net worth of $1.1 million and owned boats, cars, and $200,000 worth of paintings and antiques. His home, tucked among oaks dripping Spanish moss, included a screened pool, a basketball court, and a guesthouse.

But despite the family's apparent wealth, disturbing problems simmered. In 1986, Virginia's business went bankrupt after she was charged in state court with embezzling $30,000 from a Daytona Beach construction company; she paid a settlement of $34,000, and the charges were dismissed.

More troubling, her six-foot, 130-pound son began to evince a temperament that was volatile and violent. "We were all close when we were young," says Jason's sister, Jessica. "But two years before my father died, I had a friend over. Jason was so angry that she and I had to lock ourselves in the closet as he was beating on the door. When we finally thought it was safe to come out, he punched me in the face and broke my nose."

Jason, who attended gay clubs in Orlando and collected drag-queen friends, also displayed an unusual and aggressive fealty to his mother. "He threw me down the stairs and broke my ribs by kicking me over and over again," his sister recalls. "I had told my dad that Mom was cheating on him with a patient of his."

Virginia Larzelere had, in fact, cheated on her husband with at least three other men, court records show. One of them was Phillip Langston, a six-foot-five exotic-animal and parrot collector who lived in a New Smyrna Beach hovel north of Edgewater. He slept with Virginia in 1989, and, he alleged in court, she once complained about her husband abusing her in a rage, saying she wanted to "get rid" of Norman for $50,000 — though Lang­ston didn't think she was serious.

Another of Virginia's lovers was a Californian named Norman Lee Karn, who favored big black cowboy hats and dated Larzelere for three months in early 1989. After requesting $500,000 for his testimony, which authorities rejected, he claimed Virginia had asked one of his pals at a tavern to kill her husband so she could marry Karn. (The friend later testified it was just "bar talk.")

And on that warm afternoon in March 1991, when a masked man broke into Dr. Norman Larzelere's dental office with a sawed-off shotgun and unloaded a single round into the dentist, every eyeball in Edgewater settled upon Virginia Larzelere and her strange son, Jason.

Six weeks after the murder, on an early May morning, a jowly and good-natured detective named Dave Gamell, who often played Santa Claus for local kids, grabbed a phone at the Edgewater Police Station. It was a friend of Jason Larzelere's, and he said he wanted to talk. He knew where the murder weapon was.

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Terrence McCoy