Noose Man Gets Vengeance on Hollywood
one could imagine murder as the cause of Leons death.
When he drove over the Suwannee River bridge between Hamilton and Suwannee
counties, reporter Jesse Christison saw two Suwannee deputies cruisers
ambulance parked on the Suwannee side of the river.
Sitting on the southeast corner of the intersection of Highway 441 and
river, the vehicles reflected the midday sun into his eyes. They shined
harbingers of news to the veteran journalist. It was the summer of 1981.
Three days earlier, 15-year-old Leon Taylor had drowned upriver from the
bridge. Jesse had heard a couple of different versions about the incident
leading to the black teens death. Local people sought Jesse. They
this member of The Fourth Estate more than any other reporter in that
Jesse could write nothing more than the bare facts this week. It was deadline
day. He saw the indicators of big news on his way to the office based
Oak as he drove south to layout the newspaper which covered Jasper.
His newspaper was The Jasper News.
One account of how Taylor drowned came from a group of teenagers. Some
Hamilton County boys had told Christison that some white boys, from Suwannee
County, had started shooting .22 caliber rifles across the river at Leon.
The victim had grown up next to the river, but never had learned to swim.
of the people to whom Jesse spoke, and he had interviewed a wide spectrum
family, friends, neighbors and schoolmates in the three days before the
rose to the surface, had said Leon was a great kid. No one could imagine
as the cause of Leons death.
Leon Taylors family lived in White Springs, where Stephen Foster
composed the famous song about the Suwannee River more than a century
Taylor was born inside his parents' shanty in White Springs.
According to teen gossip in Hamilton County, the Suwannee County boys
just trying to scare Leon. The victim lost his footing, fell
in the river, and
drowned. This version of reality, nevertheless, was not the official
the three years he had been there, Jesse had found that the sheriff and
often distorted the truth. They had created the official word
and people who
failed to accept it were found hanging from one of the many live oak trees.
Sheriffs department documents showed that Leon was playing next
to the river. The boy allegedly fell in. No one could save him, according
to the report.
When he saw the cruisers and ambulance near the river that hot, July morning,
Christison's adrenaline pumped. He felt his heart quicken.
It figures, the 30-year-old reporter thought. The body usually floats
few days. I've got to get this now. I hope Marion doesn't mind me being
Jesse knew his editor, Marion Levy, expected him to be either on time
early. The reporter had beaten all deadlines during their three-year stint
colleagues. Jesse felt that he and Marion were friends, but they never
associated with each other outside of work.
In fact, Jesse had let his life disappear, except for reporting, ever
he finished college eight years ago.
Jesse drove his 1964 Chevrolet Impala onto the east shoulder of Highway
441. He grabbed his Canon AE-1. He snatched his clipboard. He locked the
doors of Ol Nellie. It had become a conditioned response
after living in Gainesville for eight years. Criminals preyed upon the
University of Florida students. The 1973 U.F. graduate had never fallen
victim to thieves or scalawags while he went to school, but some of his
classmates did not fare as well as he had.
When the young reporter started walking toward the crime scene, he looked
back at his big, baby-blue Chevrolet. Christison liked older cars. Christison
named this 17-year-old steel sled, just as he had named all of her predecessors
'Ol Nellie and it continued to serve him as a professional journalist
Its time to confront Live Oaks finest, again. God help me,
thought. What is it with these cops? Why arent they civil like the
The reporter strode down the steep bank through the thick grass. He sauntered
into the woods. Giant, old, oak trees kept the area shaded. As usual,
was overdressed for the weather. Wearing a long-sleeve white shirt and
tie, the reporter looked the part of a professional.
Some deputies in Hamilton County had nicknamed him Hollywood.
It was more
of a term of endearment than a vicious tag. Most of the Hamilton County
enforcers addressed Christison as Mr. Christison.
Hearing voices and seeing deputies near the river's edge, Christison jogged
along a short path of white sand. He noticed sunbeams streaming through
giant oaks branches. Perspiration gathered on his forehead and in
The thick musky smell of summer at the Suwannee River hung in muggy midday
Hello. My name is Jesse Christison. I'm the reporter for The Jasper
He always introduced himself, even after three years in the Live Oak area.
The sheriff and his deputies ignored him. The elite corps of Suwannee
deputies never accepted anyone born anywhere other than in their neck
of the woods. Deputies focused their attention downstream.
A medium-sized outboard boat towed something behind it. Tied by a rope
stern, the five-foot corpse left a separate wake from the 14-foot aluminum
boats waves. The boat made its way against the current. All of the
watched the boat, its pilot and his one-man crew.
The reporter took the lens cap off his cameras lens. Christison's
served as his eye to the world for his readers. He aimed at the corpse.
focused and shot.
Christison had heard the sound of his camera's shutter thousands of
times before. He never gave it a second thought.
During that particular five-hundredths of one second, though, the shutters
snap resounded like a loud cannon shot, which shattered the stillness
of the hot
What the hell do you think you're doing? said the largest
man in the group
I'm taking pictures for the newspaper. My name is Jesse Christison.
reporter for The Jasper News. I announced that when I arrived.
I know who you are. I heard you. And you, Mr. Hollywood, know I
Monroe Broward. You wont be takin no more pictures here.
Towering well over six feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds, the
sheriff presented an intimidating image. And once he spoke, Sheriff Broward
could make even the meanest Florida panther freeze in its tracks.
Christison knew the law. And he had heard about this epitome of Good Ol
in North Central Florida too. In all his years as a reporter, Christison
saw a deputy pull a night-stick across anyones throat. One of Christison's
predecessors, however, told him that one of Browards deputies killed
a man that
way for no reason. And the deputy got away with it.
There was no investigation. There was no trial.
That former reporter had told Christison, Broward said it was like
an ant. Deputies can kill ants, aunts, uncles, or anybody in Suwannee
Its Browards law.
The big, burly sheriff outweighed Christison by 50 pounds. That difference
was all muscle, too. The buck-toothed farm-boy sheriff could mop the riverbank
with the thin, well-groomed reporter. Sheriff Monroe Broward had plenty
of help on hand, too.
When Christison first arrived in Jasper, the St. Petersburg native had
learned what some locals thought of him.
Where ya from, boy? a man had asked Christison on the
reporter's first day
in Jasper in 1978.
Im originally from St. Petersburg. Most recently, I'm from
I was a reporter after graduating from the University of Florida.
Oh. So, you're one of them southern Yankees.
For the most part, Christison had overcome Hamilton County residents
prejudice against outsiders. There were still a few hard cases in Suwannee
County -- like Broward and his thugs.
The reporter stood in the midst of Suwannee deputies.
Christison got a second wind. He clicked off a few more shots. If the
sheriff of Suwannee County tried stopping him from taking a picture of
teenagers corpse being dragged from the river, then there was only
Christison could do. He must shoot more pictures.
All-right, boy, the sheriff said, putting a special emphasis
on boy and
holding a pair of pliers in the air. If you take one more picture,
Im going to
break that Goddamn camera and throw it in the river.
The journalist backed away while he continued to shoot. Click. Click.
He smelled blood. He felt his heart pounding. It beat so hard, Christison
thought it would explode.
The four deputies and two ambulance attendants looked as if they had seen
man walk up to a hungry lion and dangle a juicy steak in front of the
Christison started writing. His camera hung loose around his neck. His
raced across the paper on the clipboard in his left hand. He showed no
continued backing up, to distance himself from the deputies. Then, he
I must record this while it's happening, the writer thought. This is strange.
Something's wrong here.
M Hardison 2002
St. Petersburg, Florida, U.S.A.
< Reply to this Article