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The Myriad Mysteries of the Florida Everglades

Sprawled out over vast stretches of the U.S. state of Florida is a natural tropical wetlands known as the Everglades, also called Pa-hay-okee, which covers a combined total of over three million acres of untamed land. Although many people may immediately imagine murky swamps when thinking of the Everglades, these wetlands are actually comprised of a series of interdependent ecosystems, including cypress swamplands, sawgrass marshes, mangrove forests, pine rockland, scattered stands of tropical hardwood trees, and the marine ecosystem of Florida Bay. It is an impressive display of natural wonder and an immensely complex system of ecosystems, yet in addition to the natural grandeur, the Everglades are also home to numerous mysteries. Steeped in strangeness from unsolved crimes, mysterious murders, lost cities, and ghost ships, to vanishings and phenomena both natural and paranormal, these vast wetlands have long been a place every bit as sinister and bizarre as they are beautiful and mysterious.

One of the most enduring dark tales of the Everglades occurred in the 19th century on the remote Chokoloskee Island, a tiny speck of land in the Chatham River held aloft over the surrounding land by a series of ancient shell mounds constructed by the Native people of the area over the course of their 2,000 years of inhabiting the island. Chokoloskee Island was in those days an isolated, rugged place, a feral state in which it would indeed remain until it was made accessible by a causeway constructed in 1956. It was this inaccessible remoteness that made the island a popular place for vile criminals, fugitives, and society’s undesirables to lay low, and in the late 19th century the small community situated here was wary of such drifters who were looking only to hide away from the world in the wilderness of the swamp. It was to this mosquito, alligator, and criminal infested remote island, teetering on the brink of uncharted territory on the primitive frontier of civilization, that a man by the name of Edgar Watson arrived in the 1880s, bringing with him mystery and death.

The Everglades

The Everglades

Originally from South Carolina, Watson built a cabin along the mangrove choked river right atop one of the many ancient sacred shell mounds dotting the island, and made a living raising hogs, shooting exotic birds for their plumage, hunting alligators, and growing sugar cane. He was known as a fairly eccentric individual, spending most of his time out at his cabin in the swamp, and only giving people the most basic of greetings when he did go into town. It was also said that he seemed perpetually worried about something, and was loath to turn his back to others. Although he was certainly shifty, odd, and made people a little nervous, this was after all a secluded small community in the middle of remote swampland, which typically didn’t attract the most personable of sorts to begin with, and thus most people didn’t mind Mr. Watson’s weird behavior too much at first.

Nevertheless, Watson’s idiosyncrasies and reclusive nature led to rumors being whispered among the townspeople. There was talk that Watson had killed several people in his old life before retreating there to the swamp, with one such kill being the infamous Belle Starr, a female Jesse James-type figure also known at the time as “The Queen of the Outlaws.” The word on the street was that Starr had been gunned down by Watson near his old home in northern Florida, although no evidence had been able to link him to the crime. He was also said to have killed another person in a drunken brawl, and had shot and killed yet another. There was no real evidence at the time that any of this had really happened, and for years it remained just a dark, scary rumor that was nevertheless enough to make most people cross the street or duck out of sight when they saw Mr. Watson coming.

In spite of this grim reputation, Watson became quite successful with his sugar cane plantation, and worked out a way to bottle the cane syrup which would earn him a small fortune. In light of this success, there were those who were willing to sort of ignore the spooky rumors that swirled around the eccentric rich man, but then a string of events would begin to cast an ominous shadow over Mr. Watson. One of the first incidents that really drove home the idea that he was a man truly capable of violent murder was an incident in which Watson got into a heated argument with another prestigious landowner named Adolphus Santini, which ended up with Watson slashing the man’s throat open with a knife. Although Santini barely survived the brutal attack, Watson never faced a trial for attempted murder, in fact wasn’t charged at all, and it was speculated that this is because he had bribed the victim with a large sum of money to keep him from pressing charges or saying anything of the matter. It also began to be noticed that even though it was hard to find labor willing to toil away in the mosquito clouded humid heat of the Everglades, Watson always seemed to have ample help, and that these laborers just sort of disappeared when harvest season was done, or even before. It began to be rumored that Watson was actually killing these workers and burying them out in the thick, alligator patrolled swamp in order to avoid having to pay them, and indeed this rumor became so persistent that those who disappeared at the end of the season were said to have received a “Watson Payday.”

