Prohibition Era Murder at the the Tangerine Hotel

Photographs from the State Archives of Florida

The Tangerine Hotel was on Howell Avenue. It is now the Tangerine Cove assisted living facilities. The Tangerine Hotel was the site of a famous murder. The City Attorney in 1931 Herbert Smithson was meeting with Judge Bird and Prosecuting Attorney J. R. Kelly. Smithson is said to have been gunned down by three men in a small sedan as he left the hotel. It is rumored that Smithson was helping federal agents fight the illegal alcohol trade in Hernando.

Judge Whitehurst oversaw the inquest. He was one of four brothers in Brooksville that were all lawyers. Sheriff Cobb asked Governor Carlton to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the murder. Herbert's body was taken to Talladega, Alabama by his wife. That was where she was from.

Police looked for two Ford cars that witnesses reportedly saw speeding away. The first car was a sedan without a license plate. This is the car that the three men were said to fire the shots from. The second car was a roadster with yellow wheels that followed that car. The cars were reported to have left town heading south.

Herbert Smithson was a married man and had been in Brooksville for seven or eight years. Herbert was commander of the local post of the American Legions. The men from the post assisted with the investigation.

The murder of Mr Smithson was never solved although the investigation called a number of witnesses. One of the people called to testify was a former fisherman from Pine Island.

Smithson's family offered a reward of $1900 for information leading to the conviction of his murders. According to Richard Cofer's Bootleggers in the Backwoods: Prohibition and the Depression in Hernando County, "Three men, including a deputy sheriff, were eventually indicted for the murder. The charges were dropped, however, for the three men maintained good alibis."

It is understandable that the crime was never solved. Prohibition was beneficial to rural poor Hernando County. There were large tracts of uninhabited forests in which to operate stills and miles of canals and marshes that allowed alcohol to be imported undetected. The area was far enough from big cities to not have a federal presence, but it was not far from Tampa. Many of the residents including prominents ones were said to have been involved in bootlegging.

If Mr. Smithson was investigating illegal alcohol he would have been threatening the livelihood and freedom of a number of residents. If word of his investigation had leaked out, all of these people would be potential suspects and unlikely to assist in the investigation of the murder, since it could lead to discovery of their own criminal behavior.

In later years, the Tangerine Hotel became run down. There were rumors that the hotel served as a bordello. A local resident recounted that there were "red lights on every door..

The building that was the Tangerine Hotel is still on Howell Avenue in Brooksville. It was renovated in 1990 and converted into an assisted living facility called Tangerine Cove.

The Tangerine Hotel/Cove was built in 1925. This is one of a few buildings that tie this county to its past and hopefully it will continue to be preserved.

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