I'm up to my eyeballs in revisions for a new project - that's all I can say right now. And since Halloween is fast approaching, I thought we'd revisit one of Homicide Detective Mark Hussey's posts - cops and haunted houses. Gotta love it. (This is Part 2 will air next week, so be sure to bookmark or follow the blog)
Most cops, by the very nature of what they do, are stark realists. There’s an explanation for everything, and every action has an opposite and equal reaction. That’s why when something happens that can’t be explained in terms of black and white, it upsets the officer’s sense of balance. Oh, he’ll get over it, but not right away.
As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, the City of Lakeland is very rich historically. One such piece of history was established in 1927 by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and first opened its doors in 1929.
The Carpenter’s Home, as it was called, was built on a 2,000-acre tract of pristine land along the southern shores of Lake Gibson and bordered by US Highway 98 to the west. This Spanish style dormitory was built to house retired carpenters, many of whom had worked on the colossal wooden ships of another era, making their joints watertight. Master craftsmen, who at their age of retirement, were all but forgotten. These were true artisans. Machines now do most of the jobs done by these men, or men who couldn't care less about the quality of their work.
At one time the property included the main dormitory, a three-story, 400-room Spanish style building, shaped like a huge letter “E”, with two long wings of rooms at each end of the main hall, and a 850-seat auditorium in the middle wing. This area was originally the main dining room. With high Victorian style ceilings and suspended crystal chandeliers, this area was one of the most beautiful.
Located near the main dormitory was a beautiful stucco water tower, with an observation deck overlooking the lake. Also along the lakeshore was the final resting-place of those retired carpenters who lived out their days at the home. At the time of the Carpenter’s Home closing in 1977, over 500 small white markers were placed in remembrance.
The home was once completely self-sufficient, growing all its own vegetables and fattening its own beef and hogs. The unused acreage was used to grow enough citrus to not only subsist but to provide a substantial profit.
In 1977 the last retired carpenter was shipped to a nursing home, and Joseph Plymate, the home’s superintendent since 1965, retired and closed the doors of the Carpenter’s Home forever.
In 1979 the Lakeland Assemblies of God church, under the direction of the reverend Karl Strader, purchased the Carpenter’s Home property to be used for its new church, school, and retirement home. Although the price was undisclosed, the property was purchased in 1978 from Ben Hill Griffen Inc., for $8.7 million dollars.
With Polk County real estate prices soaring, one can only imagine what the property brought in 1979.
On an August evening in 1980, I was training a young officer who had recently left the United States Army infantry as a Second Lieutenant. Vladimir Novanavich was a soft-spoken, no nonsense college graduate. It was difficult to carry on a conversation with the guy because of his constant seriousness and his obvious intelligence. The essences of practical jokes were completely lost on this guy, try as I might.
Vlad’s parents were Soviet nationals and Vlad had an acute sense of patriotism and loyalty. He just wasn’t sure police work was his calling. Tonight he would get a call that would make him even more unsure.
We had just finished dinner and were belching up some Church’s Chicken, when the radio crackled “One-oh-six-alpha.”
“One-zero-six, go ahead,” Vlad said.
“I’ve got a suspicious incident call at the Carpenter’s Home on North. 98. Meet with the security guard who heard noises upstairs.”
Vlad responded, “Fifty-one from Florida and the Boulevard.”
In training new recruits, I always try to encourage them to formulate a plan in their minds. To visualize what they might find when they get to the call. I then caution them not to get tunnel vision. In other words, to develop several scenarios in their minds just in case.
This call, for instance, could be a burglar, a prowler, kids playing where they don’t belong, or just the wind blowing against a loose shutter. It would be our job to investigate, search and locate the source of the noise, or to determine if the security guard was a little stir crazy.
When we arrived, I might have voted for the latter. Twenty-year-old security officer Luther Parton was about 5’3” tall and weighed about a hundred pounds.
His black leather belt was cinched so tightly around his waist, with the uniform shirt and trousers two sizes too large, that he looked like a tube of toothpaste, squeezed in the middle. Luther wore those black rimmed “Buddy Holly” glasses with real thick lenses. He seemed a little breathless when he ran up to the cruiser.
“I heard someone upstairs” he panted. “Then I was going up to take a look, my flashlight just quit.”
“What did you hear?” I asked.
“It sounded like voices,” the kid said. “Third floor of A wing.”
“Any other ways into this place?” my partner asked.
“No, they’re all locked and barred, just the front door, I checked them myself.”
When we entered the lobby area of the building I could see that at one time this was a grand architectural work of art. The exposed beams and huge wooden doors gave it an almost medieval look. “When's the last time the upstairs were checked?” I asked.
"This morning by the day shift,” the guard answered. “What’re you guys carryin' there?” He pointed to the gun on my right side.
“It’s a model 64 Smith, 38 special,” I replied matter-of-factly.
“Ever shoot anybody?”
Jesus I knew that question was coming. It was always easier to say no.
“Oh.” He sounded disappointed.
I let the rookie go up the stairs first, because I didn’t think we would find any bad guys and he needed the experience of searching buildings. This one would give him plenty. The interior of the building was 180,000 square feet. We checked the first floor together, tediously looking into every room. Opening the room doors first, then looking cautiously into the bathrooms and closets. The electricity was off in the building, and thus the air conditioner was off. All the windows had been boarded up. The hot, stagnant air inside the building made it difficult to breathe. Vlad and I began to sweat profusely.
Tomorrow, I have some absolutely SPECTACULAR photos to share, thanks to a generous man I met while in Washington. Trust me, they're worth coming back for.