By Sam Baltrusis
Admit it. Our little town has a sketchy past. Some would even say it’s scandalous. Depends who you ask.
After scouring through old newspaper clippings, uncovering police reports and collecting firsthand accounts from the locals, we’ve compiled a list of “Infamous Pensacola” sites that will make the little hairs on your arm stand to attention.
Some of these stories can be found in the history books”some can’t. Serial killers, grave robbers, haunted lighthouses, full-bosom shady ladies. Seems there’s a dark underbelly to the First Place City after all.
Pensacola High School Class of 1954 graduate Bobbi Godwin Vaughn purchased the Judias Buenoano home”former residence of the infamous Black Widow”on Brent Lane.
The Pensacola native says she’s afraid to dig in her backyard. “Who knows what, or who, Judy buried back there,” Vaughn contends. “I’ve heard about skeletons in your closet. But, I never thought they would be in my yard.”
˜THE LINE’ RED-LIGHT DISTRICT
Dateline: July 24, 1917”Brothel raided
Scene: 15 W. Zarragossa
Facts: Pensacola’s red-light prostitution district, also known as “The Line,” stretched on Palafox from Zarragossa to Barcelona and on Baylen from Main to Government. A full-scale crackdown hit the downtown shady ladies in July 1917. The police raid resulted in the round up of 150 women and nearly $2,000 in fines. The working girls including those of the Hazel bordello, located on 15 W. Zarraggossa, belonging to the “Full-Bosom Mama” herself, Millie McCoy. The infamous madam, who prided herself with her high-class ladies and hospitable debauchery, charged around $3 to $5 for a good time.
Outcome: During the 1920s the red-light district began to decline. Although Evelyn’s “Town Club” on 123 W. Zarragoossa continued to thrive. At a request from the military, police officially closed down “The Line” on March 1941. McCoy’s Hazel brothel was torn down and was ultimately replaced by the Pensacola Waterfront Mission. In an ironic twist, the Mission’s catchphrase is: “I was a stranger and you took me in.”
LONELY HEARTS KILLER
Dateline: February 28, 1949”Beck arrested
Scene: 1200 W. Leonard
Facts: Born Martha Seabrook in Milton on May 6, 1920 the future serial killer developed a glandular condition that caused her to physically mature faster than most children. By the age of 10, she possessed a woman’s body and the sexual drive of an adult. Seabrook later became Martha Beck, one of the nation’s most notorious serial killers in the 1940s. Beck met her co-conspirator, Raymond Fernandez, while heading the crippled children’s ward at Escambia General Hospital, which later became University Hospital on 1200 W. Leonard St. Before that, she worked as a mortician. On February 28, 1949 Beck was arrested for the murder of up to 17 women who were lured using “Lonely Hearts” personals as bait. The next day, the Lonely Hearts murder case was in the headlines across the nation. It was page one in every big city newspaper. The New York Times wrote, “3 ˜Lonely Hearts’ Murders Trap Pair; Body Dug Up Here.” Wherever Beck and Fernandez went while in custody, the photographers followed, hoping to catch a glimpse of America’s most dysfunctional couple.
Outcome: On August 22, 1949 Martha Beck was sentenced to death in the electric chair on October 10 of that year. Within an hour after the verdict, Beck was sent on her way to Sing Sing prison on the banks of the Hudson River near NYC. Beck was executed on March 8, 1950. In another ironic “Infamous Pensacola” twist, Beck’s old stomping ground in Pensacola”Escambia General Hospital”later became the Escambia County Jail on 1200 W. Leonard St.
WHITMIRE CEMETERY ghoul
Dateline: February 23, 1958”Ghoul strikes
Scene: Johnson/Whitmire Rd., Ferry Pass
Facts: West Florida had its own real life flesh and bone horror story in the late 1950s. The Ghoul of Whitmire Cemetery conjured a rash of hysteria and ill-ease prompting local families to lock their doors and protect their children in an era when area folk lived in sheltered peace. On February 23, 1958 Pensacola’s age of innocence officially ended. A Ferry Pass woman visiting Whitmire noticed that the coffin of a 14-year-old girl was opened. Another grave violation occurred in the old Roberts Cemetery near Gull Point in 1957. Although no sexual molestation was proven, rumors quickly spread that the Whitmire Ghoul was a necrophiliac, or someone with a morbid fascination with corpses. At the time, police were hush-hush, but rumors spread like wildfire. Large slabs were lifted”resulting in gossip that the ghoul had supernatural strength. The macabre intruder ultimately struck four times, three at the Ferry Pass resting place.
