The Devil’s Tree

An Encounter At The Devil’s Tree

The following is an unedited story we received recounting one person’s experience with The Devil’s Tree in Oak Hammock Park. We do not know the storyteller in person and can neither confirm nor deny the statements made in this tale of the paranormal. We are posting the full story in order to allow you to judge the contents for yourself.

My sister,her fiance, two other people and I decided to check out the Devil’s tree. Keep in mind that this is a group of older people who were very skeptical of the legend.

We looked up directions for the tree and headed to the park at around 7:30p.m. When we reached the park we went through the wooded area and not the actual park.

As soon as I stepped foot into the woods my legs began to shook and I was starting to regret the whole thing. After a few minutes we all collected ourselves, calmed down our nerves and stepped onto the dark, overgrown path. Through the first set of woods it was very calm and we began cracking jokes and were very at ease. After about twenty minutes of being completely lost we came out of the woods and found the canal. Nothing was out of the ordinary except for the clanking of chains we heard from time to time. It was a calm warm night and we weren’t very scared at all….. until we came to the mounds. From there on it felt like we were being perpetually watched.

We wove our way through the path men up front (of course) and the girls holding hands keeping up the rear. All of a sudden the three of us in back halted. It was like a wall was blocking our way. Our knees buckled simultaneously, but we didn’t say a word. The boys hadn’t noticed and kept walking ahead. Out of no where a screeching sound like an animal in mortal danger filled the air. Then it got silent. My sister was earnestly whispering for us to go back, but the boys were not concerned. The air kept getting heavier and the scariest feelings came over me. Then my sister’s fiance walked a little forward and confirmed our suspicions, “It’s the tree”. He was so dumb as to touch the tree, and from then on it got worse.

Trying to be as professional as we could we turned around and as we started walking the flashlight went out. [Its like we weren't getting a freaking break]. My sister said that she felt like something was hovering on her shoulder and she couldn’t get it off. I had the feeling of an evil presence skulking by me and everything was screaming get out. We just all knew we weren’t supposed to be there, nothing good was there.

Panicking we hurried to get out of the trail. We finally got the the flashlight to work again and we walked as fast as we could out of there. As soon as we got to the canal again we were somewhat relieved and the presence was gone.

This is a true story of skeptics turned to believers.

It was honestly the worst experience of my life. I can never doubt the paranormal again.

Finding The Real Devil’s Tree

Will The Real Devil’s Tree Please Stand Up

We finally got a chance to revisit Oak Hammock Park, with the goal of finding the ‘real’ Devil’s Tree.  Armed with information provided by actual witnesses to the events which took place in the past, we were fairly confident we could locate the actual tree.

From our own research, we knew that the tree was carved with a cross and later a wooden cross was nailed to the tree.  Our group was a little surprised that, after setting out on the adventure, it took only about four minutes to find the oak.  It was exactly at the location described by our witness.  We found a scar in the bark from the original carving and also located nails and remnants of wood from the cross.

Unfortunately, the tree has become a local oddity and has reached true urban legend status, as mentioned in our previous posts.  Rumors of occult rituals being held at the tree, a group of clergy performing a blessing on the oak and even a suicide committed underneath its branches have led to an overwhelming number of people attempting to visit the tree after dark.  After a prolonged discussion, our group decided that it would be in the best interest of Parks and Recreation (and of the tree) to not reveal the location publicly.  Ultimately, the location is where two young women died horrific deaths and later a despondent man took his own life.  It is an area that should be treated with a sense of respect and not turned into a circus sideshow.

We can tell  you that the many directions posted throughout the internet on forums and even found in books are quite wrong- not one of them will lead you to the correct tree.

Now that G.R.I.M. has the location of the actual Devil’s Tree and permission from Parks & Recreation, we are going to proceed with an overnight investigation of the location.

Things You Don’t Always Think About

Some of the reports of activity at Oak Hammock Park center around the restrooms.  Specifically, the women’s restroom.  The reports range from people hearing voices and screams to slamming doors.  An investigation in a public restroom presents numerous problems- installing camera equipment in a ladies restroom might score G.R.I.M. an interesting rap sheet, but most likely wouldn’t turn up any evidence.  While audio equipment might not land us behind bars, we can’t help but wonder if the men on the team really want to monitor the sounds and discussions in a women’s restroom.  Probably not.

