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  • Chris McAndrew


Updated: Mar 4, 2022

Roger was from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Either he or Shirley had a relatively new dark blue 1969 Chevrolet Bel Air. Seems more likely to us it was her car since he was traveling with the moving company and probably wouldn’t have had a vehicle with him. They left here together sometime around three a.m. in the Chevy and headed off to the cemetery which was less than three miles away from here.

When police arrived they found the two victims on the ground just outside of the car. Shirley was laying on Roger’s legs wearing only her Union 76 smock which was basically a work apron. Roger was laying face down. All the tires were flat, and each of them had been stabbed more than thirty times. Investigators said all the stab wounds were less than a half inch in width with the weapon used determined to be a small pocket knife.

There was a blood trail running from the car out to the road then back to the bodies. Apparently Roger had tried to escape after already being stabbed then was dragged back to the spot where he was found. He also had deep wounds on his fingers which police assume meant he tried to fight with his attacker in an effort to get the knife away.

There were stab wounds all over their bodies. Shirley had been stabbed 33 times. She had wounds to her ear, liver, knee, chest and legs as well as her lungs and aorta which police say were the ones that killed her.

Roger had wounds to his lungs with one of those stabs puncturing the upper lobe of his right lung which is what police believe killed him. He also had stab wounds from his hair on the back of his head down his neck to his back.

They were both declared dead at the scene when police arrived. Retired former undersheriff Gary Brannen said “The suspect was probably jealous, in a rage, he slashed the car tires and then things escalated from there.”

Sumter was a small rural county back then in the days before the massive Villages active adult retirement community had shown up. The sheriff department didn’t have much experience dealing with these types of horrific crimes. Because of this Sheriff Fred Roesel decided to bring in the Florida Criminal Investigation Department to help out.

A newspaper at the time reported “the keys (to the Bel Air) were not found. There was blood on the outside of the car and some unidentified fingerprints were found on the car.” Also there were tire tracks of a vehicle taking off from the cemetery at a high rate of speed.

Back in 1972 there weren’t many surveillance cameras on businesses or homes for that matter. No one had heard of DNA profiling. There weren’t even fingerprint databases, and in this case there weren’t any witnesses, at least none who were willing to talk to the police.

If Shirley did have someone obsessed with her it seems this fact wasn’t known by her coworkers or family. Perhaps it was a regular at the restaurant who hadn’t yet made his feelings known. Perhaps it was someone who liked to park in the parking lot at the truck stop and watch her. We may never know.

In 1992 an article in the Orlando Sentinel wrote “the murderer hacked the young couple to death, slashing at them repeatedly…The motive was not clear then, and it still is not clear now. Miss Whitten had not been raped. Neither did robbery seem the cause. Police could only speculate that a Jack the Ripper was roaming the tranquil byways of Florida. No solid suspect in the killings has ever been found.”

We don’t tend to agree with the Jack the Ripper theory or any sort of serial killer theory for several reasons, one being how remote the cemetery was and another being the killer only had a pocket knife to use as a weapon.

Also in 1992 the FBI took a closer look at the case stating, “There may have been not one, but two killers. One had a dominant personality and initiated the killings, but managed to persuade the second person to take part in order to bind him to the crime. The dominant killer probably finished school only through the tenth grade and may have worked as a mechanic or a service station attendant, maybe even at the nearby interchange at Interstate 75 and State Road 44.”

Locals at the time said the cemetery was being used at night by drug dealers and perhaps the two saw something they shouldn’t have and got killed. Our problem with that theory is the idea of drug dealers being out here with only a small pocket knife as a weapon seems a bit off as well.

Whitten’s father, a man by the name of Herb Whitten, was irritated that the police couldn’t solve the case, so he started up his own investigation. He even scraped together all the money he could afford to offer a $1,000 reward which is the equivalent of more than $6,700 today. He said Shirley was his first-born child and he loved her very much. He said he had her out frog-gigging when she was about two years old, and that they still enjoyed being outside and hunting together up until her death.

It has now been 50 years since the murders. You would think since there was a good bit of blood, fingerprints and tire tracks at the scene apparently from the killer police would be able to put together a DNA profile and get this case solved, but so far that hasn’t happened.

If you have any information that might help police solve this case no matter how tiny a detail you may think it is please contact the Sumter County Sheriff's Department at (352) 569-1600.

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Two young people who had just met took a trip to the Oak Grove Cemetery in Wildwood, Florida, and they were both murdered at the cemetery. This was way back on February 22, 1972, but now 50 years later their killer has still never been found. We cordially invite you to come along as we take a look at what they did leading up to heading to the cemetery and then take a look at their death location. Maybe someone watching can help solve this crime.

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