It’s Squib Saturday. Time to share the best, most interesting (or most entertaining, or most outrageous) tidbit of information I’ve gleaned from all the stuff I’ve read –or done– this week: Local Paper Celebrates 20 Homicide-Free Years in Palm Beach
People are always getting bumped off in Palm Beach, the exclusive, upscale island playground of the rich, beautiful and famous on South Florida’s Atlantic Coast. But only in novels and movies. For my first thriller, Scandal, I chose the North End of the island as the scene for the murder of a TV talk show host while she was swimming in her oceanfront pool. Better-selling authors like James Patterson, Lawrence Sanders, Stuart Woods, and Lawrence Block as well as local authors with the Palm Beach Writers Group, like Erik Brown, have also set murder mysteries on the ultra-rich island.
In real life, however, the 5 square-mile island of Palm Beach is virtually crime-free. Where else could you have a front page headline in the local paper proclaiming: “Last island homicide occurred two decades ago.” Even then, the Palm Beach Daily News, known locally as the Shiny Sheet, got it wrong: The last homicide occurred more than 20 years ago in June 1996 when wealthy widow, Geraldine Pucillo was found strangled in the shower of her home on Seaspray Avenue.
Indeed, homicides are so rare here that the Shiny Sheet had to admit missing the milestone the previous summer. Instead, it wasn’t till this week that it ran the story of how a handprint in the shower led the cops to a 32-year old pest control worker who had entered Mrs. Pucillo’s home with the intention of robbing her. Approximately, $16,000 worth of jewelry was taken from her home by the killer who is currently serving a life sentence in a Florida penitentiary.
In a wrap-up, the Shiny Sheet stated that just 11 murders have occurred in Palm Beach since the island was incorporated as a town 106 years ago. Those 11 murders include the murder of a policeman, two murder-suicides, three domestic slayings, and a lynching.
Turns out however that low-crime statistics sometimes lull the residents into a false sense of security. A friend who has a home on the island has told me stories about neighbors who routinely left their Bentley unlocked in their driveway — with the car keys in the car. Eventually, the Bentley was stolen, though later recovered in Miami. Another neighbor left all her doors unlocked — until the morning when she came downstairs to find a stranger in his shorts sleeping soundly on the living room couch. Fortunately, it turned out the stranger had mistaken the house for a friend’s house. He dropped by the following day with profuse apologies — and an orchid.
Occasionally, therefore, the Palm Beach Police Department has to remind residents to be on their guard against crimes of opportunity. Philip Salm, the Department’s Public Information Officer told me that because many of the residents are older they are “soft” targets for thieves who walk down streets and look for unlocked cars with a purse or laptop or other valuables in the car. Hence, last season, the Shiny Sheet ran a public service announcement warning residents to lock their cars.
This season, a big sign on one of the three bridges from West Palm Beach onto the island warns residents to Beware of Distraction Theft where scammers work in pairs and pose as utility or maintenance workers. When one of the scammers distracts an owner who answers the door with information about a leak or flooding on the property, the other scammer enters the house and robs it.
Me? I don’t worry about any of those warnings. I live in West Palm Beach — one-quarter of a mile across the bridge — where the homicide rate for 2016 was 10 homicides, one less than the grand total for 106 years in Palm Beach — but 13 less than for the previous year, 2015.