Al Capone’s Miami

Capone_coverNOW AVAILABLE – Al Capone’s Miami: Paradise or Purgatory?

Al Capone’s Miami: Paradise or Purgatory? will take a fascinating look at the years Al Capone spent in Florida. New information will shed light on his life on Miami Beach including liquor smuggling, speakeasys, gambling joints, and his many arrests. And, it will include documents, photos, and other items that have never been published.

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Most people are familiar with the infamous crime boss Al Capone, a.k.a. “Scarface Al” and “Public Enemy Number One,” but few know of his South Florida connection or the establishment of his residency and business in the Sunshine State.

Al Capone

Capone’s Rise to Crime Boss

In the early 1920s, Alphonse Capone was one of a number of foot soldiers in the New York Mob until Johnny Torrio, an up and coming Chicago gangster, recruited him. Capone’s first job—supplying towels to prostitutes at The Four Deuces, a Southside hangout—wasn’t so glamorous. But he was soon promoted to “hit man.” His first successful assignment was to have crime boss “Big Jim” Colosimo taken out. With Colosimo out of the way, Torrio took control of the action and appointed Capone his chief assistant.

When Torrio was wounded in an unsuccessful gangland hit, he wanted out of the mob. Making a deal for ten percent of all illegal profits, he stepped down and seceded the gangland thrown to Capone. Thus, by 1926, Capone’s mob ruled Chicago.

Capone Comes to South Florida

   In 1928 Capone traveled to Florida, but before he arrived at his Miami destination he stopped in the little town of Deerfield (just south of Boca Raton) to have several inner tubes fixed.  Marlin Eller, 12, was manning his father’s filling station and garage on Dixie Highway in Deerfield when a “big black car filled with several men” pulled into the station. As one of the men handed over several inner tubes for repair, Marlin noticed the southbound car had Illinois license tags. He also overheard the men mention “Chicago.”

David Eller, a Deerfield Beach native recounted this story as told to him by his father, Marlin Eller:

My Dad patched them for them and when they picked up the tubes later on their way back north, the ‘boss man’ of the group paid for the gas and tire patching, and then handed my father a $10 tip! This was a huge tip for a 12-year-old boy at the time. My dad thought he was the nicest man in the world! But later on, when Al Capone was arrested and his picture was in the newspaper, my Dad saw the picture and realized who it was that had tipped him so generously.

Al Capone’s Palm Island Estate

Capone drove on to Miami and bought a little house on Palm Island in his wife’s name for $40,000 through Vincent G. Giblin, Broward County Florida’s first circuit judge turned mob attorney. He then kicked in another $100,000 for renovations that included a swimming pool, boathouse and dock.

While Capone’s lawyers established his legal rights of domicile, he was unwelcome in Miami and faced opposition from politicians and residents alike. When state beverage agents confiscated liquor in a raid at his home, State Attorney Hawthorne of Dade County filed a court petition to padlock the house “on grounds that the property was a public nuisance.” But that premise was soon negated when certain facts came to light.

Fred Girton, editor of a local nightlife newspaper, had been to the estate for a drink with the mobster. In addition, the highly respected Roddy Burdine had been to Capone’s home as a representative for Community Chest, a nonprofit agency that served the poor. Burdine claimed he was there to solicit a donation and while he received a generous gift, it was later returned. Because of these and similar incidents, the court reasoned that not all residents considered Capone a threat.

Walter Winchell, the noted New York Mirror’s nationally syndicated gossip columnist, occasionally visited Capone at Palm Island. On one such visit, he watched Capone play poker with some of his henchmen, a loaded automatic pistol nearby:

   “I don’t understand that,” Winchell told Capone.“Here you are playing a game of cards with your friends, but you keep a gun handy.”
   “I have no friends,” Capone replied coldly.

Capone’s Private Gambling Joint

Capone’s vacation home may have been on Palm Island in Miami but his “business” was farther north in the little town of Deerfield. David Eller recounted:

My grandmother, Mattie Eller, was an excellent seamstress and told her daughter, my Aunt Lavelle Tubbs, that she used to make extra money making dresses for the girls who “worked” at Mr. Capone’s private “establishment.” Located where the Intracoastal Waterway intersects the Hillsboro Canal, the “fish” import business, also had lots of gambling machines and fancy girls around . . . Capone would generally travel by boat from Miami Beach to visit his Deerfield “business.”


