Picture the state of Florida and all it has to offer —the gorgeous beaches, the near-constant sunshine, the family fun magic of Walt Disney World … the bizarre and jaw-dropping crimes?
Florida may be a hot destination for retired snowbirds, vacation-starved families, and spring break partiers, but it’s also home to some of the most notorious criminals and shocking cases in U.S. history — like Ted Bundy’s sorority house slayings and Aileen Wuornos’ infamous killing spree. The dark underbelly to life in Florida is on full display in “Florida Man Murders,” the new series from Blumhouse Television airing on January 9 and January 10 at 7/6c on Oxygen, which dives into chilling and bizarre crimes across the state.
To get ready for “Florida Man Murders,” you can read up on the most infamous cases in Sunshine State history below.
1. The Murder Of Caylee Anthony
When Orlando mom Casey Anthony was put on trial in 2011 for the murder of her toddler daughter, Caylee, the case had generated nearly deafening levels of media coverage. Her sensational trial — featuring her defense’s scorched-earth tactics against her family — was watched by around 40 million viewers. And when Anthony was found not guilty of her daughter’s murder, the country was furious.
What really happened to toddler Caylee is still unknown. Anthony claimed her daughter went missing in June 2008 — but it would take a full month for police to find out. Her mother, Cindy, called 911 to report her granddaughter missing, ABC News reported in 2011. The young mom initially claimed that she had dropped her daughter off with a babysitter, and that when she came back later, both were gone.
Investigators quickly zeroed in on Anthony as a key suspect, as she had failed to report her daughter missing and cadaver dogs noted human decomposition in her car, police said.
Caylee’s body was eventually found months later, not far from her mother’s Orlando home, and Anthony was charged with her little girl’s murder. Her defense team claimed Caylee had accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool and that Anthony’s father, George Anthony, helped cover it up.
However, in July 2011, Anthony was acquitted on murder and manslaughter charges, but found guilty on four counts of withholding information from the police. She was sentenced to four years in prison and credited time served. She walked out of prison 10 days after the sentencing on July 17, 2011.
In 2013, an appeals court overturned two of the four convictions, CNN reported at the time.
2. Ted Bundy’s Execution
Thanks to his dapper good looks, charisma, and shockingly high body count, Ted Bundy, who’s linked to the murders of at least 36 women, is perhaps the most famous serial killer in America. While the majority of his crimes were committed in the Pacific Northwest, his final spree of murders occurred in Florida.
In 1976, Bundy was convicted of kidnapping in Utah and extradited to Colorado to stand trial for murder there. However, he broke out of the Colorado prison twice — and in January 1978 he fled all the way to Florida. Despite being a wanted man, Bundy murdered more when he snuck into a sorority house in Tallahassee, where he killed two women and attacked two others. He then kidnapped his youngest and final victim, 12-year-old Kimberly Leach, from her Lake City school and murdered her.
In 1979, Bundy was convicted of three murders in Florida and sentenced to death. In 1989, he was executed by electric chair in Florida State Prison.
3. Aileen Wuornos’ Murder Spree
Serial killers are seemingly almost always male, which is why Aileen Wuornos’ string of murders shocked the nation. Her story was even told in the 2003 film “Monster,” which won Charlize Theron a Best Actress Oscar.
Wuornos endured a tough and abusive childhood in Michigan before ending up in Florida, where she drifted and supported herself through sex work and other service jobs. She eventually fell in love with Tyria Moore while living there, but their story had no happy ending.
From the end of 1989 and throughout 1990, police found six men robbed and shot to death on or near well-traveled roadways. A witness and composite police sketches eventually connected them to Wuornos. She claimed she had been raped by the first victim, Richard Mallory, and killed him in self-defense. In 1992, Wuornos was found guilty of first-degree murder in Mallory’s murder and sentenced to death.
“I was raped. I hope you get raped, scumbags of America,” a visibly upset Wuornos shouted when she was convicted. She later pleaded no contest to the killings of the other five men.
Wuornos died by lethal injection in 2002.
4. Gainesville Ripper’s String Of Coed Killings
During the summer of 1990, the college town of Gainesville was on edge. University of Florida students were turning up dead — fatally stabbed to death, sometimes raped and mutilated. The culprit? A 30-something drifter named Danny Rolling. And these weren’t his first killings.
