The way we were: Murder at the San Juan


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“Three Orlando men, an ex-constable, an ex-convict, and a physician-chiropractor, were in the county jail last night after being held by a coroner’s jury for the first degree poison liquor murder of Dolores Myerly, 19-year-old transient ‘butterfly’…”

This February 20, 1938 lead in the Sunday Sentinel Star newspaper, had all the trappings of an old television murder mystery.

In the early morning hours of February 16, Pine Castle painter Robert Etty phoned a doctor, and then the police, to report a death. When Sheriff George Fields arrived at room 208 of the San Juan Hotel, he expected foul play, but nothing made any sense.

Etty admitted having met Myerly earlier that night at Jack Holloway’s Friendly Bar at the corner of Orange and Wall Street. From there, he had arranged to meet her at her hotel room just before midnight – which he did, a full bottle of whisky in tow. After just one sip, Myerly collapsed.

San Juan Hotel at 32 N. Orange Avenue where Myerly was murdered.(Photo courtesy of Orange County Regional History Center)

There were enough grains of potassium cyanide in the bottle to kill three people.

Myerly, it turned out, was not Myerly at all, but Marie Bayouth. A supposed harlot, Etty had no motive to kill Bayouth, though he freely admitted to offering her the drink, having no knowledge of the cyanide inside. He claimed he had received the bottle from a stranger at Holloway’s, a story the doorman at the bar corroborated.

The doorman also remembered an odd complaint from the stranger regarding denture trouble. A minor detail, but it was just the tip needed to locate Donald Long via the local dentist who had treated him. Long denied everything, but police discovered a bill of sale for a quarter-pound of cyanide that chiropractor E.N. Sykes claimed to have purchased on Long’s behalf. At this point, Long requested a lawyer, George Coston.

In a later interview, the chiropractor stated that Long had told him he wanted the cyanide because one of Long’s colleagues had promised dividends from the sale of a new insect formula. His colleague? George Coston. Coston, a former police lieutenant turned investigator, admitted that Long, and Long’s cousin Edward Mosely, had been employed by Coston’s security firm. Mosely accused Coston of plans to establish a crime syndicate, using his front as an investigator to cover robberies he himself had ordered. When the cousins refused to participate in the scheme, Coston blackmailed them with their criminal pasts. However, this still did not explain how Bayouth had been poisoned!

Jack Holloway’s Friendly Bar at the corner of Orange and Wall Street where Myerly and Etty first met. (Photo courtesy of Orange County Regional History Center)

As the complicated murder mystery unfurled, it became apparent that Coston had gifted the poisoned whiskey to Long hoping he would drink it in an effort to neutralize him as a loose end. Preferring beer to whiskey, Long gave the bottle to Etty, who accepted it hoping to impress his date. Thus how Bayouth ended up the victim.

Coston was jailed, and after trying to pass condemning notes to Long through an intermediary, he was convicted of murder by “transferred intent” because he succeeded in killing Marie Bayouth, even if she wasn’t his intended victim. A life sentence was reduced to a life term on appeal. He died at Raiford in 1942, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

Do you know any dark or haunted stories, be they true or lore from around downtown Orlando? Please share them with us at pamela.schwartz@ocfl.net.

Pam Schwarz is the chief curator at the Orange County Regional History Center.

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