Law/Justice

When Mass Murderers Use Arson Rather than Firearms

I remember when this case happened. An illustration of how you don’t need a firearm to create mayhem. Here is the original UPI report.

PALM RIVER — They were strangers in that moment 30 years ago — a bag boy, a cashier, a young mother buying food.

On any other day, their gathering at that checkout counter in the Winn-Dixie store in Palm River would have been fleeting, the names of those with them long forgotten.

But what happened that drizzly evening — July 2, 1983 — is still well remembered by many longtime Tampa Bay residents.

It was the day a man named John William “Billy” Ferry Jr. — a drifter who lived in the woods near the Winn-Dixie — walked in carrying a bucket full of gasoline, doused customers and employees, and flicked a cigarette lighter.

For that, the 60-year-old schizophrenic remains in prison serving five life sentences — one for each person who died in the ensuing blaze.

They were: Leigh Anne Carter, 20, who was working the cash register at the checkout counter; Martha Jean Vance, 23, and her 4-year-old daughter, Jennifer Jean, who were buying food for dinner; Melody Darlington, 27, who was buying baby food; and Darlington’s niece, Misty K. McCullough, 16.

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