In 1989, Rolling broke into the residence of the Grissom family in his hometown of Shreveport and killed all three people inside: William, 55, his daughter, Julie, 24, and his 8-year-old grandson, Sean. His crime spree continued into the following year — he shot his father twice and went on the run for attempted murder, raping a woman named Janet Frake along the way. He then set up a campsite near the University of Florida and murdered five students in a shockingly brutal manner, stabbing them repeatedly and cutting the nipples off two of the women. He even decapitated one and placed her head on a bookshelf.
Rolling was arrested for armed robbery around this time. His campsite was found not long after, which easily connected him to the crimes. In February 1994, on the eve of his murder trial, Rolling pled guilty to five counts of murder and three counts each of sexual battery and armed burglary. He was sentenced to death and executed in 2006.
Rolling aspired to be as infamous as Ted Bundy. While he never reached that height of notoriety, he did inspire the horror movie “Scream.”
5. Joe Exotic vs Carole Baskin
During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Joe Exotic became America’s unofficial entertainer as millions of viewers self-isolated at home and watched Netflix’s docuseries “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.” The hit docuseries immersed viewers in the world of private zoos and big cat conservationists, focusing primarily on eccentric zookeeper Exotic and his eventual downfall in pursuit of his rival, Carole Baskin.
Exotic (whose legal name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage) owned the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma, a home to a number of big cats. However, his treatment of the animals enraged Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue in Florida. The two became embroiled in an intense feud, with Exotic, a larger-than-life figure, even making music videos where he accused Baskin of killing her first husband. It was Exotic, however, who ended up behind bars for a murder plot.
Baskin filed a lawsuit against Exotic after to taunt her he used aspects of Big Cat Rescue branding in his marketing. Exotic lost the suit and soon owed Baskin a lot of money. Soon he was caught on tape trying to hire a hitman (in reality an undercover agent) to kill Baskin, and was arrested in Gulf Breeze, Florida.
Exotic was convicted on two counts of murder-for-hire, eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records, and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act, according to a statement from prosecutors. This year, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
While Exotic may be behind bars, he has certainly achieved a high level of fame with the show’s runaway success.
6. Astronaut Love Triangle Gone Awry
Very few humans have ventured into space. So naturally, there is a lot of respect afforded to those deemed fit and courageous enough to travel to mankind’s final frontier. That’s probably why the story of Lisa Nowak, an astronaut who drove about 900 miles to confront and allegedly kidnap a romantic rival, fascinated the public.
In 2007, Nowak, then 43, embarked on the hours-long drive from Houston to Orlando to allegedly kidnap 30-year-old Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman, who was dating William Oefelein, another NASA astronaut with whom Nowak had once had an affair. She accosted Shipman in an airport parking lot and released pepper spray into her open car window — although Shipman was able to drive away and get help.
Police found Nowak had brought along a steel mallet, a four-inch folding knife, a BB gun, garbage bags, latex gloves, pepper spray, and a black wig on her drive, according to a 2007 Los Angeles Times report. She was also reportedly wearing an adult diaper for the trek — a detail her legal team denied but one salacious enough to turn her into a national punchline.
Nowak was originally charged with kidnapping and attempted murder but pleaded guilty to burglary and misdemeanor battery. She was sentenced to two days in jail and given credit for time already served. The whole saga served as inspiration for the film “Lucy In The Sky,” starring Natalie Portman.
7. Adam Walsh’s Mall Kidnapping
In July 27, 1981, Adam Walsh vanished from a Sears in a Hollywood, Florida mall. The 6-year-old had been with his mom — then suddenly he was gone. Over two weeks later, his head was found in a Florida canal, Time Magazine reported in 2016. He had been murdered.
Walsh’s kidnapping and murder proved a pivotal point in crime, as his parents advocated hard for legal changes to help victims like their son. The Missing Children’s Act, which requires missing minors to be entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, was passed in 1982 thanks to their help.
John Walsh also co-founded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children not long after. Most famously, he became the host of “America’s Most Wanted,” a popular program that has led to the capture of many criminals across the country.
As for Adam Walsh’s murderer, serial killer Otis O’Toole confessed to killing the boy in 1983. However, O’Toole falsely confessed to killing others, casting doubt on his claim about young Adam. O’Toole eventually recanted his confession. But in 2008, Time reported that Florida police closed the case, saying that O’Toole, who has since been executed and allegedly confessed again to the murder before his was death, was indeed the killer.
To learn more about horrific crimes committed in Florida, watch “Florida Man Murders,” on January 9 and January 10 at 7/6c on Oxygen.
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