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These rumors began to be supported when bones were found in the land surrounding Watson’s property, but when confronted with this he claimed that they were the bones of Native Americans that had long been buried there, and indeed with a lack of forensic analysis it was difficult to even prove the age of the bones, leaving no real concrete evidence to show that he was guilty of any wrongdoing. More damning evidence of secret murders would turn up later in the form of some squatters on the Watson property that turned up shot to death, although of course Watson denied having had anything to do with it and blamed outlaws. Further adding to the quickly escalating rumors came in 1910, when fishermen spied something floating in the water near the Watson property which they at first took to be a log or alligator, but would prove to be the gruesome sight of a woman’s corpse bobbing around in the muddy water, which allegedly had been cut wide open and gutted like a fish. The woman was later identified as a Hannah Smith, who had been known to work for Watson. Not long after that, another plantation worker by the name of Dutchy Melvin also turned up dead on the property, and suspicion began to fall heavily on Watson as a serial killer. It did not help his case that at least one former worker on the property came forward claiming to have actually seen Watson killing people and gutting them so that they would sink, and that the woods of the area were littered with the bodies of his victims.

When confronted with the allegations that he was murdering laborers on his plantation, Watson for his part adamantly insisted that he was innocent, and stated that it was not him who had carried out the crimes, but rather another worker on his property by the name of Leslie Cox, who was known to be an outlaw. He even went as far as to go to the town of Fort Myers to ask the sheriff to deputize him so that he could go hunt down Cox himself, but his request was denied, mostly due to the fact that the sheriff was just as suspicious of him as everyone else was. It was around this time that the whole region was hit by a ferocious hurricane the likes of which no one had ever seen, which laid waste to much of the area and ramped up the soaring tensions even further. When the devastating storm had passed, leaving rubble and destruction in its wake, Watson claimed that he was once and for all going to go out and find Cox and bring him back dead or alive, deputy or not.

What happened next has a few different versions, but the most popular is that Watson then went off to an ammunition store run by his friend Ted Smallwood, where he loaded up on pistol and shotgun ammo. The wife of the store’s owner was one of the many who did not trust Watson, and thus intentionally sold him ammunition which had been waterlogged by the storm. After this, Watson went off to find Cox, and in the meantime the locals decided that it was time to take the law into their own hands and do something about the man who they perceived to be a deranged, bloodthirsty killer. A posse was gathered of around 20 armed townspeople, who planned to apprehend Watson and bring him to the sheriff to answer for his heinous crimes.

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When Watson returned to his plantation, he was greeted by the sight of this armed, angry posse bristling with weapons and waiting for him, but he claimed that he had killed the actual killer, Leslie Cox, offering up a bullet riddled hat as proof. When asked what had happened to the body, Watson replied that it had fallen into a storm flooded river and been washed away before it could be retrieved. The armed mob didn’t believe it, and in fact didn’t believe that Cox had anything to do with the murders anyway. The real suspect, Watson, wearing a holstered pistol and carrying a shotgun, was told to lower his weapons and come with them so that he could be handed over to the sheriff and it is at this point it is said that he raised one of his guns to fire, but due to the water damaged ammo only produced an impotent click. Although Watson didn’t technically fire a shot, it was enough incentive for around a dozen men to begin firing at once, raining down death upon the suspected killer, with some accounts saying he was riddled with dozens of bullets before his dancing, twitching body even hit the ground. The corpse was then unceremoniously tied to the back of a small boat and dragged through the swamp to nearby Rabbit Key to be dumped into a muddy pit and buried. When they later told the sheriff about what had happened, the body was exhumed to be examined and it was found to have been peppered with 33 gunshot wounds.

