**In light of Jon Stewart poking fun at Florida's weird news, here's the full feature on Freaky Florida. This article was originally published in the February 2014 issue of Boca Mag.
Is the Sunshine State the capital of bizarre, head-scratching crime? You be the judge.
Maybe it’s the heat.
Perhaps it’s the influx of strangers—an estimated 80 million tourists wintered or vacationed here last year alone. Or, given the number of scams perpetuated in the Sunshine State, maybe it’s our reputation for being easily duped. On the other hand, it could be nothing more than sheer stupidity.
Whatever the explanation, Florida, according to a recent survey by the Associated Press, is the undisputed champion of strange-but-true news. There are blogs and websites devoted to our state’s seemingly never-ending wave of weird crime. Like the shapely woman who was smuggling cocaine in her breast implants. Or the faux physician who went door-to-door offering free breast exams.
Police see it all the time; another numbskull making life interesting.
“It seems that there’s a magnet over Florida,” says Stephanie Slater, public information officer for the Boynton Beach Police Department. “There’s always a Florida connection. Always.”
As Florida residents, it’s certainly nothing of which to be proud. However, it does make for good reading. Here are some of our favorite surreal episodes—all from the past five years.
Don’t they have Groupons in this town?
Going to the dentist is expensive. But patients in Golden Gate, near Naples, discovered a steal of a deal from a guy named Juan Diego Garcia-Castano, 32, who was doing dental work on the cheap in a rented, one-car garage. (He even had a comfy leather chair that tilted back.) Working on a tip, sheriff’s detectives visited Garcia-Castano’s clinic to get an estimate for a root canal, which turned out to be $400—about $1,000 less than the going rate at a typical dental office.
The officers returned with a search warrant, and Garcia-Castano was charged with practicing dentistry without a license. Sure, the garage was clean, but rules are rules.
The Razor’s edge
Megan Mariah Barnes, 37, was driving her Thunderbird south on U.S. 1 in the Florida Keys when she rather violently rear-ended a family from Palm Bay. What happened?
Apparently, Barnes was shaving her pubic hair—while driving—in pre-date preparation for a meeting with her boyfriend in Key West. The accident probably came as no surprise to police in the Keys, who see their share of freakish escapades. But this story took an even stranger turn when authorities realized Barnes was driving with a suspended license because of a DUI conviction—which happened the day before.
Even weirder: The woman’s ex-husband was driving with her, steering the car while she took care of business. Sounds like a reality show in the making.
The defense rests ... and is arrested
Matthew Oliver, 23, of New Port Richey was fooling around on Facebook one day when he noticed the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office had named their “Fugitive of the Day.” And it was him! Oliver couldn’t resist posting in his own defense; he claimed that he was in the hospital the day of the robbery, so it couldn’t have been him. He went on to add that a crackhead had set him up. How dare the police accuse him!
The post went on and on and on and on ... giving deputies ample time to knock on his door and cuff him.
Pain in the ass
Oneal Ron Morris, a transgender man who identifies as a woman, was arrested in Miami Gardens for injecting total grossness into the behinds of other transgenders who wanted curvier posteriors. Police said Morris used a frightening cocktail of cement, super glue, mineral oil and Fix-A-Flat tire inflator, injecting the mixture right into the behinds of the JLo wannabes. Naturally, someone became sick and called police, and Morris’ living-room clinic was shut down. Police later posted full-length pictures of the famous “toxic-tush” nurse, who had obviously injected himself a few times. We’re betting he didn’t charge himself the customary $700.
Something got his goat
Stealing is wrong, of course. But stealing your neighbor’s goat for sex? Well, that’s just a whole lotta wrong. A 48-year-old Panhandle man was put in jail after the goat, Meg, died of apparent asphyxiation at some point during their private encounter. (Hey, don’t blame the messenger.)
The charges didn’t last long. In Florida, home of the weird, sex with a goat wasn’t illegal. That is, until state Sen. Nan Rich got involved. Rich—already fired up over an incident involving a blind man arrested for having sex with his guide dog—sponsored an anti-bestiality bill that, in 2011, finally was signed into state law.
The penalty for having relations with an animal? It’s a first-degree misdemeanor.
Holy fashion faux pas!
We’re not dissing the power of prayer, but a man named Anthony Jason Garcia had a different kind of inspiration after a restful moment in a Catholic church near Disney World. About 12 people were wandering the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, when Garcia, 31, left the chapel, rushed into the gift shop and demanded the cash drawer from one of the largest church stores in the Southeastern United States.
Unfortunately for Garcia, his style selection came back to haunt him. Unable to handle the haul—and keep his trendy-but-slouchy pants from falling down—he eventually stumbled. A maintenance man tackled Garcia and kept him in a headlock until police arrived, at which time Garcia was hauled to jail and charged with felony robbery.
Charges from above are still pending .
But does she do windows?
