Unknown Clarence Eric Dawson Killer- Florida- 1988 Nov 24, 2018 1:44:22 GMT -5
Post by Scumhunter on Nov 24, 2018 1:44:22 GMT -5
(Above photo credit: news-press.com)
From The News-Press (news-press.com):
Time hasn't been an ally in solving the 30-year-old murder of Lee County real estate developer Clarence Eric Dawson.
He disappeared Sept. 9, 1988, after he left his Whiskey Creek home in south Fort Myers to meet with a potential investor and to check on a lot he owned off Corkscrew Road in Estero, where he planned to build a Christian residential community called Familyland.
Dawson was never seen alive again. He left behind a wife and three children.
He also left behind a string of lawsuits alleging he’d bilked investors out of millions of dollars; one was brought by two elderly sisters who claimed he’d drained their $1 million trust fund.
The Lee County of 30 years ago was about to gain national prominence as one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country, with a population of about 307,000, less than half the current number. The area was still more rural then urban, with two-lane roads the norm and more properties filled with palm trees and palmettos than cement parking lots.
But development was starting to percolate, and people like Dawson were capitalizing on the region’s land rush.
The Familyland project was just one of Dawson's. He had the Bac-Bay Health and Racquet Club condo development on Fort Myers Beach and a residential development on Winkler Road near HealthPark in south Fort Myers.
Hunters found body
It was in the wooded property he owned off Corkscrew, about four miles east of Interstate 75, and two months after Dawson disappeared that hunters found his body in a shallow grave entombed in concrete. Dawson had a .22-caliber bullet wound to the back of his head.
No arrests were ever made. No murder weapon was ever recovered. But there was no end to the rumors.
Authorities focused on a business partner accused of fraud. That partner, Phillip Hawley, a Fort Myers businessman who's family owned the Credit Bureau of Fort Myers and the Credit Bureau of Southwest Florida, later suggested that Dawson had ties to the Detroit mob.
The Detroit link came because that's where the family was from originally, said Dawson's youngest son Jason Dawson, now 41.
"Dad was lured down here by two things," he said. "Golf — he was a semi-professional — and real estate."
Committed to the case
Dawson's son remains committed to finding the killer and hopes renewed publicity can shake loose some threads that might lead to solving the crime.
Because there is no statute of limitations on first-degree murder in Florida, anything new that comes to light could lead investigators to a suspect and charges.
Another thing pushing Jason Dawson to keep talking about the case is the hope that resolution could come for his mother Susan, now 70.
"They thought it was foolproof," he said of those who planned his father's death. So far, it has been.
He has grown frustrated, he said, by the lack of progress. Eventually, he said, his overtures to the Lee County Sheriff's Office were rebuffed.
The case remains active according to the sheriff's office, but officials declined to comment on evidence or details. They only provided the original missing persons report filed by Dawson's wife.
A mob hit?
The unsolved murder still baffles its lead investigator Thomas Kontinos. A long-time member of the sheriff's office, he retired in 2005 and owns a private investigation and employment screening service in Cape Coral. He said he was never able to find any connection between Dawson and organized crime.
"We always heard that," Kontinos said of a possible mob hit. "Once we attached the gravesite to Eric Dawson's missing person's report it became very clear to me and other investigators that whomever was responsible for Eric's death was very organized. They intended for this body to never be found."
Mob hits, the ex-detective said, are usually done to send a message or kill someone to make them disappear.
"In that sense, it had all the trademarks of a mob hit," he said. Despite that thinking, Kontinos said, none of the investigation's leads ever went there.
"It was a hard case because a lot of people didn't have sympathy for Eric," Kontinos said
Much of that lack of sympathy stemmed from Dawson's financial problems.
Lawsuits filed, money owed
A story in The News-Press in November 1988, days after his body was found, detailed a number of lawsuits filed against him for money owed, including one case where two sisters, residents at Shell Point Village in south Fort Myers, claimed they lost a $1 million trust fund to Dawson.
"During the time he was missing, there were at least 10 active lawsuits in Lee County against Dawson, all filed (in 1988), including five that were filed roughly the last month he was alive," a Nov. 30, 1988, story in The News-Press, said.
Summonses were issued for Dawson on Sept. 7 and 8, 1988, days before he vanished.
The Sept. 7 summons from Fortune Savings Bank claimed Dawson had defaulted on a $58,330 mortgage for a unit at the River Towers Condominium. The Sept. 8 summons came from Naples Federal Bank, which filed a foreclosure suit on the developer's Fort Myers Beach property — Bac-Bay — claiming it had not received $519,000 due on a loan secured by the property.
