Saturday, September 22, 2012

Florida History: Gov. Kirk, the Outlaws and a crucifixion

Juno Beach
By Jane Feehan

It’s hard to believe driving through posh Juno Beach today that it was called home by some of the Outlaws motorcycle gang during the 1960s. Their hangout drew the personal attention of Florida Gov. Claude Kirk (1926-2011) who rose to the state’s highest office, in part, by claiming to be tough on crime. The flamboyant leader was also known for grabbing headlines for his antics, many unrelated to actual governing.

The Outlaws provided a good crime focus and photo op for the governor during November, 1967. Gang members were arrested for nailing 19-year-old Christine Deese to a tree in Juno. According to news accounts, she had refused to turn a trick to hand over $10 to her “old man” or boyfriend. They nailed her (with her permission some said) to a tree branch with her toes barely touching the ground.

Afterward, news accounts say the cyclists dropped Deese off at a hospital and then stole drugs there. They were nabbed by police in a camp of trailers and cottages behind Kitty’s Saloon on U.S. Highway 1 in Juno.

The Florida Hotel and Restaurant Commission ordered the bar and camp closed calling it a public nuisance. Law enforcement then led a raid on the site to clean up ongoing gang activities. Ms. Edward E. (Kitty) Randall, owner of the saloon who also lived in the camp (and later was arrested for running a prostitution ring)  told reporters she was sure Gov. Kirk was present during the raid. “I guess you know I’m the governor,” the mysterious visitor told her, shaking her hand.  He said he didn’t want any publicity.

Three weeks later, Kirk was at the closed Kitty’s Saloon with Palm Beach Sheriff William R. Heidtman to temporarily reopen it for a Life Magazine photographer. Kirk’s photo was taken as part of a story to be published by the magazine about the Outlaws. Also photographed was the saloon’s interior with the sign, Cycles Rule - Surfers Drool. 

Five members of the gang were tried for the nailing incident a year later. One was given probation, three others – James “Spider” Owings, Joe “Super Squirrel” Sorsby and Fat Frank Link received prison terms. Charges against John “Crazy John” Wables were discharged. The Outlaws continued to headline crime news in Florida for twenty more years.

Kirk served one term - 1967 until 1971. He was criticized for not attending to state business but national buzz during those years suggested he could have been tapped as Nixon’s vice-president. To his credit Claude Kirk is recognized as being Florida’s first environmental governor (Grunwald, Michael. The Swamp. New York: Simon & Schuster (2006), p. 249). Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

Palm Beach Post, Nov. 10, 1967
Miami News, Nov. 28, 1967
St. Petersburg Times, July 31, 1968

Tags: Juno Beach history, Gov. Kirk, Outlaw gang, Florida history, Palm Beach history, Palm Beach County crime

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just for your information. At the time of the raid Kirk was there. Unfortunately members of a beach buggy group which didn't take kindly to the bikers nailing the young woman up did a raid of their own when Kirk and police were inside. They backed up to the door and had the exhaust rigged to smoke everyone out. They didn't know that the police or the Governer was inside. Needless to say it was a mess.