Florida is a warm magnet for Canadians. They flock to the sunshine by the tens of thousands, filling hotels, thronging to restaurants, pumping millions of dollars into local economies from Jacksonville to Miami to Tampa. They are known as Snowbirds because their southerly migratory patterns swell in numbers when winter temperatures plunge in the Great White North.
The influx lies at the soul of a love-hate relationship with Florida residents, who want the Canadian tourists’ economic benefits but would just as soon do without their slow-paced lifestyle.
“It’s the goddamn Canadians, Bob,” moaned one caller to a talk show.
“So what’s new?” responded the host.
“Got behind nineteen of them in traffic, Bob.”
“All of them were in Hyundais, Bob. Never got out of third gear.”
The Snowbirds are also derided as being so tight with a dollar that a standard joke among waiters is that the main difference between Canadians and canoes is that canoes sometimes will tip. It is also jokingly said that ten thousand Canadian visitors can boost the local economy by a total of $450.
But that is all said with more than a bit of tongue in cheek, for without the Snowbirds the Florida economy would suffer instant, great losses. Therefore, they are welcomed with open arms and cash registers, and everything possible is done to make their stays enjoyable, including attention by the police in various municipalities. For if something bad happens to a Canadian tourist, word quickly filters back to Toronto or Montreal, affecting decisions on vacation destinations. On Mother’s Day in 1989, something very bad indeed happened to one Canadian tourist and the result would hang like a worrisome dark cloud over the Tampa-St. Petersburg area for five long years before it was finally resolved.
Gayle Arquette, a chestnut-haired, strikingly beautiful girl from Ontario, was on vacation, taking a welcome break after graduating from college and before assuming a new job as a social worker. Accompanied by her friend, Linda Lyle, also a vibrant, good-looking young woman in her early twenties, Gayle fled Canada on holiday, lured by the spring sunshine and the mythical draw of Florida as a fun and exciting place for the young. Daytona Beach, made famous by the movie and song Where the Boys Are, is located on the Atlantic Ocean side of the state, but Gayle and Linda had no doubt that a pair of pretty girls could find a social life on Florida’s west coast.
If one views Florida as shaped like the open palm of the right hand, then the thumb hanging slightly apart from the mainland, separated by the vastness of Tampa Bay, is Pinellas County. The urban metropolis of Tampa is on the eastern side of the bay, and St. Petersburg is at the lower western side. Along the coast, stretching north from St. Petersburg, is a long, thin line of beach communities flanked by water on both sides and linked to inland Pinellas County by a series of bridges.
About halfway up the peninsula are the quaintly named beachfront towns of Treasure Island and Madeira Beach, and it was in a “Mad Beach” condominium that Gayle and Linda settled for their Florida stay. The water came almost to their front door, as the Gulf of Mexico stretched open and wide toward the setting sun. Shopping was plentiful, particularly among the quaint shops of the Boardwalk, a collection of specialty shops, restaurants, and boat businesses clustered along weathered piers that hang out over the water along 128th Avenue, facing the watery cut between Mad Beach and Treasure Island known as John’s Pass. And cute guys seemed plentiful, whether riding colorful jet skis, loafing about the beach-side bars, or soaking up tans on the beach.
In fact, Gayle and Linda agreed to go fishing with two young men they had met on one of their strolls along the Boardwalk. First, however, Gayle needed to complete a special task. She spent much of Sunday, May 14, 1989, preparing Mother’s Day dinner for her mother, aunt, uncle, and Linda. The weather was pleasant and they joked about the difference in temperature between May in Ontario and May along the Florida Suncoast.
When the meal was done and the dishes cleaned, the girls waved goodbye to the adults and headed out for their evening, walking over to their first stop, a 7-Eleven convenience store on Gulf Boulevard, the town’s main street, to pick up a six-pack of beer about 9:30 P.M.
In the parking lot of the store sat a large, dark-colored trucklike vehicle that Gayle would recall as something like a Jeep Cherokee, Isuzu Trooper, or Ford Bronco—one of those four-wheel-drive, all-terrain jobs. It wore Florida plates.
The driver struck up a laughing conversation with the girls, whom he had guessed were visitors, and soon determined they were from Canada. He was a big guy in his mid-thirties, standing about five feet, nine inches tall and weighing about two-hundred pounds. He was well tanned and had reddish blond hair cut short and a pale mustache of the same color. He quickly extended his hand and introduced himself as Dave Posner, saying he knew a lot about Canada because he once had lived in upper New York State. The voice was light and personable, the manner polite.