In the wake of Watson’s death, the investigation into the killings stopped, but it has never been ascertained whether he really did murder those people or not, and Leslie Cox was never found to be questioned about his possible role. There have been many theories proposed on what really happened out there on the remote swamp island; that Watson was a genuine serial killer, that he was framed by others who were jealous of his success or wanted to eliminate him as competition, or that the killings were indeed carried out by Cox, but no one really knows for sure. The murders to this day remain unsolved. In the years after these bloody events, Watson’s body was relocated to the mainland to be buried, and his plantation quickly gained a creepy reputation as being haunted by both the owner and his alleged victims, with some of these remains no doubt still drifting about the alligator infested swampland to never be found.

Mysterious deaths and corpses indeed seem to gravitate towards the Everglades, and this vast wetland has seemingly become a veritable dumping ground for dead bodies, which have a way of popping up out of the weeds and muck to startle both locals and visitors alike. The majority of these unsolved killings and mysterious bodies are in Collier County, which at 2,025 square miles of mostly sparsely inhabited swampland is the largest county in the United States east of the Mississippi River. In particular, the two main routes through this wilderness, U.S. 41 and Alligator Alley, once known as State Road 84, have over the years seen a multitude of corpses discovered along their stretches, which wind through uninhabited, mosquito infested swampland alongside prowling snakes, alligators and perhaps insidious murderers as well.

The Everglades

The Everglades

One particularly grisly spate of murders occurred during the 1970s, during which the Everglades produced numerous corpses that baffled authorities and led them to suspect a serial killer on the loose. The first unexplained killing occurred in February 1971, when a Barbara Jean Washington was reported missing from her apartment along with her blue Chevrolet Vega. Despite sending out various bulletins across the state alerting other departments to the vanishing, no trace of the woman or her car would be found at the time. It was not until 18 months later that a team of surveyors working in the thick, stifling vegetation of the swamp around 2 miles from U.S.41 discovered a human skeleton which was identified through dental records as that of the missing woman, who was determined to have died from a single gunshot wound to the head. An investigation would turn up no suspect in the killing and no sign of the woman’s missing car.

Other gruesome remains from unsolved killings would pile up in the ensuing years. In June, 1974, a group of hunters came across a putrid smelling, rolled up carpet lying out in the wilderness. Perhaps against their better judgement, they then unrolled the carpet to find a badly decomposed corpse hiding within. Once again the cause of death was determined to be a bullet hole in the skull, but this time a complete search of missing person databases and dental records turned up nothing. Not only is it unknown who the killer was, but even the identity of the victim remains a complete mystery. Just 6 months later, in December, 1974, two motorists from Dade County traveling along U.S.41 were startled when they came across something lying in the middle of the road, which forced them to come to a stop. There upon the remote road was the barely recognizable body of a badly charred human corpse. Authorities would find two bullet holes in the body’s left side and speculated that the victim had been shot and then doused with gasoline and set on fire. The only part of the body which was not completely burnt to a crisp was one of the victim’s hands, which had been tucked under the body and had remained startlingly intact. Fingerprints taken from the hand would show that the victim was a man by the name of Willie James Revels of Miami, but the crime has never been solved. The following year yet another unidentified body would be found with a bullet hole to the head.

1977 would bring with it numerous unsolved murders and discarded bodies, with the first being that of Mark Schroeder, 20, whose corpse was found on July 25 out in the rugged wilderness between alligator Alley and U.S. 41 by a group of Native Americans. He had been shot twice in the head. The very next day, on July 26, a skeleton wearing a gold chain was found enveloped in brush, yet it was never identified and the cause of death is a mystery. On November 12, yet another skeleton was found in the Everglades, this time a female. A month later, on December 11, 1977, a woman’s skeleton was found in a field of sawgrass located 40 miles east of Naples and about 75 yards off Alligator Alley. In this case, the only clues remaining that had not dissolved away into the swamp were a t-shirt, white shoes, and a black pearl ring, and the identity of the woman has never been found. At the time it was suspected that a serial killer may be at large, but there was no hard evidence to back this up or to even really link the crimes.

