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

Gettis and Merrill Lee disappeared from their Parrish home on March 7, 1957.

Gettis Lee was well known in Parrish at the time of his disappearance.Gettis Lee was the flamboyant owner of a Parrish grocery store, a wealthy citrus grower and rancher. He was known as the unofficial "mayor" of Parrish, who helped widows and the poor.

He flaunted his wealth by peeling off bills from a large wad of cash that he always carried. It was not unusual for him to carry $2,000 or more, at a time when a working wage might be $100 a week. There were allegations that Gettis, 63, was a womanizer as well. 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.

Merrill Lee was his opposite.

She was reclusive, kindly, and mostly stayed at home, out of the public eye.

Thirty-six hours after the couple was reported missing, Merrill Lee's body was found. The 60-year-old woman had been viciously beaten, her body slashed with a sharp instrument, and she had been shot four times. Her body was discovered face down a in canal off Erie Road, less than a mile from home. She was fully dressed in a blouse, skirt and low-heeled canvas shoes.

Then the question became: "Where is Gettis Lee?"

Law enforcement and towns people searched the area intensively. People held hands as they scoured a field east of U.S. 301 and south of State Road 62.

For the next six years, investigators and neighbors would ask that same question: "Where is Gettis Lee?"

Then on May 11, 1963, two men on their way home from work shot a large rattlesnake on State Road 62 and followed the wounded reptile into the brush.

They stumbled upon a skeleton. The bones were scattered and the skull contained a bullet hole. It was in the same field where townspeople had searched shoulder-to-shoulder six years earlier.

Investigators later confirmed that the remains of Gettis Lee had been found. The angle of the bullet wound perfectly matched a bullet hole in his hat, which was found in his car parked at Groover's Grocery in Palmetto years earlier.

At the scene where his skeleton was found, investigators also found his wallet, his gold watch, his shoes and his dentures.

The violence of the crime shocked the Parrish community, which at the time had only about 600 residents.

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.

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

JoAnn Rogers lived just a few doors from Merrill and Gettis, and her baby son was only about 6 months old at the time of the murders. "Merrill didn't bother anyone," Rogers said. "I doubt it will ever be solved. After that night, everybody locked their doors."

The last time anyone saw Gettis Lee alive was the night before, when he bought three chicken dinners and went to his mistress' home in Bradenton, according to newspaper archives.

Some people claimed Gettis Lee ran afoul of Tampa bolita-gambling interests, and that a professional assassin did him in. 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, according 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.

Memories fade, and many Parrish residents who knew Gettis and Merrill are long dead.

Even Gettis and Merrill Lee's home on 121st Avenue East is now gone. Built in the 1930s by Gettis Lee, the house was destroyed by fire in 2008.

The homestead is now a vacant lot.

With few people left living who worked on the Gettis and Merrill Lee murder case and a lack of new evidence or leads, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office has lost hope that this cold case will ever be solved.

Despite poor recordkeeping when Gettis and Merrill first went missing in 1957, the case's file still contains 2,425 pages of reports that have accumulated over the years.

Although the sheriff's office no longer has a cold-case unit, detectives with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office Homicides Investigative Unit do review cold cases from time to time.

The last time anyone officially did any work with the case was in 2012, when some property and evidence were sealed.

The case, however, has been one that has remained an intriguing mystery, still drawing attention and prompting media to ask questions every few years.

Roy Baden, who was Manatee County sheriff in 1957, told a reporter in 1993 what he thought had happened:

As soon as Lee arrived home on March 7, 1957, he was killed, Baden told the reporter.

"He was shot right there at his house. (Merrill) probably heard it, jumped up and came outside," Baden said, according to news archives.

The killer, or killers, forced Merrill into a car, drove her out to Erie Road and shot her to death, Baden said.

Baden, who died at age 88 in 1995, also said he had an idea about who committed the crime, but didn't have enough evidence to make an arrest.

And neither has anyone else, including investigators for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI.

To date, nobody has ever been arrested in the case.


Some online information gathered from Bradenton Herald & Manatee Herald Tribune


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.


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