Naming The Dead

Date Published 02.15.08
During the 1990s in Fort Myers, Florida authorities became accustomed to a gruesome pattern. Someone, usually a hunter looking for hogs, would be in a remote wooded area and stumble upon the remains of a young white male. The corpse would be naked, and often times mutilated. Rope marks would be visible on the skin.

But it was the trees that became the telltale mark, the calling card of a particularly sadistic killer. After finding yet another body investigators knew to look at the nearby trees; rope marks would be visible on one of them.

Several of the crime scenes yielded more than one body, and more than one set of rope marks.

Only when a potential victim escaped did the story emerge. It was a story about a male nurse named Dan who drove around the Fort Myers area, seeking young men who were struggling, or down on their luck. Offering money, pills or beer, Dan coaxed the young men into his gray station wagon. He asked if they’d be interested in posing for nude photographs out in the woods for money. Some said yes, and disappeared. Others said no. One man, Stanley Burden, found himself naked and tied to a tree, struggling as Dan tried to strangle him and shouted at him to "Die!"

Burden escaped, and was able to help prosecutors in their case against Daniel Conahan Jr. Conahan, who became known as the “Hog Trail Murderer,” was convicted of one murder, but suspected of many more. He was sentenced to death in 1999 and is currently in jail in Raiford, Florida.

The people of Fort Myers thought the nightmare of the Hog Trail Murderer was behind them. What they didn’t know was that for years the remains of eight men lay hidden in the woods near an industrial park just three miles east of downtown. Last March a surveyor inspecting the area stumbled upon human bones; within hours police had eight John Does to identify, and one of the largest dumping grounds in Florida’s history to investigate.

Authorities are circumspect about the Conahan connection. They acknowledge the similarities but decline to comment further. Conahan has shed no light on the matter; he’s always maintained his innocence.

But the parallels are significant. Conahan attacked Stanley Burden less than a mile from where the eight bodies were found. Two of the eight men have been identified, and they fit the profile of Conahan’s usual targets --- street hustler types in their 20s who had records for petty offenses and a history of drug and alcohol abuse. One of the victims, John Blevins, listed his occupation on a booking report as “male prostitute.”

Victim John Blevins

Experts believe the eight men were likely murdered between 1985 and 2000, which is roughly the same time period Conahan was active. The remains showed no signs of trauma, such as bullet wounds. Conahan strangled his victims.

Conahan lured young men to heavily wooded areas where he could maintain control without the risk of interruption. He used the natural setting as a lure --- a quiet, idyllic background for a photo session --- and as a weapon, tying his victims to trees for bondage poses that would ultimately end in murder.

Trees are another link to Conahan. The remains of the eight men lay hidden for so long because the area is overgrown with scrub brush, and thick with melaleuca, cypress and pines.

Six men still need to be identified. A forensic artist recently used the skulls to “rebuild” the faces of the victims, in the hopes that someone might recognize them. The Fort Myers Police released pictures of the clay-molded reconstructions, along with identifying physical details like height and previous fractures.

Combing through missing persons records for young men with ties to Florida, I found several from the relevant time period (1985-2000) that could be matches.

Victim B

Victim B, a white male, was about 20-30 years old, very tall, very physically active, and had bone fractures in his right calf. An early report mentioned healed fractures to his nose and collarbone as well.

Phillip Koss

Phillip Koss was 24 when he disappeared from Fort Myers on March 13, 1995. He was approximately 6'0-6'1, and 190-205 pounds. He had a one-inch scar on the bridge of his nose.

Victim C

Victim C, a white male, had no obvious health issues at all. He had good bones with no fractures and excellent dental care. He was between 5'7 and 6'3.

Paul Rollins

Paul Rollins was 38 when he disappeared on Christmas Day, 1995 from New Port Richey, a town about two and a half hours north of Fort Myers. His personal belongings were left behind, and his disappearance is considered suspicious. Paul was 6'1 and had no fractures or major health problems.

Douglas Mann

Douglas Mann is another possibility for Victim C. He was 35 when he disappeared from Dunedin, a town about two hours north of Fort Myers, on February 7, 1994. He was 6'0, and had no fractures or major health problems.

Victim G

Victim G, a white male, was between 20 and 30 years old, tall, with a possible limp. An early report mentioned a fracture to his right wrist.

Phillip Koss

Phillip Koss is a possibility for Victim G as well, as he had previously fractured both wrists.

Donald Izzett

Donald Izzett is a stronger possibility for Victim G. He was 19 when he disappeared in July 1995. After finishing his freshman year of college that May, Donald apparently embarked on a transient lifestyle. He called his mother from California in mid-May and sounded upset. She never heard from him again.

Reports indicate that at the time of his disappearance Donald was involved in an abusive relationship with another man. It appears his chaotic travels across the country were dictated by the status of the relationship. Witnesses place him in Florida in the summer of 1995. But a friend says when he last spoke to Donald, he was in San Francisco; no one knows if that's where he actually disappeared. He had ties to Florida and spoke of relocating there.

Donald was 6'2 and had previously fractured his left foot.

The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.