Those issues to the side,  this particular restroom has some interesting things to note. The floor is far from level and there are open screened window cutouts along the roof-line.   This could account for nearly all of the phenomenon reported in the location- a stray breeze causing one of the stall doors to slam, voices carrying in through the open windows- even the screams could be rather common place, due to its proximity to the children’s playground.

As we continue to work on the Devil’s Tree Investigation, we will report our findings.

Examining An Urban Legend

Over the past few days we have continued to research the Devil’s Tree and the legends surrounding it. We’ve come up with some very interesting information that we wanted to share. In order to explain the information to the fullest, we’ll break it down into sections.

Oak Hammock Park is a local hangout for fishermen and boaters along the C-24 Canal. On January 8th, 1973, long before the park was built, the deranged serial killer beat, raped, hung, then buried 2 girls beneath the “Devil Tree”.

A bit of research into this has shown us that this part of legend is actually untrue. Let’s start with the date. According to the legend, the murders took place on January 8th. The truth is that the victims, 19-year-old Iowa residents Collette Goodenough and Barbara Ann Wilcox, left Biloxi, Mississippi and began hitchiking to Florida around that time; however, an exact date of their death was never established. We can confirm that they disappeared between January 8th and January 15, 1973- when serial killer Gerard Schaefer was jailed for assaulting two other hitchikers, Pamela Sue Wells and Nancy Ellen Trotter.

Wells and Trotter managed to exact a narrow escape from Schaefer, who left them handcuffed and gagged, “balanced on tree roots with nooses around their necks, at risk of hanging if they slipped and fell.” Schaefer left the area and the two escaped, leading to the capture of Schaefer. You might find yourself wondering how we know he is tied to the remains of Goodenough and Wilcox. The answer was found in Schaefer’s mother’s home during a search- a passport, diary and book of poetry owned by Collette Goodenough and the drivers license of Barbara Wilcox. Because of this, we can reasonably assume that Schaefer murdered Goodenough and Wilcox, but the date of the murders would fall between January 8th and January 15th, most likely somewhere after the 8th as they would have had to hitched all the way to the Treasure Coast prior to him discovering them.

The next point that is made in this first section of the legend is that the women were hung from the Devil’s Tree and then buried beneath it. Both of these points are actually incorrect. According to newspaper articles discovered during our research, the remains were actually scattered in a palmetto thicket several hundred feet from the tree; additionally, there is this statement, taken from the same article:

“Former St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Detective Rick McIlwain, now an investigator for the State Attorney’s Office, said he found several pieces of the Iowa girls’ dismembered bodies at the base of a small tree off Leafy Road, about 300 feet from the oak.”

In January 1977, almost 4 years to the day that the murders were committed, two fishermen discovered the skeletal remains of the two bodies, and the hanging ropes were also found.

Yet again we can turn to eyewitness reports to debunk this portion of the legend. An article run by the Palm Beach Post in the 1990s, which focused on the history and fate of the Devil’s Tree, tells us:

“West Palm Beach resident XXXXXX, who found the Iowa girls’ bones when he was having a barbecue with friends off Leafy Road 16 years ago, was happy to hear the mighty oak will be spared and called it “one of the finest live oak specimens around.”

“Investigators believe Schaefer hanged his victims up with telephone wire in the smaller tree by kicking out an orange crate from beneath their feet. Wire and a crate were found near the small tree, which also may have been an oak, McIlwain said. Authorities removed a branch believed used in the murders and still have it in an evidence locker, sources said.”

As you can see, this pretty much decimates that section of the legend. However, the same article reveals something previously unknown about the Devil’s Tree:

“One of the inverted crosses was drawn by a friend with marital problems who committed suicide under the tree in 1983″

Over the years people have reported hearing screaming, and seeing hooded figures walking around the woods. In 1993 an exorcism was held, and a cross was erected, after two boys claimed to have seen a Satanic ritual taking place near the tree, and being chased away by the Satanists who yelled that they wanted their blood.

This rather astounding information has proven to be true. Again, from the article:

“After two children reported being chased by youths in black hoods off Leafy Road last weekend, XXXXXX and a group of pastors blessed the tree at neighbors’ urging Thursday and made plans to chop it down.”

This leads us into the remainder of the legend, which tells us:

Before the park was built, they were going to cut down the tree, but their chainsaws kept malfunctioning in the area surrounding the tree. They tried to cut down the tree manually with a two-man saw, but the teeth of the saw broke off, so they left the tree where it was.

We can not confirm or deny this portion of the legend at this time, but we did find this, again in the newspaper:

“Pastors gathered at a 150-year-old oak in Port St. Lucie Thursday and chanted, ‘ Demons be gone,’ to drive away the evil they say resided in the tree. The tree won a reprieve Friday when the owner decided not to cut it down.”

