EMMET MEARA

Murder takes on new definitions in Florida

Posted March 11, 2011, at 8:58 p.m.

After covering dozens of murder trials in Maine for the Bangor Daily News over a 30-year period, I thought I had heard it all.Then I started going to Florida, the major leagues of murder.

The Fort Myers News-Press publishes almost daily accounts of shootings and stabbings, or still another body found in the canals that run through this Gulf Coast city. In Maine, these events would run on Page 1 with glaring headlines. Here, they often run in second section, Page 8.

The most amazing story so far developed as I was leaving Fort Myers for Cobb Manor on March 23, 2007. There was a short story that a skull was found by a surveyor off Arcadia Street. By sunset that night, police had discovered the bones of eight people.

The good news was the meticulous search on that warm March day helped them recover about 90 percent of the 206 bones each body would have left behind. The bad news was, they didn’t know whose bones they were.

Detectives have heard it all on this case: from Mafia-related causes to the work of a gang, a cult or even a serial killer. The theories and rumors are endless.

After a thorough examination of the remains, forensic evidence indicated that all eight were men ranging from 18 to 49 years old. They learned that seven of the eight men had first-rate dental care. Experts said the men, known as the “Fort Myers Eight,” were found within 50 yards of one another, and had been killed between 1980 and 2000.

It was the largest excavation for a homicide investigation in Florida history. Now, that’s saying something.

Four years later, only three of the victims have been identified. So far, no one has been arrested in connection with their deaths.

The victims, Jonathan Tihay (no age given), 21-year-old Erik D. Kohler of Port Charlotte and 38-year-old John C. Blevins of Fort Myers, were identified by comparing DNA samples taken from their bones with DNA from their families, said Fort Myers police Sgt. Jennifer Soto.

Kohler’s mother, Caroline Broderick, said she was “very depressed”and yet relieved to learn of her son’s fate.“Erik had a hard life, and he probably died a horrible death. I wouldn’t want to know how it happened, because if there’s eight bodies found, something bad happened,” she said, referring to a possibility that Kohler and the other victims were murdered by a serial killer.

When I run into a police officer at the Red Sox games, I always ask about the “Fort Myers Eight.” The answer is always the same. Nothing new. The national murder rate per 100,000 population is 5.4. In Fort Myers, it is 7.6.

Imagine the hue and cry if they had found eight skeletons in Camden … or Meddybemps … or Allagash.

The madness that is Florida murder was crystallized last week when two murderers appeared in court in Brooksville at the same time, on separate cases. Either of these murders would have kept a Maine reporter busy for years. The event, once again was in the second section of the St. Petersburg newspaper. No big deal, apparently.

Elias Eckard, 21, was accused of murdering his brother in a jealous rage over a woman. Early on June 19, he broke into his brother’s locked room, reports say, and the two struggled until Eckard wrapped an elastic cord around his brother’s neck and the pair fell to the floor, where Eckard heard his brother’s neck pop.

“I had no intentions of killing him,” he told investigators. “I was just in a fight with him.”

Eckard then carried his brother’s body through the bedroom window and buried it, with his bare hands, in the yard. The boys’ father, Samuel Eckard, later dug it up.

A former roofer, 56-year-old John Kalisz, already had received a life sentence for killing a county deputy. He was back in court at the same time as Eckard on charges that he had shot his sister and another woman.

Kalisz, prosecutors say, killed two people and injured two more at the Brooksville home of his sister, Kathryn “Kitty” Donovan, on Jan. 14, 2010. Hatred toward his family and the judicial system, Kalisz told investigators 13 days after the killings, compelled him to kill.

“I shot everybody ‘till the bullets ran out,” he told them.

How many times was each person shot? “Until they shut up,” he replied.

Not surprisingly, authorities indicated they will seek the death penalty for Kalisz.

And the west coast of Florida is tame, they say, compared to Miami and the east coast. Last week, police found two dead children stuffed in luggage, dumped in a Delray Beach (east coast) canal. I guess I will stay here. I cannot imagine anything wilder than Fort Myers, even after 30 years of Maine murder trials.

“Something bad happened,” the mother said.

You think?

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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