Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Dark Forest

The Ocala National Forest is a land of squatters, fugitives, dopers, and ne’er-do-wells. Its once-pure waters have been stained with the blood of innocents. Serial killers have raped and murdered and hidden bodies there. People have disappeared never to be seen again. Unidentified bodies are regularly discovered in remote corners of the wilderness. What used to be a fisherman’s paradise and a hunter’s delight has been despoiled. [Photo of Christine Wiles whose blood-soaked car was found in the Forest. She hasn't been seen since.]

Every winter, a group of hippies, left over from the sixties and their minds long ago burnt out on drugs, descend on the place like a plague. Thousands of them camp out and smoke dope and pilfer from the locals. They seem to think taking a bath is a mortal sin. They call themselves the Rainbow Group. As soon as they arrive, local shop-owners nail down everything in their stores.

The Forest even has its own bombing range. Every year thousands of fighter jets from the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville swoop in and drop tons of explosives on the long-suffering landscape. Sometimes the bombs set off forest fires. Other times they merely shake the residents of nearby towns.

The Forest, as it is called by locals, covers more than 600 square miles. Hundreds of lakes and ponds dot the area. Rivers, creeks, and swamps add to the mix. Huge cypress trees and wild palmetto grow thick in the marsh. In other areas, sandy scrub-lands create trees and plants that look like thin ghostly apparitions. In this wilderness, bear and whitetail deer and wild boar roam about. Bobcats, coyote, foxes, and other predators are prevalent, along with the ever-present alligators. Rattlesnakes, water moccasins, including the deadly cottonmouth, and dozens of species of non-poisonous snakes, live in the Forest.

Like much of Florida, paradise has been spoiled by an influx of too many people. And where there are people, there's violence. I’ve listed a few of the Forest’s killings, disappearances, and unidentified bodies.

October 2, 1966. Two beautiful girls vanished from a crowded recreation area, never to be seen again. 20-year-old Pamela Nater and 21-year-old Nancy Leichner were snorkeling with their boyfriends in Alexander Springs when they decided to go for a walk. They never returned and no trace was ever found to indicate what happened to them. In 2007, authorities located a long-lost letter that convicted serial killer Gerard Schaefer had written in which he confessed to abducting and murdering the two girls. The crime certainly fit his M.O. Schaefer enjoyed doing “doubles.” He liked to abduct two girls, take them into a swamp, and tie them to trees. Then he would force his victims to decide which one would die first. The psychological torture thrilled him. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1973. Schaefer was murdered by another inmate in 1995. Due to Schaefer's alleged confession, authorities recently closed the case.

July 22, 1976. Twelve-year-old Dorothy “Dee” Scofield was abducted from a parking lot in Ocala. She was last seen in a car with two men heading into the Ocala National Forest. Although the Forest was searched extensively, her body was never found. Many law enforcement officials think she was murdered and her body dumped in the Forest. [For more information about this case, read my blog entitled, “All American Girl.”]

April 18, 1984. The unidentified body of a woman was found in the Lake Dorr Recreation Area in the Forest. She was in her early twenties, weighed about a hundred pounds, and wore a black T-shirt with the prescient moniker “Here Comes Trouble” written across the front. The medical examiner estimated that she'd been dead for two-to-four weeks and had been murdered. In 2002, a traffic ticket was found dated April 17, 1984 written for confessed serial killer Michael Running. The convicted murderer lived in nearby Umatilla at the time and had a habit of dumping his victims in wooded areas near his home. Running, who is serving a life sentence in Arkansas for another murder, has never spoken to officials about the case and the girl has never been identified.

July 30, 1990. Troy Burress was a truck driver for Gilchrist Sausage Company in Ocala. When he disappeared, a search was launched. Five days later, his body was found by hikers in the Forest. He had been killed by two shots from a .22-caliber handgun. Serial killer Aileen Wuornos later confessed to the murder. She stated that he picked her up and proposed that they have sex and she became enraged and shot him. A more likely scenario is that Burress felt sorry for a lone, pathetic-looking woman hitch-hiking the dangerous Highway 40 that runs through the Forest and decided to give her a lift into town. As she did numerous times, the notorious man-hater simply decided to kill Burress for the few dollars he carried.

December 29, 1992. A hunter found a body in the Forest. The man had committed suicide using a .38-caliber pistol. [For more information on this case, see my post “Unidentified Body in Ocala National Forest."]

