Sunday, June 3, 2018

$52.00 and a pack of bubble-gum

A Random Murder in Ocala 
by Robert A. Waters 

It was early on the morning of February 8, 1985, when I drove by the Tenneco service station and convenience store on State Road 200 in Ocala.  The place was swarming with cops.  I purchased gas there often, so I wondered what was going on.  Later that day, I heard about the murder of a clerk who worked there. 

The place was small, with eight pumps, four on each side.  The tiny convenience store contained soda and beer, and racks overflowing with candy, cookies, and chips.  The place was usually busy, being a quick stopover for locals like me who lived nearby, as well as students attending Central Florida Community College.   

Mehrle W. Reeder was one of those anonymous souls who occasionally walk this planet.  He'd been a clerk at the store for many years, yet no one really knew him.  A tag on his shirt read "Chet," and, as with many sixty-year-old men, he'd developed a paunch and had begun balding.  While he was friendly to customers, he had no family in the area and rarely associated with the outside world (except to go to work).  Later, investigators learned he was a veteran of World War II, and that he had moved to Ocala decades earlier. 

Daniel Remeta was a ne'er-do-well from Michigan.  He should have worn a tag on his shirt that read, "Trouble."  But when he walked into the Tenneco store that morning, Chet Reeder had no idea that he'd be dead within seconds. 

Remeta came to the counter holding a pack of bubble-gum.  As Reeder opened the cash register to ring up the sale, Remeta pulled a .357 Magnum from his pocket and blasted the clerk in the chest.  As he was falling, Remeta shot him again.  The killer then grabbed the cash from the till, about $52.00, and walked behind the counter.  Staring down at the dying clerk, Remeta fired point-blank twice more.   

By the time a would-be customer found the corpse, Remeta and his cohorts were long gone.  They would soon make national news for a cross-country killing spree that left five dead, and three, including a cop, wounded. 

As the Ocala Police Department launched its investigation, officers noticed the bizarre sight of a one-dollar bill lying on Reeder's chest.  Had it floated down as Remeta snatched up the money, or had it been placed there on purpose?  A single pack of bubble-gum lay on the counter. 

The coroner reported that Reeder had been shot four times: one bullet entered his left cheek, "smashing" his dentures; another round hit the clerk just beneath the left collarbone; there was a wound to the upper chest; and a bullet had passed through the left side of his neck.  The coroner told reporters that the round that hit Reeder in the chest had "exploded" his aorta, killing him. 

Detectives located two shell casings and two spent bullets in the store. (They were later matched to the gun Remeta used to commit other crimes.) 

At first cops were stymied, random killings being the most difficult to solve.  Then Kansas authorities contacted themRemeta and his gang had been captured after murdering three store clerks in the state and engaging in a shootout with police.  Remeta confessed to five random killings, including Reeder's, and three attempted murders.  In one case, he abducted a convenience store clerk and shot her nine times.  She survived and crawled to a highway where someone picked her up and took her to the hospital.  At his Florida trial, she testified against the madmanRemeta shot another clerk five times--this Wascom, Texas man also survived and testified against his attacker. 

Remeta was sentenced to five life sentences in Kansas, the state having no death penalty at the time.  Then he was tried in Florida for Chet Reeder's murder.  Jurors voted 12-0 to sentence the killer to death. 

Daniel Remeta was executed in Florida's electric chair on March 31, 1998. Newspapers reported that thousands of Kansans cheered when they heard the news. 

While the news media interviewed some of Remeta's surviving victims, and published stories about those he killed, there was so little information known about Chet Reeder that the clerk became a forgotten man.  He had family up north, however, and they transported him back home to Frederick County, Maryland for burial.   

The store has changed hands numerous times, but I never went back.  I drive by the place a few times a week, and it still gives me the creeps.  I continue to wonder how a Michigan career criminal, out of all the gas stations in America, found this one.  And how did a harmless man who had served his country and worked for a living end up dead for a mere fifty-two bucks?  Makes no sense to me, but that is the randomness of murder.

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