SPRING HILL — He was a scion of Pinellas County's oldest family. The McMullens owned hundreds of acres for their cattle, started banks and medical practices and held legislative offices.
Carl McMullen inherited his family's penchant for ranching and brought up his children to compete in rodeos.
But mostly he was a cop.
Over 43 years, mostly with the Pinellas and Pasco County sheriff's offices, Mr. McMullen cultivated a reputation as a tough lawman. He trained bloodhounds that caught criminals, chased fleeing robbers and was assigned to many important task forces.
He ran for sheriff and lost, got promoted and fired, switched agencies and occasionally tried to leave law enforcement.
But he always returned.
Mr. McMullen, a retired sheriff's captain in Pinellas and Pasco counties, died April 11. He was 87.
"He was a legend in his own time, that's a fact," said Don Forehand, who is president of the Largo Historical Society and grew up with Mr. McMullen. "He would take on the meanest, baddest and biggest in the county and whip them. I mean it."
Indeed, Mr. McMullen was not one to back away from a fight. In 1947, he arrested a man who had just knocked him to the ground with the handcuffs Mr. McMullen was applying. In 1965, he ran down two men at 90 mph who had just held up a grocery store, pulled up alongside their car and shot the driver in the shoulder.
He was equally fearless, or brazen, during a 1980 Pasco sheriff's election campaign when he accused the incumbent — his former boss — of stealing.
Carl Ramage McMullen was born in Largo in 1925. His great-grandfather, Daniel McMullen, was one of seven brothers who moved to the area by the 1850s. Two returned to Georgia; five settled here. "You can't go far in Pinellas County and not find somebody that's kin to one of those five brothers," said Forehand, 75.
Mr. McMullen enlisted in the Army a week after graduating from Largo High, joining the 182nd Airborne Division as a paratrooper during World War II. He joined the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in 1946.
He left the Sheriff's Office for a five-year stint in the Florida Highway Patrol, returning in 1958. He was promoted to sergeant two years later; to lieutenant in 1963 and captain in 1965.
He raised and trained Spotlight, a 65-pound bloodhound, to sniff out his children as they hid. The dog soon graduated to fugitives.
"I wouldn't want to guess how many times he's been used or how many people he's caught," Mr. McMullen said in 1968. "It must be hundreds."
He spent as much time as he could on his 5-acre ranch. Over the years, Mr. McMullen was married to women named Kathleen, Margaret and Marcia.
He joined the Pasco County Sheriff's Office in 1972 and was captain of the West Pasco office. He left that post to run for Sheriff in 1976, losing to John Short.
"They didn't get along," said Monica King, Mr. McMullen's daughter.
Short placed Mr. McMullen in charge of the county jail, but fired him when four inmates escaped two weeks later. Mr. McMullen said he was fired because he had reported deputies seizing lumber with Short's approval and using it to build a barn.
A state attorney's investigation into the lumber went nowhere. Mr. McMullen returned to the Pinellas sheriff's office as a deputy. In 1980, he again challenged Short for Pasco sheriff, saying he was "trying to get a little integrity back into the office of sheriff."
Short was re-elected. He was later indicted on bribery charges, then exonerated. Mr. McMullen retired in 1989 from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
For all his public exploits, one former deputy remembers Mr. McMullen best for a small favor.
In the early 1970s, Mike Hunter was undergoing his probationary period as a deputy. He needed more money. His wife was pregnant.
There was a moonlighting opportunity. But regulations forbade probationary deputies from working extra unless the sheriff signed off on it.
Mr. McMullen signed the request himself and told the Hunter to "fold it up and put it in your locker."
"He said, 'If you see the sheriff coming, duck,' " said Hunter, 67. "He stuck his neck out for a young kid. That was 42 years ago, and I won't forget it."