A RUSH TO JUDGEMENT:
INSIDE DETECTIVE MAGAZINE (July 1938)
10 – INSIDE DETECTIVE MAGAZINE
The July 1938 issue of Inside Detective magazine devoted an entire article to the Licata family murders entitled “Marihuana Maniac!” Needless to say, it was a rehash of the Harry Anslinger version --- Victor did it, --- a terrible tragedy --- Marihuana the killer weed was responsible, etc.
Technically, it was supposed to be a “True (first hand) Account” of the tragedy; --- the inside scoop on what actually happened, as told to the actual writer by W.D. Bush, the chief detective on that case. However, what actually made its way into print was anything but. In fact, to say that it was a work of fiction (or fantasy actually) may not be saying enough to do this article justice.
However, the article (fiction or fact) is one of the few “FIRST HAND” accounts that we have on the matter. Additionally (again fiction or fact) the article establishes -- by its omissions, false leads and totally fabricated sections, now serves to provide us with irrefutable proof that Chief Detective W.D. Bush was a member of a conspiracy to cover up the framing of Victor Licata for the murders. A conspiracy which may have even been involved in the murders themselves.
Here in this chapter, we will go over the article – piece by piece (with our own comments) and allow the reader to decide if it is fantasy or fact. Please keep in mind that it was supposed to have been a first-hand-account of what actually happened, by people who were (allegedly) there at the time.
10.1 – ABOUT THE AUTHOR; WILLIAM D. BUSH
Detective Chief W.D. Bush (Tampa, Florida)
William D. Bush - (Inside Detective magazine 1938)
While his last name BUSH obviously raises a few eyebrows, to the best of our knowledge he is not closely related in any way to George Prescot Bush (father of President George Bush) who would have been running the Bush family affairs at the time. And from what we can tell he just happened to have been a Chief Detective for the Tampa Police Department at the time of the murders. However, even that factor should raise a few eyebrows. Most police officers go their entire lives without so much as even making it past Sergeant so how did he get the post? Obviously, you had to be good at what you did, but you also had to be well connected, know the right people etc.
In addition, we know that W.D. Bush was a spinner of tall tales, a man who loved the spotlight. So much so that even to this day (from the grave you can sort of say), he is being quoted and brought out as a character in works of dramatized (historical) fiction. Example, he is one of the characters in the 2006 novel about the Tampa, Fla., mobster Charlie Wall – “The White Shadow” by Ace Atkins.
He comes into prominence because of an article “Marihuana Maniac!” [Inside Detective July 1938] about the Licata case, in which he (as the Detective in Charge of the case) plays the leading role. The article, after examining the facts as stated, was obviously fabricated, ---- but in a sense it also tips his hand. Showing that he had a hand in the conspiracy that framed an innocent kid (Victor Licata) in the murders, and thus allowed the real murderers to go free.
1.9.2 – JACK DE WITT – The stories ghost writer
The following was found in the title page of the same July 1938 Inside Detective magazine. We include it here simply because it gives the reader a good insight into the mind of the actual author. Inquisitive, hands on, but it would seem, a bit too trusting of the Police officials he was working with.
FLASHES FROM HEADQUARTERS
ONE OF THE MOST indefatigable writers in search of fact rather than fiction is Jack Dewitt, co-author of the story titled “Marihuana Maniac,” appearing on page 44 of this issue. There is no telling where Mr. De Witt may be at any given moment, for he allows no moss to grow on him. He has covered detective cases from Devil’s Island to Alcatraz. He has been in every state in the Union at least twice, investigating cases for INSIDE DETECTIVE and other magazines. He will, in fact, travel at the drop of a hat. And so great has been his desire to be on the scene of stirring police events, that more than once he has heard the whistle of bullets close by him.
As a result, De Witt has a speaking acquaintance with more detectives, policemen, sheriffs and investigators than any other man in the United States.
“I find almost all of them to be sincere to a fault in their determination to keep their districts free of crime,” he says. “And I have learned that every law officer worthy of the name constantly chafes at the political shackles he is forced to wear.”
De Witt’s chief diversions are hunting and fishing. An inveterate snow-dodger, his home is nomally in California, but he may be found anywhere until winter, when he heads south.
In his travels, De Witt has had experiences both blood-chilling and heart-warming. From these he is writing a book, “I Cover Crime,” which will be published soon.
10.3 – MARIHUANA MANIAC!
The following is a reprint of the article – with our own museum comments insured. Obviously, some of our comments are shear speculation, but it is speculation based upon the facts. We will leave it up to the reader to determine for his/her self what the truth of the matter is. [Note – to conserve space, some short paragraphs have been merged together, also some transcriber errors are possible]
Eyes staring with vacant brightness the reefer-crazed killer of five members of the Licata family is shown after he blurted out his confession.
Inside Detective Magazine July 1938
Chief W.D. Bush
By Detective Chief W.D. Bush, Tampa, Florida
As told to Jack DeWitt
Editor’s Note: In its issue of last November, Inside Detective revealed the degenerative effect of marihuana on the human mind, and began a campaign against this ever-spreading menace to thrill-seeking youth.
