For an island reporter, the story unfolded, but the mystery remained
Editor’s note: The Islander first published the following report in 1999. June Alder then worked as a copy editor for The Islander and also wrote a history column. The Islander edited this report for style, length and historical perspective.
By June Alder
From The Islander archive
You know how it is in the dog days of August. Not much to do. Putter around the yard in the morning. Have a nap after lunch. Watch the sunset after supper. Watch re-runs on TV with the air conditioner humming.
No, nothing much happens on the island in the summertime. It’s murder for a newspaper reporter trying to make a decent story out of notes from a boring city meeting.
But it wasn’t that way Aug. 1, 1980.
As I recall that Friday, I was the only reporter in The Islander newspaper office when someone yelled at me to pick up my phone. It was my mother calling.
“Oh, hi Mom, what’s up?” I said, or something like that. She rarely called me at the office, so I figured she had some little problem, like when we could meet for lunch.
But her voice was odd, whispery but urgent.
“I’m down here at Foodway (now the Publix Super Market). There’s been an accident or something — a man’s been hurt.”
There was a hubbub in the background.
I could barely hear her.
“What did you say? An accident? In the grocery store?”
She seemed impatient, and I got the idea whatever had happened, it was something serious.
“No, in the parking lot. I was at the checkout counter. A woman burst in, yelling to call the police, get a doctor.” She paused. “I can see a lot of folks running around outside. You’d better get down here, June!”
I grabbed my camera and jumped in my car. Traffic on Gulf Drive was light going south. It took me less than five minutes to round the bend at the Manatee Public Beach. That’s when I saw a bunch of people milling around just east of the stoplight toward Kingfish Boat Ramp.
I wondered if I should drive on to the grocery, but then I saw a car and boat trailer jackknifed near a power pole. There had been an accident and, from the looks of things, it was a bad one. I parked my car on the side of the road and raced over to a scene of chaos.
I didn’t ask any questions, just began taking photographs.
There seemed to be bodies all over the place. Sheets had been draped over two figures being lifted onto stretchers. They appeared to be children. I couldn’t tell if they were dead or alive.
A few feet away from the car, medics were bent over a man on the ground. One emergency technician was holding an oxygen mask to the man’s mouth. Another was wiping the blood from the patient’s forehead. A third was massaging his chest.
Close by lay a deeply tanned man in red-and-white striped trunks. He was barely breathing. His bare chest was streaked with blood trickling from his nose and mouth. A tube had been stuck in his right arm. I could tell by the look on the face of a woman in a nurse’s uniform holding his head that he was close to death.
I moved in a bit closer with my camera. Through the viewfinder, I could see a small hole — about the size of a dime — in the man’s forehead.
My heart froze. The man had been shot in the head.
By now, another reporter from my newspaper had arrived, as well as reporters and photographers from the daily papers.
And there must have been 40 people scurrying around. I’ll never forget the faces of the bystanders as the word got around of the nature of the tragedy. They had the look of people confronting a situation too horrible to comprehend. The car had gone out of control because the driver had a bullet in his head. Everyone in the car had been shot.
I glanced across the street toward the Foodway. An ambulance was pulling out of the lot. I hurried over. I learned from a cop that a man had been shot there, too.
By now, like everyone else, I was beginning to realize the enormity of the crime that had shattered the pleasant afternoon.
The headlines in the newspapers the next day shocked islanders out of their summer lethargy.
In the weeks and months to come, the story unfolded, but the mystery remained.
The killing at Kingfish
Early Aug. 1, 1980, Juan Dumois, a 47-year-old Tampa physician, his sons Eric, 13, and Mark, 9, and their uncle, Raymond Barrows, visiting from Miami, left Kingfish Boat Ramp for a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the last day of the family’s vacation in Holmes Beach.
Returning about 5 p.m., looking forward to getting home to supper, they loaded their boat onto a trailer and hitched it up to their station wagon. Dumois and Barrows got into the front seat, and the boys took seats in the back. Just as Dumois was about to drive off, a dark-haired man in his middle 30s, wearing a white tennis outfit and pushing a bike, stuck his head in the car window.
He had sprained his ankle, he told Dumois and would appreciate a lift.
Sure, no problem, Dumois said.
The man hoisted his bike into the boat and got into the back with the boys.
Dumois waited for a gap in the heavy traffic, then pulled away. The station wagon had gone only a few yards toward the intersection of Manatee Avenue and East Bay Drive when the man pulled a gun. He held the muzzle against the back of Dumois’ head and pulled the trigger.
Dumois slumped over, mortally wounded. Three more shots rang out in quick succession. The gunman had pumped the second bullet into Barrow’s head and the third and fourth into the heads of the boys.
The man reached over Dumois and turned off the ignition, steering the car to the side of the road. When it stopped, he jumped out, pulled his bike out of the boat and rode off toward Foodway.
But there was a witness.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Matzke, working in the yard of his condominium unit in Westbay Cove North, had observed the man’s exit from the accident site. Suspicious, he pursued him to the Foodway store in his sports car. There, while still in his car, he argued briefly with the bicyclist. Again, a shot rang out, and Matzke became the hitchhiker’s fifth victim.
Shoppers watched unknowingly as the gunman got into a waiting car, which disappeared into traffic. None of the onlookers had witnessed the killing. They thought Matzke had crashed his car.
All the police had to go on was what Raymond Barrows was able to tell them. He had recovered but died of a heart attack a couple of years later.
The investigation, involving the sheriff’s office and federal agents, as well as the Holmes Beach police, dragged on for months. Dumois’ car was examined for fingerprints. Four artist’s concepts of the killer were circulated and a reward was offered.
More than 100 suspects were questioned, but no solid evidence pointing to the killer was found and no plausible motive for the slayings identified.
Was the killer a madman?
Someone with a grudge against the physician?
Was he a contract killer?
Were the murders mob- or mafia-related?
Though police found nothing to connect Dumois with the underworld, the massacre had all the earmarks of a hit job.
The weapon was a 22-caliber pistol, the type of gun often used in professional killings. The killer was an expert with a gun. He did not fire wildly. He shot to kill.
The crime was well planned. The gunman was seen loitering in the boat ramp parking lot. He had marked his victims. He knew Dumois was a doctor, as he feigned an injury.
He chose a crowded area for the shootings, where he could melt into the crowd. True, it was risky business to execute his mission in a moving car, but he knew it would be going slowly, approaching the intersection only a short distance away from the boat ramp.
He had a confederate waiting in a getaway car at a spot where they could easily join the traffic going north or south.
Police were criticized for immediately directing traffic off the island and failing to cordon off the crime scene quickly. But they didn’t know at first that it was a murder case.
The Kingfish killings appear to have been the perfect crime — one that will never be solved.
Investigators say that in such crimes, the only chance for a solution is when someone talks — someone to whom the killer bragged or who was involved somehow in the crime.
But that hasn’t happened.
Perhaps the killer, well paid for his afternoon’s work, is living on his earnings on the French Riviera or in South America.
Or, he may have met a violent death, too.
Will we ever know his identity or the reason for the massacre on that bloody Friday?