Capone Island

Capone Island

To the north of Capone’s gambling joint and just across the Hillsboro Canal was a 56-acre triangular-shaped tract of land. First designated by the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) as “spoils area #702,” it was purchased by Giblin for Capone in 1930 where the notorious mobster planned to build a $250,000 house.

Margaret McDougald Shadoin, a long time Deerfield Beach resident, recalled that her father, W.D. McDougald, Deerfield Police Chief and a Sheriff’s deputy, received a call from Broward Sheriff, Paul C. Bryan about this time:

My dad was told Capone had purchased land on the peninsula, sight unseen, and was coming up to look at it. He wanted my dad and deputy Alvin Stewart to escort the mobster and offer him protection because Capone was the target for an assassin at all times. Dad said Capone was a very mannerly person who told him he was planning to build a nightclub and casino on the island.

    The land transaction birthed a banner-headline story in the July 2, 1930 edition of Fort Lauderdale’s Daily News:

   What is believed to be a move on the part of Al Capone, Chicago beer and brothel baron, to establish residence and headquarters in Broward county was seen today with the filing of a deed at the Broward courthouse for transfer of a large tract of land lying between the Florida East Coast and Hillsborough canals at Deerfield . . .

After Capone’s arrest for tax evasion in 1932, and given his impending jail time and the burden of taxes on the Deerfield peninsular property, Giblin sold the acreage, never denying that his mob boss was actually eyeing it for a residence.

The Florida Inland Navigation District conveyed the property to the state on a 99-year right to use it as a park and recreation area. It is now a Broward County Park called Deerfield Island and is accessible only by launch from close to where Capone’s Speakeasy once stood.

David Eller wrote of the island:

    Officially named Deerfield Island a few years ago, many locals still call it Capone Island, because legend has it that the island is where Capone hid all the booze during prohibition. He brought the liquor from Europe to the Bahamas, and then smuggled it onto Capone Island where it was put in the bottom of watertight containers, topped off with fish and dry ice and delivered to the railroad station for onward shipment to Chicago. Capone became enormously rich in a very short time via this illegal Deerfield Beach-connected enterprise.

The Last of Capone

The mob boss gave the “go ahead” for the slaying of Chicago gangland rival “Bugs’ Moran on February 14, 1929 in an incident that became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  While records show Capone was in South Florida when the massacre occurred, everyone knew Capone had ordered the “hit” that was allegedly carried out by Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn a.k.a. Vincenzo Demarco.

Dade County Solicitor Robert Taylor questioned Capone regarding an “unsolved gangland hit in Manhattan, his comfortable lifestyle, and his frequent telephone calls to Chicago.” Later he was summoned back to Chicago to testify about the killings before a grand jury. But in the end, Capone was never implicated.

Fearing assassination by the Bugs Moran Gang after the famed St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in the spring of 1929, Capone and his bodyguard had themselves arrested for wearing concealed weapons. Released in March 1930, word got out he was headed back to Miami. Hearing this, Florida Governor Doyle Carlton quickly ordered all sixty-seven county sheriffs to “arrest Capone and escort him to the state border if he should appear anywhere in Florida.”

Capone was eventually imprisoned in 1932 for failure to pay income taxes from 1924 to 1929. Sentenced to eleven years in the slammer, Capone was sent to Alcatraz. While there, syphilis attacked his brain and in 1938 prison doctors declared him a mental patient.

Having served seven years, he was released in 1939 and returned to South Florida. A Miami doctor who examined him said, “Capone couldn’t dominate anything, much less a gangland empire.”

In the end, Capone contracted double pneumonia and spent his last days sitting in a lounge chair at his Palm Island estate breathing through an oxygen mask. Outside compound walls, a death vigil commenced.  Capone died in an upstairs bedroom on Saturday evening, January 25, 1947.  He was forty-eight.

Although Capone was the first crime figure to head to South Florida he wasn’t the last. Others soon followed including Meyer Lansky, the Mafia’s most trusted business manager, Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo, Anthony Accetturo, and Carlos Trafficante.

