EDITOR’S LETTER: Crime of the century: Was it really solved?

Cover-STY_0714I want to apologize to the family and friends of Vivian June Ritter, the Leesburg mother of three murdered April 22, 1968.

We don’t present this month’s cover story on convicted killer Marie Dean Arrington to reopen wounds or sensationalize one of the darkest chapters in Lake County history. Leesburg’s Crime of the Century is being revisited to introduce, as Paul Harvey liked to say, the rest of the story.

Quite a story it is. I found notes and reports in the files of law-enforcement agencies that made the hair on my neck stand up.

And Marie told me several stories that were downright bizarre.

She also said she did not kill June Ritter. I didn’t believe that for a moment.

I wasn’t nearly as convinced after spending 11 months digging through files maintained by the Leesburg Police Department, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the 5th Judicial District State Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the Hernando County Clerk of Court, which still has June Ritter’s cigarette case, keys and other exhibits used in the State v. Marie Dean Arrington.

A number of things don’t add up — things the public never heard.

The first thing that jumped out at me was Marie’s conduct on the morning of the crime. She dressed up, dropped her daughter at neighbors, took a taxi downtown, had a soda at McCrory’s, and called at the P.B. Howell law firm, where she talked to a secretary. She was practically screaming “Look at me! Look at me!” on the way to kidnap June Ritter in broad daylight, just before noon.

Marie maintained she visited the public defender’s office to discuss an appeal for her son, and that she walked into a kidnapping in progress. According to Marie, a heavy-set black woman and two or three men were demanding “files on two boys” from June Ritter.

Preposterous, right?

I thought so … until I examined the aforementioned files.

Three people saw June Ritter with a “Negro woman” on April 22, 1968, but Boyd Holt described the abductor as 5 feet 4 inches tall, 115 to 120 pounds, another witness said the mystery woman was 5 feet 3 inches, 150 to 160 pounds. And then we have Charles Kromer’s description — 5 feet 8 inches, 200 pounds with fat arms. Marie stood 5-2 and weighed around 120. Did Kromer see Marie? Or someone nearly twice as large — the heavy-set black woman.

Of course, eyewitness descriptions are far from reliable.

But Marie sure acted curiously if she was the murderer. She didn’t skip town when she learned police were looking for her. She told police about a sealed envelope (which turned out to contain June Ritter’s watch, keys and a ransom note) and led them to it. For being a master criminal, Marie sure was dumb.

Make no mistake about it: She was a master criminal.

Maybe even a murderer. I’m not 100 percent sure she pulled the trigger April 22, 1968, but I believe she was involved in a kidnapping/murder plot.

Someone other than Marie may have gotten away with murder.

We’ll probably never know the whole truth. Marie most certainly took secrets to the grave.

Read Leesburg’s Crime of the Century. And let me know what you think.

Gary-sig2

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