Parrish Florida History

Some Parrish Florida History

Local accounts of how Parrish got its name differ. What is known is that Maj. William Iredell Turner, a Civil War veteran, became the owner of the Oak Hill plantation, the forerunner of Parrish, in 1865. He moved to the area now known as Bradenton and sold the land to Crawford Parrish, a cattle rancher who moved to the area, in 1868. His son, John Parrish, donated land for a train depot. At his request, the train depot at the village was renamed after his father, Crawford Parrish, and became known as the Parrish stop. Other accounts say the village changed its name when the first post office opened as there already was an Oak Hill in Florida.

One of the better known settlers in Manatee County was William B. Hooker who came in 1850. He was a cattleman and planter and established his homestead "The Oak Hill Plantation" which is the site of today's Parrish. He and a partner raised Sea Island cotton. At that time, the Seminole raids were still happening; families were settling at Branch Fort or Camp Manatee. A base camp was formed by twenty-five frontiersmen and it was called Fort Hamer which was considered to be located on the grounds of Hooker's Plantation. The home was eventually burned by the Seminole Indians.

A dwindling number of people in the northeastern Manatee County community of Parrish can draw their bloodlines back so far they can tie them to the area's early settlers. Louise Parrish Styron was one of those people. Styron, 95, who died in 1996, had longtime ties to Parrish. She was touted as the oldest living Manatee County native in her death notice. Parrish was named after her grandparents, who were Florida pioneers. Her uncle, Crawford P. Parrish, built the first school and the first church in Parrish. She aided in the recording of the county's history and was an educator. In 1989 and 1990, she contributed to a history called "Parrish: The Early Years." She and fellow Parrish Historical Society members Flora McGuire and Betty Youngblood researched almost every aspect of Parrish's past.

The community dates to the 1870s, when Crawford Parrish bought land in the area from William Iredell Turner. The Parrish family raised cattle and sheep. Eventually other families started ranches nearby. A small business district - including a general store, blacksmith's shop and railroad depot - sprang up. Styron loved to tell old-time stories and had a keen wit. Styron was born Dec. 22, 1902. After graduating from college in Lakeland, she taught second and third grades at the elementary school in Parrish for nine years, then taught elementary school for 17 years in Bradenton. She is buried at Manasota Memorial Park.

Crawford Parrish, founder of Parrish Florida

Crawford Parrish, 1811-1899

Crawford Parrish, left North Florida for Manatee County in 1869, 14 years after the county was created from a southern section of Hillsborough County. Along with his wife, Mary, bought much of the land owned by Turner in 1868. The family kept cattle and planted citrus groves. The community named its first post office after him.

Maj. William Iredell Turner

Maj. William Iredell Turner, 1812-1881

Fought in Seminole Wars as 1st Sergeant of Company B, 4th U.S. Artillery. Later served in 8th Florida Infantry during the Civil War. Owned the Oak Hill plantation that later became Parrish.


Manatee County 1888

A map of Manatee County from 1888

Parrish Murder

In the 1950s, everyone in the Parrish community knew Gettis Lee.

Gettis Lee was well known in Parrish at the time of his disappearance.The short, stocky citrus farmer owned and ran one of Parrish's main grocery stores for 30 years. Although he adored his sickly wife, Merrill Lee, his regular out-of-town dates with young women made him the subject of much local gossip.

The owner of a general store in Parrish and some citrus property, Gettis Lee was 63 when he was murdered

Lee's neighbors knew him as a man of habit. They joked that they could set their clock by the rumble of his truck as he left home at 6 a.m. to open his store.

But on Friday, March 8, 1957, Lee never arrived at the store. Neighbors discovered that neither Lee nor his wife were at home, and his truck was missing.

The next morning, the body of 60-year-old Merrill Lee was found face-down in a ditch on Erie Road. Her face had been beaten, and she had been shot four times at close range.

Police were convinced that Gettis Lee was killed as well. And six years later, they confirmed that when Gettis Lee's skeleton was found in some brush along Spencer-Parrish Road. He had been shot in the head.

Now, 50 years later, the murders are unsolved. But their impact -- a shattered sense of small-town security -- lingered for years in the farming community where crime rarely rose above bar fights, illegal gambling and a little moonshine-making.

For a while after the murders, locked doors and windows became the norm.

"Everybody was in shock," remembered JoAnn Rogers, Lee's neighbor. "They couldn't believe that something like that happened here."

Officially, the case is still open. Five thick files filled with notes from witness interviews, forensic reports and the results of polygraph tests remain in the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and are being looked at by a cold-case unit.

But with many witnesses and suspects long dead, investigators admit their chances of solving the case are slim.

"The likelihood of closing this case with an arrest is very small," said Sgt. Pete Rampone, who is currently reviewing the case notes. "The evidence can only tell you so much. Sometimes things just run cold and leads run out."

The Lees, considered wealthy, lived in a one-story house in Parrish on 121st Avenue East. They had no children.

While Lee ran the store and dated other women, Merrill Lee kept to herself, cleaned and cooked, and tended the garden.

"All of her neighbors were very kind to her because everybody knew what he did," Rogers said.

Almost as soon as Merrill Lee's body was found, locals began speculating about who was behind the murders.

