The following are just brief exerpts from the Infamous Crime files available at the Archives.
The Archives is custodian to the oldest criminal case records in the county. And because the Archives is housed in the 1894 jail we have organized special collections on crime, punishment and law enforcement in Clay County.
Some of these crimes were particularly brutal, and we invite you to explore other exhibits on the main page if this is not to your liking.
The photo is of Sheriff John Hall at the Jail.
The Great Escape
Bill Joe Crab was a notorious safe man suspected of robbing numerous small town banks and post offices from Key West to the Carolinas. One of Jennings Murhee’s deputies found him in Middleburg cutting open a safe. The deputy arrested him and through him in the old jail. Two weeks later, the sheriff walked in to find all the inmates were milling around outside their cells. Billy Joe had made a key from a spoon that unlocked all the doors. Unfortunately, their gate to freedom -- the jail's main door -- was locked from the outside, so back to their cells they went. When the jail was remodeled years later, the files he used fell out on the floor.
Bank Robbery in Green Cove Springs 1907
From Parade of Memories:
At two o'clock in the morning four men dynamited the safe and escaped with $1,800. Sheriff Weeks and his deputy Arch Murrhee crossed the railroad tracks and captured the robbers sleeping in the cemetery while they waited to escape on the next train. A gun battle took place. One of the robbers was wounded, and the rest captured. The four "safe blowers" were sent to the Duval County jail because the Commissioners thought the might be lynchehed if left in Green Cove Springs.
Parade of Memories incorrect states that a possee was organized and found the men in the woods on the way to Starke.
Artifacts and photographs from the robbery can be seen at the Archives.
John Urspruch: A Crime in a time of War
During World War II, when Camp Blanding was full of soldiers training for war, an AWOL, 23 year old soldier named John Urspruch (Anspruch), murdered two people in the woods outside Orange Park. He shot them both with an Army rifle stolen from Camp Blanding. His intention was to steal their car but he ended up killing the victims, losing his nerve and not stealing the car. The victims were N. A. Ledbetter, 66, and Clare A. Jones, a woman in her 50’s. At trial Urspruch plead insanity. This defense was unsuccessful and he received a life sentence.
Love Lost, Life Lost: the case of Rufus Chesser
One night in October of 1925, when Rufus Chesser was 17 years old, he killed his brother-in-law and his sweetheart on a lonely stretch of road between Green Cove Springs and Middleburg. Sally Boyles, age 24 and Lawrence Dillaberry were dispatched with bullets. The story is that Rufus’ parents had enlisted the help of Lawrence, their son- in- law, in an attempt to keep Rufus away from his older paramour. But there were rumors of Sally’s infidelity to Rufus.
Tried and convicted for the crime, Rufus was sentenced to die in the electric chair. He was to be the first citizen of Clay County sent to die in the waiting arms of “Old Sparky” at Raiford. Chesser's parenta filed appeals in a hopeless quest to spare his young life. They were all denied as was his request for commutation of his sentence. On March 23, 1925 he was taken from the jail and sent to Raiford, where at the tender age of 19, he reportedly met his maker “displaying little emotion.” Seven minutes after the switch had been thrown, he was pronounced dead.
An Orange Park Ax Murder
Ruben Reed, in a nefarious mood, robbed and killed a man with an axe. He left the body by the railroad tracks and train station in Orange Park where it was found by a passerby. Ruben was not a smart criminal -- being seen immediately thereafter with blood on his clothes and the slain mans’ money on him.
Justice was swift and on July 21, 1905, Ruben swung by the hangman’s noose in front of the Old Clay County Jail.
The Runaway Wife
In 1903, Robert Outley, a sawmill worker, took an axe and gave his wife Barbara an early exit to this life. A witness, Walter Hines, testified at trial that Outley told him, “She’s run away three times and when I find her I will fix her so she can’t run away anymore.” He evidently followed through on his threat.
Outley was executed in September 1903.
The Rape by the Railroad Tracks
1902: Two girls, Jane Doe and her friend Ella Tillman, were walking home from the Magnolia Hotel area, when they saw Frank Richardson. He called out to them that he “had a message for them.” Perhaps sensing danger, Ella Tillman ran off and before Jane Doe could follow, Richardson had overpowered her. He dragged her kicking and screaming into the bushes by the railroad tracks that cross Governers Creek. Jane Doe said that he “tore off my clothes and he hurt me.” She struggled more and got up and ran, but did not get far before Richardson threw her down on the ground and sexually assaulted her again. Right about then, Lemuel Flowers came along and witnessed what was happening. He ran for help. Armed rescuers returned and quickly got hold of the rapist and held him for the law. The victim, Jane Doe, was bruised and hysterical, her clothes were torn. She was examined by Dr. Griffiths who found evidence of rape. After a finding of guilt and recommendation of death, Judge R. M. Call, sentenced the defendant to hang. And hang he did at the Old Clay County Jail. Jane Doe was fourteen years old at the time of the crime.
