In 1939 Thelma Rice, 26, killed Earl Randolph Haskew, 33, with his own gun, in the nude on Ft. Myers beach after hours of drinking and partying.
We visited the Southwest Florida Historical Society to learn more about the incident that night. Glenn Miller, President of the Society, has studied the case and written about it in his long tenure with the New Press.
“I started looking on microfilm through old newspapers at the public library downtown,” Miller said “I came across stories on Thelma Rice and I was fascinated.”
The story of Thelma Rice dates back to the 1930’s when the Ft. Myers area was far less developed than it is today. Miller says, “You could probably get away with skinny-dipping back then and not get spotted by people saying ‘what the hell is going on’. There were far fewer people, it wasn’t as developed.”
Miller’s article tells the story of Rice and describes her as “a wandering waitress.” According to Miller, Rice had been drinking at a local ‘juke joint’ in 1939. After a few rounds she met Earl Randolph Haskew, not knowing her life was about to change forever. The two continued drinking throughout the night and left the bar together when they headed for a pharmacy.
“A pharmacy [then] is different than when we think of a Walgreens or CVS, there’s a lunch counter, you could get a meal or a drink and pick up your prescription,” Miller says.
Jailhouse interviews of Rice describe her point of view of what happened next. She said “I had the hiccups, so, we stopped at a pharmacy and he got some kind of medicine and I drank it.”
Rice continued to recount the events “after that, everything is hazy. I remember nothing until I sort of came to and found myself running on the beach with a man, we were both nude.”
Miller says Rice got scared and grabbed the gun from Haskew’s car and proceeded to shoot Haskew three times until he fell. She then, stole his car and fled north where she would later turn herself in and face trial in Ft. Myers.
Rice was charged with manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison. She served four years and was paroled in 1943 and what happened to her next is a mystery.