6. A Witch in the Neighborhood
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.
Pictured below: A Lakeland Ledger original newspaper article showing Raymond, Ralph's best friend, and Sgt. Al Lang standing in the pines. Ralph's body was said to have been dumped in or near this area - Wednesday, October 30th, 1975. Sourced from Google News Lakeland Ledger Digital Archives.
The Lakeland Ledger:
Thursday, October 30, 1975
Always Strange Things At Sara's
Drugs And Demons And Polk's Youth - 5
Editors Note: Sara's name has been changed in this story as in all others in this series. Sara is reportedly living in Redwood City, Calif.
By Jim Degennaro & Calvin Engh | Ledger Staff Writers
Sara, and the three to seven people who made her house near Florida Southern College their home from time to time, were not your typical next-door neighbors.
So said a Lakeland teenager this week who lived on the same block as the mysterious, middle-aged woman five years ago. "It was like a carnival over there all the time," he said. "There was always something strange going on at Sara's - you could count on it."
The former neighbor, who was 13 years old the first time he ventured into the "Witch of Lakeland's" home, said most of the other young persons in the neighborhood were scared of the "dirty-looking hippies" and didn't come into their yard. "The people over at Sara's, especially the bikers, were always laughing about killing someone and had some other really ludicrous ideas, but they never bothered me," he said. "Sara, I guess, didn't mind me being there. Oh, she would run me off sometimes when a fight started or something, but I was still able to be over there a lot."
Another person who befriended him was an older biker who was constantly working on one of the several choppers (customized motorcycles) that were parked in the garage. "The guy was sort of gruff-looking - you know, his pants were full of grease and he always smelled bad - but he seemed to like kids," the neighbor said. "He was always showing off his motorcycles and the pot plants he was growing. "I don't think he had too much luck with the pot though. His plants were always dying."
Although he felt at ease with the biker, the youth could never get close to his pregnant wife. "She would ask me strange questions like, 'What did your mommy fix you for supper?' When I told her something like pork chops and mashed potatoes, she would say something sarcastic like, 'Oh, I remember when I was into all the family stuff and my mommy would fix us food, like a good little wife should.' Maybe she was jealous. All I ever saw those people eat was hot dogs and hamburgers," he said.
Strangely enough, the first act of violence he witnessed at Sara's house involved this pregnant woman. "A whole bunch of them got on top of her and beat her," the neighbor said. "I never saw her again after that."
When Sara's inner cycle of men within the Hell's Angels connections and teenagers who had dropped out of school weren't talking about killing people, they apparently turned their frustrations inward," he said. "They were having a party - a barbecue - one night," he said. "They put some pretty big speakers on each corner of their property and they were really getting loaded. After a while, some of the guys put a big board up against an oak tree in their front yard. One-by-one, they would stand in front of this board while the others threw hatchets at them. It was like Russain roulette."
Another strange sight he recalls was the day some of Sara's "family" members caught some raccoons; cut out the animal's sex organs; and then dried them on the front lawn before adding them to their key chains. "They also went to Hog Island (a jetty in Lake Hollingsworth) one day and caught a pretty big alligator," the neighbor said. "They skinned it too, and showed off pieces of its hide." Nonetheless, the Lakeland teenager contends Sara was an animal-lover. "I think she loved animals more than people," he said. "She had a baby alligator in a wading pool in her backyard; she had some cats and two dogs. She used to sic her dog named 'Bear' on people just to see them freak out."
There is one act Sara made toward animals, however, that her former neighbor has not been able to sort out in his mind as being a humane gesture or just plain cruel. "My sister had a lot of cats - she had them all over the place," he said. "Well, one of the cats had a litter of deformed kittens. They were all deformed. Sara came over and wrung the kittens' necks and then put formaldehyde on their faces. I don't know whether it was a mercy killing or not."
Read the digital archive here - The Ledger, September 22, 1975.