TODAY IN HISTORY:
Carl DeLong, Jr., Murdered in Tampa: 1956. A Hillsborough County Florida sheriff’s deputy found Carl DeLong, Jr., unconscious on the side of a street, his feet hanging over the curb. The sheriff found no money or wallet, but inside DeLong’s jacket was a registration for a brand new 1957 Ford, giving his name and his St. Petersburg address. DeLong was rushed to the hospital, but he never regained consciousness. He died three weeks later, on November 20, at the VA hospital in St. Petersburg.
DeLong had already had a very difficult life in his short, twenty-six years. His mother was violent and mentally unstable, while his father tried to keep the peace in the family. When Carl was fourteen, his parents divorced and Carl stayed with his mother. Because of her constant moving around, Carl attended more than a dozen different schools that year before finally dropping out. He went to live with his father in Connecticut the following year where life became more stable. The fastidious, quiet young man kept to himself, which made him “soft” in the eyes of some of his relatives. Just before turning twenty-two, Carl enlisted in the army to “make a man of him.” A year and a half in, the army discovered his homosexuality and gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse: an honorable discharge in exchange for a stint in a mental hospital. He accepted, and was sent to the St. Lawrence State Hospital in Ogdensburg, N.Y. But instead of telling his family the real reason he was there, he told them that he had molested a teenage girl — because that carried less stigma and shame than being a homosexual.
After being discharged from the hospital in 1954, DeLong moved to St. Petersburg, Florida and started a new life. Things were looking up for him. Over the next two years, he got a job, bought a new car, and made friends, many of them he met at the local gay bars in Tampa. He was last seen at the Knotty Pine Bar in the early morning hours of October 29. He stayed until closing time, then went across the street to the bus station. That was the last time anyone saw him until after the assault.
Sheriffs deputies had a strong suspect. The following January, they arrested Ronald Craft, 17, for the armed robbery of another gay man. Craft told deputies that he and another friend, Jimmy Milcher, had been “rolling and beating queers” for some time and that “Jimmy [said] he had hurt one queer real band and he had gone to the hospital.” The bus station was one of their favorite spots to find queers. As one detective wrote later for another case, “Most of these robberies are not reported because the ‘homo’ would rather lose the money than call attention to his own proclivities.” Police were unable to tie the two to DeLong’s death, but a judge sentenced them and three other young men to three years in prison for the other robberies.
DeLong’s case has remained officially unsolved, despite being re-opened in 1960, 1989, and 2005. It is still listed as an active case on the Sheriff’s office web site, where it’s the oldest unsolved homocide listed. DeLong’s case also left a legacy on the Tampa Bay gay community. Elected officials cited DeLong’s death as justification for giving police unchecked powers to raid gay bars, harass gay customers, and root out suspected “homosexual rings” by pressuring gays and lesbians to name names in order to avoid finding themselves in jail (see, for example, Jun 3).
[Source: Mike Wells. “Following the Coldest Trail.” The Tampa Tribune (January 15, 2006): 1.]
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