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Sunday Favorites: The Case of the Bludgeoned Developer


We all have a sinister interest in crime. We can’t help reading about the sickening tales that seem to catch our attention on a daily basis. There has always been a demand for page turning books and articles about kidnappings, brutal beatings and heinous murders. But the ones that peak our interest the most are the ones that happen right under our noses and are unearthed in our own backyards.


While we always sleep a little better when the culprits of these crimes are put behind bars, there will always be a petrifying response to those offenses that go unpunished. This week and beyond, we will be exhuming some of the area’s cold cases; unsolved mysteries that took place in Sarasota and Manatee counties.


The Case of the Bludgeoned Developer


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Harry Higel was known as one of Sarasota's most prominent citizens.

Burt and Merle Luzier were up early on the morning on Jan. 6, 1921, headed to Siesta Key in a truck full of shell. It was around 8:30 a.m. when father and son came upon the body of Harry Higel, who lay across the road, his skull bashed in.


It was a horrific scene, one the Luziers thought might have been an accident. The two rescuers didn't know Higel, but they thought that maybe some wayward automobile had committed a hit and run. 


Little did they know, it was much more sinister than that.


The early 1900's were a heady time for Higel and his family. Originally from Philadelphia, he and his family settled in the Sarasota/Venice area just before the turn of the century and they strived to turn the area into a thriving community, becoming a well-known socialite in the process.


He was, perhaps most ironically, known for developing what was once known as Sarasota Key, naming his subdivision "Siesta on the Gulf" and eventually connecting the key to the mainland via a newly built bridge.


"Sarasota Key" slowly became "Siesta Key", as Higel's development efforts continued, and he built hotels, public facilities, and eventually entered the public realm, running for and winning the mayor's seat of Sarasota for three consecutive terms.


So how did such a popular and central figure in Sarasota's history meet such a violent end?


The Luziers gathered Higel's body and put it in the back of their truck. They took him to a local doctor on the island for an examination; the doctor recognized the man who many had come to love and respect over the years. He was even more shocked to learn that Higel was still alive.


With a major hospital miles away in Tampa, things looked grim for Higel. The doctor tried his best to save him, but in the end, the injuries were too severe and the doctor did not have the tools needed to properly perform what could have been life saving procedures.


Harry Higel's murder remains unsolved.

Higel's funeral was one for the ages in Sarasota; the procession marched across the city and he was eventually laid to rest at Rosemary Cemetary. Hundreds turned out to mourn one of Sarasota's favorite citizens.


The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, itself a newly formed organization that took shape in 1921, began an investigation and quickly ruled out robbery as Higel died with all of his personal affects.


As investigators began to piece together what might have happened to Higel, all roads started leading to a man named Rube Allyn, who was, at the time, a newspaper man who once served as editor of the Sarasota Times.


A fued between Allyn and Higel had been ongoing for some time, but details of the feud and the reasons behind the animosity shared between the two men appear to have been lost in time.


Whatever the reason Allyn was arrested and held for nearly two months in a Bradenton jail as investigators tried to find enough evidence to charge him with the crime. Instead, all evidence turned out to be circumstantial and Alllyn was later released.


Although authorities and other local dignitaries offered as much as $1,000 for information that would lead to the capture of Higel's killer, no one came forward and the crime remains unsolved. Allyn was the only suspect ever developed by law enforcement.

Higel remains a respected and crucial piece of Sarasota's history. His murder was a terrible end for a man considered by many to be a visionary. Siesta Key, once named one of the country's best beaches and now a thriving tourist destination, remains an ongoing tribute to Higel, who helped develop one of Sarasota's key industries.


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