Outcome: The Whitmore Cemetery Ghoul case has been one of this area’s more infamous unsolved cases for almost 50 years. Kids desecrated the haunt in the ˜60s and ˜70s; however, that’s nothing compared to the emotional outrage that flared in 1958. Old-timers still mull over the sick-and-twisted tale of the grave robbing deviant.
Dateline: August 17, 1964”Mill restored
Scene: 5709 Mill Pond Lane, Milton
Facts: In 1853, the Arcadia Mill in Milton was the largest and most successful textile factory in the Sunshine State. Except for a small skirmish between Confederate and Union troops, the industrial complex was abandoned for more than a century. Warren Weekes, a local historian, rediscovered the mill site in 1964. The museum looks very “Twin Peaks” and is haunted, Weekes contends. “You can hear footsteps on the porch,” the historian told author Joyce Elyson Moore in her book “Haunt Hunter’s Guide to Florida.” Weekes believes one of the haunt’s ghosts is Joseph Forsyth, one of the original owners who died at the mill in 1855.
Outcome: Weekes insisted Arcadia was haunted until his death this month”May 2004. The highly respected historian curated the museum, housing artifacts uncovered from an archaeological dig conducted by the UWF Archaeology Institute.
Dateline: December 1976”Lighthouse reopened.
Scene: Naval Air Station, Radford Rd.
Facts: When the lighthouse quarters were open for overnight guests in 1976, some of the tourists fled in the middle of the night in terror and would not return for their belongings. Unexplained bloodstains were reported in an upstairs bedroom of the keeper’s quarters, covered by tile laid during an earlier renovation. In the ˜30s, the 10-year-old son of a lighthouse keeper heard heavy footsteps on the steep stairwell, but no one was there. The door eerily crept open and closed. Coast Guard guides have heard creepy laughter in the lighthouse and a man cursing angrily when no one was around. The legend behind the ghost stems back to 1857, when two of the early keepers, a husband and wife team, broke into a fight. Ultimately, the wife bludgeoned her husband to death in their quarters adjacent to the light tower. The violent stabbing left a large pool of blood on the floor.
Outcome: The tiles were pulled in 1995 to ultimately reveal that there were in fact bloodstains. Coast Guard tour guides maintain that a stream of unexplained events have occurred at the lighthouse. For haunt hunters interested in checking out the scene of the crime, the NAS Lighthouse opens to visitors at noon Sunday, May 30. Call NAS Pensacola at 455-2354.
Dateline: February 15, 1978”Bundy apprehended
Scene: Oscar’s Restaurant, 2805 W. Cervantes. Also, “W” and Cross streets
Facts: Pensacola Police Officer David Lee was working in the Brownsville area in the wee hours of February 15, 1978. While he was checking buildings, he noticed a Volkswagen Beetle behind Oscar’s Restaurant on West Cervantes. Almost immediately, the driver pulled his car onto Cervantes and drove to “W” Street, where he turned north with Officer Lee tailing him. Lee ran a check on the tag and discovered that VW Bug had been reported stolen. After an intense fight, one of the nation’s most notorious serial killers”Ted Bundy”was brought into the Pensacola Police precinct to be questioned by Detective Norman Chapman.
Outcome: Bundy was known in reports as “Mister X” until his true identity was released to the national press on February 16, 1978. The sophisticated sociopath assumed the identity of Florida State track star, Kenneth R. Milner. According to the Pensacola Police report filed, Bundy had 21 stolen credit cards as well as property he kept from three coeds he savagely murdered in Tallahassee. Ted Bundy was executed on January 24, 1989 at the Starke State prison in Florida. He admitted to murdering 40 young women in almost a dozen states during his four-year reign of terror during the mid-˜70s.
