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 - Tuesday, October 28th, 1975.
Sourced from Google News Lakeland Ledger Digital Archives.
The Lakeland Ledger:
Tuesday, October 28, 1975
Many Unhappy Endings Evolve From The Story Of Ralph Miller
Drugs And Demons And Polk's Youth - 3
Editors Note: This is a continuation of taped statements made to the sheriff's department and The Ledger by persons close to the Ralph Miller case. The only names that have not been changed are those of Miller 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
"After I got myself away from Sara, I was in-and-out of mental hospitals for three years trying to straighten myself out. My father is an alcoholic and I've had many problems in my life, but I never had to go see a psychiatrist or I never had a nervous breakdown or flipped out in any other way until after I had gotten into the witchcraft Sara preached."
That was from a taped statement Mary made to The Ledger and Sheriff's Sgt. Al Lang. Mary is just one of the many unhappy endings that have evolved from the Ralph Miller and Sara, the "Witch of Lakeland" stories.
According to persons close to the middle-aged witch and the drug dealer five years ago, it was on her orders that Miller was taken to the Lakeland Highlands in September of 1970 and killed because she believed he was a drug informant. Sara, who had moved into a house near Florida Southern College after leaving California and the burial of her Hell's Angels husband who died in a mysterious motorcycle crash, had a penchant for violence. She focused it on the common enemy, the establishment.
She also had the incredible ability to influence others and soon attracted a large following of young persons, some as young as 12 years old. Some teenagers worked their way to her inner circle of disciples by simply obeying her commands. Many persons from the Royal Castle crowd of five years ago knew Sara or had heard stories about her, but few could be trusted enough to join her closest confidants.
It was a double process of selection. For Sara decided who stayed. Obviously, she did not want anyone who she felt would challenge her authority, cause dissension in the group, or question her Satanic dogma. Mary moved into Sara's house when she was 16 years old, and now, six years later, her mind is sometimes weakened by fear and she wishes she had never listened to the older witch preach about "killing and the coming of the devil." She eventually became Sara's understudy in the black arts.
"There were times I got hold of my senses and said to myself, 'Mary, you know that is a bunch of malarky.' " she said. "I was once in a mental home in Lakeland and I went and got my candles and did a little ceremony right there in the ward. Everyone flipped out and became scared of me."
"It made me feel like Sara - it made me feel big inside because I could do witchcraft and I could see how my behaving that way and doing this affected other people," Mary said. "So, I could understand why Sara acted like a witch, because she was much better at it than me."
Like many other teenagers, Mary was originally drawn to Sara through need and the older woman fulfilled that need. The young girl was having problems at home, and Sara invited her to become a family member. "As soon as I moved in, she immediately took over my life," Mary said. "She began filling my head with Satanic worship and she gave me a whip. I was known as 'The Whip Lady'."
Mary was drawn into Sara's preaching about the occult after the apprentice saw her teacher perform "things that were not easily explained away."
"Sara would light some candles and draw a star on the floor and she had black robes for everybody," she said. "Sara would start the ritual by asking for something, say a deck of cards, and I've seen her draw things out of the air when there was nothing there." Now that she is away from Sara's direct influence, Mary feels the blonde, slender witch was able to do "magician's tricks" or slight of hand to fool her followers. She contends that drugs were never a part of Sara's black mass ceremonies.
"I talked about these black masses with my parents and my mother said, 'It's just the dope - she gets you high and it makes you hallucinate.' But it was a very strict rule of hers not to let people take dope then," Mary said. "She wanted to convince everyone that what she was doing was real." There was one drug used exclusively in these ceremonies - alcohol, in the form of wine Sara made herself. Mary has often thought the wine might have been "electric" or laced with LSD.
Shortly before Ralph Miller disappeared, Sara's house was busted by the sheriff's department vice squad. A quantity of drugs was found on her backyard, but this didn't seem to faze her, Mary said. "She didn't care if the cops took away all her dope. Sara was more concerned that they got her ceremonial wine," she said. "Sara was outraged and it took a long time to quiet her down after that."
When Sara left left Lakeland three years ago for a brief while to attend the burial of her youngest son who had been shot in the heart, Mary, the apprentice, became known to some as the "Witch of Lakeland." She held many seances in local cemeteries and occupied a table near the jukebox in the Royal Castle where she read Tarot cards for "chili money."
"The thing that was so difficult for me to rationalize back then, was that I was performing this hocus-pocus and saying 'this is going to happen' in my mind, and sometimes, things did happen," Mary said. "I flipped a lot of my friends out." Her most talked-about seance was held one night several years ago in Fitzgerald cemetery near Scott Lake. Mary and about 15 friends had gathered in the old graveyard to "bring back Jimi Hendrix."
"We all sat down on this big gravestone and put a candle in the middle," she said. "We all held hands and I went into a trance. And I don't remember what happened - there was nobody doped-up that I knew about and the next thing I remember is that we're all back at the Royal Castle.
"I was at the back seat of the car and everyone was trying to get me out of the car," Mary said. "When they got me out, I felt like I was waking from a sleep and I wanted to know what happened. Everyone was terribly upset and my best friend was crying. According to them, something came out of the graveyard and then the bottle we had the candle in on the tombstone had risen up into the air and fell down and busted in front of everybody's face," she said. "Then they heard Jimi Hendrix's guitar blowing around. Everyone got up, hopped in their cars, and went back to the Royal Castle."
Mary once held another seance in a secluded phosphate pit near Lake Luther Road where a person who is now in a Florida jail awaiting trial on three counts of first degree murder stood on a ravine above her group and shouted, "I am the Devil."
"Mary didn't move - she was in a trance, I think," the inmate said."But you should have seen the other kids fly out of there when I started screaming I was the Devil and wanted to talk to them."