[Museum Notes: Once more we must ask ourselves the question: Why should we care today about the Victor Licata case? And once more the answer is, because it, and the publicity it generated, led to the creation of the Anti-Medical Cannabis laws that we have today.] ]
Herewith is presented a true story of the appalling horror the sinister weed brought to a respected Florida family. Read it carefully---then consult your municipal government to find out what steps are being taken to smash the marihuana traffic in your community. Are your children safe from the “reefer” evil!
[MUSEUM NOTE: As there were no witnesses, this opening part of the story (as given above) is obviously and understandably a work of fiction. No problems, however here we find the first technical error -- Philip Licata’s age at the time would have been 13 or 14. A small technical error, but one worth noting. Also note one other thing that is curious about the situation. If Mr. and Mrs. Licata were married, why was she found dead in a separate bedroom? ]
MOONLIGHT streamed through the window and cast a soft radiance over the bed. Like fairy fabric, woven of star-dust and the silver brightness of a Florida night, the moonbeams fashioned a coverlet for beautiful Providence Licata.
Providence slept with the tranquility that comes with twenty-two years of healthy young womanhood. Her hair was a dark mist against the moon washed white of the pillow. Long lashes touched the delicate curve of her checks. Her full red lips were slightly parted. She had flung back the covers, for the night was warm, and she lay like a sleeping Venus in the soft sheen of the glorious night. Through the open window the scent of sweet jasmine floated on a soft breeze that stirred from the gulf.
The door opened an inch on silent hinges. Two hot eyes glared from the darkness.
Providence Licata sighed. She flung one slender arm across the pillow. The warm breeze from the open window quickened and stirred the dark ringlets against her forehead.
The door opened wider and was quickly closed again. The eyes set in a sallow, wolfish face, stared at the sleeping girl from the dark shadows beyond the mellow moonlights.
The man stepped out of the shadows. He moved on feet that made no sound against the thick carpet. He stood at the foot of the bed, a sinister, ugly, figure raping innocent beauty with his madly concentrated gaze. In his right hand he gripped the handle of an axe.
The breeze from the window was a soft, jasmine-scented zephyr again. Full, sound sleep descended over Providence Licata and she stirred no more.
Like a prowling beast that has exhausted all caution and cunning to approach its prey, the man moved to the side of the bed unmindful that his breath was leaving his dry throat in noisy gasps. He raised the axe and stood thus, staring down at the sleeping girl.
Providence Licata opened her eyes. The axe fell before she could release the scream that throbbed in her throat.
The cruel blade cleft her skull in twain before she could part her lips and cry out against this mad nightmare that had rent her sleep.
On the other side of the room in a small cot out of the moon’s full rays, a young boy stirred. He was Phillip, twelve-year-old brother of Providence Licata.
The man turned toward the sound. His mad eyes focused themselves in the shadows. He stepped to the side of Phillip’s cot and raised the axe again. The keen blade sped downwards like the wedged head of a striking snake. The steel was half buried in the head of the sleeping boy when the blow ended.
More like a demon from hell than a human being, the man slipped from the room without a glance at the quivering body of the boy or the stiffening horror that lay upon the bed where beauty had slept. With blood dripping from the head of his axe, the marauder passed into a dark hallway and paused at another bedroom door.
In the room lay Mrs. Roslia Licata, the mother of Phillip and Providence. Against her arm rested the tousled head of eight-year-old Joe, her youngest child, a sturdy lad who prepared himself in profound sleep for the endless activities of the coming day.
The man stepped into the room. His movements were quicker now than they had been when his wolfish eyes swept the form of lovely Providence. He did not trouble to close the door. In two quick merciless blows, he split the skulls of Mrs. Licata and the soundly sleeping lad.
And yet the night’s bloodshed was not finished. The slaughterer seemed bent on the destruction of everything that lived and breathed in the quiet American home. He swept from the second bedroom and sought still a third.
Mike Licata, the sturdy husband of Rosalia—the father of Providence and Phillip and Joe—was snoring gently in his room at the front of the house. The door opened noiseless and from beside Joe’s bed there crept a shaggy form.
The young German shepherd dog made no sound. It rose on stiffened legs, and then crouched again, every hair along its neck and back rising in a ridge of hackles. The dog’s black-tipped nose was pointed straight at the opening door. As the murderous invader entered the dog leaped for his throat.
But the intruder was ready. He swung the blade to meet the dog’s attack. The axe missed the animal’s head and drove deep through the bones and tendons of one shoulder. The brave beast fell back, blood spurting from its side. The murderer’s foot swung out and hurled the dog a full five feet across the floor.
[MUSEUM NOTE: Elsewhere (chapter 13) we go into more detail on the Dog, here however we simply want to point out the following:
That the story line (as is), gives no logical reason why a family Dog (who supposedly was in the main bedroom during all this time), and had yet to be provoked, would want to go after Victors throat etc.
Next, let us look at the next statement. “The murderer’s foot swung out and hurled the dog a full five feet across the floor.” --- Fictionalized account or not, this part of the story is nonsensical. A five-month-old German shepherd weighs between 40 and 50 lbs., while Victor himself only weighed 113 lbs., at the time. And granted, the picture indicates a mixed breed, still it's a BIG dog.
