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8. Mental Scars

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

The following is the last of a series 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:

Sunday, November 2, 1975

Sara Left Ex-Narc With Mental Scars

Drugs And Demons And Polk's Youth - 8

Editors Note: This is the last of a series of stories on Sara, "the Witch of Lakeland," and the strange disappearance of Ralph Miller five years ago. The only names that have not been changed are those of Miller and law enforcement officials. All others have been changed to protect persons who fear for their lives and those who have not been charged with a crime.

By Jim Degennaro & Calvin Engh | Ledger Staff Writers

Since the revelation of Ralph Miller's disappearance and all its cast of strange characters in The Ledger, a former vice squad investigator for the sheriff's department and an undercover narcotics agent have come forward to substantiate the story. Both men were deeply involved with Sara and her following - one on the inside and the other on the perimeter looking in.

The vice squad detective, the man on the outside, made many arrests of young persons close to Sara and also busted many who were not in her inner circle, but bought drugs from the middle-aged and puzzling woman. "I've been following your stories, and not only are they fascinating, they are true," the detective said,. "I know, I was one of the officers who used to sit at the bank across from the Royal Castle and watch what was going on." He said he did not think too highly of Sara and her activities and called her lover "scum."

"These people were some of the lowest around," he said. "Not only were they wasting their own lives, but they helped to waste the lives of anyone who came near them." His former boss, Sheriff Monroe Brannen, said the Ralph Miller story "is the worst case of its kind that I have ever come against. The case has some similarities to the Charles Manson doings; it's just as strange and it happened right here in Polk County."

Perhaps the person in the law enforcement field to come closest to defining the daily routine of Sara and her dark and sometimes twisted world is a former "narc" who spent almost eight months trying to develop arrest warrants against the blonde drug dealer and her followers. This involvement, he said, in a taped interview with The Ledger, almost cost him his life and has left a mental scar. "My involvement with Sara made me feel almost non-functional for about a year after I got off her case," the narcotics agent said. "And I'm still not at the point where I can function well."

The drug informant bought and used drugs in Sara's house near Florida Southern College and was often bugged to help build a case against her. "There was one time the bug didn't work - when I had a gun put up to my face," he said. "I had to do some really fast talking to get out of that one. I didn't know my wire wasn't working until after I got out of there and my backup (police officer stationed nearby) told me he didn't hear a thing."The narc said his life was threatened half a dozen times while he investigated the heavy drug dealers. "I was told several times in no uncertain terms that my life was in danger," he said. "Towards the end there, it was very hot for me and it was just about to reach a climax. For my own protection, I was told to get out of town by the sheriff's department."

Part of the reason he had so much difficulty winning Sara's trust was that she and her inner group were "paranoid about anybody and everything," the narcotics agent said. "I think they were scared of each other more than anything else," he said. "They had good reason to be. One of them would get mad at somebody else, and would go make a phone call and they'd rat one somebody. Well, this is what happens when you get a group of people together that aren't together." It was the paranoia, he claims, that ultimately led to Miller's possible death five years ago in the Lakeland Highlands.

"I heard Ralph was going to get burned - burned could mean anything," the informant said. "Sara thought he was a narc, but to my knowledge, he was not a narc. I later heard that Miller was killed and his body was out in a pit in Saddle Creek." Miller was just one of the many teenagers from the Royal Castle crowd who visited Sara's house, the primary attraction she held, the narc said, was a large quantity of drugs.

"Sara was the biggest drug supplier in Lakeland, but in other places, she would have been a penny-ante," he said. "She dealt a tremendous amount of grass, some third-rate acid, which was sufficient to build her power structure on." And Sara wielded a lot of that power over local teenagers, he said. "Sara had people back her up. She had guys to back her up. They probably could have done some bad damage to people and think very little of it," the drug informant said. "They were trying to set themselves up as being some kind of god-like figures. The whole thing of the Aquarian Age kind of gave them something to build on, though they abused it terribly."

He also said he never saw a soft side to Sara. "The only thing I ever saw from her was 'this is business and I make the rules.' She wasn't even nice to some of the kids who bought dope from her," the narc said. "Some of these kids had absolutely nobody to turn to and Sara was one of these nobodies. She didn't feed them as much as they like to think so, time has a way of distorting this - they don't remember the times they went for three, four, or five days in a row without food."

How and why did Sara happen to Lakeland, an All American City? The narcotics agent said the situation was ripe here five years ago for a mysterious Pied Piper to come along and take teenagers away from their mundane, slow-moving world. And more importantly, he believes another sad and oftentimes frightening story like Sara's could happen again. "The police, the city council, the whole class structure in this town ignored young persons then," he said. "All at once, somebody came along who would listen to them - it was the natural thing to happen - and it will happen again unless things here change."

And it wasn't that Sara converted a bunch of Boy and Girl Scouts into radical dopeheads, the narcotics agent said. "The people who dug on her were like all the high school kids in your class you can't remember in five years," he said. "They did a lot of bragging about violence, but they were as scared of themselves as much as anything outside their own person. It's a pretty tough thing to be a failure in your own eyes and I think that is what Sara's crowd has to face."

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