February 20, 1994. College students John and Pam Edwards decided to camp out in the Ocala National Forest for a couple of days. The clean-cut brother and sister were accosted by two career criminals who were squatting on Hopkins Prairie. Loran K. Cole and William Christopher Paul used a baseball bat-sized stick to beat John unconscious. Then Cole slashed John’s throat and he bled to death. He raped Pam twice and tied her to a tree in a remote location. Fortunately, she escaped and testified against him in court. Cole now sits on Florida’s death row while Paul was sentenced to life in prison. A chronic whiner, Cole continues to publish illiterate anti-death penalty “essays” on the Internet.

February 5, 2000. A troubled youth, 12-year-old Michael Wiltsie had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Opposition Defiance Disorder. He had already been arrested for battery, burglary, trespassing, and resisting a law enforcement officer when he was sent to Camp E-Kel-Etu in the Ocala National Forest. The place was designed as a “boot camp” for juveniles with criminal records. On February 5, Wiltsie attempted to assault another inmate. Joseph C. Cooley, a camp counselor, restrained Wiltsie, but in doing so choked him to death. The counselor weighed 300 pounds and Wiltsie weighed 60 pounds. A grand jury refused to indict Cooley because he was "following procedures for the safety of camp inmates."

March 5, 2000. A few months after Alicia Eakins was reported missing from St. Augustine, her boyfriend, Ralph John Faba, Jr., was discovered near the strangled body of 16-year-old Angela Durling. Faba pled guilty to murdering the girl and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Fast-forward to March, 2008. The body of Eakins was discovered in the Putnam County section of the Ocala National Forest. Faba admitted murdering her and to hanging his own father, which was staged to look like a suicide. His current release date is listed as 2063.

March 25, 2003. After an argument, Bladimir Rios stabbed Elvin Rodriguez to death. Then he and Edwardo Mercado drove the victim into the Forest and began digging a grave. Marion County sheriff’s officers found Rios’s car parked by the road and saw blood dripping from its trunk. Tracking dogs located the killers and cops arrested them. According to Mercado, Rios blamed Rodriguez for being a “snitch” and wanted to eliminate him. Rios was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Febuary 9, 2005. Lake County Deputy Wayne Koester and other officers responded to a domestic disturbance in the Ocala National Forest. Little did they know that Jason Wheeler was waiting behind a group of trees to ambush them. As the deputies walked toward the house where the call had originated, Wheeler opened fire. Deputy Koester was killed and another deputy wounded. Wheeler escaped but was tracked down by deputies and was shot in a gun-battle. Wheeler was paralyzed from the chest down. He was later convicted of murder and sentenced to death. (As far as I know, he's the only paraplegic on Florida's Death Row.)

January 4, 2006. Two college students, Amber Marie Peck and John Parker, were camping in the Forest when a man walked up and gunned them down. Leo Boatman had been in trouble most of his life and had been arrested numerous times. A few days after Christmas, he dreamed up the idea of randomly murdering someone in, of all places, the Ocala National Forest. He hitched a ride to the Forest and walked up on the unsuspecting students. Without warning, he shot them. Boatman was sentenced to life in prison.

August 27, 2006. Two-year-old Trenton Duckett was last seen in Lady Lake, Florida with his mother, Melinda Duckett. Later that day, Melinda reported that her son had been kidnapped. Because of inconsistent statements, Melinda became a suspect. According to the website on America’s Most Wanted, “Police spent several days using dogs, ATVs, and helicopters to search through the saw palmettos and slash pines of the Ocala National Forest. Dive teams searched muddy lake bottoms...” They were acting on a tip from Melinda’s lawyer in which she implied that she killed her son and discarded his body in the Forest. Trenton may well be buried in a lonely grave somewhere in that remote wilderness, but he was never found. Melinda later committed suicide.

April 21, 2007. 41-year-old Christine Wiles was last seen leaving a Belleview tavern. Later, her 1995 Chrysler New Yorker was found near Wildcat Lake in the Forest. A pool of blood in the car was matched to Wiles’ DNA. Police believe she was murdered and disposed of either in the lake or near it. Her body has not been found.


Luveprecious said...

I guess we are the only place in the entire world that has crime..Are you a moron? You must be a moron, to write crap like this.
The Forest like any place else in this world has crime, but then if you look into Ocala, well there crime rate is much higher.
So whats the difference?
Nothing, nada. Zero.
I have lived out here for over 25 years. I am a professional in the business world, and love the peace and quiet out here. My family loves to come to our home for gatherings and family outings. "We have it made", we have fishing, skiing, ATVing, Horse back riding. All at our finger tips.
We can sit out in our backyard and have camp fires and then the luxury of walking into our home to go sleep. Not pack it all up and head back into town.
So The Forest is a great place to live. And if you want to live in a crime free place, you might as well die now because the only place your going to find that is in heaven.