Last of all, according to living friends of the family, the Licata family never had a dog to begin with.
Again, see Chapter 13 for more details regarding the dog and why we believe that the whole story about the dog was fabricated as part of a cover-up.
Mike Licata leaped from the bed and, barely awake, he lunged towards the bloody, swinging blade. For the sixth time that night the axe fell on living flesh. It caught Mike Licata in one burly shoulder and hurled him backwards across the bed. Before the father of this butchered family could move again, he was dead. The seventh blow from the keen-edged weapon struck him in the center of his forehead and split his skull as a melon is cut with a machete.
Crime Scene Photo
[MUSEUM NOTE: According to other accounts, only blows to the head had occurred. Also, that Mike Licata had been found wedged between his bed and one of the bedroom walls (see bedroom sketch). However, a photograph of the crime scene at the time, clearly shows a pool of blood on the other side of the bed, which leads us to conclude that the someone was trying to cover things up a bit.]
The killer turned and moved back through the house. At the bathroom he paused and rested his weapon against the wall. An hour passed. Then he opened the front door cautiously and slipped out into the night. He left the door open behind him, and through it a shaggy, bloodstained form dragged after.
[MUSEUM NOTE: Again, while it is understood that (as there were no actual witnesses), the above story is dramatized fiction. However, be that as it may, dramatized or not, the given story is nonsensical. Ignoring the fact that the Licata family in all probability did not own a dog: Note that according to the story above, “An hour passed,” between the time of the killings and the killer leaving the Licata house. This was most likely part of the cover-up story --- to allow for other first-hand account incidents to have taken place. Example, one of the neighbors heard strange noises (at about 2 AM) and even went up to the house and in a loud voice, asked if anything was wrong. After getting no answer, he went back to sleep. HOWEVER, here we simply ask the question; What was the DOG doing during all this time? I know if I was a wounded dog, (given those conditions), I’ll be howling my mouth off, etc.]
The dog, one shoulder terribly mutilated, half dead from the blood-loss, followed the murderer’s trail to the sidewalk. Crawling and pulling itself along, the courageous brute followed for a dozen yards and there collapsed. A few minutes later the dog revived sufficiently to retrace its course and crawl beneath the front porch to lick the aching wound.
Like a phantom the slayer had come into the sleeping house at 1707 Fifth Avenue in Tampa, Florida. And like a bloody ghoul he had gone, leaving behind five mutilated human beings and a brave dog that still whimpered beneath the porch.
ALSO NOTE THAT:
See Chapter 13 for more details about the dog. What now follows is no longer fictionalized but now turns into a first-hand account -- as told to Jack DeWitt by W. D. Bush, the investigating detective on the case.
- NO other first-person account mentions any kind of blood in the hallways.
- Such an account (as mentioned) would require the front door to have been left fully open --- or else how could the dog have made his way out? According to other accounts here, the cops had smashed down the front door to get in. Thus, we are left to assume that it was the Dog who closed the door behind him on his way out.
- Such an account would have required a trail of dog blood all the way from the house to the street. Yet no other account makes mention of it anywhere.
And that is the story we of the Tampa Detective Bureau read from the stains, the axe and the open doors when we answered the alarm of a neighbor on the morning of October 17, 1933.
[MUSEUM NOTE: All other first hand accounts [police report, newspaper accounts etc.] clearly state that the arriving officers entered the house (which had both front and back doors locked from the inside) via a back window that had a loose screen. This version is obviously pure fiction plain and simple.]
W.B. Bell, a motorcycle policeman, was first to enter that house of horror. He stood on the threshold of the first bedroom and gasped. Behind him Patrolman L.V. Stewart and Deputy Sheriff Ben Walkins stopped and stared. It was the room where Providence and the young boy Phillip lay, still and stiffened in the death that a madman’s axe has wrought.
With Sergeant Malcolm Beasley, I arrived a few minutes later and pushed through the throng of chattering neighbors on the sidewalk.
“We broke the front door to get in,” said Stewart quickly as I glanced at the shattered glass. “But the back was open.”
“And yet the killer passed out this way,” I said, staring at the trail of Blood upon the hall floor.
“The dog,” corrected Stewart. “The family dog has disappeared. There’s dog hair in that blood trail. But there are five people dead in here, a man, his wife, their two sons and a grown daughter. Better start from the beginning, Chief.”
[MUSEUM NOTE: Once more it is our belief (based upon living friends of the family) that the Licata family DID NOT OWN a dog.]
The officer looked gray and haggard. He had made a tour of this house and he had stared from the open doors at the horror that three bedrooms contained. And, he had just seen a blanched and shivering young man in the pitiful state of one whose mind has been wrecked by sudden and terrible shock.
[MUSEUM NOTE: Because there are so many numerous (ah, how shall we call them), ‘little white lies’ in this supposedly factual account, it is hard to believe if any of it is true. However, maybe there might be a grain of truth in the above. It is our belief that Victor came in late (from a moonshine run), was probably drunk and simply went to sleep in the fourth bedroom. Didn’t see anything until the next morning.]
