The Devil Tree – Florida’s First Serial Killer & The Hauntings He Left

Posted on October 21, 2020

Photo of Gerard John Schaefer

Found in Port St. Lucie, the Devil Tree is a big oak in a county park on canal C-24. A mighty oak, an ordinary tree, nothing to write home about…except the fact that thing might as well growl and snatch up little old ladies and unsuspecting kids and gobble them up like a throwback from a Grimm Fairy tale. The Devil Tree has an evil, macabre, and incredibly blood-soaked reputation; one that’s entwined with Florida history and its amazing capacity to attract the worse of the worse humanity has to offer. 

Today we’re going to discuss the Devil Tree, its hauntings, it’s lore, and, more importantly, the hellspawn that created it. 

Location in St. Lucie County and the state of Florida
Location in St. Lucie County and the state of Florida. Source: Wikimedia

Florida’s First Serial Killer

The story of the Devil Tree begins on January 8, 1971, way before Hammock Park – where the mighty oak now stands – was created. The tale begins in a most bloody and shocking manner when a serial killer sexually attacks and mutilates two teenage girls. The monster, after having his fill with the two girls, hangs them from the oak tree. He then buries the two victims in a shallow grave underneath the tree… only to return numerous times later to have his way with the decomposing bodies. 

The man’s name: Gerard John Schaefer. 

“The homicidal Broward County, Florida, ex-policeman, though convicted in 1973 of only two mutilation murders, is believed to be responsible for at least thirty more killings. A sadistic sex-beast by nature, Schaefer would lure young women off the roads with the help of his badge to rape, torture, mutilate and murder.”

To say Schaefer was a tormented soul would be an oversimplification. The man was a monster, the sort whose very presence makes Anti – Death Sentence zealots re-thing their stance. Schaefer began experimenting with bondage and sadomasochism at around age 12. The man would inform his state psychiatrist that he loved to tie himself up to trees and get sexually excited by the lack of freedom. Schaefer would hurt and pleasure himself thinking about assaulting women from a very early age. 

Schaefer’s earliest childhood memories were that he desired to be a lady… mainly because his sis’ was favored by his alcoholic, verbally abusive father.

By the age of 14, Schaefer had a sweetheart named Cindy. Their relationship was sordid and strange. He would make her take part in role-play fantasies; fantasies that revolved around raping scenarios.  

Photo of Gerard John Schaefer
Photo of Gerard John Schaefer. Source: Wikimedia

 

In 1966, the man tried to enter the priesthood; he was rejected because he “lacked faith”. By now, Gerard Schaefer was a ticking time-bomb. That same year, enranged, faithless, and going down a black hole the bomb exploded. By now, Gerard had graduated to animal cruelty. 

Gerard was so angry that he just quit the Catholic religion and allowed his inner demons to run amok in his cerebellum. The bomb went kaboom and Gerard decided to start his true calling… he became a professional serial killer.

Everything came to a head on that faithful year, 1966. On October 2, 1966, Nancy Leichner age 20, and Pamela Nater age 21 were having fun with their boyfriends in Alexander Springs Park in the Ocala National Forest. While the boys dove and played in the lake, the girls went out for a stroll… Their bodies turned up – molested and choked – a couple of hours after their boyfriends called in the cops and a manhunt ensued. They were Gerard’s first victim and he had gotten away with the deed and no-one even looked at him funny… he wasn’t even a suspect.

Schaefer turned to law enforcement as a profession, graduating as a patrolman at the end of 1971 at age 25.

The Spree Continues

Schaefer was convicted of only two murders, we’ll get to those, but investigators would later uncover a slew of possible victims and missing person reports that were most likely part of Gerard’s handiwork. In prison, Gerard boasted of killing more than 30 girls and women.

The man who became a Sherif’s deputy Martin CountyFlorida, would prowl the streets and byways of the state using his badge to attract his victims. He was a charming and oftentimes gregarious person and his demeanor worked for his advantage. 