Whether that decision was based on a desire to preserve the tree or because the tree wouldn’t ‘allow’ itself to be cut down, we can’t say at this time.

In Search of the Devil’s Tree

Most people we talk to have never heard of Deputy Sheriff Gerard Schaefer- we hadn’t, and we’ve been residents in the area since birth. It took a rumor overhead by a friend to tip us off to the strange history of Port Saint Luice; a little digging led to the truth and the story of Gerard Schaefer. This twisted individual was responsible for the deaths of possibly hundreds of women, with his victims remains having been found at both Blind Creek and in what is now Oak Hammock Park in Port Saint Lucie. For a full history of this man, visit Michael Newton’s article, “All About Gerard Schaefer“.

The murderous past of Oak Hammock Park was compounded in the years after Schaefer’s horrific crimes took place. Soon groups of Satanic worshipers moved in, claiming the tree Schaefer’s victims had been hung from as their own. They held rituals under what was fast becoming known as the Devil’s Tree, despite the attempts of others in the area to prevent their activity. Here are a few excerpts from the local papers over the past years:

“With Bibles in hand and a can of paint at their sides, a team of pastors set out to rid an oak tree of evil Thursday after reports that the tree has been the site of two murders and several satanic rituals. Chanting “demons be gone” and “this is holy property,” four pastors and two church members joined hands around a 150-year-old live oak on Southwest Leafy Road.”

Author: TERESA LANE, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Date: March 5, 1993

“A 150-year-old oak tree slated for the chopping block because of folklore tying it to evil will not be razed, the tree’s owner said Friday. Instead, an 8-foot wooden cross will be erected near the tree to warn devil-worshipers they’re not welcome on Southwest Leafy Road, said Alan Weierman, administrator of the children’s shelter that owns the 30-acre tract in western Port St. Lucie.”

Author: TERESA LANE, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Date: March 6, 1993

The land on which the Devil’s Tree grew eventually found its way into the hands of the Parks and Recreation Department in Port Saint Lucie. As the story goes, the employees were instructed to cut the tree down in preperation for the land becoming a public park. Here is an excerpt from a standard “friend of a friend” accounting of what happened next:

“The city decided to remove the tree. They contracted the work out to a local tree removal service, who went in with their chainsaws and equipment to cut down the oak, however, their chainsaws wouldn’t fire up. Frustrated, but not ready to give up, they returned with some unused chainsaws, and were surprised to find they also wouldn’t start. All of the chainsaws worked properly later on.

The story got even odder because they came back again, planning to cut down the tree with an old fashioned two person pull saw, the kind made out of tempered steel. Oddly, the teeth broke off the saw.

At this point, the city felt they had run out of options and just decided to leave the tree. That is- until recently. I have heard rumor that perhaps the Devil’s Tree may have been cut down without anyone having been told. Since I haven’t been to Oak Hammock Park recently, I can’t confirm that though.”

In addition to the rumors of activity at The Devil’s Tree, it is said that the woman’s restroom at the park is also a spot with unexplained noises and other events. Today, we decided to take the chance and visit Oak Hammock Park in search of the infamous Devil’s Tree. We went off directions we’d found on another website, which pointed us towards the tree and explained that it was a very old, large oak with metal benches under its branches and a lot of Spanish moss hanging above. After following the directions to reach the tree, we came across one that seemed to fit the bill exactly. We took pictures and discussed the fact that none of us had an erie feeling from the tree, something everyone seemed to report. We continued on down the path, eager to explore the remainder of the park, which is an idyllic slice of ‘old Florida’.

It wasn’t long before we came upon the second tree. It was a very large, old oak. There were metal benches under the branches. The Spanish moss was there. All the signs, yet this was the second tree that fit the description. We thought it odd and, after taking pictures of this second tree, continued on down the path- where we found tree number three. There are five large, old oaks that fit the description of the Devil’s Tree along one path alone, making it nearly impossible to identify with the information we currently have.

Having said that, only one tree gave off an eerie feeling; only one tree seemed to be “creepy”. It also had a rather interesting branch, which you will be able to see in close up in the images below. We also took time to check out the women’s restroom, which didn’t seem like anything interesting during the day.

We’re not done exploring the Devil’s Tree- we are currently attempting to reach those who were involved in the original cases in an attempt to find someone who can verify which of these majestic oaks has the sordid past.