Updated: Nov 29, 2020
The following has been transcribed from an original 1975 Lakeland Ledger digital newspaper archive. This article has been re-typed and organized from existing digital Lakeland Ledger archives; I've simply transcribed them for informational and readability purposes. I do not claim any ownership/authorship of these particular articles.
above: The Lakeland Ledger original newspaper article - Sunday, October 26th, 1975.
Sourced from Google News Lakeland Ledger Digital Archives.
The Lakeland Ledger:
Sunday, October 26, 1975
Victim Of Satanic Cult's Paranoia, Disregard for Life?
Drug And Demons And Polk's Youth
Editors Note: The only names that have not been changed in the following story are those of Ralph Miller and his family and law enforcement officials. All others have been changed for two reasons: some persons still fear for their lives and to protect those close to Miller's disappearance who have not been charged with a crime.
By Jim Degennaro & Calvin Engh | Ledger Staff Writers
Was Ralph Miller a victim of a satanic cult's paranoia, heavy drug use and disregard for life? Sheriff Monroe Brannen thinks so, as do other persons closest to the missing youth's bizarre disappearance.
The handsome and slender 17-year-old is believed to have been violently murdered the evening of Sept. 26, 1970, in the Lakeland Highlands by persons who thought he was a drug informant. The sheriff's department has investigated Miller's disappearance for five years, but had no strong leads in the case until The Ledger interviewed a person in Florida prison several weeks ago. It was the first time the true story about Ralph Miller was told.
That story appeared last week in The Ledger. Since then, other persons associated with Miller and the satanic group have corroborated details of the youth's possible murder to sheriff's department detectives and Ledger reporters. Everyone connected with Miller and the Charles Manson-like group lied to law enforcement officials five years ago because they did not trust "cops" and "pigs". The also feared violent retribution or death form Sara, the "Witch of Lakeland" at the time.
above: Lakeland Ledger excerpt ensuring the legitimacy of the Ralph Miller story.
Sourced from Google News Lakeland Ledger Digital Archives.
During the past week, the complete story has been obtained through cooperative investigative efforts of The Ledger and the sheriff's department. That probe reveals a shocking and frightening picture of some of Polk's young people and the local drug culture. The series of events has unfolded in this fashion:
• A story entitled "What Happened to Ralph Miller?" appeared in The Ledger last Sunday quoting information through the source in the Florida prison.
• A patient in the local hospital read that story and said, "Five years of bad memories and something I tried to repress all came back to me when I read Sunday's story. I felt the truth had to be known."
• The hospital patient called The Ledger and wanted to talk to someone. The Ledger also persuaded the informant to allow sheriff's Sgt. Al Lang to make a taped bedside statement Sunday night.
• Based on that information and earlier inquiries it was determined that a person who was very close to Miller and now living out-of-state had a vital eyewitness account to Miller's alleged murder.
• With only a name to go on., Lang located the person and together with a Ledger reporter flew to the Southeastern state within hours. Raymond, the eyewitness, was found in a vocational school classroom. Five hours later, he was voluntarily on his way to Polk County, a place and situation he had tried to erase from his mind. He also feared for his life.
• Raymond was thoroughly questioned and taken to the possible Miller murder scene before he returned home.
• Also, form Raymond's and the other informants' testimony, The Ledger and the sheriff's department have prompted the re-opening of an investigation into Sara's activities in a Western state where a five year old homicide connected to the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang has never been solved. Sgt. Lang and authorities from the Western state are exchanging information in the related cases.
At the center of this cyclone involving drugs, the occult, and violence is the former Royal Castle on South Florida Avenue in Lakeland. Raymond and Mary, the hospital patient, described the teenage hangout this way:
"The Royal Castle was a doper's dream . . . you could go there and buy any kind of drug you wanted from just anybody. The drug dealing was so heavy that sometimes the paddy wagon would come and take all your friends away.
"Everyone was so free with their dope at that time. They just passed it around in the parking lot, especially Sara. The police were like vultures. There was a bank across the street from the Castle and the sheriff's department vice squad would sit back in their cars in the banks parking lot. Everyone at the Castle would wave their hands at them and yell, 'Hi.' They would wave back, and everyone would just sort of sit back looking at each other."
Because they claimed there was nothing better to do, the Royal Castle became the playground for Sara and her Hell's Angels escorts, as well as the seemingly dozens of teenagers over which they a strong and demonic influence. Mary claimed almost every teenager in Lakeland was at the Royal Castle at one time or another when it was open. She said as many as up to 100 youths, ranging in age from 12 to their mid-20's would gather at the eating place and its parking lot. Many of these same people would also meet at Sara's house in Lakeland.
"In the late afternoon, when it was cool and the sun was going down, the Castle started jumping . . . everyone started showing up there . . . they lined up in cars and would sit on the hoods.
"It was like a teeming ant hill. People were constantly driving in and out either to buy dope or to take dope they had just bought."
"And parents would drive around looking for their kids but they would just go on because they were afraid to stop."
The Royal Castle, with its crowds and and chaos, is where events surrounding Miller's possible murder began. Mary said Ralph was dropped off near the Royal Castle in the late afternoon the day he disappeared - Sept. 26, 1970.