Robert A. Waters said...

You're welcome to your opinion. I've lived in Ocala for most of my 64 years and enjoyed fishing the lakes and ponds and rivers in the Forest for most of that time. But a few years ago I noticed a change. I was accosted a couple of times by doped-up transients while loading up my boat. I haven't fished there since. I'm sure every place has murders and disappearances and unidentified bodies floating around but I came to the conclusion that the Forest is a dangerous place. The number of incidents speak for themselves. Here's hoping you have a long and happy life but a lot of us morons will not go back there.

Robert A. Waters

Luveprecious said...

Please dont bother coming back here, We dont need people like you sullying up the place.
You just assume that the people who accosted you are from the forest but when in reality they were most likely people passing through and down on there luck. They came to you on a boat ramp looking for a few bucks and you sent them on there way.

Stay in Ocala, Please for our safety and yours.
We dont need people like you saying the crap that you said in your stupid blog. and apparently you have never lived anywhere else so crime doesnt happen anywhere but the Forest.

You need to travel old man and see the world for what it really is.
Leave the forest alone, peaceful, tranquil, lovely place for us to have!

Robert A. Waters said...

You might want to check out the website that I've linked. It tells about a few of the problems law enforcement has had in the Forest. My dad was born and raised in the Forest and I fished there for years and years and loved it. The people who accosted me did more than panhandle--in one case, they stole some stuff out of my truck, and in another case they threatened me. It was only because I had a gun that I got out with life and limb. From then on, I figured it wasn't worth going back. I think there is danger lurking among the shadows in lots of areas of the Forest although there are, of course, lots of places to enjoy. I'm glad you enjoy it and hope you never face what I did. Oh, I did leave Ocala for a few years to go to college and I worked for a while in other states so I'm not quite as provincial as you say. My only point is that I choose not to go back there because of what I experienced. You have a different viewpoint. So be it.


rbraman said...

I would report Luveprecious to the US Forest service. It sounds like this business person is a forest squatter

Connie Blackburn said...

Christine Wiles is my daughter..we appreciate anyone getting her name out and trying to help us bring her home. However, the contents of this article are all wrong...
Christy was last seen by her sister, got out of her sisters car and into the the Chrysler New Yorker with Billy Jo Ashton. The car did not belong to Christy, it belonged to Ashton or his mother (not sure) and was not found in the forest by Wildcat Lake It was found in the driveway of his mothers home. We appreciate any help but please get the facts straight

Robert A. Waters said...

Hi Connie,

If you'll contact me at I'd be willing to write a more detailed account of Crhistine's case.


garyc_sr said...

I really want to thank those who publish information regarding the "darker" side of the Ocala National Forest.

I'm a member of one of the local paranormal groups, and we have been spending a lot of time in the Forest in an attempt to substantiate some of the claims of hauntings out there.

When we have substantiation of some of the less than fortunate events that have occurred out there, it helps us get at least some idea what locations to focus on.

Thus far, we have been able to gather some photographic and audio evidence in at least one area. I won't name the location, simply because we're 1) not finished there and 2) we really don't want anyone out there "rigging" the area to give us false results!

juju said...

it's a shame that there is no place that is safe from the madness of humans. The forest is so beautiful. I looked at some property in the middle of the forest and it would be is at the end of a dead end road and i've been concerned for my safety there I guess I would have to get a gun..something I don't necessarily believe in. In addition to human safety I am concerned for the protection of the wildlife I hope they have no hunting zones or something out there. It's beautiful with all the springs and everything God Bless all

Adelyn said...

I stumbled on this site researching gun laws in the park. (which btw are allowed in your vehicle without a conceal carry permit or on your person with conceal permit) and I found it fascinating! Luve is in denial and probably one of those less desirable creators in the forest that cause other's property to grow legs.

Anyway, thanks for posting this, now I know I better carry my gun on me when I visit ONC next time.

DNS said...

Safest place in the world as long as you know what you are doing and you know how to protect yourself. I am out there at least 30 nights a year. I have always been very well armed and if I feel threatened I will kill you. No questions asked, if you threaten me or try and steal from me, or approach me after you are told to stay away you will be shot, then you will be fed to the gators. Yes it is like the wild west, and you have to think that way. When you enter the wilderness you and you alone are responsible for your safety. Who will you depend on to save your ass if you need help? 911 or 9mm? Think about it. If you can't handle it then it's simple, stay home.

Randy Hall said...

