True Crime: Dead German Tourist: Not Just a Miami Punk Rock Band
Believe it or not, there was a time when saying you were going to Miami for vacation was greeted with responses usually reserved for “I’ve decided skydiving is infinitely more fun when you don’t bring a parachute.”
It is hard to imagine, as you stroll gingerly through the streets of South Beach on a hot summer afternoon, that this place was once considered dangerous. Believe it or not, there was a time when there were worldwide travel advisories against coming to our little section of paradise. We were travel Pariah’s on par with those Mecca’s of tourism Lebanon and Uganda. Yes, overseas saying you were going to Miami for vacation was greeted with responses usually reserved for “I’ve decided skydiving is infinitely more fun when you don’t bring a parachute.” So how did our sleepy little beach town become the Beirut of the West?
Well, the 1980’s didn’t do much to help our cause. The American Murder capital was home to so many random drug shooting that they usually followed stories of old women running car- washes on the evening news. When law enforcement finally cracked down, or at least cracked down by Miami standards, tourism officials finally began to breathe a sigh of relief as visitors would soon begin to pour back in. And so they did, until late 1992. What happened in late 1992, you might ask? Oh, just a little rainy day we locals like to call Hurricane Andrew. And while Andrew did a lot of obvious damage that made Homestead vaguely resemble 1940’s Nagasaki, the storm left in its wake adverse effects on tourism that few could have predicted. Yes, many hotels were shut down indefinitely and beaches were eroded and many tourist attractions were unattendable for a good deal of time, but these were all things most people could schedule their vacations around. Just don’t book your stay anywhere that is under “renovation.”
Then a funny thing started happening: Local criminals decided to start attacking tourists. This had not been a problem previously, but for some reason immediately after Hurricane Andrew a lot of foreigners ended up not-so-alive in their late-model Ford Probes. What was this reason? Well, funny thing about hurricanes, they tend to mess up highway signs. So a lot of signs that may have been around to clearly mark highway on and off ramps to unsuspecting visitors were now somewhere in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Similarly, signs that may have pointed you, for example, West towards I-95 from Biscayne Blvd. Downtown, now informed you that the way to Miami International Airport was, in fact, straight on Biscayne. Which, in 1993, may have been a good way to score some crack and a blowjob, but not so much the way to travel safely back to Stuttgart.
TOURIST SHOOTINGS RECAP
1. Contrary to popular opinion, though, the rash of tourist slayings in the Sunshine State, or as the papers began to dub it the “State of Terror,” did not begin in Miami. Rather they started in October 6, 1992 in Orlando when Briton Keith Thompson was shot in a hotel parking garage. Not so much a big deal for South Florida, as if people chose to avoid the northern part of the state it may benefit us.
2. That was until the first German, Rudi Rihlott, was shot to death while taking an evening stroll with his fiancé in Fort Myers December 8. Now, again, to your average South Floridian this is a sad story, but it was, after all on the Gulf Coast and not here in Dade or Broward so it theoretically would not mar our already marred-to-death reputation. Of course, to your typical German, it may as well have happened downtown.
3. As New Year’s approached, the tourist killing spree came closer to Miami. Canadian Marc Nadeau was doing what most people do in the winter and visiting his elderly father in Lake Worth. Lake Worth, a town usually unnotable except for its unusual juxtaposition of Jewish retirees and University of Miami football recruits, played host to the first tourist slaying to hit Southeast Florida when Nadeau was shot during an attempted mugging while going to buy his father some milk.
4. And then the Dade County shootings began. Another Canadian, this time Ralph Passero was gunned down in his car during a robbery attempt near Sunny Isles on January 26. He had apparently been scouting locations to open a restaurant and was accosted by robbers who shot him as he fled, forcing him to crash his car into a utility pole. Four days later, Venezuelan diplomat Jesus Alberto Delgado was murdered while walking around the Brickell area during yet another botched robbery. Now, while these crimes, and the ones in Lake Worth and Ft. Myers, were all unfortunate and caused Canadian papers to scream with headlines like “Tourists easy prey in Miami,” and “Tourists sitting ducks for criminals,” they were not the calculated tourist robberies that caused international advisories against Dade County.
