Ben Montgomery, Times Staff Writer

Ben Montgomery

Ben Montgomery is an enterprise reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and founder of the narrative journalism website Gangrey.com.

Montgomery grew up in Oklahoma and studied journalism at Arkansas Tech University, where he played defensive back for the football team, the Wonder Boys. He worked for the Courier in Russellville, Ark., the Standard-Times in San Angelo, Texas, the Times Herald-Record in New York's Hudson River Valley and the Tampa Tribune before joining the Times in 2006.

In 2010, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting and won the Dart Award and Casey Medal for a series called "For Their Own Good," about abuse at Florida's oldest reform school. He lives in Tampa with his wife, Jennifer, and three children.

Email: bmontgomery@tampabay.com

Twitter: @Gangrey

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  1. Military equipment wrong response, says ex-chief who handled St. Petersburg disturbances

    Nation

    When Darrel Stephens got word that one of his officers had shot dead an unarmed black teenager, he knew he'd better hit the streets. He'd been police chief just three years, but he had quickly learned that St. Petersburg was anything but sleepy, that racial tension surged through sections of the city.

    He bolted to the scene where a crowd, disenfranchised and enraged, was growing by the minute. As police took measurements and photographs, he walked among the residents, he recalls now, and was joined by City Council members and neighborhood leaders, all trying to keep the peace....

    Buildings were burned and bystanders attacked in St. Petersburg in 1996 after a grand jury decided that a police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teen had acted in self-defense. The racial unrest bears resemblance to the disturbances in Ferguson, Mo.
  2. First remains from Dozier graves identified as 14-year-old boy (w/video)

    Human Interest

    TAMPA

    George Owen Smith was afraid of the dark, so he'd whistle Gene Autry songs, like country music could keep the evil away. Every night for 40 years after he died, his mother, Frances, would sit on the stoop of her home in Auburndale, listening for her boy to come whistling through the woods.

    He was just 14 when he was sent to what was then the Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna, in late 1940, and he was there only a few months when his mother got word of his mysterious death. His body had been found under a house in Marianna, officials told her, and was so badly decomposed that they could identify him only by laundry marks on his clothes, dental records and the color of his scattered tufts of hair....

    George Owen Smith, shown in what his sister calls one of the last photos of him alive, makes a funny face for the camera in an undated photo. Smith died at age 14 under murky circumstances at the Florida School for Boys in 1941. His sister, Ovell Smith Krell, left, has never believed the official story that he died from exposure hiding under a house. She thinks he was shot while attempting to run away. [Family photo]
  3. FBI closes book on Claude Neal's lynching without naming killers

    Human Interest

    MARIANNA

    Claude Neal couldn't read or write. He was short and scrawny, and scraped by, picking peas and cotton, mending fences and tending hogs, trying to provide for a wife and 3-year-old daughter against the tides of the Great Depression.

    He died on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, killed by six white men who felt the need to send a message. They lashed him to a tree with tractor chains, cut him with knives, burned his flesh, and when he was dead, they turned him over to a mob of thousands, who poked him with sharpened sticks and drove their cars over his corpse before hanging him from an oak tree that still stands in front of the courthouse here, 80 years later....

    Orlando Williams poses for a portrait during the Neal, Smith and Robinson Family Reunion at the Jackson County Agricultural Center in Marianna on July 26. “You have to know where you came from in order to know where you are going. That’s why family reunions are important,” said Orlando Williams. He is Claude Neal’s nephew, and has been fighting for justice for more than 25 years. 
  4. Fans of Chalet Suzanne savor iconic restaurant, but can't save it

    Human Interest

    LAKE WALES

    Nowadays, the weathered roadside sign seems to beg for attention, but narrow your eyes and you can see better days. Better days, when Duncan Hines found Chalet Suzanne in the Florida hills and told all his friends. When Burt Reynolds and Dinah Shore dropped by, when Robert Redford and Johnny Carson and Kevin Costner and Don Johnson clinked mismatched glasses and dragged their forks across secondhand china. And no wonder they came. Thirty Golden Spoons from Florida Trend hang outside the dining room, a testament to doing things right and long. For 83 years, Chalet Suzanne has kept the doors open. That's no small task in a state that's always in flux. Alas, things change, and Chalet Suzanne is closing its doors for good Aug. 10....

