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.
The Lakeland Ledger:
Thursday, October 31, 1975
Raymond Still Carries Load of Guilt
Drugs And Demons And Polk's Youth - 6
Crimes By Juveniles
Editors Note: The only names that have not been changed in this story are those of Ralph Miller and law enforcement officials. All others have been changed to protect persons who still fear for their lives and those who have not been charged with a crime.
By Jim Degennaro & Calvin Engh | Ledger Staff Writers
Major crimes by juveniles have risen dramatically in the past few years, Some 12 and 13 year-olds in Polk County are attempting armed robberies, and young persons a few years older, have committed murders here. Several law enforcement officials offer reasons behind the juvenile crime increase and some suggestions in Part VII of "Drugs and Demons and Polk's Youth" Saturday.
Raymond was Ralph Miller's best friend. Late at night in Raymond's apartment, the two young men would smoke marijuana and dream of buying a van together and going to California - to the wild, bright lights of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The last time Raymond saw his 17-year-old buddy, he was being beaten by two Hell's Angels in a dark and secluded wooded area that Lakeland teenagers called the Pines. That night - Sept. 26, 1970 - is a time the rangy 26-year-old and many other young persons here would like to forget if they could. There's a lot of guilt that night and Raymond has a big piece of it.
"I don't want Ralph to be dead because I don't want to think there was something else I could have done to save him," he said. "I have a heavy guilt being back here, and believe me, it sometimes creeps up on me when I am back home in the mountains." Raymond made that taped statement to The Ledger and Sheriff's Sgt. Al Lang last week. He voluntarily flew from his home state to Polk County to tell what he knew about Miller's disappearance and possible murder.
The decorated Vietnam veteran told the sheriff's department and The Ledger he was with Miller that night five years ago. He saw his friend being beaten and tried to break up the fight. He was chased away by two Hell's Angels who told him, "If you stick around here, buddy, you'll get the same."
After Raymond had revealed all that he remembered about the fight out at the Pines (this statement was printed in great length in last Sunday's Ledger), 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 reporter, "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." Raymond's involvement in the Miller disappearance story centered around the former Royal Castle on South Florida Avenue in Lakeland five years ago, but fate, or whatever drew him here, began its workings even earlier of Vietnam.
The tall, thin, and stringy-haired blond joined the Army when he was 17, and immediately after boot camp, put in his orders for action in Vietnam. He could have been transferred to Germany at the time, but no, he had to prove a few things to himself and his father. He thought he needed the war. "I guess I always had a sense of inadequacy," he said. "My father wanted me to be an All-American boy and he always told me that if America was in a fight, it was a young person's duty to serve in the military. I went over to Nam for the glory, the medals; I wanted prestige and to be another John Wayne."
He discovered that Vietnam was like no John Wayne movie, but her tolerated, almost enjoyed the first year there (1967). Raymond put in 12 months in the field and then asked for and received another tour of duty there. He would later deeply regret that decision. His turning point came one day while on a search-and-destroy mission near the Cambodian border. Raymond was driving a tank with three other men aboard and hit a land mine. "The whole ground came up and blew the tank over," he said. "The blast put a man hole-sized hole in the bottom of the tank and killed my T.C., two waist gummers, and messed me up pretty bad."
That explosion was the beginning of the end in Vietnam for the young soldier. Even though he had won a Purple Heart, a Vietnamese Cross, an Army commendation medal, and a Presidential citation, he found that he could no longer fight effectively in the field. "I blamed myself for the deaths of my three crew members," Raymond said. "Then, my father, who I wanted to be so proud of me, committed suicide. After 15, 16 months, I started cracking. Every day, I had to get loaded on dope to keep my head together, and about the 18th month in Nam, I just busted wide-open."
After spending seven months in an Army psychiatric ward, he was discharged honorably with 100 percent mental disability. Some army friends told him "that Lakeland was the place to go to meet chicks and have a good time" and with $5,000 in his pocket and a new car, Raymond cruised into the All America City and the Royal Castle crowd. "The freaks at the Castle were about the only young people who would accept a Vietnam vet back then," he said. "I had plenty of money and was still into dope heavy, and it was the place to be."
Raymond said he knew Sara (the "Witch of Lakeland") and her inner circle, but did not let himself get close to their dark and violent world. "When I came out of the war, I had a new sense as to the worth of human life - I wanted no part of harming people," he said. "I knew there was something to fear in Sara. I would still party with some of the people who would go over to her house, but it was like all the sheep in the pasture were having a good time but you always knew the wolf was sitting up on the hill waiting for you."
After his friend, Ralph Miller, disappeared and the Royal Castle crowd began withdrawing more and more within themselves out of fear, Raymond decided to make his break from "all the madness and dope."
"I think there's a time when you get to an age where you say, 'Where am I going to hang-out when I'm 40?' My mother's not going to give me any money. I'm not going to be able to panhandle. The chicks won't even look at me and the dudes will be younger than me and telling me I'm part of the establishment," he said. "I was out of time."