Click here to order a copy of Run the Rum In, which describes more about South Florida during the Prohibition era.


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Mabel Walker Willebrandt – Fascinating Women of Prohibition

File:Mabel Willebrandt.jpg

Mabel Walker Willebrndt

While it is true the Prohibition era was dominated by men, the truth is, there were several women, some famous and some infamous, some on the side of the law and some outside the law, that played very prominent roles. This is one of them.

Mabel Walker Willebrandt was officially appointed Attorney General in 1921. As part of her duties, she headed the division in the Justice department dealing with federal taxation, federal prisons and matters relating to the enforcement of the Volstead Act (Prohibition). In her book, The Inside of Prohibition, she described political interference, incompetent public officials and public indifference as causes hampering the enforcement of prohibition. Yet, her determination eventually led to the curtailing of smuggling, resulting in boats being confiscated and hundreds of arrests and convictions.

Here is what she said:

At one time it was quite apparent that no real effort was being made to put an end to such open defiance of our laws. Liquor runners operated off Florida practically in the open, in broad daylight, with little or no interference. There for years the prosecuting office and the prohibition agents engaged equally in the game of evasion of responsibility.

   Prohibition administrators placed responsibility onUnited States attorneys and their assistants, whom they charged with dereliction of duty and participation in the graft that all too plainly existed in many quarters. On the other hand, prosecuting officers attempted to place responsibility upon the agents and prohibition directors whose eyes were closed apparently to open violations of prohibition. Both of the principal law-enforcing agencies had what might be termed a “perfectly grand alibi” for conditions that were a national scandal. Such cases as reached the courts were handled by corrupt or evasive agents or “soft-pedaled” by theUnited Statesattorneys’ offices. That territory furnished, therefore, an ideal place for smuggling ships to hover.

   On September 15, 1925, I had recommended a complete reorganization of the United States attorney’s office inFlorida. Not until April 25, 1929, was that reorganization made effective. Then the United States Attorney left and men from my office in the Department of Justice took charge and began disposing of an immense docket with an accumulation of eight hundred cases in Miami alone. It requires hard work and an unloosening of political strangulation to bring about real improvement. My own conviction was-and still is-that prohibition can and will be enforced whenever and wherever there is the will and determination to enforce it, plus the full and proper use of legal authority, manpower and available equipment.

   Accordingly, early in my term of office, a conference was arranged between the heads of the Prohibition Unit, the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, and those in the Justice Department who were responsible for prohibition prosecutions. Its purpose was to work out a method to stop smuggling. The hope that Rum Row could be swept out of existence was changed to absolute conviction by personal contact at that conference with the officers of the Coast Guard.

   After much discussion by representatives of the various bureaus and units as to the difficulty and intricacy of the problem, and the display of a general feeling of hopelessness by many of those present, I turned to the representative of the Coast Guard forces. He was a fine, clear-eyed, courageous-looking man of the type who is accustomed to battling with the storms that sweep our coast and imperil shipping. With an economy of words and forcefulness of utterance that gave renewed confidence he replied to the query as to what cooperation could be secured from his service: “We’ve got enough to do. We don’t want the job, but if the Coast Guard gets orders to ‘clean out Rum Row,’ it will be cleaned out.”

   The orders were given. Even Congress was aroused. In a few weeks’ time, an additional eleven million dollars was appropriated for boats and equipment.

Now that monies had been appropriated, the Coast Guard lost no time in expanding its fleet. Two hundred and three 75-foot patrol boats, called ‘six-bitters’ by the Guard, became the mainstay of the liquor war on water. Intended for off shore work, they were to picket the rumrunners beyond the 12-mile limit and keep the smaller contact vessels from loading their holds with the illicit drink.

Willebrandt became a huge influence in curtailing the importation of illegal booze into the US via rum runners, and solidified her place of prominence in American history.

Click here to order a copy of Run the Rum In, which describes more about South Florida during the Prohibition era.

Next time we’ll talk about Elizebeth Friedman, a cryptologist, who worked for the Coast Guard and who played a vital role in breaking radio codes of the run runners.

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Gertrude Lythgoe – Fascinating Women of Prohibition



Gertrude Lythgoe

While it is true the Prohibition era was dominated by men, the truth is, there were several women, some famous and some infamous, some on the side of the law and some outside the law, that played very prominent roles. This is one of them.