I'm glad I read this article and the following comments. I've been taking the forest for granted as my safe haven to escape from society and get away for some "me time" photographing wildlife and hiking. It's true though, when you're out there in the wild, you feel a complete sense of peace and tranquility amonst life in its purest form. I've encountered bears, rattlesnakes, alligators, coyotes, and even found big-cat tracks that were significantly larger than any bobcat I've ever seen. With that said, I have never been threatened by the potentially dangerous wildlife of the area.

The scariest thing I have ever encountered in the forest was a man. He came out of the woods along the Hopkins Prairie outskirts trail and looked like the epitome of a criminal. Dirty, unshaven, and built. I had never thought about it until that moment, but I was actually terrified to see a human being. He was probably harmless, I'll never know, but I was quick to move before he saw me duck into the forest where I then hurried back to my car. Ironic how encountering a human will make you feel truly part of the forest as you use it for shelter. I will armed with a knife & a gun from here on out!

James redfield said...

Just camped out there a few weeks ago. My friends car got stuck right before nightfall, and we basically set up camp in the road till his friend came and helped out. A random truck came down the road and saw us. we said we were stuck and he said oh okay and just turned around left. While I was a little pissed cuz he could of helped us. He could of turned out to be crazy, or he might of thought we were. Anywhere you go its gunna be like that forest or the city when you meet a random person you instantly put yourself in fight or flight mode. But other than that My weekend was fun. We camped near salt springs close to lake George. My friend had his 20G and I had my 12G with plenty of slugs. So we Weren't to worried. People are just paranoid and freak out about 1 incident. We're actually going back this weekend. lol and if theres anything i'm afraid its the animals not the humans because I see humans everyday I know their patterns animals are unpredictable, but amazing to see. so to all who feel afraid of "The Forest" relax and enjoy it don't fear it

James redfield said...

Just camped out there a few weeks ago. My friends car got stuck right before nightfall, and we basically set up camp in the road till his friend came and helped out. A random truck came down the road and saw us. we said we were stuck and he said oh okay and just turned around left. While I was a little pissed cuz he could of helped us. He could of turned out to be crazy, or he might of thought we were. Anywhere you go its gunna be like that forest or the city when you meet a random person you instantly put yourself in fight or flight mode. But other than that My weekend was fun. We camped near salt springs close to lake George. My friend had his 20G and I had my 12G with plenty of slugs. So we Weren't to worried. People are just paranoid and freak out about 1 incident. We're actually going back this weekend. lol and if theres anything i'm afraid its the animals not the humans because I see humans everyday I know their patterns animals are unpredictable, but amazing to see. so to all who feel afraid of "The Forest" relax and enjoy it don't fear it

S Haaland said...

I have spent a great deal of time and quiet nights in the ONF. Ashamedly, naive of most of these stories. The night immediately prior to the Boatman murders, I was in the Forest in the same area, Juniper Springs and hiking at night in an area where I had observed lots of bear activity. I heard gunshots that evening. As the story unfolded I was recounting a nearby vehicle I saw parked and shots I heard clap into the evening silence. It wasn't particularly unusual to hear shots in the forest at night but when I read the news you can imagine the chills that rose from my core. As it turned out, none of the information I had was relevant to the slayings. I definitely came off more than spooked and carried concealed when in the forest after that. Fortunately for me, I haven't had any other unusual run ins, close calls, or encounters. Having spent so much time there, I feel rather lucky. Memories I have are positive and the people I have encountered were all friendly. Most my time spent there has been around the Juniper springs area and maybe that has something to do with it. I no longer live in FL to enjoy the forest and I do miss it. Visited 2 winters ago and made a point to go through, and hike in, the forest.

elly higginbottom said...

Great blog! I stumbled upon it just recently and I've gone to the beginning and am reading oldest to newest - absolutely riveting!
Anyhow, I felt compelled to comment on how odd it is to me that people seem offended by you posting true stories, things that have actually happened in the forest. You'd think the normal reaction would be, 'thanks for the head's up! I'll be sure to be a bit more vigilant with my surroundings/personal safety.'
Thanks for the great blog!

Justin Rundle said...

I think this story is crap! I have lived in the forest for many years and have NEVER seen anything that is thought to be a danger out here. The worst thing I saw was a snake, and a bear. I do carry a firearm but have only had to use it for wildlife that became aggressive toward me. Though I do agree with the distaste toward the rainbow people they are filthy dirty, and need to wake up and get in rehab and get a job and stop infesting the damn walmart in silver springs begging for things.

SheWolf said...