Alligator Alley in the Everglades

Alligator Alley in the Everglades

The 1980s also brought with them mysterious murders. In June of 1982, the dismembered body of a young woman was found floating in a canal just off Alligator Alley. The woman’s head, arms, breasts and legs had been completely cut away from the torso, and on her back the word “DRUG” had been etched into the flesh with a knife. Her identity was never discovered. In March of 1984, 25-year-old Earl Blankenship was found dead floating in a bog by two fishermen off of Alligator Alley. It was determined that the badly decomposed corpse had received multiple stab wounds but the murder remains unsolved to this day.

This is only a small sampling of the many bodies and unsolved murders of the Everglades, and there have been over 175 unsolved homicides here since 1965. The truly spooky aspect of this is that this is probably just the tip of the iceberg, with the damp conditions, the relentless work of scavengers, and the area’s thick, nearly impenetrable remote swamps and sawgrass meaning that many of these corpses are never found. It has been estimated by authorities that for every body found in the wilderness here another is out there that will never be discovered. Besides the difficulty of the terrain, solving these murders is made difficult by the fact that Collier County is known as having a particularly high traffic of transients with no particular ties to the community, who pass through to wander off to the next place, meaning that such killers are extremely hard to track down and most vanish just as surely as their victims. In many of these killings there is no evidence, no suspects, and no chance of ever solving them, and indeed it is even unclear whether these homicides are the result of Mafia style contract killings, drug wars, or serial killers.

Perhaps even creepier that the number of mysterious murders and rotting human corpses littering the Everglades is the number of people who have simply vanished off the face of the earth here. The area has long been known as having a habit of just swallowing people up without a trace, and just in the last decade or so there have been several high profile vanishings that have never been solved. In 1998, the news featured heavily the mysterious case of the disappearance of 14-year-old Wendy Hudakoc, who went missing on November 15, 1998 in Naples, Florida. At the time, the girl’s parents had been out of town on business and had left her and her sister in the care of a family friend. That night, Wendy had told her sister, 16-year-old Sharlene Hudakoc-Boyatt, that she was going to sneak out to a party. Although Sharlene did not join her, Wendy made good on her plan and snuck out her bedroom window, telling her sister to page her if she got found out. When the time got late, Sharlene paged Wendy for two hours without any answer. The last person to see Wendy was 20-year-old Ronald DePeppo, who had picked her up in his car to drive her to the party and who had been with her when they left. Depeppo would claim that Wendy had received a page and then made a call at a payphone, after which she had requested to be dropped off at home to meet up with another person whose identity remains unknown. DePeppo has never been actively sought as a suspect due to a lack of evidence that he had anything to do with it and the fact that other witnesses have claimed to have seen the girl with other people at a time after he claimed to have dropped her off at her home. In fact, in the ensuing years authorities have been deluged with leads, tips, and alleged sightings of the girl from across the U.S. and even Canada, but these have led nowhere and the mystery of Wandy Hudakoc’s disappearance remains unsolved.

The Everglades

The Everglades

Another rather infamous series of disappearances in the area are the cases of Terrance Williams and Felipe Santos. On October 1, 2003, an illegal Mexican immigrant living in Immokalee, Florida by the name of Felipe Santos was driving home from work with his two brothers in Naples when they were involved in a minor traffic accident, and Collier County sheriff’s deputy Steve Calkins cited Santos for reckless driving and driving without a license at approximately 6:30AM. Although Santos was seen driving off in the patrol car with Calkins, it was later learned that he was never actually booked. Deputy Calkins would later claim that he had changed his mind on the way to the station due to Santos’ good behavior and had dropped him off at a Circle K, never to be seen again. Calkins was never treated as a suspect. Eerily, on January 12, 2004, the same deputy Steve Calkins cited 27-year-old Terrance Williams for an expired registration and for driving under the influence after attending a party. As with the Santos case, Calkins claimed to have had a change of heart and dropped the young man off at a Circle K, after which Williams seems to have stepped out of the patrol car and off the face of the earth. Despite the suspicious similarities between the two cases, Calkins was again cleared of any wrongdoing.