Another fascinating woman of the Prohibition era was Gertrude Lythgoe, also known as Grace Lythgoe.

Gertrude Lythgoe entered the world in Bowling Green, Ohio as the tenth child of an English father and Scottish mother. Yet her exotic appearance allowed her to pass for American Indian, Russian, French or Spanish. When, as an adult, she was hailed as a look alike for Queen Cleopatra she was given the nickname “Cleo.”

She became orphaned when her mother died and her father was unable to care for all the children, yet she loved school and had a quick mind. This would prove an asset in the occupation she would eventually find herself. Rescued by an aunt, she was later reunited with her father.

As a young woman she worked in New York and California as a stenographer but later came under the employ of a London liquor exporter. With the passing of Prohibition, her employer realized a opportunity existed to supply liquor to the U.S. through the Bahamas.

Needing a savvy businessperson to oversee their affairs, Lythgoe was tapped for the assignment. Traveling to Nassau, she set up the company’s wholesale liquor business on Market Street, initiated sales transactions with potential buyers and oversaw the shipments.

Reporter Wigley described her as “truly a wonderful personality. A woman of cultivated tastes, who can talk on books and who travels with the best music in her trunks, and shows such artistic taste in dress . . .”

She found buyers wary of her gender in the mostly male business but overcame any skepticism with quality of goods, pricing and smarts. Soon, she became a formidable figure in the liquor supplying business, coming to be known as “The Bahama Queen.”

Wigley met with Lythgoe frequently in Nassau and wrote that she told him of a man who had been saying derogatory things about her liquor.

“Everyone knows that my liquor is the very best,” she said, “but for some reason or another this man thought he would criticize it to other people, and he also said something unpleasant about me.

Well, I found him in a barber’s shop with his face lathered and I just walked right in and told him I wanted to talk to him. I fetched him along to my office, and there I just warned him. I told him I’d put a bullet through him as sure as he sat there. He went away mighty quick.

Lythgoe with McCoy aboard the Tomoka

A contemporary of Bill McCoy, one of Prohibition’s most notorious rum runners during the early part of the era, Lygthgoe sailed aboard his schooner Tomoka to Rum Row off New York. With the boat laden with her company’s liquor, she remained aboard several weeks until her load was sold. During this time, she and McCoy became fast friends. McCoy described the elusive lady:

She was a tall slender girl with black hair, a brain as steady as her own dark eyes, and a history that was nobody’s business. She came to Nassau as agent for Haig and McTavish’s Scotch whisky, no one knew from where. She made no secret of her background, but she told an entirely different tale to everyone who asked. She was born in California. She had been born in India. She was a gypsy. She had been raised in the Middle West. You could take your choice.
   Nassau was not the best place in those days for attractive unprotected women, but though she was the former, she certainly was not the latter. Members of the rum mob who drew their own conclusions concerning her and then tried to operate accordingly, probably will recall the breath-taking fury she could show, and one or two must remember the pistol jammed into their ribs by way of making things clear. An able thoroughly competent girl was she; no twittery jane at whom one could make passes with impunity. She expected others to mind their own business as she attended to hers. She worked at that overtime and in its course she nearly ran me ragged.

After several years of operating successfully out of the Bahamas, Lythgoe was arrested and taken to Federal courts in New Orleans where she was charged with smuggling 1,000 cases of whiskey into the city. In actuality, she had been engaged elsewhere and had left the shipment in the hands of a subordinate who arranged the shady deal with himself as beneficiary.

Eventually cleared of the charges, she left rum-running to write her memoirs but not before becoming reacquainted with her old friend Bill McCoy aboard his schooner Taormina. She described her conversation with him as he pleaded for her to stay aboard:

“Believe me, it’s a tremendous temptation, but I still have some unfinished business, tails ends which must have my attention. It is urgent that I return. There have been so many interruptions as it is. Besides, I hardly think it would be proper for me to stay aboard with three captains.”
   With that he jumped up and grabbed me in his arms, saying, “I won’t let you go.”
   For once I did not resist his caresses.
   “If you must go back, promise me that you will get the slate cleared of whatever you have to do as soon as possible. Meanwhile I will finish the overhauling of the ships here and the one in Virginia. We will meet in Miami, then go on a long cruise to the South Seas and just jog along as we please. I won’t let you go until you do promise.”
   It was with reluctance that I compelled myself to wake from those wonderful moments.
   As I said good-bye, with my arms around his neck, I kissed him.
   “All right, Bill, I promise.”