I seriously have to laugh when I read the comments on this blog. All the people are so defensive and say what a perfect place the Forest is and how people are just paranoid but they always make sure to say they themselves are well armed always when they go to the Forest. I live in the Ocala National Forest. I walk out my back door and I am in the Forest. It is a very beautiful place. Its a shame people are allowed to abuse it the way they do. Its a magical place. Its also a very dangerous deadly place. Just since I moved here a couple years ago there have been several girls murdered and more than a couple people who have vanished or been brutalized out there. Its full of "rainbow people" doing what cults do. There are homeless people and criminals living out there in tents and homemade huts. They brew up gallons of meth out there daily. It's full of addicts. Then to top it off you have people of all ages from probably 12 to 80 carrying guns and hunting the poor wildlife out there. Most don't hunt for sport. You don't carry the kinds of high powered automatic rifles they carry to hunt for sport. Its a scary thing to see a kid no more than 12 or 13 walking down the dirt paths packing semi automatic rifles and hiding in the tree's carrying guns that you usually only see in the movies. The beauty of the place is all being destroyed by people leaving trash everywhere. They shoot the animals just to have something to shoot at and leave the carcass behind for the vultures. The four wheelers tear up the foot paths and take away any peace and quiet you might be trying to get. A beautiful magical place? Yes. A dangerous place? ABSOLUTELY!!! If I knew when I bought this place about all that goes on here would I choose to live here again? Not it this lifetime!

BabyBoomerQueen said...

True---The ONF is probably an excellent place to commit murder or dump a body. Not even the dumbest serial killer or murderer would dump a body in the middle of Ocala, or any other well lit place.

But, the forest is more than just a place for social deviants to dump bodies. It is a beautiful place to live, come for hunting (animals), and for recreational purposes.

The world is a crazy place, there is crime everywhere. Little towns, big cities, none are impervious to the evils of society.

No matter where you are, you should always be concerned with personal safety. If you are not-well, you are foolish!

There are lots of people who live on the edge out here, bikers, the KKK. But, there are also just regular folks, movie stars, famous singers, the good, the bad and the ugly. Show me one place where you are 100% safe...

One story you have not heard about here---is one where someone has gone totally bonkers and randomly killed mass people. Such as with the DC shooing rampage-at their Naval shipyard, just this week. 13 people killed in a blink of an eye.

You can have your city living, it is no longer for me.

The ONF has 607 square miles of natural, beautiful forest. I have been out in the forest since 1962. I and my family have never come across any of the evil that has been reported in this blog.

Not that what has been said in this blog did not happen---and many a time I look around and wonder just how many bodies are buried out here, and will never be found.

But, I am not afraid to live out here...because I am armed and dangerous in my own home, I have a right to defend it and my person.

Evil is everywhere, there is no escaping it.

Do not let this story stop you from coming to the Ocala National Forest. It is the only park in Florida that actually runs in the black not the red. It is a lovely place to live and visit.

One thing this blog did show you and you should pay attention to is, "never let your guard down-unfortunately, evil does exists."

Sharon in the Forest
(just another Forest peep)

StacieR said...

Anyone judging that this guy is making the Ocala Forest out to be worse then it is has not been informed of how serious this forrest really is a serious problem. If you come up missing and the police are even nice enough to search for you your lucky! The Ocala National Forrwst has more bodies burried in it then almost anywhere in the US. It is so large and wide spread that people just dump bodies and they are never found. Nunerous crime cases have been reopened over the last 100 yrs because of csmpers, and hunters coming across skeletal bones or decomposed bodies. They only search so long and then they throw in the towel. And he is absolutely right about the rainbow people. Years ago it was a fun family area to camp near and around the large lake and now people are terrified to even go near it.

Denise Macina said...

I live in the forest . I also go to the Rainbow Gatherings . I have been going for 25 years . Not all of them are like that !!!! Stop saying things that are not true .

Stephen Sparks said...

I grew up in Newark , New Jersey. It was also a rough place. The "Iceman" also known as Otzi, a frozen 5300 year old man found in the Italian Alps in 1991 was murdered by people. That would have been 3300 BC. At that time the world population was between 7 and 14 MILLION. Now we have almost 8 billion. Human nature hasn't changed. Carry a gun!

Steve A. Ray said...

I'm camping there soon. See you seen.

Yogi the Bear

Donna N said...

Anything can happen anywhere. Woods, forest, lakes these are all places people have used in the the past to do bad things and hide stuff so yes, arm yourself. Be aware and be cautious wherever you are.

Lisa Herrera said...

Wow Im from Texas its Crazy everywhere but this was very interesting. My heart goes out to the victims but its like Most of yal said its dangerous everywhere.

Lisa Herrera said...

Oh and its really sad people are poluting, killing, using and making drugs in this beautiful area. They are destroying the Lord's creations.