Charles Von Maxcy was murdered in his Sparta Road home in 1966.
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published: Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Sebring in 1970s faced many of today's issues
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- The headlines dominating the front pages of the Sebring News in the 1970s could have been written yesterday.
The issues had to do with severe drought, skyrocketing gasoline prices, stressed infrastructure, frustrating state and federal government regulations, finding funding for future needs, attracting new business, drug use among teenagers and dealing with the large dredge hole at the city pier beach.
Topping it all off were juicy court proceedings following a sensational murder featuring a sexy villainess.
On Oct. 3, 1966, Charles Von Maxcy, described in the newspaper as a cattle and citrus baron, was shot and stabbed in his home off Sparta Road.
Investigators determined the killing had been a murder-for-hire arranged by John Sweet, a friend of the victim's -- he was a pall bearer at Maxcy's funeral. Sweet had done this, prosecutors said, at the request of his mistress Irene Maxcy, the victim's wife.
In its coverage, the Sebring News used words like, sexy, free wheeling, buxom and voluptuous to describe Irene Maxcy.
Sweet's first trial in November of 1967 ended in a hung jury. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in a second trail in 1971. He appealed the case. The prosecution decided to bring him to trial for a third time.
In a quirk of good luck for Sweet, he was granted an appeal bond the day before a new statute went into affect denying appeal bonds to suspects facing murder charges.
In the meantime, prosecutors had pressed charges against Irene Maxcy for perjury. The perjury trial, which began in March 1971, had its complications.
It turned out Irene Maxcy had had an affair with the same investigator from the old Sheriff's Bureau who had obtained her confession in 1966 -- the confession that helped convict Sweet. She had been given immunity in exchange for her testimony and was never charged in the actual murder.
Now she was denying everything she had said. In November 1971 the jury found her guilty of perjury, however, and she was sentenced to life.
The Sebring News wrote, "It was a silent and stony-faced defendant who faced (the judge). She wore a platinum wig and a red, white and blue dress. She is still plump."
Free on an appeal bond, Irene Maxcy did not begin serving the perjury sentence until 1973.
Sweet became a totally free man when the prosecution decided against a third trial due to time rule constraints.
Central Florida suffered a record-breaking drought beginning in 1971. In May of that year, the newspaper noted there had been almost no rain and 22 days of 90-plus temperatures in April. Wildfires burned thousands of acres. Water pressure in the city was dangerously low and Lake Jackson shrank until there was dry sand well beyond city pier. A sand bar further out in the lake became a small island where people picnicked. Even Hurricane Agnes in 1973 was not enough to do more than raise Lake Jackson six inches -- it had lost over a foot.
City beach was closed to swimming after a 32-year-old mother and an 8-year-old boy were both drowned in separate incidents within three weeks of either other. They disappeared into the same large dredge hole off City Pier Beach -- created when the pier was built -- that keeps the beach closed now.
Dwindling beach areas brought attention to the still-hoped-for public beach on the southwest side of the lake, between the outlet to Little Lake Jackson and Hammock Road.
Once an informal swimming area, it had been destroyed during the widening of U.S. 27. By 1970, the area had become an overgrown, unusable eyesore, abandoned for years.
The story of trying to create the beach park is a comic opera about the frustrations of dealing with government regulations processes.
Plans and paperwork for a new lakeside recreation area had begun in the summer of 1964. Enthusiastic about creating a beach park, the city council spent $5,500 for a dredge just to pump the needed fill off the lake bottom.
Then came the hurdles and obstacles. Permits and permissions had to be attained from the Florida Department of Transportation, the Department of Natural Resources, the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission and the trustees of the Internal Improvement Board. Often the plans had to handed back and forth between agencies, before being passed on. Some agencies were not in favor of the idea, so compromises had to be made. Then there had to public hearings.
The Sebring News, in an editorial comment wondered, "... if a private firm, rather than a government agency, was involved the beach might have been ready last summer."
Ultimately, the city council gave up. Instead it began to explore the possibly of buying property at Edgewater Point, off of Lakeview Drive, and creating a public beach there.
In 1973, global events affected Sebring when OPEC stopped selling oil to the United States. Gasoline prices not only rose, but lines formed, quotas had to be set, gas stations ran out of product and most cut back their hours.
On July 12, 1973 McDonalds opened on U.S. 27 near Southgate. The Sebring News reported "There are uniformed deputy sheriffs on duty in the lot seven nights a week."
By the middle of the decade, traffic had become congested and downtown parking was a problem. It was at this time Circle and spoke street traffic patterns were reconfigured.
The city contracted with a planner to find solutions. Three areas were prioritized for further study: Annexation, zoning and subdivision regulations; and capital improvements.
Concern grew for the health of Lake Jackson. Among other factors, septic tanks around the lake were releasing greasy soap suds and effluence into the water.
City voters approved a major expansion of the sewer system.
Also in the 1970s: Matt Sherwood became the first 18-year old Sebring student to register to vote; the new post office opened; the New York Times bought The Sebring News and the Avon Park Sun; Tropical Bank & Trust, the county's oldest, continuous business, changed its name to Barnett Bank; 100 students were caught in a single drug sweep of Sebring High School; Highlands Regional Medical Center added a 32-bed wing; the high school's salutatorian was suspended 10 days for having shoulder-length hair; and the 12 Hours of Sebring almost moved away.
Incidentally, that dredge the city bought to create the new beach? It sat unused the entire decade.
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