Deputy Sheriff Watkins was supporting the white-faced youth across the living room and helping him into a large chair when I entered. The officer glanced at Sergeant Beasley and me. “Thank God, you’ve come,” he murmured “This is Victor Licata. He must have come home—“.
“The door was open, the front door.” The words came in a dreary monotone from the pale lips of the young man. “I might have known something . . . . ,” His eyes, filled with understanding for one fleeting moment, suddenly clouded. It was as if a light had been switched off behind him. His stare thereafter was vacant.
I glanced at his slender, well-knit figure, at his white and haggard face, lined and drawn far beyond his years. He wore an immaculate white shirt, and blue serge trousers, neat and creased. His slender fingers were those of a musician or an artist. His eyes haunted me and I turned away from him. Victor Licata had returned to his home in the early morning and shock had been heaped upon shock until the fearful mental bludgeoning had bereft him of his reason.
[MUSEUM NOTE: Once more this was not the way other accounts say it happened. The neighbors (who were relatives of the Licata’s) heard odd noises that night, and when they saw no one moving the next morning, then they called the police.
“He works in an orchestra,” a neighbor in the doorway said. “He must have come home and fainted. It was him yelling when he came to that got me out and I telephoned you at the station.
Five persons dead and a mind shattered in the slender, sensitive body of this musician . . . The awful toll of the night raider must surely now be complete.]
[MUSEUM NOTE: This is not at all true. The police records, all newspaper accounts ALL show that Victor was arrested on the spot. Nothing mentioned anywhere about being taken to a hospital of any kind.]
“Get him to a hospital,” I ordered, “quickly. He needs attention."
I watched the officer lead him from the room. The lone survivor of this massacre, he had missed the madman’s axe by the simple fact that his trade kept him away from home in the early night. He walked like a person who has lost all sense of direction and who must henceforth be guided through life as a blind man is led by a trained dog.
But I had seen the results of scaring shock upon sensitive minds before. In this murder house there was other work to do. There were clues to seek and find, deductions to make. I began a tour of the bedrooms with Victor Licata’s pitiful plight ironed out of my consciousness for the time being.
[MUSEUM NOTE: Here we should note that all accounts indicate that there was NO BLOOD found on Victor’s clothes of any kind.]
Ten minutes later I had read the story I have told from the bloody rooms and the smeared trail of the killer. I sent an alarm over the telephone to headquarters and requested that every laundry be checked for blood-stained clothing---every policeman be warned to watch for a man whose trousers or shoes might still bear the stains of this awful raid. For as I went from room to room it became increasingly apparent that the axe slayer of the Licata's must be saturated from head to foot with the blood of his victims.
Thus, I began the investigation into a crime that appalled the city of Tampa and startled a nation. The search for a bloodstained killer or the clothing he had discarded was the first crude gesture towards catching the fiend before other homes could be entered other families gathered into this harvest of blood.
[MUSEUM NOTE: STOP HERE] -- I thought Marihuana, the Killer Weed was supposed to make you go out and kill people, so didn’t the story get out of order a bit? Shouldn’t the axe murderer have smoked the reefers first and then committed the murders?]
While the hue and cry were sounding, Sergeant Beasley turned to the axe with a hopeful eye. A fingerprint expert Beasley regarded the smeared axe-handle as his greatest chance of striking a worth-while clue.
"It's a sadist and probably a fugitive from an institution," he said. "His prints will be recorded. If I can find a whorl or mark on this---" he tapped the axe significantly.
I left him to his task. We had been standing near the bathroom as we talked. Through the open door, on the white tile floor, an object had caught my eye.
I retrieved it quickly. It was the stained butt of a cigarette. In the bathroom waste-basket were three or four similar butts. There was no trade name in familiar pale blue print on the cigarette paper. At the first touch I knew the butts for what they were. Nevertheless, I opened one of them and spilled its contents into the palm of my hand. I recognized the dark flecks of Cuban tobacco. But there was another substance in greater quantity than the tobacco. This stuff was pale brown. When I touched the particles, I found them to be dry and brittle. It was like dried tobacco of the thin and flaky type sometimes found in English cigarettes.
MARIHUANA --the drug weed of the Latins.
I examined the washbowl. Blood was on the white porcelain. Here the murderer had washed his hands. Here he had paused to drag into his lungs the warping smoke from the “reefers” whose butt ends he had so carelessly tossed into the waste-basket and on the floor after snuffing out five lives. It was marihuana that had killed beautiful Providence Licata, her parents and her two brothers. The murderer with the axe was the medium through which the death drug worked. Marihuana had sung its song of violence and sadism, of lust and death into the brain of a human being and blackened his soul.
MARIHUANA cigarette 'reefers," as they are known to the reckless initiates---are easier to purchase in any city in the United States than rat poison. So, though the four cigarette butts furnished me a picture of the slayer. I scarcely hoped that they would form a clue to his identity. For Tampa, Florida, is no different from any other city. The number of persons using these vicious “reefers” would number into the thousands if a proper census could he made.
