Originally created 02/24/97

Historical mysteries - man left a bloody legacy in Everglades

Into the gloomy wilds of Florida's Everglades there once came a stranger whose dark and bloody deeds would forever haunt that region.

The man's name was Edgar Watson, but nobody ever learned where he came from or what had brought him to the swamp.

He built a small cabin on an old sand-and-shell Indian mound where he had a commanding view of the swirling Chatham River. He planted a garden amid the palms and mangroves and flaming poinciana trees. He grew sugar cane and trapped alligators for a living.

For the most part, Mr. Watson kept to himself. Whenever he went to town - which usually meant either Fort Myers or the tiny hamlet of Chokoloskee - he avoided people. As one local put it, "He'd say hello, and that was about it."

Aside from his curious aversion to people, there was something else about the stranger that bothered a lot of his neighbors. Although he was generally polite and cordial in the company of others, he always seemed nervous and never turned his back on anybody.

Eventually word got around that Mr. Watson had once killed a man. Later that story was modified to include several victims. One story had it that the fierce-looking newcomer had even gunned down Belle Starr, the notorious lady outlaw of Wild West fame.

Until one day in 1910, there wasn't a shred of evidence to back up any of those claims.

It was then that an unidentified fisherman and his son paddling up the Chatham River near Mr. Watson's place happened to notice something odd floating in the black water. Upon closer inspection they realized it was the body of an old woman - carved and gutted.

The body was taken to town and turned over to the sheriff.

As news of the dead woman spread, a young black boy informed the sheriff: "That ain't nothing. That place up there is crawling with bodies. There's dead people buried everywhere in them woods of Mr. Watson's."

The boy, who had once worked for Mr. Watson, said he had watched his former boss kill several people, then bury the bodies on his farm or dump them in the river. Usually, he'd disembowel the victims first, so they'd sink.

Alarmed by these new revelations, the sheriff organized a posse and set off for the Watson place.

It didn't take long to confirm the boy's story. Just about everywhere they dug, human bones turned up - arms, legs, skulls, whole skeletons. There was never any official count, but one source put the number of bodies at two dozen.

The sheriff theorized what some people had suspected all along - the dead were all hired hands and their families. Mr. Watson had shot them, apparently to avoid paying salaries.

When Mr. Watson finally returned home from a fishing trip and saw the posse, he pulled out his gun and opened up. The sheriff fell dead on the spot. Other members of the posse quickly opened fire, killing Mr. Watson.

Years later, men in that part of the swamp still argued over whose bullet had been the one that penetrated Mr. Watson's heart.

Edgar "Bloody" Watson's body was dragged downriver to an oyster bank and buried. Some months later, a group of concerned citizens dug it up and reburied it on the mainland.

Legend has it that the old Watson place is haunted - both by the mass murderer himself and by his many victims. One woman who bought the place went crazy and tried to burn the house down because she said it was full of ghosts.

Syndicated writer E. Randall Floyd lives in Augusta.


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