There was a note of seriousness, almost concern, in his voice as he asked them why they were out alone in this area. This particular stretch was considered a high-crime locale, he warned, and they should be very wary about talking to any strangers, including himself. When told they were on their way to meet a couple of guys at Fisherman’s Wharf, Dave offered them a ride in his truck.
The ride up Gulf Boulevard was brief, but the time seemed to pass even faster because of Dave’s steady chatter about the water and the excitement of living in coastal Florida. Arriving at the restaurant, he made a courteous offer, accompanied by a bright smile. Linda got out of the vehicle and walked away, but as Gayle was exiting, she mentioned that she was interested in doing some fishing. Dave replied that he had a 30-foot boat and would be happy to take them out tomorrow for a cruise around the area and to let them try their luck for a deepwater catch.
Gayle quickly accepted for both of them, certain that Linda would want to come along. Dave said that was terrific, and he would meet them tomorrow about 2 P.M., because it took about two hours to get from his house, across Tampa Bay, around the tip of Pinellas County and up to John’s Pass. He pointed in the darkness toward the Boardwalk and a pier at the very end. Be at Don’s Dock at two, he said.
Gayle was excited about the prospect of a ride out on the open water, but Linda was just as adamant that she would not be coming along. There was something about that Posner guy she didn’t like, and Gayle should not meet him either, she warned. Nonsense, argued Gayle, he’s just a nice guy, and anyway, he’s so old, probably almost in his forties. Come on, Linda, she pleaded, come along. Absolutely not, Linda replied, and that was that.
Linda stuck to her decision the next day after lunch and Gayle finally walked to the Boardwalk by herself. She did not see the dark truck parked anywhere, but made her way along the line of shops, examining T-shirts and gifts, looking at the nautical decor of the stores, such as the model shark tangled in a net over a doorway. Large boats were tied up awaiting their scheduled departure with a load of tourists, and people were buying bait. A clutch of sleepy pelicans lay asleep at the edge of the water, their long bills tucked beneath their wings, looking like large balls of feathers.
Shielding her eyes against the bright sun, she finally caught sight of Dave riding near the boat dock, alone in a boat that was faded blue on the outside and white inside. It seemed to her to be an older model, all boxy angles, more of a fishing boat than one of the sleek fiberglass powerboats that sliced through the water in front of some big outboard engine. She also noticed that the boat wasn’t thirty feet long as he had boasted, but a stubby seventeen-to-twenty footer. He saw her about the same time and spun the wheel, bringing the boat to bump against the fenders of the pier, and Gayle stepped quickly aboard. Dave wanted to know where Linda was, and a somewhat embarrassed Gayle explained that her friend had decided not to come for the ride. She thought she saw a flash of disappointment in his eyes, but he gave her only a bright smile as she settled into one of the two pedestal seats at the front of the boat. With a slight push of the throttle, the boat’s inboard-outboard engine rumbled louder and they moved beneath the John’s Pass bridge, heading for the Gulf.
But as soon as they cleared the protection of the land, the pointed bow of the boat began to slap hard into the waves as rough weather somewhere far away churned the normally placid Gulf waters. So instead of pushing into deep water, Dave turned the boat and gave Gayle a tour of the sandy white Pinellas County beaches.
For more than six hours, they talked as he pointed out things of interest beyond the sandy ribbon of shoreline. He had made three sandwiches, because he had expected Linda to accompany them, and they shared the odd one. There was no beer or any alcohol aboard, but he did have a thermos filled with icy water. The AM-FM radio in front of her did not work, but otherwise Gayle felt totally safe and at peace as she spun around in the swivel seat, sinking comfortably into the worn upholstery as the sun toasted her. When she faced the stern of the boat, there was a completely open area before the engine cover and a pair of flanking squarish, boxlike things stretched from side to side across the back. A dark blue canvas canopy was laid back and lashed down around the stern. Once, looking curiously at the engine, she saw it was painted yellow and the word Volvo was stamped across the top. Dave baited her hook and helped teach her how to fish in deep water. He pulled up a wire crab trap to demonstrate for the landlubber Canadian how crabs were snared for restaurants.
