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 newspaper reporting on Miller's disappearance,
which at the time had occurred five years prior.
The Lakeland Ledger:
Sunday, October 19, 1975
What Happened to Ralph Miller?
Tales of Drugs, Occult Unfolds After 5 Years
Editors Note: This story involves a Lakeland youth who has been missing for five years. The case has never been closed, but police investigators have not been able to develop any strong leads. The Ledger began investigating the disappearance a month ago and the following story is a result of that probe. Names, other than family members, have been changed to protect persons who have not actually been accused of a crime.
By Jim Degennaro & Calvin Engh
Another Lakeland mother believes her young son has been violently murdered and buried in a citrus grove in the Highlands, not far from where the badly decomposed body of James Wagner was found last month.
The missing youth's name is Ralph Miller and he was 17 years old the last time he was seen by friends and his family - Sept. 26, 1970.
The Miller disappearance story may be equally as violent as the much publicized and recent Wagner murder but has many other bizarre elements that take it out of the typical homicide category. Stories of Satan worship, torture, heavy drug use, paranoia, and cult-like attraction by local teenagers to a middle-aged woman who reportedly has connections with the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang in California weave throughout interviews made with persons who knew Miller.
According to sources, persons closest to the Miller disappearance are either dead, in a psychiatric ward or in jail, except for possibly two individuals. Miller remains on the sheriff's department's active missing person's list.
For the most part, events leading up to the possible murder of Miller took place in a Lakeland home. Based on Ledger inquiries, the murder occurred in a citrus grove near Banana Lake south of Lakeland in the Highlands.
"This is one of the most bizarre cases I've ever worked because whenever you mention Ralph Miller's name on the street, people clam up and won't talk; and if someone else is talking about Ralph Miller, they don't want to be near you," a local law enforcement official said. "They're terribly scared and we don't know why."
The investigator made that comment two weeks ago. Since then, The Ledger has learned why no one talked for five years. This information was obtained during an interview in a Florida jail with a person who was with Miller the night he was allegedly murdered and who does not want to be identified because that person fears being killed, even while incarcerated.
The most frequent stories heard by police investigators and The Ledger indicated that Miller was murdered because he was an informant whose information lead to a drug bust at the Lakeland home shortly before his disappearance five years ago.
All accounts of Miller's death are basically the same except for minor variations. The source who is in a Florida jail told this story:
"Ralph was hanging around with a gang at the former Royal Castle on South Florida Avenue led by Sara, who told everybody what to do.
"Sara and her 35-year-old lover had some sort of spell over these kids who were mostly teenagers. Why could they do this? (Sara and her lover) made their own drugs and gave them away to the kids. This group also had no qualms about blowing someone away for no reason at all. The kids feared them.
"Sara was a witch. There was always a lot of strange things going on in the house. I saw books on the occult and an alter of some sort in the bedroom.
"Me and Janice probably picked him up (Sept 26 1970 - the last Miller was seen by his family) because Janice was going with him. And we went to Royal Castle, and from there we were going to the Chambers Brothers concert in Orlando. Ralph didn't have a ticket.
And . . . I wasn't arguing with Ralph but Janice and Ralph was having a lover's quarrel,
"I was gettin' ready to go to the concert because it was getting late . . . it wasn't night and it wasn't dark yet . . . I was gettin' mad with Ralph because he didn't want us to go.
"We (Janice and myself) went to the concert and then I went home. I was home in bed, okay, somebody pulls up. Janice was in the living room with some other people and Raymond came into the bedroom where I was and he was really freaking out.
"And I'm half asleep and he goes 'I've got something I've got to talk to you about.' I said what is it? And he's almost crying and I wake up because I really thought something bad was happening.
"And he said somebody's got to get out there - somebody's got to get there fast! I said where? He says out at the Pines near Banana Lake . . . they're out there killing Ralph Miller!
"I said 'Who's killing Ralph Miller?' and he said Sara and her boyfriend. And right then I start freaking out because I know how they are - they're crazy - they weren't sane.
"I asked what they were doing to him and he said, they tied him to the ground with stakes and were beating him with chains. But first they poured a whole bunch of LSD they made down him and forced him to take it.
"I told Raymond he should call the police because I was freaking out and didn't know what to do with him. It was then he told me they kept beating him, and beating him and beating him. I guess Raymond got scared when he saw this and he came to where I was staying but I think he went back there later that night.
"I got in Janice's car and drove over to Sara's house because they had picked Ralph up near the Royal Castle in a white van and offered to take him to the concert in Orlando. It was about 1 a.m. and they weren't there. I went by several times during the night and they didn't show up until about 7 in the morning.
"I never went to the Pines and I never went to the house when they returned because I was scared . . . everybody kept telling me to be quiet . . . I didn't have anything to do with them after that."
Although the source never returned to the Lakeland home, that person did talk at length with one of the persons who was allegedly at the Miller murder scene and is now believed dead.
"He said 'Oh, my God, oh, my God - I'm terribly sorry about what I had to do to Ralph." the source said.
The tense silence, spurred by fear, lasted five years. There was talk on the street but no one went to the police with the true story of Ralph Miller.
Miller was no longer visible in the crowd, but he became known as the "ghost rider of Christina," where the police had originally searched for his body five years ago.
The source in the Florida jail and police officials in California portrayed Sara as a reckless woman with connections with the Hell's Angels. She and her lover reportedly made drugs, sometimes stealing chemicals and equipment from nearby Florida Southern College. Members of the local teenage group she influenced were known to carry guns and knives and would flash them at will.
At the center of this puzzling story is Jeanette Bryson, Ralph's mother. She and her family have been conducting their own investigation during the past five years trying to find out what happened to Ralph. Mrs. Bryson is thoroughly convinced her son is dead. She came to this conclusion after speaking with numerous friend's of Ralph's and their parents. She has even gone out to the place where Ralph was allegedly murdered and tried to find his gravesite.
"I heard lots of stories about Ralph being tortured out in the Pines and I've heard them so often, I have to believe them" she said. "Most of the people I've talked to didn't really want to say anything to me - I had to force it out of them."
At one point in her investigation, Mrs. Bryson obtained the permission of a local psychiatrist to interview one of his patients who had knowledge of her son's disappearance. According to the source interviewed in the jail by The Ledger, that person was at the source's home the night Raymond came asking for help. The patient's story coincided with all others Mrs. Bryson has heard. Mrs Bryson also interviewed other persons close to the group who talk basically the same story about Miller's death.
"Ralph was trying to join that crazy crowd - he was more or less a hanger-oner - he wanted to be like those kids," Mrs. Bryson said. "I wish to God now he didn't think that way."
Anyone with information about Miller is asked to contact the sheriff's department
or The Ledger.
Read the digital archive here - The Ledger, September 22, 1975.