The most common theory was that Lee was killed because of his involvement with bolita, a Cuban gambling racket.

Run by crime syndicates, the lottery-like game had spread from Cuba to Ybor City in the 1880s. Gamblers could buy tickets from grocery stores, newspaper delivery men and even some taxi drivers.

Longtime resident Lamar Parrish, who did business with Lee, said he never saw Lee sell bolita tickets. But other residents remember Lee selling tickets, which meant he would have had to give a cut to the game organizers.

Lee's habit of dating other women also led to talk that he and his wife were the victims of a jealous husband.

But Parrish said the storekeeper was careful to be discreet about his liaisons.

"He had extra girls that he went around with, but he never did it around Parrish," he said.

Another rumor connected Lee to a large-scale moonshine operation.

Rural Manatee was an ideal hiding place for a number of illegal stills. The large amounts of sugar and corn in Lee's store would have made him an attractive ally for moonshiners.

Police investigated all these angles and dozens of tips they received on the case, acording to news reports of the time. Suspects from as far as Miami were questioned and, in some cases, given polygraph tests.

But all the leads and interviews led to dead ends; no arrest was made.

Today, the murders are thought to be the oldest unsolved case being looked at by the cold-case unit, a two-man team in the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

The work may seem futile, but new investigative techniques such as DNA testing can wring fresh information from old evidence, Rampone said.

"Back in those days, evidence was more what people said than what was collected from scenes," Rampone said.

"There's a possibility that physical evidence might have been overlooked. That's one of the things we're going to look at in all the old cases."


Missing from Parrish

Kay Hine disappeared in 1972 from her home in Parrish

Kay Hine went missing and is presumed by her children and many others to have been murderedKathaleen (Kay) Elizabeth Folk Hine b. 1920 was originally from Ohio and was the 3rd wife of Gilbert Charles Hine b. 1918. They married in Jesup, GA in May 17, 1959 while he was in the Navy. He was a Chief Warrant Officer and stationed at Charleston, SC. His wife, "Kathleen E Sessor", was from Warsaw, Ohio. They resided in N Charleston, SC until he retired in Jan 1960, when they moved to Florida.

They lived on the H Double Bar Ranch in Parrish, FL and had foster children for many years. Kay also had children from previous marriages.

In Jan 1972, the Manatee County Sheriff's Department received a report that Kay Hine was suddenly missing and has never been located.

This is from the information posted on the Manatee Sheriff's Office website under Missing Persons:
"Missing : Kathaleen Elizabeth Hine AKA "Kay".
Sex: Female, Race: White, DOB: August 29th, 1920, Height: 5' 3", Weight: 125, Hair: Brown, Eyes: Brown.

Other Physical (Scars, Marks, Tattoos): Deep small pox vaccination scar on her left upper arm and a vertical Cesarean Section scar on the abdomen

Missing Since: January 15, 1972

Last Seen: Husband allegedly dropped her off at Manatee County Fairgrounds.

Last Seen Wearing: Dark-colored sweater, light blue jeans, a plain gold wedding band and a watch with a black band/strap.

Remarks: Case # (1972) 140613, Foul Play Suspected: Yes
Possible Destination: Unknown

Details: Husband allegedly dropped her off at Manatee County Fairgrounds where she was a committee member, however, a witness/co-worker at the fair said she never arrived that morning. At the time of her disappearance, Mrs. Hine was 51 YOA, 5'3", 125#, brown hair & eyes, light complexion, and wore a size 4-5 shoe. She had a deep small pox vaccination scar on her left upper arm and a vertical Cesarean Section scar on the abdomen.

She wore prescription glasses and wore wigs due to a medical condition. She was LSW a dark-colored sweater, light blue jeans, a plain gold wedding band and a watch with a black band/strap.

Hine is the mother of five children. She left behind dozens of pet animals, her purse, her glasses and medicine. Foul play is suspected.

Details of Disappearance (according to the internet):

Kathaleen's husband, Gilbert Charles Hine Sr., told police he last saw her at the Palmetto Agricultural Center at the Manatee County Fairgrounds in Palmetto, Florida. She was supposed to help out at the fair's poultry barn that day, but witnesses stated that they never saw Kathaleen at the fairgrounds. She has never been heard from again. Foul play is suspected in Kathaleen's disappearance. She left behind her eyeglasses, her medication, and her purse when she disappeared.

In about 1980, Gilbert was deeded some property that was held in both their names. The paperwork he submitted bore Kathaleen's signature, although she had been missing for years. In other papers filed later, Gilbert listed his wife as deceased.

One of Kathaleen's daughters claims she got a phone call from her mother on the day she disappeared. She says Kathaleen said she wanted to talk to her about something important, then she screamed, and after that the call was cut off. The Daughter drove immediately to Kathaleen's house in the 3200 block of north Rye Road in Parrish, Florida and found signs of a struggle there, including overturned furniture. Kathaleen was missing and so was her .38 Special revolver, but its holster was found lying on her bedroom floor.

Gilbert never reported Kathaleen missing. He told police that she had been having affairs with other men and probably ran away with one of them. Gilbert, who is now in his nineties and lives in Texas, eventually hired an attorney and stopped cooperating with police.

No one has ever been charged in this case, which is unsolved.