5. South Florida managed to go seven weeks without a tourist being murdered until March 11 when German Jorg Schell was shot outside a Homestead motel by teenager Damon Peterson. Then followed a couple of car-jackings and robberies that, while not fatal, didn’t do much for our image. They were done in the classic “bump-and-rob” method in which a car bumps you from the side or behind, encouraging you to slow down, and then robs you. This became the trademark of the German tourist predators.
6. The next victim, Barbara Meller Jensen of Berlin, arrived in Miami late on April 2. On her way to Miami Beach from the airport she got lost and inadvertently exited I-95 at 62nd street. Apparently in Germany all their bad neighborhoods do not contain the name “Martin Luther King Jr. Way” so she did not know any better. She was bumped, had her purse stolen, and then attempted to break inside the robbers’ car. Not such a good move as she was beaten in the head, fell to the ground, and had her skull crushed by the Cadillac as it sped away. Her mother and two children got a front row seat for the entire melee.
FLORIDA TRAVEL WARNING - VISITORS BEWARE OF THE MIAMI BUMP-AND-RUN
News of this had reached Germany by this time and many were receiving advisories about Miamians and their penchant for the Bump-and Rob. And for carjacking, stealing and general disruptive street crime. Among those receiving these advisories was Uwe-Wilhelm Rakebrand, who, along with his new wife, decided to take a belated Honeymoon to South Florida. They did all they were supposed to do: they locked their valuables in the trunk, drove at a brisk pace, and did not stop when they were accosted on a pitch-black section of the Dolphin Expressway. Why was the Dolphin pitch black you ask? Well, another funny thing about hurricanes, they tend to rip up light poles such as the ones that lined Miami’s major East-West thoroughfare. And by the time Uwe and his pregnant wife arrived in South Florida, a good year after Andrew, the poles had yet to be replaced. At any rate, the robbers were undaunted by their victims desires to escape and shot Rakebrand in the neck as his car crashed. His wife survived and, in getting with the American Spirit, sued a lot of people and got a lot of money.
Response after this eighth death in under a year was resounding. Headiness in the British tabloids read “Come to Sunny Florida and be Murdered for Absolutely Nothing,” “Slaughter in the Sunshine” and “Plan Your Trip Like a Commando Raid.” Governor Lawton Chiles issued an emergency executive order abandoning the Y-and-Z-beginning Florida tags for rentals and offering agencies a chance to trade them in for a vastly reduced fee. Sadly, fewer than 10% responded. Rental agencies were also instructed to remove all identifying marking from their rented vehicles so as not to tip off potential carjackers. Similarly, new road signs were immediately constructed and put up to replace old and confusing ones in so-deemed problem areas. But, as is so often the case in Miami, our reaction was exactly that; reactional. Chances are most of this could have been done a long time before the shootings.
The German travel ministry insisted Miami institute a policy of delivering rental cars to visitors’ hotels. They issued advisories, along with the British and Canadians, about visits to Miami. This was unprecedented as previous travel advisories were issued for entire countries, never before for one particular region. But of course, Miami is always at the cutting edge of violent crime. Alamo Rental Car and Travel Agent Magazine also published a guide to “Surviving Your Trip to Miami.” Only in Miami are Fodor’s and Zagat overkill, as a guidebook is needed merely to SURVIVE your vacation. Good restaurants and attractions are just a bonus. Among their tips:
Beware of people who yell, honk or point your car as if something is wrong……If any of these ….occur, do not pull over or stop,” Alamo tells customers, “Instead, drive immediately to the nearest service station or well-lighted area and call the police.”
So, basically, according to Alamo, every driver in Miami should be reported to the police. While technically accurate, not ALL of us are trying to rob you. At least not while you’re in your car.
A MIAMI PUNK BAND PAYS TRIBUTE
The rest of 1993 and 1994 were bad tourist years, as visitation to the Sunshine State fell off about 8%. Not a horrendous plunge, but enough to make a dent in the economy. By 1995 things began to pick up and, save for the post-9/11 season of hysteria, tourism in South Florida has been on a steady climb. By 1999, the whole “killing tourists” thing had become a regional bad taste joke. A local rock band, dubbed The Dead German Tourist, played sold-out shows at Button South in the late 90’s, earning the band the Miami New Times “Best Local Band Name” award. And while I’m sure it will never be funny to the families of those whose deaths almost cost Florida its visitor-friendly reputation, it is good to see that we are able to put the past behind us and focus on the positive. Whatever that may be.
You Deserve More Than an Ordinary Vacation.
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