Wearing Two Hats in Vero Beach, One Comfortable, One Not

With tears in his eyes and his voice showing emotion, Carl Elliott Jr., told me last week that he hoped my book, The Serial Killer Whisperer, would finally be enough to get Florida’s governor to schedule the execution of serial killer David Gore. 

Gore abducted, raped, and murdered Elliott’s daughter, Lynn, age 17, in Vero Beach. He has been on death row for nearly thirty years. 

I certainly did not write my book to prompt the death of anyone, including Gore. But my book has re-ignited interest in his case and is stirring strong emotions in Vero Beach.

The book describes the plight of Tony Ciaglia, who was hit in the skull by a speeding jet ski when he was 15 years old. He died three times en route to the hospital but was revived. After several weeks in a coma, Ciaglia awoke much different from the carefree, happy, and popular teen he had been. Filled with rage, often uncontrollable, and suffering from damage to the front lobe of his brain, Ciaglia spent much of the next several years under a self-imposed house arrest.  At times, he was suicidal. Bored and aimless, he needed a hobby and by chance he began writing serial killers. His psychiatric problems mimicked those of the killers and he was able to befriend many of them and get them to share their inner-most thoughts with him. Today, he tries to help the police with his ability to communicate with killers.

My book, which will be officially released Tuesday (tomorrow), contains correspondence between Ciaglia and numerous serial killers, including Gore. In his letters, Gore shows absolutely no remorse, no empathy, no sorrow, no regrets and, in fact, describes with pornographic pleasure how he abducted, tortured, raped, and murdered six women in the Vero Beach area, including Lynn Elliott.

I had spoken to Carl Elliott Jr. for the book, but we had only talked on the telephone until last week when I happened to be in Vero Beach. I sat down with him and three others whose loved ones had been murdered by Gore. Our meeting was arranged by Russ Lemmon, a well-respected columnist for the local Vero Beach newspaper and it came about because of a coincidence that had me wearing two hats.

*****

I went to Vero Beach to give the keynote address at the third annual mental health symposium sponsored by the Indian River County Mental Health Collaborative. They asked me to speak about my book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, and the criminalization of persons with mental disorders.

I certainly did not plan on talking about my newest book. I am always careful to keep a wall between my mental health advocacy and my new book about serial killers because of stigma against persons such as my son. Serial killers fall into a completely different category from persons with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. When I flew to Florida, I had no intention of discussing  my new book.

But Lemmon, a columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, published a front page story about my book on the day before my speech.  The headline of his column in the Press Journal newspaper was: New Book on Serial Killers Includes Stomach-Turning Letters from Gore.

My arrival in Vero Beach and the timing of his column were not the only coincidence that day.

Lemmon was scheduled later that afternoon to meet with Florida Governor Rick Scott. When he did, Lemmon gave the governor a copy of his column and told him that the residents of Vero Beach wanted to know why Gore hadn’t been executed since he’d exhausted all of his legal appeals. Lemmon told Gov. Scott that he needed to read my book and pay particular attention to Gore’s callous letters to Ciaglia. 

I had no idea that Lemmon was meeting with the governor nor how much of an impact the page one story would cause until I was preparing to give my keynote. Lemmon contacted me and explained that several family members of Gore’s victims, including the Elliotts, had heard that I was in town and wanted to meet me. He warned me that at least two of the relatives were upset and angry. They wanted to know if my book glorified Gore.

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I began my day at the symposium. Valerie Smith, a local member of NAMI, gave the first speech and did an incredible job talking about what life is like when a family member has a mental disorder. Her talk reminded me of the importance of NAMI members speaking out and telling “our”  stories. Dr. Mark S. Gold, the chair of psychiatry at the University of Florida, spoke next about addiction. He was followed by Michael Thompson, the director of the Justice Center for the Council of State Governments, who gave a compelling, data-filled  report that showed how it made more economic sense to fund treatment programs that help persons with mental disorders rather than warehousing them in  jails.  To date, there are close to a half million persons with serious mental illnesses in American jails and prisons. I was the final speaker.

One reason why I was excited about the symposium was because my good friend, Judge Steven Leifman, was its moderator. He was responsible for getting me access into the Miami Dade jail for my mental health book. Since then, he has become a nationally recognized leader in mental health. His Florida Partners in Crisis program is an effective advocacy organization that should be copied in other states.

My visit to Vero Beach was paid for by The Robert F. and Eleonora W. McCabe Foundation, which was founded by the McCabes with a $2 million seed donation. Ellie’s son, Roy Johnson, committed suicide in Virginia in 1999 at age 42. Among other things, the foundation has created a unique collaborative program with the University of Florida. The foundation pays the salary of a psychiatrist/professor who lives in Vero Beach and oversees the work of interns from the school. Dr. Wayne Creelman not only treats patients but also monitors the interns, providing the community with much needed psychiatric care and introducing the students to the town, in the hope, that some of them will establish practices in Vero Beach after they graduate.

The McCabes are examples of  individuals who faced a family tragedy and decided to do something about it by using their resources to improve the lives of persons with mental illnesses.