    With the look of a castle from a childhood fairy tale, Chalet Suzanne has hosted celebrities such as Burt Reynolds and Dinah Shore.
  5. Revive, don't raze, Tampa's Riverfront Park

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — This past Christmas we bought for my middle child something called a Spooner Board, which is marketed as a toy for gifted children but is really just a sort of a curved plastic skateboard without wheels. She dragged it to the front yard and tried to scoot around, and was bored in about two minutes.

    "We need a hill," she said.

    "Get in the car," I said. To save Christmas, we drove downtown, to Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, home to the only hills I could think of....

    Top, Bicentennial Riverfront Park, as it was known, was a Tampa jewel when it opened in 1977. Above, the run-down park one July night, enhanced by a long exposure and painting with a red flashlight.
  6. Face time, no Facebook, at remote, rustic Hike Inn in north Georgia

    Travel

    DAWSONVILLE, Ga.

    A few years ago, Travel + Leisure magazine predicted that the "greatest luxury of the 21st century will be dropping off the grid," and that the future of travel would be so-called black-hole resorts, desirable for their total absence of the Internet and cellphone connections. I found this hard to believe at the time, in light of the modern tendency to document every turn of a family vacation on Facebook....

    Asher, Morissey and Bey Montgomery play board games in the Sunrise Room at the Hike Inn, a cell phone-free hotel in north Georgia.
  7. St. Pete native quitting as voice of Thomas the Tank Engine

    The Feed

    All is not peachy on the Island of Sodor.

    Martin T. Sherman, the St. Petersburg native who has voiced the lovable engines Thomas the Tank Engine, Percy and Diesel for U.S. audiences, broke the news softly a few days ago on one of the more popular Thomas & Friends fansites.

    "Unfortunately," he wrote, "I must now quit the show. It is embarrassing but the reason is that they are paying a very low wage. The terms they are offering are so poor, and this with the immense success of Thomas, that the only right thing for me to do is walk away."...

  8. Sheriff investigates claims of 'torture,' killings at Okeechobee reform school

    Human Interest

    OKEECHOBEE — The sheriff's deputies saw blood on the back of Joseph Johnson's shirt. He was 12, in 1959, walking down a Sarasota street after another beating from his stepmother.

    There's no way this is going to happen to you again, one of the deputies told him.

    They sent him to live at the Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee, a brand-new state-run facility for troubled kids and orphans and wards of the state, where that deputy's promise fell apart....

    A photo and article about William M. Sult, superintendent of the Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee, ran in the Oct. 23, 1959, edition of the Okeechobee News.
  9. Chelsea Baker's path to mound at Trop as unpredictable as her signature pitch

    Human Interest

    Chelsea Baker was nervous.

    So much could go wrong. She could hit Evan Longoria's sweet face with a pitch. She could end David Price's elbow. She could come out and throw like 50 Cent.

    And everybody would be watching — her friends and teammates, the gaggle of reporters, Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon.

    She never expected any of this. A female baseball player, a 17-year-old female baseball player, throwing batting practice — knuckleballs, no less — inside a for-real major league stadium to men who make millions of dollars....

    Chelsea Baker, center, who started as pitcher, takes a knee with the Durant High School baseball team on Thursday, March 20, 2014 after a win against Middleton. Baker is the only female baseball player in the county. Her signature pitch is the knuckleball, which she learned from former major league pitcher Joe Niekro. [DANIEL WALLACE   |   Times]

  10. Spoiled by mobsters, Meyer Lansky's daughter recalls family men, not killers

    Human Interest

    TAMPA

    The daughter sits on the front porch of a little bungalow in Seminole Heights, her new home since her husband died a few months ago down south. She misses him, but she's making do.

