The Devil’s Tree is one of the most haunted locations in Florida U.S.A. Despite relatively recent origins, the tale of this cursed tree only grows more and more famous. There are occurrences of paranormal activity commonly reported in the area it’s located. However, unlike most urban legends, The Devil’s Tree has a very real dark and disturbing history behind it. And till this day parents tell their children not to go anywhere near it.
The true story behind the Devil’s Tree began on January 8th, 1971 with a cop named Gerard John Schaefer. Police officers may normally be devoted to serving and protecting the public. But not this cop. Gerard was a psycho killer with a badge. Well, he was actually an ex-cop at this point, but he still had his old police badge though. Gerard was a sadistic and creepy serial killer with an alleged kill count of around 30 people.
One night while driving Gerard came upon two pretty teenage girls hitchhiking through town. Seeing an opportunity to enact his twisted desires, he pulled over his car and showed them his badge, then told them to get in the vehicle. The girls were tricked into thinking he was a real cop and obliged him. The serial killer then brought them to what would later be known as the Devil’s Tree. Gerard documented the whole incident in a notebook saying:
“Doing doubles is far more difficult than doing singles, but on the other hand, it also puts one in a position to have twice as much fun. There can be some lively discussions about which of the victims will get killed first. When you have a pair of teenaged bimbolinas bound hand and food and ready for a session with the skinning knife, neither one of the little devils wants to be the one to go first. And they don’t mind telling you quickly why their best friend should be the one to die.”
Gerard would later go into detail about how he killed the girls. Saying stuff like he told the girls to put on blindfolds, and that they were nervous but did it anyway. It gets pretty dark. He threw ropes around the branches of the Devil’s Tree and tied them around the girl’s necks. Occasionally he’d lift them into the air choking them, then let them back down to enjoy their begging and pleading for their lives. The girls were gagged, bound, raped, and tortured over an extended amount of time. Gerard getting as much twisted pleasure as he could from the heinous crime. Eventually, he did kill Collette Goodenough and Barbara Ann Wilcox by hanging, both only 19 years old. He then decapitated the girls, but he wasn’t done desecrating their bodies just yet. Over the span of 10 days, Gerard returned to the tree to have sex with their headless decomposing corpses. So the sick sociopath was a necrophiliac on top of being a serial killer.
It wasn’t coincidence Gerard brought the girls to that particular tree though. He did it for a very direct reason. The ruins of his childhood home were right next to the tree, and at the time you could even still see the foundations of the old house. After he was done killing the girls and having sex with their bodies he left the ropes in the trees, so he could return and remind himself of his two favorite kills. About 4 years later in 1977, two men going through the woods stumbled upon a pretty gruesome scene. They found the girl’s decomposing corpses with the deteriorating ropes still swaying from the tree, and it’s from this point on the urban legend really kicked off.
For many years there were reports of hooded figures practicing occult satanic rituals around the tree. So many supposed sightings of these hooded figures were reported even local law enforcement became unnerved. Anyone who got close to the tree was scared away by these people in the woods or went missing without a trace. These accounts are even more frightening because there’s objective proof of them from legitimately documented cases. Like in 1985, when a couple were romantically involved in the woods but got freaked out when they noticed hooded figures staring at them. They ran out of the woods half naked and terrified. In 1992 there was a case where two children narrowly escaped being abducted in the woods. The children very likely narrowly avoiding a horrible fate. In 1993 a pastor sick of all the devil talk put a big wooden cross next to the tree and performed an exorcism. But the cross was simply found turned upside down not long after. Which is a common satanic symbol? Still, these are just a few examples among many encounters with these enigmatic hooded Satanists.
Authorities and local officials were so sick of all the ghost stories and hooded figures in the woods concerning the Devil’s Tree they decided to do something about it. Around the year 2000, they decided to turn the area into a park. One of the first things on the to-do list was to chop down the Devil’s Tree. Two workers took chainsaws to the tree, and both the chainsaws mysteriously malfunctioned. Thinking it had something to do with the bark one of the workers hacked off a piece of the tree and took it with him. When the two got in their truck to leave they immediately suffered a fatal accident and both died.
After their deaths, the curse of the Devil’s Tree became part of the legend. Anyone who’s in possession of a piece of the tree is jinxed. People started taking pieces of the Devil’s Tree to curse others. Like, leaving a piece in someone’s car or house to give them misfortune. In 2004 a woman took a piece to curse a friend and almost died in a car accident while leaving. So it’s a common saying that if you take a piece of the Devil’s Tree, whatever you do don’t drive around in your car with it.
Paranormal activity around the tree is reported often even now. Horrifying screams can be heard coming from within the park’s restrooms when no one’s inside them, and the doors open and slam shut randomly from unseen hands. Cold spots can be felt throughout the area. Frightening EVP’s have been recorded, and phantom figures seen in pictures taken around the tree. The apparitions of the two murdered girls hanging from the Devil’s Tree with ropes around their necks are the most commonly reported ghost sightings, but shadow people and other otherworldly visages have been reported too.
The Devil’s Tree is unique because it’s such a recent and modern tale which also has a lot of real-world history behind it. Don’t worry though, the sick psycho Gerard Schaefer was brought to justice for his horrifying crimes, and was also stabbed to death in prison. However, it doesn’t look like the legend of the tree will die out anytime soon.