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For years, there have been so many head-scratching crime stories coming out of Florida, it’s even inspired a modern cultural joke: The adventures of “Florida Man,” a reference to the myriad headlines about wild exploits and trouble found by the state’s residents. “Florida Man” has his own Twitter account, a Reddit page, and countless fans — and it’s not difficult to see why, when the latest Florida Man in the news is grabbing headlines for denying the syringes found in his rectum or for trying to get his pet alligator drunk.
Now, Oxygen's series, “Florida Man Murders,” airing Saturday, July 10 at 9/8c and 10/9c and Sunday, July 11 at 7/6c and 8/7c on Oxygen. takes a deep dive into some of the Sunshine State’s most jaw-dropping cases.
But surely there are outrageous people in every state, no? Didn’t someone in Connecticut call 911 to get a ride to Hooters? And there was that guy in Michigan who sat in the middle of the road devouring pancakes, right?! Well, yes. Absurd shenanigans occur across the U.S. But there are several reasons we hear about the antics of Floridians much more frequently.
The most important reason Florida residents land in the headlines has to do with the state’s Sunshine Law, which makes official records related to state governing agencies accessible to the public. Florida’s position is that the government is a public business, and its leaders have stuck to that belief with this law.
Established in 1995, the Sunshine Law ensures everyday citizens can easily access public records. This includes any document related to official government agency business, like photos, emails, maps —and of course, arrest reports and mugshots. Of course, some information is redacted or kept private, like victims’ names and residential addresses.
In Florida, access to these documents and photos is fast — arrest reports are available almost immediately after they are filed, local station WCTV reported in 2019. In other states, reporters often file a request for an arrest record and wait days for its arrival. In Florida, this process is streamlined — journalists have access to daily booking records, so they can get started building their stories almost immediately.
This type of access over the years has also made journalists aware that there’s a wealth of potential crime stories coming out of Florida, so they know to pay attention to these logs, as the Miami New Times noted in 2015. After all, there could always be an arrest for something so unusual it’s certain to be of the public interest — or go viral online.
And his name, naturally, is also crucial to the success of “Florida Man.”
"It's fun to say 'Florida Man,'" Barbara Petersen, the president of Florida's First Amendment Foundation, told WCTV. "[Both] the fact that we do get access to that information early on, but also the branding."
Other contributing factors to the “Florida Man” phenomenon are the state’s sheer size and its diverse culture, The New York Times noted in 2015. Florida is the third-largest U.S. state, and with more people comes more crime news. The state’s year-round balmy temperatures could also contribute to the plethora of wild crime headlines in comparison to other states.
“But it’s not warm outside all the time everywhere,” humorist Dave Barry explained to The New York Times. “In Ohio, they stay indoors.”
Simply put, people are outside more in Florida — which means they’re acting out in public more than they would be elsewhere.
So, with easy access to public records, reporters’ knowledge of Florida as a potential goldmine of weird news, mostly lovely weather, and a massive population, Florida has become a major exporter of strange crime stories. Of course, some credit has to go to Floridians themselves pushing the boundaries of ordinary news.
“There is always an extra twist of weirdness at the end of the Florida story,” Florida journalist Carl Hiaasen concluded while speaking with The New York Times.
For more Florida crimes, watch “Florida Man Murders,” airing Saturday, July 10 at 9/8c and 10/9c and Sunday, July 11 at 7/6c and 8/7c on Oxygen, or stream episodes on Oxygen.com.
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