Only the night before, in one of the night places of Ybor City, the colorful Latin colony near Tampa, I had heard a scantily-clad houri drone out a song to the marihuana cigarette. Weaving voluptuously in the spot-light white-faced with eyes of fire, she had sung a dreamy, suggestive, dirge to the reefers. And I had known as I watched her that she was a reefer addict in fact, so widespread is the use of this devil weed.
A figure stood in the doorway and a voice interrupted my musings as I placed the reefer butts in an envelope and stowed it in a pocket.
“Found something?” I turned and faced J. Rex Farrier, the state’s attorney
"I hurried over,” he explained, "to see if I could help. Tried to have a talk with that young fellow Victor, but his mind is unhinged. The shock has been too great."
I tapped the pocket where I had put the reefers. "A marihuana addict did this," I said. "He washed up in here and smoked a few reefers.”
"There may be an addict among their friends,” said Farrier quickly. “We’ll check that. The older girl for instance, a beautiful girl from her pictures. Maybe she knew someone ---“
[Museum Notes: This part of the article does NOT correlate with anything told by W.D. Bush in the newspaper accounts. There he claims that Victor Licata was a known Marihuana user AND that he was about to be arrested for such within a few more days . . . etc. But if he lied here, he probably lied there too.]
I was moving towards the telephone. Rex Farrier followed me closely. “You know the family,” he was saying. “Phillip Licata, the Italian consul, is a brother of Mike who was killed here. There might be a lead even in these names, for prominent people often make enemies.”
I removed the telephone receiver and was connected with headquarters. To the desk sergeant who answered briskly I said: Extend the roundup to include all known reefer addicts. Get the marihuana fiends.” And then I added, “Telephone Frank Caston and get the files of all the cases on which he and I worked a couple of months ago. Work with Frank in the roundup of addicts.”
Frank S. Caston is drug and narcotic inspector for the state of Florida. Only a month before the bloody day in the Licata house, Frank and I had made a sortie into the realms of the reefers, confiscating supplies of the drug, placing the pitiful victims of its craving in institutions. Our investigations had revealed much that could be of value now. As I watched the coroner’s crew removing five mutilated bodies from the Licata bedrooms, I found myself praying fervently that Sergeant Beasley’s efforts with the axe would result in prints that could be compared with those of some addict in our files.
The marihuana victims I had talked to when, sanity returned to them, confessed to receiving a great “lift” in the early stages of their enslavement to the hemp. Later this lift simmered down to a feeling of drowsy satisfaction. But some of them had told me that marihuana produced a feeling of impending danger and terrible death, that continued use of the drug changed this sensation of approaching disaster into a desire for action---into rage and delirium, ecstatic madness and an over-whelming urge to inflict pain and to kill.
[MUSEUM NOTE: This does it, either W.D. Bush is a very ignorant man or the biggest liar in the place.]
It was this latter state in which the killer of the Licatas had found himself. It was this stage of the drug’s use that might reveal him to us. A check of the Licata family’s friends, of the admirers of lovely Providence, and of those who might hold enmity towards the influential relatives, seemed a logical avenue of investigation.
[MUSEUM NOTE: Note the order of who was sleeping where is out of alignment. However, this could simply be an innocent slip of memory.]
While other men worked on this, Farrier and I went through the house of death again. I reconstructed for him my theory again. I reconstructed for him my theory of how the crime was committed.
“The killer came in the back way,” I explained. “The back door was open. Providence’s bedroom was the first he encountered. There is a chance that he knew its location and went there first. Our man may even be among the girl’s acquaintances. From there he went to Mrs. Licata’s bedroom. Providence and her brother died instantly, without a sound. So did Mr. Licata and the boy in bed with her. But Mike was aroused by the dog. If the killer had gone to Mike’s room before the others, the entire household would have been alarmed.”
We stood in the doorway of Mike’s bedroom. I pointed to the bloodstains where the dog had crawled---the only blood marks upon the floor.
[MUSEUM NOTE: This is an out and out lie. It simply does not match the evidence, nor the accounts given to the press at the time.]
“Mike was hurled back across the bed,” I continued my reasoning. “He lost no blood on the floor. There are dog hairs in those stains on the carpet and dog hairs in the stains through the hall to the front door.”
“You haven’t found the animal?” inquired Rex Farrier.
[MUSEUM NOTE: Once more the bedroom order in which the bodies were found is somewhat off. However, note that Bush is claiming that there were NO FINGER PRINTS on the axe, nor anywhere else.]
“We’ll look for it before we leave, of course,” I informed him. “It’s even possible that the dog actually trailed the killer from the house. The neighbors say it is part police dog, and those animals have uncanny sagacity and no end of courage.”
The telephone was ringing as the District Attorney and I followed the dog’s trail to the front door. A patrolman had answered it and was holding the receiver towards me.
It was a member of my own department calling. “There’s a break in this thing already, Chief,” he said. “A guy named Brandier." He was a sweetheart of Providence at one time. Mike Licata chased him away when he heard that the guy uses reefers. We got the information from a family friend. He bothered the girl a bit afterwards but she cooled him off---had quite a scene at a dance, from what we get. Now this Brandier should be easy to----“
“Get him,” I advised quickly. “Get him if you have to turn the city inside out. Everything points to this being a reefer’s job. Providence was killed first. This admirer of hers is our first bet---our very best bet.”