******

 As soon as the symposium ended, I drove to the newspaper to meet with Lemmon and the families of Gore’s victims. I explained that I had not written the book to glorify Gore. I’d written it because I thought that Tony Ciaglia’s story was fascinating and because his letters with serial killers gave readers an unvarnished glimpse into the minds of  cold-blooded murderers.

The meeting quickly turned emotional. 

Both of the Elliotts became teary-eyed when they discussed how Gore had kidnapped Lynn one afternoon in July 1983 when she and a 14 year-old friend decided to hitchhike from one popular beach to another farther up the coast. That spur of the moment decision cost Lynn her life.   Lynn Elliott

Gore and his cousin, Fred Waterfield, offered the two teens a ride and then drove them to a house where the two men repeatedly raped them.  Lynn broke free and escaped, running naked into the front yard. Gore, also naked, chased her and shot her to death a few feet outside the house. After tossing her body into the trunk of his car, he went back inside to terrorize the 14 year-old. A boy, who happened to be pedaling his bicycle by the house, saw the shooting and called the police.

Jeanne Elliott told me that her daughter’s murder had nearly destroyed her life. One thing that helped her survive was her belief that Lynn’s failed escape attempt had finally brought Gore and his cousin’s killing spree to an end. The 14 year-old girl was rescued.

 The Elliotts told me that the death of their daughter eventually played a role in them getting a divorce. It had a ripple impact on the other families too. The son of one murdered woman committed suicide. The father of another teenager, who was raped and murdered, had a fatal heart attack that his family felt was prompted by his daughter’s murder. 

I am not certain if I was able to calm the fears of the relatives about my book. But all of us left that meeting with a clear understanding of how Gore’s actions had caused tremendous suffering in Vero Beach.

Columnist Lemmon has been tirelessly calling for Gore’s execution and on Sunday, he published another column about my book that included one of Gore’s letters. In it, Gore describes how he and his cousin plotted different ways they could abduct an entire busload of high school cheerleaders when the local high school team was playing a game out of town. At the time, Gore was an auxiliary sheriff’s officer and he intended to stop the bus on a ruse and then take the girls to a remote location to abuse and kill.

Lemmon warned his readers that my book is not for the faint of heart because of its graphic descriptions of rape, torture and murder.

As the father of two girls, I felt tremendous empathy for Carl Elliott Jr., who now is in his eighties. One of the things that surprised me about him was that Carl insisted on seeing his daughter’s body after she was murdered. When I asked him why he would put himself through that ordeal, he said that he wanted to remember what Gore had done.

He told the police, “I want to see every mark on her body, where he drug her in the driveway and all the skinned-up parts on her knees and elbows, and every damn bullet hole. I want to see every scrape and every bruise. I want to remember in case I ever get soft on this thing. I want to remember, by God, that’s what this bastard did to my daughter. It was awful (the experience) but I have never regretted doing it.”

 My trip to Vero Beach turned out much different from what I had expected. It also has caused me a number of sleepless nights. Seeing the pain in the Elliott’s faces was a haunting experience. As soon as I got home, I called both of my daughters and told them how much I loved them.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.

  • Beesbells

    I too have had sleepless nights since I met you. My one question I wanted to ask and just wasnt prepared was have you set up some kind of trust to help the study of serial killers. And if your not expecting to make such a large profit on this book why did you already sign a deal with NBC for movie rights? I was told of my meeting with you an hour before I met you so was totally unprepared. Another thing I want to point out is that the Elliots are two of the nicest people and I am a good, loving, christian woman and do not have hatred in my heart. I question your thoughts on why such a book should be published and how it will help our society in any manner but I pray that you have done the right thing. Sleep and don’t worry, we are all survivors. God Bless you

    • Angel’s Stepmother

      Thank you, Bee.

  • Abbychapman

    I have read a few of your books and find them all very intriguing, and I’m excited to read your newest release as well.  That being said, it’s easy to read these books with a degree of separation, forgetting that people actually experienced the effects of the tragedies that often accompany your topics.  Thank you for the reminder that your books are not just interesting reads, but often peoples’ lives…it’s tragic that families suffer so deeply, and I think I will go call my little sister right now to tell her how much I love her.

    • Angel’s Stepmother

      Angel LaVallee was a beautiful teenage girl who was dealing with the break up of her parents’ marriage. She was chunkie, and worried about her image. She met Barbie, who was bubbly, cute, and outgoing. They clicked, and Angel began to feel as if she belonged to her new group of friends. One fatal day, she and Barbie decided to skip school and hitchhike to the beach. They were picked up by David Gore and Fred Waterfield. Since that time she is remembered as a victim of a serial killer.
      Because of those two, we never got to see her fall in love, get married, give birth to our grandchildren, find herself in a career, or mourn the death of the father who adored her. Yes, she was a person, not a statistic, and so much more than a victim.
      Her name is now within the public domain. Details of her murder are written about, and she lives on because of this. Her father’s last words to me were “don’t let Angel be forgotten.”
      Remember her as we do.

      • Tomelliottus

        God bless you…  All of our families need to unite at this time for this fight.  It’s time for all the victims of Gore and Waterfield to have justice.  Only we can do that for them. 

        Tom Elliott  

  • Rnizanzchk

    Have some class and compassion and give your NBC $$ to NAMI.  Profit off of someone else’s pain rather than that of these grieving family members.