Arrest 

On July 21, 1972, Schaefer plucked up from the streets two teenage girls named Nancy Trotter and Paula Sue Wells; both were hitchhiking. The next day, he kidnaped them, took them to a remote woodland, and tied them to trees where he threatened to kill them or sell them into prostitution. He was about to get rid of the girls when his radio screeched and he was called away to a police emergency. He left both girls tied up and promised to return. Miraculously they managed to wiggle out of their bonds. That called saved their lives.

Nancy Trotter reenacts her binding and restraint by Schaefer for a Martin County police photographe
Nancy Trotter reenacts her binding and restraint by Schaefer for a Martin County police photographer. Source: Wikimedia

 

The girls, who were aged 17 and 18, escaped their ropes and ran to the nearest police station; ironically their kidnapper’s own station. When Schaefer returned to the groves and discovered that his would-be victims had vanished, he called his station and insisted that he had done “something foolish”. He went on a longwinded explanation… telling the Sheriff that he had simply pretended to kidnap the two girls in order to “scare them silly.” Schaefer’s boss didn’t buy it. Gerard was stripped of his badge and slapped with a battery of charges. 

Somehow, in spite of everything, Schaefer managed to post his bail and was released from prison. Two months later, on September 27, 1972, Schaefer abducted, tortured, and butchered Susan Place, aged 17, and Georgia Jessup, 16. He buried their corpse right underneath the now-famous Devil Tree in Oak Hammock Park in Port Saint Lucie, Florida.

Months later, after Schaefer had beaten the rap for kidnapping Nancy and Paula, a couple of hikers came upon the decomposing and mutilated remains of Place and Jessup. The autopsy revealed that both girls had been tied to a tree at some point, and further investigation turned up documented eye-witness account that the girls were known, hitchhikers. There were too many similarities; a warrant was issued for Schaefer’s house. 

In Schaefer’s boudoir, the policemen recovered violent stories he had written that were full of accounts of the torture, rape, and murder of women, whom he routinely referred to as “w****s” and “s***s”. A diary of all his victims. Even more damningly, the experts found personal possessions such as jewelry, diaries, and in one case, teeth from at least eight young women and girls who had gone missing in recent years. 

Schaefer was charged with the deaths of Place and Jessup. In October 1973, he was pronounced guilty and given two life sentences. Officials soon declared that he was linked to around 30 missing women and girls.

On December 3, 1995, Schaefer was found knifed to death in his cell. Fellow inmate Vincent Rivera was sentenced in 1999 of stabbing Schaefer and had 53 years and ten months added to the life-plus-twenty years’ sentence he was already serving for double murder. 

“I am probably at least one of the top SKs serial killers of this century,” I am certainly one of the most interesting and maybe the most articulate and introspective. I am no doubt the most skillful killer….I killed women in all ways from shooting, strangling, stabbing, and beheading to odd ways such as drowning, smothering and crucifixion.”

Gerard John Schaefer

The Tale of The Devil Tree

How many women were tied and killed on the Devil Tree is still up for debate, nonetheless many believe that the Devil’s Tree is permeated with the darkness that Gerard John Schaefer freed into the world. It is a skin-crawling locale full of nasty things and supernatural events.

  • Satanists heard about the killings and chose the Devil’s Tree as a new sacrificial site and meeting place. 
  • More than 4 women and counting have been found in the nearby area. Many showing signs of having been tied or chained to a tree and violently abused. 
  • There are countless reports of hikers hearing odd sounds and singing through the pines and oaks. 
  • Hooded figures are known to prowl the area. Sightings of these strange hooded figures have only swelled during the years.
  • The trails have become ominous and, in many cases, vegetation has even ceased to grow in certain patches. 
  • Authorities have made various arrests in the area, particularly of Klu Klux Klan members, and other white supremacist groups.
  • The area is filled with ghost sightings. Many believe that the spirit of the victims of Gerard haunt the forest.  
  • Folks how have taken a piece of the tree, say a branch or bark, oftentimes come to some sort of misfortune immediately afterward. 
  •  It’s been described that the screams of young women can sometimes be heard emanating from the nearby bathrooms.

For more lurid tales, visit our blog. 

Featured Image Source: wikimedia

 

Source:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_John_Schaefer

https://www.history101.com/the-devils-tree-florida/

https://www.miamighostchronicles.com/the-devil-tree.html