It was with a lighter heart that I joined Rex Farrier on the front porch.
“The boys have turned up an admirer of the girl. A guy she shook when he turned junker,” I told him.
The District Attorney nodded. Then he assumed a listening attitude. “There’s a sound,” he said, “coming from under this porch. I’ve heard it a couple of times while you were telephoning. Sounds like something or somebody stirring around.”
We stood silent for a moment. Then I heard it, the unmistakable sound of a living body moving among the dried leaves under the front porch.
A GREEN painted grill of ornamental lattice-work encircled the porch between the floor and the ground. The policemen joined us at my shout and we walked around the lattice until we came to a place where one panel had been broken away. A patrolman was on his knees instantly. His flash-light pricked into the gloom beneath the porch. He turned a perspiring face upwards a moment later.
“The dog,” he said. “It’s the dog, bleeding and in terrible shape.”
We coaxed the animal out. It dragged itself painfully and slowly towards the policeman’s outstretched hand. It was a half-grown German shepherd. In its right shoulder was a raw rent that laid open skin and flesh until the shattered bone was visible.
The dog allowed itself to be lifted in gentle hands. “Get it to a veterinarian,” I told the policeman. Then as a sudden thought occurred, I added, “Get him to do everything in his power to keep that dog alive. Tell him we want that dog---living and active again.”
The policeman looked at me wonderingly for a moment, then grinned a wide Irish smile. “I get it,” he said. “This dog’ll know that killer.”
Sergeant Beasley had heard the conversation. “You’ll need that dog, if that’s your idea,” he said with a helpless gesture. His fingers were black with dusting powder, and there was a smudge of the same stuff on the side of his nose. “That axe was wiped off,” he explained, “on a bathroom towel. Not a print. I’ve followed the trail from the back of the house to the girl’s bedroom and then to each of the other rooms. His hands were bloody when he touched the doorknobs. But he smeared the prints. I don’t believe we’ll get a trace.”
It was bad news. With a print and the man already being hunted we could begin a quick system of eliminating suspects. Without a print we must rely on long and tedious questioning and the slow checking of alibis.
[MUSEUM NOTE: Due to time and other circumstances, it is now impossible to tell if any of the above statements are true or not (probably not), but it still reveals something about the case. At the time Bush was claiming that Victor was a confirmed Marihuana addict and that just prior to the murders, he was only a few more days from being arrested as such. Here his story is totally different. Note that no names are given, no way of checking out the facts.]
There was still the dog, of course, but any detective will agree that even an intelligent animal’s keen instinct is a weak thing upon which to rely for positive identification of a murderer.
During the rest of that day, as suspect after suspect was brought into headquarters and the list of known reefer addicts grew by leaps and bounds, I kept close track of the hunt for Providence Licata’s erstwhile admirer. The report on this man which awaited me when I returned from the murder house was more than encouraging---it looked almost positive.
Brandier was a handsome young fellow of twenty-five or six who had cut quite a swath in the night life of Ybor City after the beautiful Providence had become lost to him. The investigators had found his trail everywhere. He was a smooth dancer, and possessed all the attributes of the type adored by women and abhorred by men. But what was of supreme importance, there was ample evidence of his enslavement to the murder weed. Even the landlady in the rooming house he last had occupied knew of his penchant for the drug and once had taken him to task about it.
His trail led us to Miami, where I telephoned to persons who had been named as his friends. From there I followed him by phone to Jacksonville, back to Tampa and then abruptly north into Georgia. The silvered moon was back over Tampa and the tropical night was balmy with the breezes that had touched beautiful Providence Licata in the last moments of her life, when the trail of Anthony Brandier came to an end.
The last telephone call I had made in this effort to locate the man who loomed largest in our list of suspects was to Atlanta, Georgia. Late that night the Georgia police telephoned me back again. Anthony Brandier was in the county hospital under observation as a drug addict. He had been placed behind the diamond mesh on the hospital windows a month before. They had telephoned the hospital and the man was still there. Positively he was not the axe slayer.
I HUNG UP the telephone. For the rest of that night, I listened in desperation to the alibis of pallid junkers who had been known by the Licata family, or could have had ever a slight connection with any one of its members. I talked to reefer addicts, one after another and watched their thin lips tremble and saw the perspiration bead their foreheads. At dawn there sat before me a young man whose eyes were hot coals in his thin, white face. He had known the Licatas, he admitted.
I noted the yellow stains of his trembling fingers. “You’re a reefer user,” I made the accusation for the hundredth time that night. He nodded slowly.
“Which one of the Licatas did you know?” “Victor,” he said. “I played with him in the orchestra.”
He answered the routine questions about his whereabouts during the night hours when the Licata family was slain. He allowed his finger nails to be scraped without a murmur. He showed scant interest a few minutes later when the laboratory returned its report on the scrapings. “No bloodstains.”
I was about to send him back to his world of marihuana when I remembered that he was the first of our long list of drug users to admit frankly that he was a friend of one member of the slain family.