    Lythgoe never delivered on her promise. For a while, she resided at the Parkleigh House in Miami and later lived in New York. But the majority of her time was spent in Detroit, Michigan where for twenty-five years her home was the Tuller Hotel on Grand Circus Park. She died in Los Angeles, California on June 24, 1974. She was 86.

During Lythgoe’s reign in the Bahamas, her story appeared in syndicated columns in newspapers and magazines. When her photograph graced the pages of such prominent newspapers as the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times she was elevated to celebrity status. And, it is said, the British flag dipped in salute when, for the last time, she sailed from the Bahamas.

Click here for Flat Hammock Press and Lythgoe’s autobiography, The Bahama Queen.

   Click here to order a copy of Run the Rum In, which describes more about South Florida during the Prohibition era.


Posted in Fascinating Women of the Prohibition Era, Prohibition | 13 Comments

Carry Nation – Fascinating Women of the Prohibition Era

Carry Nation and “Hachetation”

While it is true the Prohibition era was dominated by men, the truth is, there were several women, some famous and some infamous, some on the side of the law and some outside the law, that played very prominent roles. This is one of them.

The first well-known woman to become entrenched in the Prohibition movement was Carry Nation. Some may remember her as a dark soul who dressed in black and carried a hatchet with a campaign of destruction called “hachetation.” But she wasn’t always like that. Here’s a little history you may find fascinating.

Hoping to shift the movement into political activism, temperance advocates backed legislation designed to restrict or ban the sale of alcohol within local communities. In response to these efforts, in 1851 Maine became the first state to outlaw the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages. By 1855, thirteen other territories and states followed suit.

Women joined the fray in 1873. Establishing the Ohio-based Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the group labeled drunkenness “a national curse” and advocated abolishing the trafficking of alcohol. By holding non-violent protests outside establishments that sold liquor, the ladies were able to close over 25,000 drinking establishments. But for all that losed, more popped up.

As America continued the shift from a rural o an urban lifestyle, slums developed in the big cities. Believing alcohol was major contributing factor in this urban decay, many reformers felt that the poor would be better served by the elimination of this evil brew.

Carry Nation and “Hatchetation”

One of the most vociferous women to join the WCTU was Carry Nation. Married to Dr. Charles Gloyd in 1867, Nation discovered her husband to be an alcoholic and experienced firsthand the carnage such a habit could inflict on a family. While pregnant, she separated from Gloyd and returned to her parents’ home where she had a daughter, Charlien. Six months after the child’s birth, Gloyd drank himself to death. This tragic experience led Nation to become a staunch activist in the temperance movement.

In 1877, she married David Nation, a pastor, and the two settled in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. When she learned local saloon owners were violating the Kansas constitutional
amendment prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages, she organized a local chapter of the WCTU. Entering bars, the group sang hymns and prayed for the souls of the patrons. Eventually, these demonstrations drove the saloons out of business.

But Nation’s nonviolent approach took a 180-degree turn in 1899. Armed with a sledgehammer, she entered a drugstore, the only remaining Medicine Lodge establishment serving liquor, and smashed a keg of whiskey. The proprietor left town, and the WCTU claimed victory.

On a roll, Nation took her campaign into Kiowa, Kansas, a nearby town. Fed up with saloon owners violating the law, she went on a rampage. Using stones, bricks and bottles, she attacked three illegal saloons. Later, she destroyed furniture and mirrors in these same establishments with a hatchet. Her husband pleaded with her to come home, but when she refused, he divorced her on grounds of abandonment.

Carry Nation’s campaign of destruction, which she called “hatchetation,” resulted in 30 arrests and substantial jail time for the former preacher’s wife. And while it initially brought substantial attention to the cause for prohibition it eventually became more of a hindrance than an asset. But before her crusade ended, Nation came to Miami in 1908 to support locals in drying up the “wicked little city.”

