Three years ago, I was searching for an auto repair shop not far from our winter retreat in Florida in a lakeside town named Ocklawaha. Driving into this little podunk village, I couldn’t believe it had an auto shop because the town itself had six buildings at most. But yes, a man in a convenience store told me, “The garage across the street used to repair cars but it’s been closed for nearly a year.”
Curious, I drove over and peered through one of the dirty windows. “Can I help you, sir?” Startled, I saw a nice-looking young man, maybe in his mid-30s, appear from around the corner.
“I was looking for this shop not realizing it was closed,” I answered.
“Yes, we moved the business to Orlando, now managed by my cousin. I’m Shawn Rajapor, the owner. What were you needing done?”
I explained to him, that the CD player in my car no longer worked and I was hoping to get it fixed.
“Let me take a look,” he offered.
Shawn then did a quick inspection of my car’s audio system, sliding a credit card back and forth in the CD slot. He declared the CD ejection springs had broken, but a used radio from a junkyard would cost no more than $25 and he’d be happy to install it for me.
Shawn and I then had a long chat during which I was totally blown away by this amazingly bright, personable young guy. I learned Shawn lived in Ocklawaha, having moved there with his parents from New York twenty years earlier. His dad was East Indian and his mother African American. After graduating from high school in just three years, Shawn had an academic scholarship to the University of Central Florida. As a favor to his father he enrolled in pre-law but was bored stiff memorizing case law. It was a great disappointment to his father, but he dropped out and went to work for an uncle who had a car repair business. Shawn was fascinated by the computer systems in newer cars and soon had his own shop specializing in Hi-Fi auto sound systems. And his business flourished.
I left Shawn that day, agreeing to call him when I had a replacement radio for my car, and eager to tell Michele about this incredible person I just met. I also decided I had to write a story about Shawn, but first needed to learn more about this little whistle-stop town of Ocklawaha.
Well, it turned out that Ocklawaha history was even more of a surprise than Shawn Rajapor. The first discovery was that during the Civil War there was a plantation in town supplying cotton to the Confederate Army. A Union platoon of soldiers marching out of Jacksonville attacked the plantation and freed the slaves working on the plantation. Confederate troops counter attacked and chased the Union troops back north, recapturing all the workers. That was interesting, but not even close to the next discovery I made.
During the 1930’s the Ma Barker Gang shared the FBI’s Most Wanted List with Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde, and John Dillinger. And Ma Barker and her sons had a hideout in Ocklawaha. Unfortunately for the Barkers, one of the sons, Doc, was tracked to an apartment in Chicago where he was gunned down by G-men. A map was found in the apartment with the Ocklawaha town circled.
The FBI staged a raid on the Barker’s hideout in Ocklawaha and in the longest shoot out in FBI history—four hours–machinegunned and killed Ma Barker and another son, Freddie. The house they were renting still stands with plaster patches now covering the exterior bullet holes, but inside shattered banisters and walls still reveal evidence of the gun battle.
Rumors were told over the years that the Barkers buried some of their stolen loot on the Ocklawaha property
Here, suddenly I had the seeds of an interesting crime story featuring my hero, Shawn Rajapor, as a super-sleuth mystery solver.
The 6,900-word historical fiction story I wrote was submitted to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I didn’t even get the courtesy of a rejection letter. Maybe they didn’t get it. Maybe the story was too long. Maybe the magazine was out of business. And I kind of forgot about it. But now rereading my tale, I think it’s pretty good. I’m renewing my submission efforts to find a magazine publisher and will let you know what luck I have.
Anyone want a copy of the story? Let me know. I’d welcome your feedback.