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Boating: High crimes and misdemeanors on the “Old Fort Myers Beach”

November 21, 2012
by boatguy Ed , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

On a dark and stormy night in August nearly 30 years ago, a young man silently moved along side of the boats on a quiet canal sparingly occupied by houses but here were many more docks than houses because the docks were rent-able. The burglar's stealthness was accomplished with the help of an electric outboard that was completely silent. He passed so close to several boats that the occupants could have shook his hand except they were busy watching the flashes of lightning in the distance. They heard nothing but the far off thunder.

This young man was a thief who knew exactly what he was after. This wasn't an inside job, but the information was passed through by a loose-lipped dockside mechanic. He wasn't in on the caper, but he'd mentioned a suspicious hiding place to the wrong person. The story about hidden gold was told and re-told until it got to a person of action.

The young man in the boat had precise info about the hiding place, how much it weighed and what it was worth. The small boat was secured to the big boat by suction cup cleats on the stern. An athletic vault brought him aboard. He avoided the 'welcome' mat alarm and jimmied the salon door in a few seconds. He went directly to the bar and pried open the panel that obscured the secret compartment.

Inside the compartment his gloved hand landed on a small canvas bag that was the target. The weight of it convinced him that it contained something very heavy, possibly gold coins. The secret panel was the perfect cruiser's hiding place containing the most widely accepted monetary method for bribing port officials, buying drugs and certainly accepted everywhere a cruiser/smuggler might roam.

The burglar lowered the canvas bag into his boat and went about 'stealing' less valuable items. He was obligated to make it look like a common break and enter in case he was caught. The heavy pouch would be dropped overboard if the law approached him. Retrieving it would be easy.

The caper was going very well until a nearby lightning strike illuminated the entire canal. The young man was holding a piece of electronics when he was caught in the flash. A neighbor, blinded by the sudden bright flash recovered and understood what he was seeing. He turned on his sailboat spreader lights and grabbed a hand-held spotlight. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.

The young man was off the boat and going passed the neighbor before the bright spot found him. "I was really surprised how fast he was going without making a sound. I went into the house and called the Sheriff."

There wasn't a Sheriff's boat available, so all that they could do was to send a cruiser to a few nearby boat ramps that didn't turn up anyone with a real quiet boat. The deputies were suspicious of the pried open panel, but the boat's owner claimed it was just a access panel which was entirely plausible.

"Suspicious that he would pry it open just to look at the wires," said the investigating deputy. That was all that officially came from the burglary. No suspects, no fingerprints, no evidence and the boat owner didn't seem to care. The deputies knew the boat owner was a suspected smuggler but a drug dog found no scent to implicate him in any crime. Despite a long lists of crimes associated with him, he had never served time.

Rumors abounded on the beach back then and they were re-told until the truth was way beyond the fiction. The only way anyone knew about the gold was from the girlfriend of the crippled burglar. How he got crippled, who knew, why he wasn't dead was probably due to his decision to reveal the location of the gold. All's well that ends well. The young man lived, the gold was returned and our canal homeowners association tightened restrictions on who could rent docks.

I was in the boat business, broker type, back then. I knew all the players but it didn't concern me, so I went about my business. Until one day, a vaguely familiar person passed by my office window. Since I was a boat broker, it was wise to have an office on the water. Later in the day, I inquired from my landlord about the familiar person.

"Do you know him," he asked. I said I didn't, not for sure but maybe I saw him around a few years earlier. "He's a strange duck, for sure. He offered me $5,000 to let him dock a boat over the weekend."

"Is that all for five grand?"

"No, he wanted to park a truck by the end of the building for the weekend, too!" And that wasn't a rumor. After a few rums I convinced him that although he really needed the money, didn't we all back then, it was better not to get involved. Do you think maybe those weren't the good old days? Rumors, facts, yours mine? I know nothing!

Boatguy Ed is a past Commodore of the Dead End Canal Yacht Club, a manufacturer of marine products especially Super Shipbottom Anti-fouling bottom paint (www.supershipbottom.com) and an avid boater. Send comments to boatguied@aol.com. Don't ever try to buy him a drink.

 
 

 

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