Even more recently was the 2009 disappearance of 7-year-old Adji Desir. On January 10, 2009, Adji’s mother dropped him off at his grandmother’s house in Immokalee, Florida, so that she could go to work. The boy then went outside to play with other children and was last seen at around 5:15 PM. Police extensively searched the area and found no trace of the missing boy. At first it was suspected that a relative had abducted him and taken him to Haiti, from where the family had immigrated, but no evidence was found to this effect. No leads, suspects, or evidence have ever been brought forward to explain what happened to him and to this day the vanishing of Adji Desir remains a puzzling mystery. The Collier County Sheriff’s Office gets about 400 missing person reports a year, with 20 or 30 people declared missing at any given time. What has happened to these people? Have they ended up dead like so many of the rotting corpses dragged from the swamp, the victims of violent crime? Were they abducted or runaways? No one knows.

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Individuals are not the only ones who have vanished within the Everglades, as there have also been aircraft that have gone missing here as well. One of the most famous such cases is that of Flight 19, a training flight of five Grumman Avenger aircraft that left Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station in 1945 on a routine run and vanished without a trace, giving them the nickname “The Lost Patrol.” No signs of the planes nor so much as a scrap of wreckage was ever found for the patrol, and indeed the baffling disappearance would go on to spark intense speculation and become one of the cornerstones of the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle. A promising discovery was made when in 1989, a Broward sheriff`s pilot on a routine drug interdiction flight spotted the rusted out hulk of a WWII era plane in the thick wilderness of the Everglades below, about a mile north of Alligator Alley, which had been partially revealed by a brush fire. A subsequent search expedition to the wreckage turned up no human remains, and no tail or registration numbers, making it difficult to determine if it had indeed been one of the planes from the Lost Patrol. Oddly, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board reported that there was no record of an aircraft crash in that area. The Everglades has swallowed up an unknown number of aircraft to never be seen again, ranging from drug planes, to private aircraft, to military planes during exercises, and while some of the wreckage of these crashes is occasionally found, some are no doubt doomed to remain out in the thick, quagmire of weeds and swamp muck forever, with their secrets, reasons for crashing, and in some cases indeed their very existence to be eternally denied to us.

In addition to mysterious murders and vanishings, other mysteries can be found in the Everglades as well. About 8 miles south of Alligator Alley is a three-acre site which no roads lead to, is not on any map, and is called “Lost City,” or more ominously “Ghost City.” Once a Seminole village, it was suddenly abandoned for unknown reasons and went on to spawn a variety of folklore and legends. Lost City sits within an overgrown tangle of dense forest, and here among rotten, makeshift shacks and ancient ruins are discarded Native artifacts, some of which are between 1,000 and 2,000 years old, a canoe, a kettle, and oddly equipment used for distilling alcohol, yet its true purpose has never been ascertained. What is known is that the site has its fair share of lore. One story is that during the Civil War a group of 30 to 40 Confederate soldiers hid out here with a stash of gold they’d stolen from the Union, only to be mercilessly slaughtered by Seminole warriors materializing from the dark forest to protect their sacred land. One of the most popular tales of Lost City is that the legendary gangster Al Capone used the site as a secret, isolated bootlegging operation to make moonshine, which he then shipped illegally to a local saloon and dance hall he owned. The wreckage of old warplanes have been found in the vicinity as well, adding to the mystique of missing planes going down over the Everglades.

