Who killed Harry Higel?
Harry was born on the last day of 1867 in Philadelphia, to Frank and Adelaide Higel. In 1884, at age 17, he moved to Venice, Florida with his parents where he and his brothers helped his father start a canning business.
He moved to Sarasota in 1890 and became an entrepreneur/developer. He purchased the dock at the foot of Main Street that had been built by the (Scottish) Florida Mortgage and Investment Co. and had the first gasoline and kerosene tanks installed. Higel operated docked his boat, the Nemo here , and later he bought and operated the steamer Vandalia. He also purchased a large amount of property on the north end of Sarasota Key, which he renamed Siesta Key.
At the time of his barbarous death, he was 53 years old, Director of the Bank of Sarasota and the Seaboard Airline Railway. He had been Postmaster, City Commissioner, and elected Mayor of Sarasota three times.
Bert Luzier and his son Merle were loading and trucking shell on Siesta Key on that chilly day in 1921 when they found him lying in the middle of the road, unconscious, and so bloody that he was unrecognizable. He was moaning and making gurgling sounds. They loaded him in their truck and sped him to Dr. Jack Haltonís office at the foot of Main Street.
When Dr. Halton cleaned the injured person, he discovered the gold signet ring with the initials HH, proving that it was Harry Higel. The fact that the ring, a gold watch, and other valuables were still on the body established that the object of the crime was not robbery. Who committed this crime and why did he/she do it?
Dr. Halton rushed Higel to the hospital in Bradenton where he died shortly after his arrival.
Sheriff D. R. Brown was on the scene with men and bloodhounds within minutes of being notified, and they found no clues.
Several people reported that they had seen Rube Allyn in a nearby Palmetto thicket that day, and noting that Higel and Allyn had been quarreling heatedly ever since the 1915 election. Sheriff Brown went to Allynís house where he found what was purported to be a pair of blood-soaked rubber soled canvas shoes. The Sheriff, thinking that he remembered tracks on the scene that could have been made by the shoes, arrested Allyn and took him to Sarasotaís small jail. This, despite the fact that Allyn declared his innocence and said that he had just returned to Sarasota shortly before the crime was discovered.
A crowd gathered, which soon became a mob, and a rope with a noose was seen. The Sheriff and a few men spirited Allyn to the more secure jail in Bradenton.
After 61 days in jail, Rube Allyn appeared before the Grand Jury and the report on the shoes was read. No indication of blood was found. Since no evidence to indict was found, Allyn was freed.
The County Commission authorized a $1,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the evil doer. To date, no one has collected the reward.
Most of Sarasotaís residents, numbering in the hundreds, followed Higelís Funeral procession. The Antinelliís Band played a funeral dirge from City Hall, down Mango Avenue to the Rosemary Cemetery, where Harry Higel was buried.
Higel's Great Floridian plaque is located at the Harry L. Higel House, 3308 Higel Avenue in Sarasota.
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