“How did you know Victor? Ever visit his house?” I asked him sharply.
He answered the double question with another nod. Then he added slowly: “I’ve roomed with him when he stayed away from home, when his Pa was sore at him.”
“Why did his father get sore at him?” I demanded. “Cause he smoked the stuff.” The young man’s words were like a hot knife thrusting into my brain after those hours of work and concentration. “He used the reefers and the old man got mad. Threatened to toss him out.”
I ordered this suspect temporarily held. If Victor Licata was a user of marihuana, he knows others who had fallen under the vicious spell of the stuff. From Victor’s list of acquaintances our most valuable clue might come, now that the man Brandier had been disposed of.
[MUSEUM NOTE: Again, this is a lie, the official police report plus all other accounts show that Victor was taken straight to jail, not to a hospital. Plus, logic and reason would dictate that people who act up at hospitals (back then as now) are usually given a shot of something to calm them down or put them to sleep, NOT sent to the county jail. In addition, there is a picture of Victor Licata taken at the county jail (published on page one of the Tampa Times) on the very day of the murders. In addition, Victor's mug shot clearly reads Oct 17, 1933. ]
Hard upon this thought came another. There was the dog. The animal had attacked the invader of its master’s bedroom. But why had it not barked earlier? Why had the sagacious brute not sounded an alarm when the axe-slayer was moving from room to room? No matter how quietly a man had moved through that sleeping house, the dog would have heard.
The weakness in this evidence of crime detection is that detectives are not gifted with clairvoyance. I had groped for clues in blood and confusion when they were before me all the time.
Dawn was breaking over Tampa when I telephoned to Sheriff William Spencer at the county jail and asked him to move Victor Licata from the hospital and place him behind bars.
“Already done it,” said the sheriff quickly. “This lad was in a bad shape. They couldn’t hold him there. I was just going to telephone you and let you know. The doctors say he’s using something---that isn’t all fright and shock that’s the matter with him.”
I HURRIED out of the office. Should I consider this slender handsome youth as a suspect to the terrible three-fold crime of fratricide, patricide and matricide? Was it within the boundaries of sane reasoning to suspect him of this brutal axe attack upon his own mother, his father and his two small brothers and lovely sister? Or should I try to pierce his dulled brain with questions and force him to mutter the names of his addict friends?
[Museum Notes: Here we have a reversal of the story as previously told. Up on top the dog was growling at Victor and going for his throat, with Victor kicking him five feet into the air. Now the dog was quiet as a mouse.]
I consulted with Spencer at the jail and told him the theory of the dog.
“The dog would have barked,” the sheriff said quietly. “Positively he would have barked if anyone but a member of the family was moving through that house.”
He paused reflectively. “The kid was an orchestra player, and those people are the biggest users of marihuana. They say ‘hot’ music is impossible without a reefer.”
[MUSEUM NOTE: This part might be true (see chapter 13, which deals with Victor's age) or it might be the way that Victor (probably 19 or 20 at the time) became twenty-one years of age. Thus an adult at the time and thus not protected by a juvenile court system, which in turn might have cleared him of the crime he did not commit.]
That settled it. We took the white-faced youth from his cell. Victor Licata was trembling as if the germs of a dozen fevers were in his veins. His forehead was damp and his black hair lay lank upon it. There was an unspoken question in his large, widely staring eyes. He was, I judged, about twenty-one years old.
I tried to question him for an hour. His replies were thick mumbles. I accused him flatly of the murders and he winced as if I had struck him with a lash, but he did not reply. At last, we led him to an automobile and began slowly to drive through the city traffic.
[MUSEUM NOTE: Once more it is our belief that the Licata’s DID NOT OWN a dog. However, let us assume for the sake of argument that the dog did exist. And while the author is a cat lover and has had mostly negative experiences with dogs, it is my understanding that the dog’s reaction of hostility toward Victor was a perfectly normal one given the stated circumstances. Victor (probably no Mr. Charm under normal circumstances) was in a total state of shock. He probably expressed fear, which is the last thing that you want to do in front of a dog, which responds to fear in an aggressive way. Plus, the dog had just undergone a traumatic experience himself.
“Don’t take me there,” he screamed suddenly. “Don’t take me home.” It was the first positive reaction he had shown. It was our first proof that his brain was functioning and that his air of drugged stupidity was a sham.
We did not take him to his home, where the blood of his parents and his brothers and sister still stained the floors. But we took him to the veterinarian’s hospital, and there a strange scene was enacted.
Victor Licata stood in the center of the veterinarian’s office. An attendant was sent for the wounded dog. The young man watched the door through which the dog would enter, and I saw his eyes narrow. The muscles in his sallow jaws worked convulsively. He seemed to brace himself for what he knew was coming.
Under the ministrations of the veterinarian the dog was able to limp along on three legs, the fourth being supported by splints and bandages on the injured shoulder. The animal paused in the doorway. . . Then slowly it crouched, its eyes fixed on the face of the marihuana fiend.
Before the attendant could tighten his grip on the leash, the dog had sprung. In spite of its injury, forcing itself into the air with a lunge of his powerful flanks, the German shepherd leaped straight for Victor-Licata.
