This is another installment in a series of articles that Historic City News has been fortunate to receive permission to publish; taken from a collection of nostalgic memories recorded by Geoffrey B. Dobson.
Dudley Garrett and the Case of the Bare Chested Stranger
By Geoff Dobson
In August 1977, reports began to come into the Sheriff’s office of a “peeping tom” peering into windows of condominiums and cottages on Anastasia Island south of St. Augustine Beach.
The multitudinous multi-storied condominiums that now line Highway A-1-A had not yet been constructed. Except for Quail Hollow and a few older cottages, the area north of Crescent Beach was fairly well undeveloped, with coastal hammock on both sides of the highway.
From the descriptions given, the individual was a stranger and did not wear a shirt. He had a hairy chest and facial hair. The woods provided an ideal place for the stranger to hide.
Late one evening, another report came in. The stranger had been observed heading northward through St. Augustine Beach.
At the time, Dudley Garrett was sheriff. Behind his back, Dudley was good naturedly called “Dudley Do-Right.” Garrett, a former Alachua County deputy, had been appointed as acting sheriff in 1970 by Governor Claude Kirk (“Claudius Maximous”) when then Sheriff L. O. Davis and two others had been indicted on a bribery charge. The jury found Davis not guilty. The jury was out only seven minutes. Normally, a jury takes at least 15 minutes. They have to elect a foreman, smoke a cigarette and take a trip to the head.
Governor Kirk continued the suspension, but the Senate after the acquittal declined to sustain it. At first, Garrett was somewhat diffident, not a “hale fellow well met,” as most sheriffs of the period were. After he was acquitted, Davis ran for election in 1972 against Garrett. Garrett won two to one, receiving 5,918 votes to Davis’s 2,189.
Buddy Hough, the proprietor of a local little house of horrors on Williams Street, received 114.
Slowly, Garrett warmed up. Not withstanding that he had come from elsewhere, we knew that Garrett was accepted when he was featured in one of Gamble Rogers’ stories. Gamble, a trained architect, attained national recognition as Florida’s Troubadour for his unique combination of picking, singing and tall tales.
One time the writer was lead-footing it across the plains someplace east of Jeffrey City, Wyoming, heading toward Muddy Gap. Jeffrey City is not much of a burg. At the last census, greater metropolitan Jeffrey City had a population of 66 men and 44 women, perhaps making for an interesting closing time at the Split Rock Bar.
The car radio was tuned to KUWR. The station was playing one of Gamble’s records. For the next 45 minutes, the writer re-lived times at the Trade Winds, St. Augustine’s iconic saloon on Charlotte Street. Gamble, once or twice a year would play at the Trade Winds. The place would always be packed. One time, the only seat Toni Leonard, the saloon’s owner, could get for the writer was on the opposite side of the stage away from Gamble and next to the popcorn machine. Gamble’s stories were allegedly based on truth, but exaggerated with carefully chosen $15.00 words.
A few months prior to the reports of the peeping tom, Ronnie Thomas Nance hijacked the Orlando to Toronto Greydog Express with a demand that the driver take him to Alabama. Ronnie was well lubricated. When his liquor ran dry, the bus was required to stop at a liquor store, enabling an alarm to be given to the Sheriff’s office.
The sheriff set up roadblock at the Gator Truck Stop near Durbin Hill, south of the Duval County line on US 1. The bus was ultimately stopped at Bayard by shooting out its tires. Gamble turned it into one of his stories. In Gamble’s version, Dudley captured Ronnie by hermetically sealing the bus and sucking out all of the air.
With the report that the stranger was heading north through St. Augustine Beach, Dudley’s office sprang into action and set up a road block on A-1-A. In those days, A-1-A went along the beach on what is now Beach Boulevard and then turned westward just to the north of Pope Road and then joined Anastasia Boulevard just to the west of Old Beach Road where State Road 3 came in.
Near there, the Sheriff set up a road block. Whether the suspect took A-1-A, Mickler Boulevard, or State Road 3, assuredly the stranger would be stopped, arrested and taken into custody.
The stranger was probably not aware that the sheriff was looking for him, but nevertheless avoided the roadblock by proceeding northward on Salt Run Road and Lew Boulevard through the State Park and then through Lighthouse Park. In those days, the road was open at both ends and provided a good connection from St. Augustine Beach to Lighthouse Park. It became obvious that the stranger was heading to Davis Shores and to the Conch House.
The bar at the Conch House had been modeled after Capo’s Bath House formerly on Bay Street. The bar was at the very end of the pier. It made a good place for a night cap with a beautiful unobstructed view of Salt Run and lightening displays from the night time thunderstorms over the Atlantic. Perhaps the stranger was in the need of a drink. But then maybe not, “No shirt, No Service.”
At the Conch House, the stranger was shot, shot with a tranquilizer. He was indeed, as described, hairy, bare-chested with facial hair. He was a Florida Black Bear. He was sent off to live in retirement in the Ocala National Forest.
Sheriff Garrett lost re-election in 1980. Before the election, a Jacksonville television station did a number on the sheriff. During a “ratings month,” for a solid week, they did an “exposé”, in which they contended that the Sheriff was not enforcing the law. They showed pictures of shrimp boats passing under the Bridge of Lions implying that the boats were loaded with vegetable material from South America. They showed a picture of a windsock at Flagler Estates and implied that brazen drug dealers had installed the windsock as they flew in drugs. The windsock had, in fact, been installed by the developers of Flagler Estates so they could fly directly in to the development from their headquarters in Miami. The implications and innuendos were enough. Dudley lost re-election.
Garrett obtained a job as a corrections officer at the Okaloosa Correctional Institution in Crestview. He was the first modern sheriff of St. Johns County, instituting the first policy and procedure manual and a county-wide road patrol. He died in November 2007.
Gamble drowned attempting to save the life of a drowning Canadian tourist at what is now Gamble Rogers State Park in Flagler County.
The dock at the Conch House has been extended and the view is now obstructed by numerous boats.
Toni Leonard, owner of the Trade Winds died in 2002. The last time, the writer was in the TW to see Toni on some matter, it was assuredly a coincidence, but whoever was playing on the stage started playing “Mamas don’t let your sons grow to be cowboys,” my wife’s favorite song.
Photo credit: Michael Gold, “All Evidence to the Contrary, The murder of Athalia Ponsell Lindsley”, on the Internet at http://identityclues.org ( visited August 22, 2009 ).
Geoff Dobson, a St Augustine resident for the past 32 years, is a western and Florida history writer and a former president of the St. Augustine Historical Society. Before his parents moved to Florida, his father was a Black Angus cattleman. Geoff has written extensively on Wyoming history (“Wyoming Tales and Trails”). When Geoff was in high school, his family lived in the cattle country of eastern Sarasota County. The family spread, which his parents called “Wild Cat Slough,” was reachable only by a pair of ruts over the sand hills and through a snake and gator infested slough. Now, it is an area of four-lane roads, expensive subdivisions, shopping centers, and office parks. . His undergraduate degree is in history. Geoff received his post-graduate degree from the University of Florida. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org