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Some of the Everglades mysteries are more ghostly in nature, and the wetlands here have long been said to be the haunt of a ghost pirate ship cruising the rivers. The Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and Florida’s coast, bays, and rivers were once a favored stomping ground for numerous pirate vessels, which started out raiding Spanish treasure and merchant ships in the 16th and 17th centuries, and by the 18th and early 19th century had branched out into attacking slave ships, fishermen, and just about anyone who was unfortunate enough to come across them out on the water. The tale of the Everglades ghost ship starts with one of these ships of pirate raiders, which had targeted a merchant vessel and given chase. According to the story, the merchant vessel managed to evade the pirates for some time before they were finally captured in Cape Florida after a lengthy, drawn out high seas pursuit. Furious that they had been led on a chase for hours on end, the pirates then put every crewman aboard the vessel to death except the wife of the skipper, who was forced to watch the men walk the plank one by one. It is said that upon seeing such a barbaric display, the wife then pleaded to God to curse the pirates and make them pay for what they had done. As soon as the wife was finished desperately praying for vengeance, an enormous tidal wave then rushed in to spirit the pirate vessel off and deposit it far inland, within the labyrinthine rivers, pools and channels that twisted through the swamps and sawgrass fields of the Everglades. From that day on, it was doomed to remain trapped, forever to sail these twisting, meandering waterways trying to find a way out of the wilderness and back out to sea. There have been numerous reports well into the modern day from hunters, Natives, and local people claiming to have seen the spectral ship, described as a ghostly rusted hulk with tattered sails, which drifts aimlessly along the cypress, mangrove, and sawgrass choked rivers and canals.

Strange paranormal activity is also heavily associated with the site of the December 29, 1972 crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401, which plowed into the Everglades to kill 101 passengers and crew making it the second biggest air disaster in United States history at the time. Flight 401 was a Lockheed L-1011-1 Tristar jet which was traveling from New York’s JFK Airport to Miami International Airport. As it was passing over the Everglades, the crew was so distracted by a malfunctioning landing gear light that no one noticed that the autopilot had been somehow disconnected, possibly due to someone inadvertently bumping into it. The plane gradually lost altitude and by the time anyone realized what was going on it was too late, with the jet slamming into sawgrass and muddy marshland. Flight 401 is infamous for the tales of the ghosts of the dead crew appearing on other Tristar jets that used refitted parts salvaged from the wreck, of which I have written of on Mysterious Universe before, but less known is that ghostly activity is said to occur at the actual site of the crash as well. Disembodied moaning, crying, and screams are said to be heard here, and inexplicable sudden temperature drops are common. There are also orbs of light and shadow figures sulking in the darkness seen here, and the location is said to occasionally instill a potent feeling of panic or dread. Interestingly, another major air disaster occurred here in in May of 1996 just 300 yards away from where Flight 401 went down, when ValuJet Flight 592 plunged into the marsh, killing all 110 people on board. Eerie coincidence or not?

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Sharing the landscape with alligators, snakes, killers, ghost ships, and specters, the Everglades are also known as being an alleged haunt for strange creatures as well. The most well-known is the Skunk Ape, a type of large, hairy hominid which stands around 2 meters (6 and a half ft.) tall and purportedly exudes a potently foul odor, hence its name. The Skunk Ape has long been reportedly seen and even photographed on occasion lurking in the remote swamplands, and is said to be rather shy and unthreatening for the most part. Also sharing the dark, swampy wilderness are even more bizarre monsters called Gator Men, which are said to inhabit swamplands all over the southeastern United States, and have supposedly been sighted since the mid-1700s. As the name implies, Gator Men are usually described as being humanoid alligator-like creatures around 5 feet long, complete with greenish scales, muscular, tapered tails, stubby reptilian limbs with webbed fingers and toes, and of course a mouth stuffed with jagged fangs. These Gator Men reportedly travel in packs and display a cunning intelligence, speaking to each other with a feral, guttural language and fashioning primitive tools.

A rather famous tale of a captured Gator Man comes to us in the form of a grotesque taxidermy specimen of one of the creatures, which was allegedly killed in the Everglades. The story goes that a living specimen was captured in the swamp, only to escape to attack and kill a man, after which it was shot and killed. The corpse was subsequently stuffed and then bought in 1967 by a man named Wellington Marsh Sr. and taken to Long Beach, Washington, to be displayed at his souvenir store, where the mummified specimen can still be seen today and is known as “Jake the Alligator Man.” As intriguing a tale as it may be, the story of Jake’s capture is unfortunately most certainly a hoax for several reasons, not the least of which is that the account was published in 1993 as a front page story for the notorious tabloid Weekly World News, and the fact that it is clearly an example of what is called a gaffe, which is basically creative taxidermy in which parts of disparate animal species are sewn together to make it seem like a mysterious monster. However, it is unclear if Alligator Men in general have ever existed in the Everglades or not.