A 1907 Murder
W. N. Smith was charged with murder in the first degree and received the death penalty on October 31, 1907.
Intent Follows the Bullet: The Shooting of Sheriff Peeler
Sheriff Josephus A. Peeler was killed May 5, 1894. He had responded to a call concerning two men, J. M. Boyett and J. K. Griffin, who were fighting. Boyett shot at Griffin and, instead, he hit the Sherriff. Boyett fled the scene and ditched his gun in a well. Peelers’ wound was a gut shot and invariably fatal. As he lay dying he called in Judge Christian Black and gave a statement exonerating the shooter, J. M. Boyett, saying that it was not intentional. Since intent follows the bullet, the shooter was put on trial for murder. After a seventeen hour deliberation Boyett was acquitted.
The Fate of Abram Middleton
Executed in 1912 for a first degree murder was Orange Park resident Abe Middleton. Abe ran a store near the train station. He shot, either intentionally or accidently, depending on whose side you’re on, a man with whom he had been having an altercation. Abe allegedly got in an argument with two men when he wouldn't sell them moonshine, and according to the appellate record the man spoke harshly to Abe. When Abe returned to the store that night, he brought his gun. Later, several men, including the deceased went into the store and on their way out, Abe had difficulty with the man again. All went out the door into the dark. Upon separating from the man whom he had the altercation, Abe fired his gun, fatally wounding the victim, who was not the one he had difficulty with. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed his conviction, finding that he had acted with premeditation and that no shots were fired except by the defendant. He was executed in front to the Clay County Jail on June 6, 1912.
Arthur Winsley: Executed for killing his wife’s lover
Arthur Winsley, after making threats to kill the whole family, took a gun and confronted his wife, and Sam Calloway, with whom she had been living illicitly for some time, and shot them. Calloway died. At trial, Winsley claimed to have been too drunk to be responsible. He also tried self defense. Arthur Winsley was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to die by hanging.
The Supreme Court of Florida affirmed his sentence in 1915. That made him the last person executed in Clay County, not Abe Middleton (as widely believed).
Swift Justice: The Murder of Sheriff Charles Wilson
1906: Sheriff Wilson had been riding the train on private business when he was asked to arrest a kidnapper thought to be boarding the train. The shooter, Will Brower, had, earlier in the day, kidnapped and beaten his girlfriend at gunpoint. Brower was forcing his girlfriend onto the train. When Brower saw Wilson, a close-quarters gunfight erupted leaving the Sherriff dead. Brower also shot at his girlfriend but missed. A passenger shot Brower dead. No one claimed Brower’s body till the next day.
These activities are alleged to have happened, but no one was convicted of any crimes. . .
Sheriff Shelt Cherry Gunned Down in Broad Daylight
Cherry had ridden out to a turpentine camp in Yellow Water one day. Family tradition says that he had heard reports of mistreatment of black workers there. Just as he arrived, he was shot dead, some reports saying he was shot in the back, and others that he was disemboweled.
His deputy took the buggy (or it could have been the new Ford), to Jacksonville for help. While away, an angry mob caught the alleged shooter, Roscoe Smith, and shot him multiple times, hung and dismembered him. Two men, Maxell N. Smith and Will Jones AKA “Polk County” had a warrant issued for their arrest in connection with Sheriff's murder. On October 17, 1913 they were charged with conspiracy to murder Cherry.
It is widely believed that Sheriff Cherry was the victim of a setup, an ambush set by moonshiners, perhaps even working for the Duval County Sheriff, disgruntled with his cleanup efforts.
The Tutson Tragedy: A Reconstruction Era Crime
Samuel and Hannah Tutson were terrorized one night in 1871 by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The Tutsons lived at No. 11 Pond in Clay County. According to their Congressional Sub Committee testimony, they were dragged from their beds after the assailants had broken down the front door. Samuel was whipped and Hannah was raped. Their infant child was crippled when the assailants threw the infant down on the ground. The assailants were named by the Tutsons as George McRae and Cabell Winn, Dave Donley and Bob Lane, Jim Phillips, Henry Baxter. The Tutsons were blindfolded, tied up, beaten and pistol whipped. The Tutsons were apparently attacked over a land dispute.