She learned a lot about her husky host as the hours passed. He lived with his mother in Bradenton, or some town that began with a B, and he owned an aluminum company. He explained that salt water was the corrosive enemy of boats, and he regularly would pull his free of the water by using a web of pulley davits. And, almost shyly, he admitted that he had trouble in relationships with women. He smoked, but did not drink.
As the sun began to duck lower in the sky, Dave returned her to the dock about 6:30 P.M., saying that the trip had been fun, and he had another idea. You’ve seen the water by daylight, but a sunset over the Gulf, out in a boat, is a different experience entirely. He said he had to clean the boat a bit, and that she should go along and have some dinner. Grab your camera and come on back and I’ll give you a sunset cruise. Oh, yes, he added: See if Linda would like to come along.
Back at the condo, Gayle had a quick bite to eat, said hello to her relatives, and told them about her day running up and down the coast. She tried to persuade Linda to join her for the evening part of the adventure, but Linda once again held firm. She wanted nothing to do with that Posner guy. Gayle said she was reading him all wrong.
It was two hours before sunset when Gayle, wearing jeans and a T-shirt over her two-piece bathing suit, returned to the Boardwalk at 7:30, arriving at Don’s Dock without Linda and having to make apologies for her to Dave. This time, she was certain that Dave was upset. Still, he shook off the rejection well enough and the boat was soon churning away from the dock and heading under the bridge, swinging south to Treasure Island, where they stopped, the boat gently rocking in the waves, while they spent time fishing.
As the darkness began to fall, he pulled in the anchor and put away the fishing gear, cranked the engine and pointed the bow of the boat straight toward the setting sun. He stopped to allow her to take photographs of the sunset, then she took a picture of Dave and he snapped one of her.
“You’re a nice-looking lady,” he said, betraying nothing more than a compliment.
“Thank you,” she replied. “Thank you.”
The boat headed west again, toward the sun hovering orange on the horizon, its final rays toasting their faces. Soon, they had passed through the usual cordon of other boats and were sailing alone.
Gayle accepted Dave’s offer to pilot the boat, and slid into the right-hand driver’s seat and clasped the worn, spongy black material that wrapped the steering wheel. Her fingers felt the slickness of duct tape that patched one worn section of the tattered foam rubber. Somewhere in the distance, she heard a bell buoy clanging, almost in alarm.
When Dave, standing behind the chair, leaned close to show her how to work the throttle and wheel and to help weave the boat through the paths of crab traps, she started to have her first doubts. She was out on a boat, far from shore, with a big man that she hardly knew and there was no one around. The lights on shore looked like dim matches burning a million miles away.
She gathered her nerve and told him that it was too dark now and that she wanted to go home.
“Come over here,” Dave said, his big shadow looming in the darkness. “I want to give you a hug.” She refused.
He wanted her to sit on his lap, and whispered that he thought she was a foxy lady. Gayle’s reaction was one of immediate fright, but her resistance was futile. She began to scream.
Dave grabbed her hand and easily pulled her toward him, mocking her. “Do you think somebody is going to hear you?” he asked.
“You lay one hand on me and I’ll charge you with rape,” Gayle threatened in panic. His firm grip forced her to her knees.
“You are going to have sex with me,” Dave ordered. “There’s no way around it. What are you going to do? Jump over the side of the boat?”
Still she struggled against him. “I said I don’t want to,” she pleaded. “I’m a virgin. Leave me alone!”
The man she knew as Dave Posner began giving orders, holding her firmly and painfully as he took off his pants and forced Gayle to perform oral sex on him.
Disgusted, she hoped the fellatio would satisfy him, but she was wrong. The worst was yet to come aboard that tiny floating prison in which she was being held captive.
Dave grabbed a towel and spread it on the open floor. Gayle alternately sobbed and screamed while he peeled off her shorts.
He grew furious at her constant screams and yelled back at her. “Shut up! Shut up! If you don’t shut the fuck up, I’m going to tape your mouth. You want me to tape your mouth?” He made a move as if to get a roll of tape, and she tried to bring herself under control. There was no weapon visible, but Gayle knew that with his size, Dave would have no trouble making her do anything he wanted and perhaps killing her if she was too much trouble.
He agreed with her assessment, and in a reasonable tone, asked, “Is sex worth losing your life over?”
Crawling atop Gayle, he fondled her, removed her tampon, spread the terrified woman’s legs, and had vaginal intercourse with her, all the while commenting that she “had a fucking nice pussy.”
