As a kid, Terry Longpre grew up across a canal from Michaelson Grove in Manatee County.
"They were real pleasant people," Longpre said of the couple for whom the grove was named, Norman "Mike" and Isabel Michaelson. "They would do about anything in the world for ya.”
Anne Patterson remembers them as Aunt Isabel and Uncle Mike. "They enjoyed sitting out in the backyard, enjoying the water and the view," Patterson said.
But the pleasant memories of the Michaelsons are overshadowed by their mysterious and brutal murders now more than four decades ago.
The ABC Action News I-Team was given access to more than seven boxes of case files in the Michaelson murders. They reveal that while the investigation into the murders went nowhere for years, authorities started focusing on a handful of suspects more than 15 years after the killings, which occurred on either Feb. 21 or 22 in 1974.
The suspects are something the family of the Michaelsons and even some of the original investigators on the case knew nothing about.
The five men were no strangers to law enforcement. They had been involved in drug smuggling. But each of them, according to the case files, told investigators they "had no involvement or knowledge" of the Michaelson murders.
“NOTHING MADE SENSE”
Patterson remembers her Aunt Isabel as a generous person.
"She was smart," Patterson said. "She loved life."
After college, Isabel traveled around the world. Eventually, she married Mike Michaelson. The couple moved to Florida and bought an orange grove. By 1974, the Michaelsons had sold their grove and settled into a waterfront home on Longboat Key, a beach town that straddles Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Jo Bell was the first police officer at the scene the day of the murders.
"The house wasn't ransacked," said Bell, shaking his head. "And then to find Mrs. Michaelson in the trunk of a car. I mean, nothing made sense."
Her husband was found in the backyard shot twice in the chest, most likely by a long rifle.
"They had to hunt for Aunt Isabel," said Patterson. "They found her in the trunk of the car, stabbed and strangled. What a horrible way to go."
Longpre, who hadn't seen the couple in years, was called to the crime scene as a diver with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, which assisted Longboat Key police in the investigation.
"We did an offshore search and worked out way into the beach," Longpre said. "And there actually (were) imprints in the sand at the waterline where a boat had come up on the beach."
It was a keel mark from the hull of a commercial fishing boat. The vessel came ashore directly behind the Michaelson home. The impression in the sand gave investigators their strongest clue.
"Our theory was at that point that it may have been a drug off-load that went bad," said Longpre. "Maybe they landed on the wrong beach, or possibly had, ya know, ah...the boat engine might have stopped, they ran it aground."
In those days, drug-running was rampant. "Boats would come down the Intracoastal and they would drop loads of marijuana," Longpre said.
Immediately after the murders, investigators tried to piece together what happened to the Michaelsons and speculated that they were confronted by those on the boat that ran aground, maybe to use the couple's phone and call for help.
The investigative files reviewed by the I-Team show detectives in 1990 believed Raymond L. "Junior" Guthrie Jr., now 64, helped whoever killed the Michaelsons escape by freeing the boat that ran aground.
As part of a federal grand jury investigation in the '90s, Guthrie told authorities that he lived in the Manatee County fishing village of Cortez at the time of the murders. According to an investigative report, however, he maintained that he "did not get into active smuggling until 1976" – two years after the murders.
Junior Guthrie still lives in the area, and the I-Team attempted to reach him without success.
The I-Team also reached out to the other suspects who are still alive. Two of them, Roger Black and David F. Capo, responded.
Black, 78, admitted talking to detectives about the case. But he still has no idea why he was considered a suspect.
Capo, now 62, said he thinks that investigators were just looking at anyone who had ties to drug smuggling in the 1970s.
Raymond "Doc" Parker, 64, one of the other documented suspects, has not returned our calls.
The fifth suspect, Floyd "Bubba" Farrell Capo, died in 1999 at the age of 57.
CASE STILL ACTIVE
While none of the men were ever charged in the case, police haven't removed them from their list of suspects.
Current Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming was just a teenager when the Michaelsons were murdered. But it's a case he'd like to see solved.
"It became a difficult case, I think, because there was a real lack of any physical evidence," Cumming said. "At the end of the day, there was not much to go on other than theories and speculation."
Even after 40 years, the family hopes someone might know something that could make a difference.
"It certainly would be nice to know why," Patterson said.
If you have any information concerning this case, contact Detective Kris Roberts at the Longboat Key Police Department at 941-316-1977.Read full story
Isabel P. Michaelson
Isabel Gibson Patterson grew-up in Philadelphia with her brother and graduated in 1927 from the University of Pennsylvania, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Education. She loved to travel at a young age, and family says that's how she met Norman "Mike" Michaelson.
Michaelson orange grove
Michaelson Grove was located in Bradenton along Warner's Bayou. Isabel and Norman "Mike" Michaelson came to Florida to go to a few spring training games with friends. They fell in love with the area and soon after bought the grove, which include a quaint home on the property. They lived there for many years before selling the grove in 1971 and moving to Longboat Key.
Isabel and Norman "Mike" Michaelson moved to Longboat Key around December of 1972 after living and owning an orange grove out in Bradenton along Warner's Bayou. Family from Philadelphia would often visit them in the summers and enjoyed the beach which was directly across the street from the home at 5134 Gulf of Mexico Drive. Today the home is one of the few in the area that still looks like it did back in the 1970s.
Isabel Michaelson received a phone call at 9 p.m. on Feb. 21, 1974, so investigators suspect their murders occurred late that evening or the early morning hours the next day. Both of them were found in their pajamas. Blood was found on the floor around the bed in the upstairs bedroom.
Inside the Michaelson's garage was their 1974 Buick Electra. There was a blood trail in the garage, but not inside the house. Investigators did not know the whereabouts of Mrs. Michaelson until they opened the trunk of the car. They found her inside having been strangled and stabbed.
The weapon used to shoot Norman "Mike" Michaelson was never recovered, but investigators say it was a .22 caliber Marlin rifle. A bullet was recovered from Mr. Michaelson and is one of the few remaining pieces of evidence in the case. He died from two gunshot wounds, with one bullet to the front of his chest and a second bullet from behind.
Michaelson case files
There are more than seven boxes of investigative files relating to the Michaelson murder case. The files are stored by the Longboat Key Police Department and contain the work of investigators from Longboat, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, along with FDLE and the DEA.