Next time your mom tells you to clean your room, do it. Maybe that’s the lesson from an arrest in Zephyrhills last fall. Police said they found Stephanie Thompson, 28, screaming and crying with a burn mark on her face after her mother, Cynthia Alexander, 48, used a taser gun to, um, “encourage” her grown daughter to clean the mobile home they shared.
The 28-year-old refused to press charges, police said, telling them she loved her mom and that they’d work it out. Together. With Pledge and a soft rag.
Giving someone a hand ... gone wild
Phillip Winikoff, 81, was pretty convincing, what with his little black bag and his earnest concern. But it turned out the free breast exams he was offering door-to-door in a Lauderdale Lakes apartment complex were free for a reason: He’s no doctor, just an old guy who likes touching breasts. When Winikoff took his traveling “free breast exam” ruse on the road, one woman, incredibly, invited him for an impromptu appointment. (She got nervous when his hands wandered elsewhere.) Police said by the time the woman called 911, Winikoff already had found a second victim. Women’s health advocates used the opportunity to remind ladies of this one simple truth: Breast examiners don’t go door to door.
Drop the dual-shock controller, now!
It might have been just a toy, but Port St. Lucie police weren’t amused when Giovanna Borge, 19, marched into the bedroom she shared with her boyfriend—and started shooting him with a plastic squirt gun. Borge was actually taken to jail and charged with simple domestic battery after neighbors told police they heard the boyfriend screaming like crazy. (What? Was he melting?) Borge, who had been in the relationship about a year, told police she’d had it with her man playing Xbox, which is what he was doing when she got all trigger-happy. See? Video games do cause violence.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Not every bank robbery call is run of the mill, if there is such a thing. Naples police found this out for sure when they responded to a 911 call from a Wells Fargo Bank branch and found Mark Loescher, 51, claiming to be the “half-orangutan director of the CIA.” He also threw around some pretty lofty inside connections—including a friendship with then-President George Bush and a blood linkage to Elvis Presley.
Police figured the stories were fake, but Loescher’s gun wasn’t. So they carted him off to jail.
Can he keep his rollover minutes?
Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to “butt dial” the authorities in the middle of a murderous rant. But Scott Simon, 24, apparently fell asleep during that part of class. Simon was arrested in Broward County after he accidentally (we’re assuming) pocket-dialed 911 in the parking lot of a Waffle House. On the call to the recorded line, Simon could be heard yelling at Nicholas Walker, 33, mad as all get-out, threatening to follow him home and kill him.
When Walker was shot dead minutes later, detectives showed up at Simon’s door. Simon wasn’t accused of being the gunman, but, rather, of orchestrating the death. Police said it was the first time they’d ever had a thug tattle on himself.
Behind the police blotter
When it comes to weird cases, nothing seems to surprise public information officers at police departments throughout South Florida. Well, almost nothing.
Mark Economou has been the public information specialist at the Boca Raton Police Department for five years. He thought he’d pretty much seen it all.
Then this happened.
This past October, about 5 in the morning on a Friday, the department received a call on its emergency line. A man had stopped at a Walgreens to run an errand when he noticed something rather alarming.
“He said he saw a man talking to a large duffel bag,” Economou says. “And he saw a female arm coming out of the duffel.”
The police scrambled into action, looking for the car, the man and the woman attached to the arm. Was it a carjacking, a kidnapping, a domestic? “After three or four hours, we found the car,” Economou says. As it turned out, the man was in rehab, the woman in the bag was his girlfriend, and ...
Well, he was sneaking her in for some one-on-one.
“Those are the kind of weird stories I guess you are referring to,” he says.
Economou says Florida’s propensity for national headlines probably stems from three things: the state’s liberal public-record laws, the immediacy of social media and “a different day and age.”
It’s different, all right. Consider the guy in Oakland Park who pulled into a gas station and parked his van over the in-ground gasoline tanks. According to Dani Moschella, public information officer for Broward Sheriff’s Office, the man apparently had researched some sort of bizarre hydraulic system that allowed him to tap into the underground tanks and then pump stolen gasoline into the barrels he was hauling.
“I always wonder if somebody in Whatever County, Wis., is doing the same thing,” Moschella says.
One place renowned for acts of drunkenness and tomfoolery is Mile Marker 0, our very own Key West. But despite its reputation, police spokeswoman Alyson Crean says she doesn’t think her city is all that strange.
“There was a guy arrested several years ago in San Diego with monkeys in his pants,” she says. “Weird stuff just happens.”
Eliot Kleinberg, author, Weird Florida; Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post; Dave Moreland’s “Bozo Crime of the Day,” found at electricferret.com/bozo; Florida Man, found at twitter.com/_FloridaMan; Florida Woman, found at twitter.com/_FloridaWoman; Fark.com; newsoftheweird.com; mentalfloss.com; and the websites of the Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post, Sun Sentinel, WPTV, Naples Daily News, Orlando Sentinel and Sarasota Herald-Tribune.