"Ralph walked in the Castle and kicked me very hard in the leg and called me a narc," she said. "Buster saw him kick me and because he knew I was like a daughter to Sara he was going to rip Ralph apart right there in the Royal Castle.
"Buster, who was a Hell's Angel and in Sara's inner group, calmed down after I told him not to hurt Ralph and then we all went outside in the parking lot."
In the parking lot, arrangements were made for Miller to travel to a Chamber Brother's concert in Orlando with Raymond, Buster and Larry (Sara's lover). The group left in Raymond's souped-up new car. Raymond said they didn't stay long at the concert and returned to Sara's house in Lakeland. At Sara's, Buster suggested they go out to the Pines (a teenage gathering place in the Highlands south of Lakeland near Banana Lake, to smoke some dope.
"We all piled into my car again and we went out to the Pines," Raymond said. "It must have been around two or three in the morning and we sat around in the dark smoking pot. Larry then said he wanted to get some munchies (food) and me and him left, leaving Ralph in the woods with Buster."
Raymond said he and Larry went to Sara's house without stopping for food and Larry got his white van and drove back to the Pines. Raymond was following the van in his car and said Larry didn't stop for food.
"When we got back out to the Pines there was a hassle going on," he said. Larry jumped out of the cab and got into the hassle. I was freaking out and tried to break the fight up. Ralph was getting beat pretty hard.
"I tried to help Ralph but I was up against two Hell's Angels. They told me to leave or I would get the same treatment. I hauled out of there and I hope no one blames me because the Angels were feared by everybody and they play for keep."
(Later Buster, who is now possibly dead, told one of Sara's followers, "Oh, my God, oh, my God, I'm terribly sorry about what I had to do to Ralph.")
At this point, the story becomes somewhat varied as to what actually happened to Miller. Raymond, who was nervous, crying, shaking and high on speed, drove hurriedly to a mobile home where Mary and the source in the Florida jail were living near Food Machinery Corp. in Lakeland. Because he was so high, Raymond cannot remember what he told the persons living there, other than "Buster and Larry are out at the Pines killing Ralph."
While Raymond was in Polk County last week, Sgt. Lang suggested that he volunteer to be hypnotized to possibly bring out events and details he might have forgotten. Raymond refused because he had been under psychiatric care six years ago and "didn't want some things pulled out of my head." More importantly, he later told a Ledger report and Mary, "I didn't want to be hypnotized because I was afraid I might find out I was actually involved in Ralph's death or that I had not done enough to save him out at the Pines."
Mary and her roommate told The Ledger and sheriff's investigators a more detailed account of Raymonds visit to the trailer.
"Raymond said Sara was out at the Pines too and that all three of them had poured LSD down Ralph's throat and then they either staked him to the ground or tied him to a tree," Mary said. "Raymond told us they then kept beating him, and beating him and beating him with chains.
"Raymond said that after he left the mobile home he went back out to the Pines but there was no one there. He went to Sara's, where he waited until Buster and Larry returned at Dawn.
"I asked them what happened to Ralph and they told me that they dropped him off by the interstate and told him never to return. They told me not to worry about Ralph and to keep my mouth shut. That satisfied me - I really didn't want to push it, to tell you the truth."
Mary and her roommate were more persistent They had a (gut) feeling that something terrible had happened to Miller and they went to Sara's house early the next morning. When they asked Sara where Miller was they were told, "to keep their damn mouth shut and not to mention his name again."
"When Sara yelled at me in that tone it really bothered me," said Mary. "I was like a daughter to Sara and she had never talked to me that way. I then knew that something drastic had happened to Ralph."
Mary and other persons interviewed by The Ledger and the sheriff's department had indicated that they knew Miller could possibly be the object of Sara's wrath up to two months before he disappeared.
"Sara thought Ralph was a narc and wanted him killed", she said. "It was general knowledge in our group that something was going to happen to Ralph. No one warned Ralph about his danger because we were all scared of Sara. We all have been living with this horrible guilt for five years but have not even attempted to discuss it among ourselves - let alone to officials - because Sara can get at us from a distance at any time she wants."
There was some talk on the street about Miller's disappearance and debate about whether he was murdered that night five years ago or forced to leave town and meet a similar fate elsewhere. Capt. Dan Weatherford and Lt. Chuck Kenney, two sheriff's detectives from the Lakeland zone who have been on the case since Miller was first reported missing, are reasonably certain the dark haired young man has met with foul play. "We hear rumors all the time about Miller, but when we sit down and interrogate his friends all we get are lies and run-around," Kenney said. "They'll talk to news reporters, but they won't talk to us about the case."
Weatherford, zone commander, said he walked every inch of the wooded area where Miller was allegedly murdered five years ago. "This has been one of our most frustrating cases because of the fear element - people were scared to talk five years ago and they're still scared. Maybe now we'll have a chance to close this homicide case."
Ralph Miller Sr., the missing youth's father, said Saturday he has conducted his own investigation in the strange disappearance case and has come to the conclusion that his son is dead. He is still anxious to learn the facts behind his son's possible murder and find the persons who did harm to him.
"I could leave my job and on an hour's notice be headed anywhere in the country to try and find out more about Ralph," he said. "I am not satisfied with the way things stand now - I will continue to try and learn the truth about Ralph."