The Beauty Ship Murders: A Melrose Tragedy
On November 30, 1971, beauty shop operators Bobbie Turner, 22, and Patricia Marr, 37, were found murdered in the backroom of their business. Both women were shot. Mrs. Turner’s daughter, Valerie, 16 was missing. There were no real leads. Months later, two young boys found Valerie’s decomposed body dumped near Laura a Baptist Church Road in Bradford County.
Eventually, the crime was linked to the McCrary family, mother, father, daughter, son and son-in-law, were a a nomadic family of serial killers and sex offenders who had passed thought the area at the time of the murders.
The McCrarys were convicted of murders and rapes all across the country. The father, Sherman Raymond McCrary and son-in-law Carl Robert Taylor, were eventually charged in the beauty shop murders. They never stood trial for the murders as they were convicted of murder, kidnapping, rape and robbery in numerous other states. They all received long prison terms and some death sentences. The father hanged himself while on death row. The family’s murders were believed to number into the twenties.
Rowdies in Middleburg
After the Seminole Wars quieted down, Middleburg once again became a major shipping point for cotton, turpentine and lumber. Trouble with deckhands coming into Middleburg and causing mayhem became so acute that a law was passed in 1856 forbidding entry by seamen into anyone's home, and forbidding them to shoot guns on Sundays. (Parade of Memories, pg 50)
Murder of Federal Troops & Escape through the swamp
According to "Memoirs of Florida," George N. Bardein, 16, and unenlisted, attacked Union troops at Black Creek. He was, essentially, an enemy combatant. Federal patrols came looking for him, but he managed to avoid capture by hiding out in the swamps.
In 1875, John W. Sullivan, the Tax Collector, was accused of embezzling $1005.64, but the suit was dropped when the money was found.
We still have a few areas to research
County Records from Whitesville to Green Cove Springs
Theft of Fleming headstone
Theft of Magnolia Springs Depot
British Colonial horse theft
Kingsley burning from Pengree pig farm
Klan burnt the Orange Park Normal School church
John Calvin Taylor, murdered Shannon Holzer in 1997, was sentenced to death in 1999.
Leon Kaczmar murdered Maria Ruiz in 2008. He was convicted of capital murder and received the death penalty in 2010.
Floyd Damren murdered Don Miller and received the death penalty in 1995. He also killed his co-conspirator in the crime, Jeff Chittam, and received a life sentence for that crime.
Colleen Slemmer was from Orange Park. In 1995 she was 19 years old when she was lured into a park near her Job Corps dorm in Tennessee. There Krista Gail Pike and others bludgeoned her to death. The murder was so vicious and gruesome that Krista Pike, the mastermind, received the death penalty and was then the youngest woman placed on death row in any state. In 2009 Colleen Slemmers’ mother, May Martinez, who still lives in Orange Park, finally received the last of her daughters physical remains after fourteen years. They had been held as evidence pending trial and appeals in Tennessee.
Kenneth Murwin was prosecuted for the thirty year old murder of Benjamin James Parker. Murwin plead guilty to murder in 2010 and received a 20 year sentence. The victim’s body was never found.
Donald Bradley received the death penalty for the murder of Jack Jones. Jones’ wife, Linda, hired Bradley to murder her husband. She was angry he was having an affair. In 1995 Bradley and two co-defendants, the McWhites, beat Jones to death while Linda Jones watched. She received a life sentence.
Daniel Karr Johnson received the death penalty for the murder of Jacqueline Propster in 1981.
David Martin was convicted in 2009 of capital murder and revived the death penalty for the murder of Jacey McWilliams in 2008.
Michael Jackson received the death penalty in 2010 for the murder of Andrea Boyer. Andrea was murdered at her workplace, a veterinarians’ office.
Hector Gabriel Sanchez-Torres recvied the death penalty for the 2008 murder of Erik J Colon. Sanchez-Torres received the death penalty in 2011. He also received a life sentence for another, unrelated murder.
Christofer Scott Kilgore, shot and killed his brother, a family friend, and critically wounded his mother and father in 2010. He led Clay and Duval County deputies on a chase that lasted days as he robbed a store, tried to steal a car and hid out in the woods. Schools were on lockdown and fear gripped the community. He was finally taken down in a hail of bullets when he aimed his gun at deputies.