    At 76, she has her health, and friends. And her son, Gary. And she has the memories.

    Like the time Frank Sinatra came over to say hello to her father and spilled a champagne bucket of ice in her lap and looked as though he had made a fatal mistake. Or the time her father took her to the Majestic Theatre to see Carousel, the hottest ticket on Broadway, and he bought all the seats in front of them so their view was unimpeded. Or the time she went ice skating on the terrace of her family's 19th-floor apartment at the Beresford at 211 Central Park West. Or the time, later, when she made love to Dean Martin six times in one night....

    Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel is arrested in New York City, Aug. 19, 1940, in the slaying of Harry Schacter, a.k.a. Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg.
  11. For Schenecker jury, a high-stakes course in the mysteries of mental illness

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Is she insane?

    Julie Shenecker, with 20 years of medical records that detail a struggle against a variety of severe mental illnesses, killed her own teen children. She shot them, as she wrote, in the "mouthy mouth," covered them with blankets, manipulated her daughter's lifeless lips into a smile. She wanted to protect them from molestation, and from inheriting her own debilitating brain disease. She wanted to kill herself, so they could live safely and eternally together in heaven....

  12. Woman crusades to get her 2 pounds of chicken flesh out of Publix

    Retail

    Janet Feldman did not need four dozen rotisserie chickens. Who among us does?

    But the 57-year-old Davie woman who makes outfits for strippers is not someone who minds her own business when she discovers a wrong. If society's moral fabric is twisted, she irons it smooth.

    "When I see a wrong," she says, "I right the wrong."

    The day she took all the chickens, she was trying to prove a point. Trying to look out for the little guy. She was on a mission....

    Using the Publix Promise, Janet Feldman got 300 free rotisserie chickens by showing they didn’t weigh at least two pounds.
  13. Early lab work suggests existence of undiscovered Dozier cemetery

    Crime

    TAMPA — Coffin nail by coffin nail and bone fragment by bone fragment, University of South Florida forensic anthropologists are learning more about the identities of remains exhumed months ago from a hidden cemetery at the state's longest-running and most criticized reform school.

    Researchers have so far analyzed 12 of the 55 sets of remains unearthed at the former Dozier School for Boys, developing biological profiles and establishing theories about date of burial, age and race. They've received DNA analysis from the University of North Texas Health Science Center on five of the bodies, but have not yet identified any of the boys....

    An artist's rendering provided by USF shows what one of victims at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys may have looked like based on forensic evidence unearthed at the school.
  14. Nelson seeks help in Pennsylvania to exhume boy who died at Dozier

    Public Safety

    When 15-year-old Thomas Curry was found dead in 1925, not long after he had run away from Florida's reform school in Marianna, the coroner's jury determined he "came to his death from a wound on forehead: skull crushed from an unknown cause." His body was buried in Philadelphia.

    Now, a team of University of South Florida forensic anthropologists, backed by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, are asking the Pennsylvania state police to help them find and exhume Curry's remains for an autopsy. Nelson has asked Gov. Tom Corbett for his assistance....

  15. After 'Shark Tank' spot, balloon business takes a nasty twist (video)

    Human Interest

    LAND O'LAKES — If you believe the clowns, everything was hunky-dory until 2007, when Ben Alexander came along.

    A dedicated clown could work a restaurant for a couple of hours, twist a T. rex or a Super Mario — really innovative stuff, not just one-balloon wiener dogs or swords — and walk home with a hundred bucks. The restaurants paid, so parents didn't have to worry about scrambling for tips. The clowns weren't going to get rich, but it was a living....

    Ben Alexander makes a corsage for Jessica, 8, and a heart for her older sister, Tiffany, 11, while they were dining with their grandparents, Carol and Stephen Finkelstein.