50 years: City Council president smuggled out of jail under blanket after posting bond
Have you ever wondered what life was like in Jacksonville half a century ago? It was a different era of history, culture and politics but there are often parallels between the kind of stories that made headlines then and today. As interesting as the differences may be, so are the similarities. These are some of the top stories from this week in 1966. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.
City Council President Lemuel Sharp and George Robinson Sr., suspended head of the Gator Bowl Sports Complex, were indicted by the Duval County grand jury on charges of grand larceny from the city.
It was noted circumstances made it appear Sharp was anticipating the action by the panel.
According to “reliable sources,” he was inside the jail next door to the Duval County Courthouse even before the grand jury handed down the indictment.
As Deputy Sheriff Vince Howell took papers for Sharp’s arrest to the jail, a cordon of photographers and reporters waited at the front and rear exits of the jail, but Sharp was not seen.
After a constable’s car was spotted leaving the rear of the jail with a blanket covering something in the back seat, a reporter was told by a jail official Sharp had just left the facility by car.
An effort to reach Robinson, who previously was indicted on other charges, also was unsuccessful.
His son, George Robinson Jr., stood in an office doorway in the sports complex and told a reporter he would not allow anyone in the office.
“You might call me an SOB — or anything you want — but he’s the only father I’ve got and nobody’s going back there,” he said.
Howell had served arrest papers on Robinson a few minutes earlier.
Also, City Commissioner Claude Smith was indicted on five counts of accepting bribes.
It was noted that in 1961, Smith and Mayor Lou Ritter, who at the time was highway commissioner, were called to Washington, D.C., to appear before a Congressional subcommittee investigating the federal highway program.
Smith and Ritter testified March 7, 1961, and the next day, interrupted a trip to New York City to return to Jacksonville, where they denied there was anything illegal about their business dealings or contrary to their duties as public officials.
The subcommittee’s report on highway projects in the area said “astute Jacksonville politicians parleyed friendship with top officials of the Duval Engineering and Contracting Co. into a virtual monopoly over the disposition of improvements, thereby enhancing their own personal finances.”
A Duval County grand jury’s inquiry into the company’s operations the following June turned up no evidence of wrongdoing in the firm’s dealings with the city, county or state.
• The City Commission approved a proposal by Utilities Commissioner George Mosely that the city immediately embark on a $62 million expansion of the municipal electric system generating and transmission facilities.
The expansion, recommended by consulting engineers Reynolds, Smith and Hills, had to be complete by December 1970 if anticipated power needs were to be met, the engineers’ report said.
It recommended the project be financed with a $57 million issuance of revenue bonds plus $5 million derived from capital improvement funds, including proceeds from sale of the floating power plant Inductance, which was out of service.
The proposal would be considered by City Council because it would have to be implemented by an ordinance calling for a referendum vote on the proposed bond issue.
• Judges Bryan Simpson and Charles Scott, both of Jacksonville, were confirmed to new federal judgeships by the U.S. Senate.
Simpson, chief judge of Florida’s Middle District, was confirmed to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Scott, who was a circuit court judge, was confirmed to the U.S. District Court in Jacksonville.
Both received appointments Oct. 11 from President Lyndon Johnson.
• The Greater Jacksonville Fair opened for an 11-day run and military displays were expected to attract a lot of attention.
Exhibits were set up for all branches of the armed forces under the supervision of Nathan Mallison, chair of the fair’s Military Committee.
“The effort to provide the exhibits has been an all-out one. The various military groups realize the need to help educate the public on what is being done and can be done on behalf of the nation’s defense,” said fair association President R.A. Altobellis.
With escalation of the war in Vietnam, national defense was uppermost in the minds of the estimated 200,000 people who would attend the event at the Gator Bowl complex, he said.
Admission was 75 cents for adults, 25 cents for children.
• A man jumped out of a moving car loaded with more than 300 gallons of moonshine on Florida 13 in St. Johns County and then was overtaken on foot in a swamp by a federal agent.
The car, moving at about 25 mph, nearly collided with an oncoming vehicle, then swerved down an embankment and landed in underbrush.
A crash could have turned the highly volatile cargo into “an exploding Molotov cocktail,” agents said.
Macclenny resident Dorsey Doyle Bennett, 29, was captured and arrested in knee-deep swamp water by Special Investigator Michael Hall of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the U.S. Treasury Department.
Special Investigator Robert Miller, in charge of the Jacksonville office of the tax division, said state and federal beverage agents later destroyed more than 1,200 gallons of moonshine whiskey in a still in a wooded area about 1 mile south of Orangedale near Florida 13.
“The distillery was still steaming when we got there,” he said.
• The City Commission approved plans and specifications for improvements to the city prison farm.
The improvements would cost about $25,000 for a delousing machine and upgrading the facility’s security and plumbing.
• Mrs. John Neely, associate director and producer of the “Bob Hope TV Show,” “The Milton Berle Show,” “The Jerry Lewis Show” and others, was named administrative assistant of Community Television Inc. and Channel 7.
Formerly with NBC and ABC, she was welcomed to her new post by Fred Rebman, Channel 7 general manager.
“We feel our growing service to the community will benefit from this staff addition,” he said.
Neely attended the Juilliard School of Music in New York City and graduated from The Ohio State University.
She also served as unit manager for the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, N.J., and for NASA launches from Cape Kennedy.
• The Municipal Pardon Board conducted one of its shortest agendas on record.
An inmate of the city prison farm, who it was said might be mentally incompetent, was authorized to appear before a county judge for a sanity hearing.
If found competent, he would be returned to the farm.
Mrs. Ralph Gordon appeared before the board to ask that her husband be released because he was due to have an “early operation” for cancer.
He was serving a 60-day sentence for shoplifting, plus three days for running a red light.
She was told to get a letter from her husband’s doctor attesting to Gordon’s physical condition and one from the victim of the shoplifting declaring he had no objection to a commutation of Gordon’s sentence.
She was instructed to return to the board with the documents for a ruling Oct. 26, its next scheduled meeting.
• Glenn Johnson, director of food services for the Duval County public school system, said he had watched food prices rise and fall over the years, but felt vendors had been fair, despite the fluctuations.
He also said suppliers had given the schools lower prices than they could have based on market conditions.
Smoked bacon went from 29 cents a pound in September 1964 to 76 cents a pound in August 1966, but declined to 69.5 cents a pound in September.
Sliced apples used to make pies cost 55.5 cents for each can in 1964 and 55.8 cents in 1966.
Frozen orange juice was a bargain, Johnson said. Twelve 32-ounce cans cost the school system $12.35 in 1964, but only $9.27 in 1966.