Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Crazy Treasure on the Treasure Coast

by Linda Gordon Hengerer

Mystery Writer's of America Florida Chapter's Crazy Blog Hop

“Florida is a giant bug light for crazy people.” ~ Phyllis Smallman, SleuthFest 2014
It’s no surprise to any author living in Florida that some of the craziest stories we can write are actually inspired by true events in our sunshine state. Join us in exploring a different side of Florida than the travel bureau promotes with our first Blog Hop sponsored by Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Read on, click the links below to read another member’s view of crazy Florida, comment, share your favorite stories, and enter the contest to win a Kindle Paperwhite.

I love living in Vero Beach. The weather, the lack of congestion and traffic, the weather - oh, I already said that :) There is a large population of year-round residents, but Florida is also home to transients, snow-birds and others not so benignly inclined. This makes my writer's heart skip a beat, because things happen here that readers would think were fiction.

Athena Marie Plantation (pictured) is the brainchild of Lewis Barton. He dreamed of a 45,000 square foot, green constructed, 100% renewable energy home. When finished it would be the first in Florida, and the country's largest, 100% renewable energy home. 

Was it an idea whose time had come, or something else?

Delightfully for a writer, it was something else. I got goosebumps when I first heard about this, for all the ways I can use the situation and characters in this story - and make no mistake, Lewis Barton is a character.

Lewis Barton is the sort of free-thinking spirit who seems drawn to Florida in disproportionate numbers. Certainly wanting to utilize green construction isn't crazy, and neither is the desire to have a home that uses renewable energy. 


But the Vero Beach Planning Commission is doing a wonderful job of keeping our beach from being taken over by high-rise condos. The two tallest buildings on the beach are not higher than 13 stories, and they were grandfathered in. The current code says buildings aren't to exceed 5 stories high, and there are regulations that cover many things that keep the beach looking like sane people are in charge of it. 

Lewis Barton was not deterred by pesky regulations. His dream vision (or nightmare, if you were one of his neighbors) included: rooftop pool, helipad, and wind turbines; a website live-streaming the construction site 24/7; a movie based on the construction, with footage from the live-stream; a book about building the house and making the movie.

Neighboring residents weren't happy that they were featured on the webcam. They learned about it when one family member in a far-away state asked another how their day at the beach was, and said they'd seen the person walking down the beach access on the website.

Foreclosure didn't stop him, code enforcement violations didn't stop him, and Department of Energy officials telling him the vibrations from the wind turbines would shake the house apart didn't stop him. Constructing a building so much bigger than his residential neighbors was never on his radar.

Years passed, and the accumulation of fines, court proceedings for a variety of lawsuits, and time did eventually put an end to the construction. 

Lewis Barton's most recent legal troubles come closer to home. His son accused him of identity theft, pressed charges, and had him arrested. Lewis opened several credit cards in his son's name but with Lewis's own Florida address on them, and ran up balances which went unpaid. How low can a father stoop?

How does a mystery writer translate news into fiction? I like to start with who dies. Does a disgruntled neighbor kill him to cover up their own illegal activities, captured on the webcam? Does the son finally get fed up with his father's schemes? Does a code enforcement official decide they've had enough and decide to go rogue? Does shoddy construction fail, and the pool falls through the house and kills him? Does he drown in the pool because no one saw him fall in - or was he pushed?

Google Athena Marie Plantation. You'll find several websites that showcase the home as if it had actually been completed according to Lewis Barton's vision, but they all show the picture above. There aren't any photographs for the simple reason that the house was not completed. In 2009 the bank finally foreclosed. The partially constructed house was torn down in 2011.

I'd like to introduce you to some of my friends, fellow participants in the Blog Hop. Read their blogs for their take on "Florida's Crazy."

Collectively we're giving away a Kindle Paperwhite; individually I'm giving away a Character Name in a Novel. 

Enter Now to Win a Character Name in a Novel

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Enter Now to Win a KindlePaperwhite 

No purchase is necessary. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. By submitting your entry, you agree to be entered into the participating authors' email newsletter list. Your information will not be shared with anyone else, and you may unsubscribe at any time. Winner will be notified by email. Authors are not responsible for transmission failures, computer glitches or lost, late, damaged or returned email. Winner agrees for their name to be used in conjunction with the contest on FMWA and authors' social media sites. U.S. Residents only due to postage constraints.

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Visit our Other Contributors (just click their name) and win more prizes:

Victoria AllmanGator Bites
Miriam AuerbachBonkers in Boca
Gregg E.BrickmanCrazy South Florida—How it got to be home
Diane CapriFishnado!
Nancy J. CohenCharacters Too Weird to Be True
Joan Lipinsky CochranThe Million Dollar Squatter: Crazy in the Land of Coconuts and Bagels
jd daniels He Did What?
Joy Wallace Dickinson, “In Florida, It's Great to Be a Cracker”
Linda Gordon HengererCrazy Treasure on the Treasure Coast
Victoria LandisEavesdropping 101
Sandy ParksKeep your eyes to the Florida skies
Neil PlakcyMoscow on the Intracoastal
Johnny Ray, Utilizing Google Plus Air to Facilitate Author Interviews
Joanna Campbell Slan, Honey, You'll Never Guess What Rolled Up in the Surf


  1. Enjoyed the story of the plantation and agree with you...it stirs up a wealth of "what if" ideas for mystery writers. We are a rather devious lot. : )

  2. That guy certainly was a crazy character, not that we couldn't benefit from more "green" buildings. I like it when flat rooftops are converted into gardens. We haven't been to Vero Beach in quite a while but we used to enjoy going for a beach weekend.

    1. I love the garden on the flat roof also. He had a great vision, but not the technical know-how. The individual ideas are good, and I think someone with more focus might have been able to pull it off.

  3. I enjoyed your story about the plantation. He definitely sounds crazy. :-)

    1. Thanks, Cecilia! We're all crazy in our own way, but he took it to another level :)

  4. It's funny how the best of intentions can turn into a nightmare for one's neighbors. I had a neighbor write a letter to our board claiming I had arranged a "coven" of people to stop him from building an addition to his home that would've blocked my view of the lake. Fortunately, my coven and I won.

    1. Thanks, Joan - and congrats to you and your coven!

  5. Hard to say which is more outrageous, this story or the one about the "Queen of Versailles" building a replica of said home over by Orlando.

    1. I think the "Queen of Versailles" tops this one, mainly because she got much farther along in her construction. Lewis was stopped before it got way out of control - no helicopters on the roof!

  6. Truly amazing. There's enough material in this saga to inspire a whole series. And, btw, congrats on your recent anniversary,

    1. Thank you :) I love the options this story gives me, and fodder for so much, too!

  7. Vision or nightmare indeed. I guess I should count my blessings that he wasn't a neighbor of mine!

    1. Thanks, Joanna - he wouldn't make any friends in your neighborhood with his plans - he might be the next body to roll up in the surf.