Gayle Arquette was as frightened as she had ever been in her life as the man finally ejaculated inside her. Then he flipped her onto her stomach but failed in an attempt to have anal intercourse. Finally, spent, he pulled away, handed her the thermos of water, and ordered her to douche.
Meanwhile, Dave staggered to the side of the boat and vomited overboard. Gathering himself, he ignored her to attend to some urgent business. He opened her camera and ripped out the film that contained his image, then used a cloth to wipe away any possible fingerprints from the camera and his victim’s sunglasses.
With his weeping prisoner still huddled in the middle of the boat, Dave turned on a spotlight to locate channel markers and began steering the boat back toward shore. Occasionally, he would lean over the side and throw up again.
As the lights of land approached, representing safety for Gayle, Dave asked an incredible favor. “I know you are going to report me,” he said. “But before you do, give me a chance to tell my mother. She’s a little old lady and she’ll die if she has a policeman arrive at her door.”
Gayle naturally promised that she would do as he said. She would have promised anything, just for the opportunity to escape from that boat. Finally, she saw the fights at John’s Pass, and in minutes Dave maneuvered the boat close to shore, edging it through the soft surf on the Treasure Island side of the pass. There would be no hard wood deck beneath her feet when she got out of the boat this time, and when the engine began to idle and the boat slowed to a halt, Gayle hesitantly climbed over the side. The water was cold on her legs. He let her leave without incident, telling her almost solicitously to “watch your step” as she waded to safety on the shore.
As Gayle hurried up the sandy road toward Gulf Boulevard, she could hear the inboard Volvo engine purring away into the night.
The embarrassment was simply too much. She had been careless, and despite being warned by Linda, had gotten herself into a dangerous situation. She could not think straight, but she walked into the condo about 10:30 P.M., ran a hot tub of water, and slowly sank into it to let the heat wash away her shock.
She kept the secret for a whole day, fearing that her revelation would ruin her mother’s birthday. Finally, as night fell, she confided in Linda.
Officer Tammy Nixon of the Madeira Beach Police Department was driving along the 800 block of Gulf Boulevard at 11:16 P.M. on Tuesday, May 16, when Linda Lyle flagged her down. She explained to the police officer that a friend of hers had been assaulted the day before, but had been afraid to report it.
Linda took Nixon to the condo, and then the officer ferried both of the Canadian girls up the street to police headquarters where Gayle began to tell her story. Later, she was taken to the Pinellas County Health Department in St. Petersburg for a rape test, although no one doubted for a moment that the girl had been assaulted.
She and Linda gave police a detailed statement that enabled them, with the use of a Smith & Wesson Identikit, to put together a composite sketch of the man who called himself Dave Posner. He was a man in his late thirties about five foot nine inches tall and some two hundred pounds, with reddish blond hair cut short. He had a mustache and wore a slouch hat to protect his balding head, and on the day he raped Gayle Arquette, he had worn a bright green shirt with some sort of mesh around the bottom. He lived with his mother, owned his own aluminum business, and was from some town that started with the letter B.
The report was then distributed on a routine basis to other law enforcement agencies. The crime was described, along with the description of the assailant and the boat.
It was very little, but about all that could be done.
Five years later, Madeira Beach Police Chief Archie “Bert” Hatcher, a former head of homicide detectives in Tampa, said it was the worst kind of crime to try and solve. Two people meet at random and one perpetrates a crime on the other aboard a boat. The victim is from a faraway city and would be unlikely ever to see her attacker through an accidental meeting. The rapist could be from anywhere along the crowded Florida coast and boats that are blue and white number in the thousands. Tracing such a boat that vanished into the night was impossible after giving it a forty-eight-hour head start.
Not surprisingly, there was no arrest.
Gayle Arquette returned to Canada and got on with her life.
Dave Posner, however, satisfied with the success of his hit-and-run rape, began making other plans. On Sunday night, May 14, he had taken his wife out for an early dinner to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, and after returning home, had driven alone over to Madeira Beach, where he’d had the chance meeting with Gayle Arquette and her friend. The day after his anniversary, he had forced the Canadian to submit to sex on his boat, and felt confident that he had gotten away with the crime.
Chief Hatcher was wrong on one point. Gayle would see Posner again, many years later, when the rapist went on trial—under another name—for murdering three other women during one single, deadly boat ride. Gayle’s vivid testimony about what happened to her on a dark and terrifying night in a small boat off the Florida coast would be a pivotal piece of evidence that would help send the man who assaulted her to the electric chair.