Twenty years ago this week will mark the closure of one of Palm Harbor’s natural resources, the wooded park and trail located behind the former Community Center, now known as The Centre of Palm Harbor. The park, located at 1500 16th Street, was closed in 1992 after a series of murders occurred in the park, according to officials.
“It’s sad what happened out here, but we’ve worked hard to rebuild and make this a public attraction again,” according to Jim Smith, an official with CSA Palm Harbor, the entity that manages the land.
Those who lived in the region remember the gruesome stories that took place in the woods, and many are still living with the fear that the land is unsafe for public use.
October of 1992, officials discovered a cult living in the park lands. After a dozen complaints of foul odors and mysterious, late-night noises, officials with the parks and recreation department investigated. To their surprise, several bodies of missing locals as well as make-shift gravesites were found. Local authorities removed the bodies and captured the cult’s ringleader, a local crematory owner, Vincenzo. Vincenzo was to be arraigned on charges of second degree murder for the deaths, but eluded his sentencing when a fire broke out at the jail he was being held at.
“It’s still an active case; we’re actively looking for him. But we have reason to believe Vincenzo fled the area and is living with relatives in Guatemala,” according to local authorities. The park was quickly closed and the bodies removed by local medical examiners. Since then, the park has been chained and locked.
CSA Palm Harbor has agreed to allow a local nature preservation society to work with the lands, offering nature walks and a series of “haunted tours,” the first of the kind in north Pinellas. Dr. Richard Alexander, Executive Director and founder of Alexander Nature Tours, is leading the charge to allow the public to utilize the lands.
“They were put here for public use, and with Vincenzo not being heard from in over twenty years, I think it’s time to show the public what they’ve been missing,” Alexander states, “so we’re happy to start the first tours out in to the park.”
The first tour groups will head out in conjunction with Palm Harbor’s Halloween Carnival on Saturday, October 20, along 16th Street. Tours are only $2 and proceeds will benefit the parks and recreation department. The carnival will also feature a haunted house; carnival games, the popular haunted hayride, and a non-scary trick-or-treat with local businesses. The festivities begin at 6:30PM. The tours at the trail will head out just after sundown.
*Authors Note: This story is purely fictional! No murders or cults have taken shape on park property here in Palm Harbor. This story was fabricated to advertise the “Haunted Trail,” a part of CSA Palm Harbor Parks & Recreation’s Halloween event.