˜JAWS 2′ SHoot
Dateline: August 1977”Filming began
Scene: Near the Holiday Inn Hotel in Navarre, 8375 Gulf Blvd.
Facts: Special effects guru Bob Mattey decended on Navarre Beach in August 1977 to shoot the shark sequences in the highly anticipated sequel “Jaws 2.” Mattey was 67-years-old at the time and was in charge of a 28-man effects crew plus 10 divers. Like any True Hollywood story, constant tension between the effects team in Navarre butted heads with the production staff in Hollywood. Mattey’s entourage was divided between a warehouse in Pensacola’s “Shark City” and the fine beaches of Navarre.
Outcome: “Jaws 2” was released in 1978 to mixed reviews. It barely nibbled at the box office success of its predecessor. Meanwhile, Navarre native Dorothy Slye snagged a Jaws replica from the film shoot. She stores the sharp-toothed monster in her tool shed.
united 727 CRASH
Dateline: May 8, 1978
Scene: Escambia Bay near Garcon Point
Facts: On Monday, May 8, 1978 National Airlines 727 reportedly carrying 58 people crashed into Escambia Bay, in 11-to-13 feet of deep water about 50 feet offshore near Garcon Point. The jet pilot apparently couldn’t see the Pensacola Municipal Airport runway. The plane vanished about three miles from the runway as it approached the airport and crashed about 9:30 p.m. The jet left Miami at 4:20 p.m. and made stops in Tampa, New Orleans and Mobile.
Outcome: The aircraft’s emergency doors were above water and rescue divers were sent immediately with truckloads of medical supplies. However, out of the 52 passengers and 6 crewmembers on board, three people drowned while waiting rescue. Pilot error was to blame.
GULF BREEZE X-FILES
Dateline: November 11, 1987”Hoax photo shoot
Scene: Shoreline Park, Santa Rosa Sound in Gulf Breeze
Facts: Starting with a string of “Close Encounters” sightings in 1987, Gulf Breeze rose to Roswell, N.M., status with numerous reports of UFO sightings and doomsday charlatans. A scandal surrounding Gulf Breeze resident Ed Walters, who claimed to have photographed unidentified flying objects between November 11, 1987 and May 1, 1988 ignited an out of this world frenzy. Alien enthusiasts began staking out Shoreline Park South and the Gulf Breeze end of Pensacola Bay Bridge. Hundreds of sightings were reported to MUFON. Fans of the unexplained flocked to a UFO convention on Pensacola Beach. Meanwhile, a spaceship model made of Styrofoam picnic plates were found on June 10, 1990 and Walters’ claims were soon debunked.
Outcome: To uncover the controversy surrounding the Gulf Breeze UFO mysteries, a group of locals banded together in 1990. Within the first month of operation, the group had already reported a sighting of a glowing UFO with red lights, moving in an erratic fashion through the skies until it finally disappeared. The group would also report other UFOs in the months to come. Although the still images of Ed Walters were the focus of the UFO wave of 1987-1990, there was also video taken of unknown objects, and not all came from Walters.
BLACK WIDOW case
Dateline: March 30, 1998”Black Widow executed
Scene: Bomb site on the corner of Garden and Baylen streets
Facts: Judy Buenoano, commonly known as the Black Widow, was found guilty of killing several husbands, plus drowning her mentally handicapped son. Buenoano pushed her son Michael, who was 19 at the time, out of a canoe in the East River. After Michael’s death, Judy opened a beauty salon in Gulf Breeze and also began seeing a Pensacola businessman named John Gentry II. On June 15, 1983 the Black Widow planted a bomb in her husband’s car. Gentry survived, but the ruckus unleashed an investigation into the woman’s shady past. On June 6, 1984 Buenoano was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for 25 years. On November 26, 1985 she was sentenced to death by electrocution for orchestrating the death of her first husband, James Goodyear, in 1971.
Outcome: 54-year-old Judy Buenoano, known as the Black Widow, was executed on March 30, 1998 in Starke’s Old Sparky electric chair for poisoning her husband in 1971. Buenoano, who was given the nickname by state prosecutor Curtis Golden because she preyed off her mates and her young, was the first woman executed in Florida since 1848, and the third executed in the United States since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Buenoano was on death row for 13 years.
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