Jason Dawson said he can't speak to the legalities of his dad's activities, he was just 11.
"I was just a kid, what did I know," he said.
As a last-ditch effort to keep some of those projects afloat, Dawson entered into a stock deal with the Hawleys.
The Hawley connection would be one that investigators would follow after Dawson vanished.
According to Kontinos, in the days before Dawson's disappearance, his new business partner Hawley took control of the developer's major assets — including 71 acres off Winkler Road.
Further investigation revealed Hawley forged Dawson's signature on the deed, stealing the $2.4 million property. Kontinos and James Fitzpatrick, who was with the state attorney's office, aligned some of the signed papers with Dawson's original signature: they were a perfect match.
During the 1991 trial an FBI handwriting expert and a private document analyst testified that Dawson's signature on the deed was an photocopy of an original Dawson signature found on a document that one of Hawley's sons had turned over to investigators.
Hawley and his sons, Danny, David and Paul, were convicted of forgery and other fraud charges in January 1992.
Two of those involved in prosecuting and investigating the case, Fitzpatrick and Dwight Brock, the prosecutor, have since died. The judge who oversaw the case, Elmer Friday, is also dead.
"There was absolutely nothing to connect them to the homicide," Brock said in a 2013 News-Press story about the case. "Nothing."
No murder weapon
Investigators never found a murder weapon, said Brock, who eventually was elected Collier County clerk of court. But that doesn't mean speculation surrounding the Hawleys evaporated.
"It did seem just a little bit strange that on the day of (Dawson's) disappearance," Brock said in the 2013 story, "all of these deeds of transfer got recorded in the official records through the Hawleys with regard to his property."
What’s more, the Hawleys' sentencing for fraud was more than a little bit strange, Brock said — it was illegal, because the judge failed to submit a written reason for departing from the sentencing guidelines, which the rules required.
Phillip Hawley was convicted of more than a dozen charges and faced a maximum prison sentence of 30 years. State sentencing guidelines called for 2.5 to 5.5 years. What he received was 120 days in jail, 20 years' probation and community service — the judge said Hawley had an upstanding reputation. The court lifted Hawley's probation in 2004.
Brock said because the sentencing was illegal, it should have been overturned.
The Hawley sons escaped jail time altogether.
Phillip Hawley, who’s now 77 and still living in Fort Myers, maintained his innocence in a recent phone interview.
What truly happened is a mystery, he said.
"I couldn't figure it out," he said. "If I could have I wouldn't have had to go through what we did."
"Was I framed?" he asked. "Yes. We hadn't done anything but invest in the company. Because of that they connected us."
Hawley, who has said that he and Dawson were on good terms before the developer's disappearance, has his own theory about Dawson's murder.
"He had connections in Michigan," Hawley said. "I only have rumors, nothing solid, that he was involved in some shady dealings."
Those shady dealings, Hawley said, involved Dawson's activities as an investment broker. Hawley alleged Dawson used money from suspicious sources — possibly the mob he intimated — and then did not pay them back.
"Thousands and thousands of dollars," Hawley said.
Additionally, Hawley claimed Dawson had his license to sell securities in Michigan permanently revoked.
"Someone had to be pushing pretty hard," Hawley said, to have that license permanently taken away.
Just a month after Dawson vanished the National Association of Securities Dealers fined him $30,000 and barred him from its organization for violating its rules. The NASD also said Dawson had consented to the sanctions without admitting guilt to any impropriety.
A News-Press reporter, Kontinos and Jason Dawson recently tried to locate where the body was found but ended up with an impromptu meeting with David Hawley. He maintains a home off Corkscrew Road not far from where Dawson was found.
David Hawley said he knew the general area of where Dawson was found because he had been taken to the site in the days after it was discovered.
The former bodybuilder, who still retains vestiges of his toned physique, said the Hawley family was good.
"Things are going well," he said.
He expressed his condolences to Jason Dawson and wished his mother and siblings well. "I've wanted to talk to him for 30 years," David Hawley said.
Carefully planned murder
What frustrates former detective Kontinos is that nobody ever surfaced to provide evidence.
"I always thought someone would come forward who was in that circle at the time," he said.
The murder, which Kontinos said was carefully planned and carried out, might have stayed undiscovered had not normal decomposition intervened.
