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Oddities abound in Hernando

The "Breaking News" logo flashed onto the television screen.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Bomb Squad, the anchor said in breathless tones, was speeding toward Hernando County, where "several large bombs" had been found in an apartment after a kitchen fire.

If she had said Zephyrhills or Inverness or Holiday, I probably would have been halfway into my pants and on the way out the door, even though I have younger and more capable colleagues whose job it is to swarm all over such stories.

Instead, I yawned and pressed the button on the remote to see if the genuine, double-blessed prayer oil was still available for an appropriate "love offering," and then to watch some guy spray-paint the back of his head and claim he wasn't bald any more.

Some deep journalistic instinct, combined with geo-social reality, had thrown a buried switch when I heard the location.

The "several large bombs," as if to confirm my prejudice, turned out to be a television antenna or radio. Nobody was exactly sure.

Don't get me wrong.

I'm not being critical of Brooksville police Chief Ed Tincher and his men. When it is late at night and you enter the smoke-filled apartment of a man who neighbors say sometimes acts strange and find a strange collection of wires leading into containers of liquid, batteries and the ceiling _ along with a wall displaying a newspaper picture of a guy who was killed after commandeering a tank in San Diego _ it is probably better to react with caution.

But Hernando County is just one of those places where bomb/television antenna represents the same sort of tossup as the dessert topping/floor wax gag in the old Saturday Night Live commercial.

Nine hours later I was in communication with an old Hernando hand and we were immediately engrossed in swapping bizarre stories, the all-time favorite being the guy who slashed the family water bed and then tried to drown his wife in it because he didn't like her hairdo.

We recalled, of course, that Hernando was the home of Billy Mansfield, a serial killer who buried his victims in his back yard, and that some of his neighbors adjusted all right to that but feared the construction of a mobile home park might lower their property values.

I recalled the time a man found dead _ by a real estate agent showing his house _ was wearing a military shirt with both enlisted officers' insignia and a rosary around his neck. He had been murdered, and, it turned out, was also said to have been a witness in the case of missing Hernando County Realtor Charlie Hope.

I have spent months investigating the Hope disappearance, a story that comes complete with a burned-down restaurant, a container of collard greens, a trained bear and several mysterious characters, including a guy who lived at a Weeki Wachee motel and claimed to be a CIA agent.

It's not that strangeness doesn't happen in other areas. My own county, for instance, has Port Richey city government, and a friend of mine who owns a dive shop tells a fascinating yarn about a well-dressed man who came to his shop making inquiries about underwater weapons because he was mounting an expedition to prove that several dinosaurs and a flying saucer are stored in a massive cave under the Florida Power plant near Crystal River.

And I have to remember that a lot of these cases represent very real personal tragedies for the families involved and to note that I find their nature to be interesting, not necessarily humorous.

I was right, as it turned out. My younger colleagues had swarmed the bomb story. An editor lived near the apartment house and saw the same newscast as I. The police reporter also was out and about at the time.

He was covering the case of a woman accused of shooting her ex-husband after he allegedly criticized her performance in the kitchen.