Carry Nation at the Casa Loma Hotel in Miami

In a tent pitched across the street from the courthouse, she led enthusiastic supporters in cries to rid the nation of the “devil in the bottle.” Miami’s newspaper, The Miami Daily Metropolis, covered the story and reported that those “who thought Mrs. Nation [was] simply a sufferer from a certain form of dementia Americana . . . are daily changing their opinions.”

While in Miami, a city that banned the sale of alcohol on Sundays, Nation went on an unannounced inner city tour, noting an abundance of crime and corruption. H. Pierre Branning, the county solicitor and future circuit judge, subpoenaed Nation regarding criminal activities in Miami. After questioning, she addressed a crowd of over 2,000 supporters, quoting the Bible on the evils of alcohol and declaring “official corruption had contributed to Miami’s wickedness.”

A perturbed Branning huffed his way to the platform, refuted the allegations and challenged Nation toproduce the evidence. According to the article,“On that cue, she withdrew two bottles of whiskey from the folds of her dress and shouted, ‘ These were purchased [in] north Miami on Sunday.’” Her audience exploded in jeers and laughter.

Nation’s visit to Miami created quite a stir, yet it had a positive effect. In subsequent months, the city experienced an increase in liquor violation arrests and more stringent liquor laws.

Order today!  Sally J. Ling’s newest book The Cloak, a biblical mystery, featuring Shea Baker. Learn more.

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Run the Rum In

Run the Rum In book cover

Run the Rum In was a fun book to write. It started with an obscure and somewhat humorous article tucked away in a file on Roads in the Boca Raton Historical Society. In the article a boat filled with illegal booze accidently came ashore in front of a surveyor the rummie thought was his signal man.

I figured there were probably a lot more stories like that up and down the South Florida coast so I did a little research. The end result was Run the Rum In–a fascinating look at the events and characters associated with running illegal booze into the U.S. through Florida during the Prohibition era.

Al Capone

Lots of interesting people – William McCoy (known as the “Real McCoy”), Captain Knight (Cap’s Place), Al Capone, James Horace Alderman (infamous rum runner), Carry Nation (Prohibition advocate known for chopping up bars with a hatchet), Grace Lythogoe & Marie Waite (two beautiful and savvy female rum runners), the Ashley Gang (bank robbers and murders), Elizabeth Friedman (Coast Guard cryptologist), Mabel Walker Willebrandt (asst. attorney general), and many more.

Since the book came out I have participated in a National Geographic documentary on Gangsters, and I’m currently working on a documentary for WLRN (PBS Miami) on Prohibition and the South Florida Connection.  It will air in January 2012 and run after Ken Burns documentary on Prohibition.

Al Hasis Tending Bar at Cap's Place

Run the Rum In is a fun read filled with many South Florida events and personalities, many of which were unknown until now.

Click here for reviews by one of Amazon’s book reviewers and others.

Click here to go to the Bimini Museum and view some interesting photos and footage from the Prohibition era.

Click here to go to my website.

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Originally called the Florida Asylum for the Indigent Insane, but more commonly called “Chattahoochee” by long-time Floridians, I came to know of the hospital’s existence back in the 1960s when I first moved to Florida. Its reputation at that time was . . . well. . . pretty bad, but in reality not so different than most asylums around the country.  But what Chattahoochee had that most other asylums didn’t was its amazing history.

From a federal arsenal during the Second Seminole and Civil Wars, to Freedman’s Bureau, to Florida’s first state penitentiary (there are stories here that will curl your hair), and finally to the asylum, the Florida State Hospital has a remarkable past–some that produced scenes one could only find in a horror movie. And, when you move into the 1900s, the story really gets interesting with political scandals, patient abuse, use of treatments such as ECT and lobotomies, and the incarceration of thousands of men, women and children who weren’t really insane at all.

“Colored” ward at the Florida State Hospital

     Out of Mind, Out of Sight will reveal for the first time, the entire history of the facility set against the backdrop of the evolution of the country’s mental health care system, from institutional care to community-based treatment centers. And, it will bring you up to date with those who currently occupy the facility–forensic patients, those who have been convicted of a crime but who are considered mentally ill and not competent to stand trial.

I’d love to hear from anyone with connections to the facility.

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