"They did a good job in committing this murder," he said. "They were smart to do it in the rainy season."
Dawson's body was placed in a shallow grave and then dry premixed concrete was poured on top. The area's regular rains mixed with the powdery concrete to form a hardened seal.
However, Kontinos said, the perpetrators likely didn't realize that, especially in Southwest Florida's subtropical climate, as a body decomposes it releases gases and fluids.
Those substances caused the concrete to fracture and allowed wild hogs to uncover and feed on portions of the body.
And that led to the hog hunter's grisly discovery.
In the two months before his body was found, there were rumors that he left town or fled to the Caribbean.
His wife reported him missing days after he vanished and his car was found parked at the old regional airport.
Kontinos said that Dawson was known to keep a messy car, with fast food bags and hamburger wrappers strewn about.
"The car was clean," Kontinos said, suggesting that it was gone over and wiped down before being parked there.
But Kontinos said investigative techniques such as DNA testing that didn't exist 30 years ago might help find evidence from such things as the broken-up concrete.
"Someone may have cut themselves, dropped some blood or a hair into the mix," he said. "I'd like to think they saved it."
If the sheriff's office even still has evidence Kontinos thinks might help crack the case, it’s not saying. The office declined to comment.
For Jason Dawson, the loss of his father still stings.
"There are times I wished my father was around," he said.
Those times were brutal for him.
There were whispers, askance looks and outright hostility.
Some parents of friends would ask — "are you Eric Dawson's son?" — and upon hearing the affirmative response would tell him that he could not play with their children.
"I thought, 'really? I'm just trying to play basketball'."
His father's death also put him in a tailspin of acting out for many years.
"I felt a lot of anger. Why did this happen to my family?" he said. "I acted out in school. I put my mother through hell."
Jason Dawson holds out hope that something or somebody will surface to help solve his father's murder.
"I will always have hope that the case will be solved," he said. "Nobody has reached out to me. I'm surprised."
For comfort he points to the case of Freddie Farah, the father of a Jacksonville friend.
"He helped solve his father's murder, 43 years later," he said.
The murder of his father changed Jason Dawson's family's dynamic as well.
"My brother had to step up, at 19, and be the man of the family," Jason Dawson said. "He went to work."
His brother, who had a scholarship to play basketball at a small southern college, gave that up to help support the family. Today he is a successful insurance adjuster in Sarasota.
A year after the murder Dawson's wife Susan had to go back to work, Jason Dawson said, to help support the family. That was necessitated, he said, by the insurance company holding up the policy payout on his dad due to the violent nature of his death.
Susan Dawson moved to Jacksonville in 1998 and rarely visits here. "It makes her anxious," her son said, with the potential to cross paths with those involved in the case or former friends and acquaintances.
Jason Dawson also moved to Jacksonville in 1998, returning to Fort Myers in 2002. He moved back to Jacksonville from 2004 to 2008, returning to Southwest Florida in 2008.
He remains close to his mother and brother, not so much with his sister, Jason Dawson said. They have not spoken since 2007, in part due to their father's death.
"The things that transpired from my father's demise have affected my family for the last 30 years," he said.
Keeping his father's murder case alive and possibly solving it, Jason Dawson believes, is the only chance at making his family whole again.
Continued interest in the case, Kontinos said, could eventually end up bringing something to light or a connection made.
"I'm not confident it will be solved forensically," he said. "I think it will be a human source. A relative, ex-wife, ex-girlfriend, somebody who overheard something. So, I think the case will be solved with that type of information as opposed to some forensic evidence that, you know, is still sitting in the evidence room."
Submit a tip
“Despite the time that has passed, it's never too late to come forward with information on a cold case," Trish Routte, coordinator for Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers, said. "All detectives need is that one new lead to be able to take the investigation into a new direction. If someone has had information about this murder weighing on their conscience for the last three decades, now is the time to say something.”
Anyone with information regarding the murder of C. Eric Dawson is asked to call the Lee County Sheriff's Office at 477-1000. Or, to remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000, call Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS (8477).
Tips may also be made online at www.swflcrimestoppers.org/ via text to CRIMES (274637) Keyword: REWARD or through the TipSubmit app on any Smart phone.
Thoughts? I want to point out that whatever Eric Dawson was or wasn't involved in, there is never an excuse that justifies murder. Since all human beings have flaws, there is no such thing as the perfect victim. As we can see from the article, Dawson still had a son and family that loved him and still deserve justice.
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