Death on the Hog Trail

Death on the Hog Trail

Blue Mercury Capri – this is what the serial killer was driving, on March 5, 1995, when he picked up unsuspecting David Allen Payton.  The killer lured Payton into his fathers Capri, gave him a beer and a valium, and ended up driving down an isolated dirt road outside of Ft. Meyers, Florida.

Fortunately for Payton, shortly after asking to take nude photos of him, the killer slid off the road and got stuck. The driver of a 4-wheel drive truck stopped to help them out of the mud. Payton was arrested inside the Capri that had been reported stolen by Daniel Conahan Sr. The serial killer, Daniel Conahan – son of the vehicle’s owner, escaped suspect when Ft. Meyers police did not believe Payton’s story.

However, Conahan did become a person of suspicion when, on May 8, 1996, after Payton got investigators to listen to his story. The suspicion grew after linking Conahan with a 1994 police report.  Conahan had propositioned Stanley Burden, tied him to a tree, and nearly strangled him.

As a youngster his parents were disgruntled, having discovered their son’s homosexuality. Conahan graduated from Miami Norland High School in 1973, in 1977 joined the United States Navy and was later stationed in Illinois at Naval Station Great Lakes. In 1978, Conahan was able to avoid being court-martialed for homosexual solicitation, but was later discharged for a fight caused following homosexual behavior.

In 1993, having spent the past 13 years in Chicago, Conahan moved in with his parents in Punta Gorda, Florida. He was a top graduate of Charlotte Vocational-Technical Center in 1995, and gained employment by Charlotte Regional Medical Center.

So where does the ‘serial’ come in?  On February 1, 1994, the mangled corpse of a man with rope burns and genitalia missing was found in Punta Gorda. In January 1996, a search began after a family dog dragged a human skull home, resulting in the discovery of a skeleton with no genitals. These two men were never identified.

On March 7, 1996, the mutilated body of John William Melaragno was found in North Port. April 1996 began with the discovery of the skull of Kenneth Lee Smith in Charlotte County, leading to the uncovering of the mutilated body of Richard Al Montgomery. This led to a media frenzy during which the name, ‘The Hog Trail Killings’, was dubbed because each of the murders occurred in remote areas inhabited by wild boars. Residents of the surrounding area felt terrorized.

After a short 25-minute deliberation on August 9, 1999, Conahan was convicted of the first-degree murder and kidnapping of Montgomery. Evidence linking Conahan with Montgomery was found during a search of his home. Burden, who Conahan had assaulted in 1994, had been the star witness of the trial.

As Conahan awaited trial, the ‘Hog Trail Killing’ of William Charles Patten was discovered in Charlotte County on May 22, 1997.  Adding to the horror a body was discovered in 2000, two in 2001, and another in 2002. Authorities believe that more bodies are waiting to be found.

Conahan was sentenced to death on December 10th 1999, and is currently awaiting execution at the Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida

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