Nile crocodile

Nile crocodile

Regardless of how much stock one puts into the existence of Skunk Apes and Gator Men, some of the frightening creatures prowling the Everglades are indeed very real. Although the main scary animal here, the American alligator, is actually quite shy and wary of humans, the same is not necessarily true for the more aggressive Nile crocodile, and there are several instances in which this species has found itself here in the swamps of Florida far from its native habitat. In April 2012, a nearly 6 foot-long juvenile Nile crocodile was sighted lurking within a canal bank in an area known as the Redland by a botanist. Wildlife specialists were called in to search for the creature, but could not locate it at the time. For two years the potentially dangerous animal remained at large, and this was so worrying to federal officials that an exception was made to allow the normally federally protected threatened species to be shot if needed.

This concern is well-founded, as Nile crocodiles can grow to be an average size of around 2.8 and 5 meters long (9 ft. 2 in and 16 ft. 5 in) and weigh 70 to 700 kg (150 to 1,540 lb.), much larger than the average for American alligators, and are notoriously aggressive, being responsible for hundreds of fatal attacks on humans every year in their native Africa. In March of 2014, a group called the Swamp Apes (the name of the group, not the actual ape-like cryptids), who specialize in searching for and removing invasive species from the Everglades National Park, managed to corner, net, and tranquilize the crocodile in a park canal. Authorities believed that the crocodile had escaped from a facility in Miami-Dade County, which was also responsible for two other smaller Nile crocodiles captured in the Everglades in 2009 and 2012.

Burmese python

Burmese python

Another dangerous exotic animal that has been becoming more of a threat in recent years is the Burmese python, a large snake which is a popular pet and has managed to establish a population of released or escaped individuals in the Everglades. The snakes have been blamed for preying indiscriminately on a large variety of native wildlife including raccoons, foxes, rabbits, opossums, and even bobcats, deer, and alligators. The Burmese python can get startlingly large, and one specimen captured in the Everglades in 2012 measured 17ft 7in (5.18m) in length and weighed 164lb (74kg), making it the largest one found here yet and showing that some truly monstrous snakes are possibly still lurking out there in the swamp. The snakes have proven to be right at home here, and with no natural predators have seen an explosion in their numbers, and they have been recognized as having established a firm foothold throughout the Everglades and indeed much of Florida. Burmese pythons are thought to be causing a shocking plunge in the numbers of mammals in the Everglades, with some species experiencing up to an astonishing 99% decline since the introductions of the snakes, and while it is uncertain exactly how many of them there are here, hundreds of the invasive serpents are removed by officials every year. Considering that it is believed that the Burmese pythons are potentially capable of getting to over 20 feet in length, and that they will eat pretty much anything they can catch, to know that there are such large snakes slithering about the swamp is a sobering thought indeed. One wonders if such massive snakes and crocodiles could have something to do with at least some of the people who have entered the Everglades only to never return.

The Florida Everglades are undoubtedly an impressive sight, a place full of fascinating wildlife, natural wonders, and an eerie beauty. However there is also an undeniable sense of creeping fear when looking into this dense wilderness, which becomes all the more urgent when one looks at the long history of death and strangeness this wetland is permeated with. From mysterious murders to vanishings, ghosts, bizarre beasts, horrifying wildlife, and historical oddities, the Everglades is every bit as steeped in mystery as it is natural grandeur. Perhaps someday we will solve some of its myriad enigmas, but it certainly seems that others are fated to remain out there cloaked in the swamps, marshes, sawgrass, and muck, wrapped in shadows and forever hovering beyond our understanding.