We dragged the dog away, growling and fighting, its mouth frothing and its head turned always towards the trembling youth.
“Your father owned that dog for almost a year,” I told Victor when we were back at the jail again. “The dog grew up from a puppy with you always around the house. It must have known you---been friendly with you---until you turned its friendship to hatred with that axe.”
Victor Licata did not reply. With an orange stick I removed the grime from beneath his soiled fingernails and sent it to the laboratory. I sat on the edge of his cot and talked.
MUSEUM NOTE: If that were true, (despite our every effort), we have NOT seen any records that show any results from the lab.]
“You killed them all,” I accused him. “There will be blood in the dirt from under your nails, for you were saturated with it. You killed them, Victor. Then you changed your clothes in the bathroom. You left the house and disposed of your clothes. You came back toward morning and pretended to have made the discovery.”
I walked across the cell towards the door and his haunted eyes followed me. “I’ll prove all these things, Victor. Every-one of them,” I told him.
MUSEUM NOTE: If he signed a confession, no one has ever seen it. As for the alleged statements ---"“I did it,” he shouted. “They were going to send me to an institution. I was smoking reefers." -- all we can say is that Mr. Bush has already been shown to be less than an honest story teller.]
His reply brought me to his side again. “I did it,” he shouted. “They were going to send me to an institution. I was smoking reefers. I smoked a lot that night. I knew they were going to shut me up. I felt it and it drove me crazy. I knew something awful was bound to happen. I got the axe and---and I---I killed Providence first. I killed her first and then I went mad.”
HIS SIGNED confession was on my desk next the next day. But we never took him to trial. The family’s lawyer petitioned the court that in his opinion Victor Licata was dangerously insane. They placed him under close guard at the state hospital in Chattahoochee, Florida, where he was committed by the judge and where he will remain the rest of his days.
Insane he was in truth, with the insanity that is caused by marihuana---the weed that will grow on any vacant lot or in a rural fence corner, the weed of “hot music” in the night clubs and the honkytonks.
America’s newest curse that may be purchased in many a corner drug store or down at the waterfront in the form of ricepaper cigarettes, is marihuana, the drug that sang the death song to Victor Licata and inflamed his brain with a mad lust to kill five members of his own family.
9.4 – CONCLUSIONS:
The story itself was billed as a true not a fictional story. On the index title page, we even find the following (Jack DeWitt being the ghost writer):
“ONE OF THE MOST indefatigable writers in search of fact rather than fiction is Jack DeWitt, co-author of the story titled “Marihuana Maniac,” appearing on page 44 of this issue.” And granted, this was a first-hand account, written by someone who was physically there at the time who had (what we could term) “The Badge of”, or “The Mantel of Authority.” HOWEVER, given the sheer number of deliberate omissions, inaccuracies, misrepresentations and out and out lies (other than the basic plot line about the Licata Murders), this article has to be termed, a work of sheer fantastical fiction.
Above, we have gone over most of the article's inaccuracies, however just look at its omissions:
But worst still, note how the Chief of Detectives failed to use this opportunity to make corrections to his earlier statements. Most notably, the now infamous quotation; “W.D. Bush, city detective chief, said he had made an investigation prior to the crime and learned the slayer had been addicted to smoking marijuana cigarettes for more than six months.”
- Why was there no mention that Victor was almost sent to an insane asylum just a year before the murders? Obviously, this was information that must have been well known to the Chief of Detectives on the case.
- According to the article; “He was, I judged, about twenty-one years old,” which is probably how all of Victor's paperwork thereafter states that he was 21 years of age at the time. Meaning that he would be treated as an adult instead of a juvenile for legal purposes (confessions, etc.). -- [see chapter 11, for more on the subject] Yet Victor's true age must have been known to the Chief of Detectives on the case, how could it not be?
- Why was there no mention of Victor trying to protect himself – that he had tried to obtain a handgun the day before, etc.? [A key point to be talked about later]
- And why did he omit all references to the serial axe murderer operating in the Tampa area at the time?
Thus, even though the article was written under the “Badge of Authority” we must conclude that it is nothing more than a work of total fiction. However, in that fiction some truths come out. Truths that lead us to use the word, CONSPIRACY.
For instance, mentioned in the article are police/sheriff's officers:
However, it is possible to excuse their silence by simply stating that they didn’t have all the facts and thus could have read the article (how could they not have) and have simply thought it was true, or given the time lapse between the crime and the article (about 5 years) could have long ago forgotten the exact facts. However, two other names are mentioned:
- Sergeant Malcolm Beasley
- Patrolman L.V. Stewart
- Deputy Sheriff Ben Walkins
- W.B. Bell
These two had all the facts and yet chose to remain silent about the article. Obviously, something seems odd.
- J. Rex Farrier - the District Attorney
- Frank S. Caston - Florida State Drug and Narcotic inspector
As we go through this book, various reference mentions will be made to this article. Piece by piece, we will look over the evidence and show how flimsy the whole case against Victor really was.
ON TO THE NEXT CHAPTER
VICTOR LICATA - A RUSH TO JUDGEMENT
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