Tim Gilmore’s new project delves deep into the misery and violence of a century worth of Jacksonville, telling true stories that go against everything a dark crime writer has come up with.
His book is called “Murder Capital: 8 Stories – 1890s-1980s”.
They write, he writes, “stories of Cuban revolutionaries, of little-known serial killers and a fake serial killer, of a man who courted and murdered mother-daughter couples, of the grossest corruption of the police in the south.” Satanic Panic, ‘a white supremacist killer with a black male lover.’
This is just to start with.
Over a period of 100 years, Jacksonville provided numerous murder stories for Gilmore, a writer and historian who tracks down curious and provocative stories from his hometown.
Look at some of the titles of the story. “Marie Louise Gato’s Dying Declaration.” “The Dream Killer and Other Theories in Beverly June Disappearance.” “The lynching of Johnnie Mae Chappell.” “The Trinity Against the Devil in Jacksonville Beach.” “Ottis Toole frame: A southern Gothic.”
The killers in these stories aren’t the evil geniuses you see on TV. Instead, they are sociopaths and psychopaths, the predators and the damaged.
“It’s amazing how people can be,” he said. “A lot of them just stumble through life and only get some people out. There’s nothing big and great about that … some of it would be almost weird if it weren’t so tragic. “
Jacksonville has had homicide rates for at least 100 years, Gilmore notes in the introduction to his book, where he cites national articles on the subject from the 1920s and 1930s.
“Politicians always talk about it. There are always groups of pastors praying together and walking through neighborhoods. It’s always paying attention, ”he said. “But this problem goes way back. It’s like being embedded in Jacksonville’s story, which is kind of mind-blowing. What are the reasons for that? “
In “Murder Capital” he doesn’t go deep into the reasons. It is not intended to look at the subject scientifically.
But he writes that “the murder rates in Jacksonville have always been correlated with the city’s high rates of poverty, racial tension, and deep educational deficits.”
Then there is what has been identified as the Southern Code of Ethics, which “requires that if someone insults you, your own respect and identity be based, at least in kind, if not by greater force”.
Gilmore grew up in Jacksonville, although his family came from rural Georgia. In the introduction to his book he tells stories about the racist, sometimes violent past of some members of this family.
“I carry these stories around to my core,” he writes. “You torment me. They break my heart and make me angry. They form an imperative in me that I have to figure out how to answer. “
Gilmore, 46, is an English professor at Florida State College, Jacksonville. He has a website called jaxpsychogeo.com where he writes about a variety of places and stories in Jacksonville.
He has written numerous books, including those about city founder Isaiah Hart, the humanitarian Eartha White, and a hermit who lived with goats on an island in the St. Johns River. Other topics include a church that covered up child abuse, the 1990 mass murder in the GMAC car loan office on the south side and the dirty life of arsonist and murderer Ottis Toole, who reappears in Murder Capital. He even stopped at a house in Springfield that Toole once lived in this week.
There’s a lot that Gilmore likes about his hometown, but after living his life in Jacksonville and going through many of his dark and weird stories, he admitted that at times he wished he were from a slightly less, well, complicated place .
“Jacksonville can be a very frustrating place, but here I am in a place that I’ve put so much time and energy into writing,” he said.
He closes the introduction to Murder Capital with something he once posted on his website. It sounds melodramatic, he admitted, but sometimes he feels that way.
“This city is my ugly angel,” he wrote, “with whom I am cursed to spend my life in battle.”