Ocala forest has tragic history of fatalities


Published: Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 9:27 p.m.
Over the years, other deaths have occurred in the Ocala National Forest, mostly accidental or from natural causes. In December, a 39-year-old man accidentally shot himself to death at a gun range in the forest while practicing a sport called "cowboy action shooting."
In the past year, three other park visitors died of natural causes while in the forest, said Heather Callahan, a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Forest Service's Tallahassee office, who recently has been working in the Ocala National Forest. Until this month, she said, no murders had occurred in the forest in the past five years.
In February 1994, two other college students were attacked while visiting the forest, and one was murdered.
John Edwards, a freshman at Florida State University, and his sister, Pam Edwards, a senior at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, were attacked by Loran K. Cole and William C. Paul after setting up camp at Hopkins Prairie. Edwards died after his throat was slashed and he was beaten in the head. His sister was beaten and raped, but survived. Cole and Paul were convicted of first-degree murder and other charges. Cole was given the death penalty and remains on Florida's Death Row. Paul is serving a life sentence at Apalachee Correctional Institution, West Unit, in Jackson County.
One of the most notorious slayings associated with the forest was of Troy Burress, a 50-year-old salesman from Ocala whose body was found in August 1990 by a family picnicking in the Ocala National Forest. He was one of seven victims of the Central Florida serial killer Aileen Wuornos.
A prostitute who preyed mostly on truck drivers who picked her up while she was hitchhiking, Wuornos was executed at age 46 by lethal injection in Florida State Prison on Oct. 9, 2002.
- Bob Arndorfer

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