The Sheriff is a six-part podcast series from The Northwest Florida Daily News and The Gannett Company. All episodes are now available for download on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Podcasts.
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PART 3 OF 6: ELECT RAY WILSON
Fox Wilson refused to let the unsolved murder of his older brother, former Crestview Police Chief Lester Wilson, go by the wayside.
He ran for constable — and won — running his ticket on the platform gaining public office would help him in the long-running investigation he'd been conducting, in private, with two of Lester's sons, Woodrow and Ray.
Like his brother, Fox made some dangerous enemies — mainly Gov. Fuller Warren. Warren stripped Fox of his title as constable in 1950 pending an investigation into illegal gambling in Okaloosa County, and also took Okaloosa County Sheriff H. Isle Enzor out of office after a decade. Fox told the media it was being done to silence him. He'd been a vocal critic of Warren over his unwillingness to allocate resources to investigate Lester's murder.
There was little evidence to contradict Fox's claims.
On the night of the murder, March 15, 1940, Okaloosa County Sheriff Johnnie P. Steele and his officers hadn't shown up until over two hours after Lester was shot in his living room, and neither the OCSO or state investigators had ever interviewed anyone from the Wilson family, despite four of them being in the house when Lester was shot.
Grand juries convened in 1940 and 1952 to investigate the murder had come and gone with zero arrests, both times.
Lester Wilson‘s murder seemed to be what Warren had once called it — unsolvable.
Ray Wilson was 24 years old when he moved home to Crestview in 1952. He'd left town after graduating from high school in 1946, enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the Seventh Infantry as part of the Military Police in Korea ahead of the Korean War.
Upon returning home, he went to work for a paper mill in Port St. Joe, where he‘d met his wife, Virginia, and won her over with his confidence and determination. Mainly as it applied to his future — Ray wanted to come home to Crestview, become Sheriff and solve his father’s murder.
Ray went to work for a dry-cleaning business in Crestview when he moved home. Within a short time, opened his own dry-cleaning business.
Ray would later say those years were the most difficult for him. Each day, he said, he would see the men he suspected of having roles in his father‘s murder. Each day, he would smile and wave. On the surface, he was the non-threatening, optimistic son, come home to make peace and move on with his life.
Under the surface, he boiled.
"I would see them and smile and wave and they'd smile and wave back," Ray told The Orlando Sentinel in 1972. "And I'd think 'They have to know,' and always wonder when the other shoe would drop. I was convinced they could see right through me, so I kept smiling."
No one had a clue. Right up until Ray sold his dry-cleaning business and turned in his application to run for Okaloosa County Sheriff — both on the same day.
Ray couldn't have picked a better time to run.
The field of six candidates was running against incumbent H. Isle Enzor, who'd been in office from 1940-1950, removed from office by the governor then re-elected in 1952.
Enzor was as embedded in Okaloosa County politics as anyone who'd ever been in the Sheriff's office, and had a very myopic view of what his office entailed — "I'm not hear to serve outsiders," he said in 1952.
Ray used this to his advantage — his campaign ads said he had "no ties to any political factions and a platform of justice for all."
Enzor opened the race as the odds-on favorite in the race. With no Republican candidates, it would be decided in the final Democratic primary in May.
By May 29, 1956, Enzor‘s lead was in peril and Ray was closing in.
On the morning of the primary, Ray‘s ad took several shots at Enzor — and Alta McArthur, who’d lost to him in 1952.
"For the first time in 16 years my opponent has serious opposition for this office. I have not and will not resort to any so-called smear campaign against any man. I want to be elected on my own merits."
The smear campaign against Ray had been in full swing for some time — Ray‘s opposition told anyone who would listen he was the “vigilante candidate” because of Lester’s murder. When asked, Ray stuck to his guns.
"I'm running because I think I can do a good job," Ray would say, listing his top qualifications as being former Military Police and the son of a former Police Chief.
On the night of May 29, voters elected an “outsider” as Okaloosa County Sheriff for the first time. Ray won in a landslide, taking 32 out of 35 precincts reported, and almost doubling Enzor's vote total.
Just two days after his 28th birthday, Ray was now the youngest elected Sheriff in Florida history.
H. Isle Enzor battled failing health over his last few years in office, and less than a month after losing the Sheriff's election, he died of a massive heart attack on June 22, 1956.
Enzor‘s supporters tried to use an obscure law to place his wife, Florence Enzor, into office as Sheriff after his death. The Florida Governor at the time, LeRoy Collins, squashed it, calling Ray to Tallahassee and placing him in office six months early, in order to finish out Enzor's final term, officially naming him Okaloosa County Sheriff on July 3, 1956.
Ray's first in-depth interview ran in The Playground Daily News — now The Northwest Florida Daily News — in November of that year.
For the first time, Ray's tone on his father's murder was beginning to change. The article said he was spending every moment not on duty "poring over clues" in his father's murder.
"Most people told me I was foolish for running for Sheriff, and that I should be worried about the consequences of running and losing the election, but I had enough confidence in myself that I didn't care about the consequences,“ Ray said. ”So when you ask what I think the chances are that I solve my father's murder, I'd say I'm just as sure about that as I was about my chances of becoming Sheriff."
Behind closed doors, that investigation had already begun to bear fruit.
It's not clear when Ray officially re-opened the investigation into his father's murder, but what was clear was he had zero trust having anyone connected to The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office involved.
Instead, he put his trust in a man who was already a star in law enforcement circles across the country — Pensacola Police Department Investigator Walter Steinsiek, who would eventually become Ray's lifelong friend and confidante.
Steinsiek was, to put it mildly, a fascinating man.
Walter Steinsiek grew up in Van Buren, Arkansas, and served 10 years as a Navy diver before joining the Pensacola Police Department in 1949, where he quickly carved out his own, unique lane in police investigations as an early adapter of polygraph tests used in interrogations, becoming one of just nine certified administers of lie detector tests in the entire country by the early 1950s.
In 1955, Steinsiek cracked a case which cemented his reputation after a 7-year-old Pensacola girl was brought to the hospital by her family, saying she'd been raped by a man on her way home from the grocery store. The injuries to the girl were so bad that she almost hemorrhaged to death from the bleeding.
Steinsiek acted quickly to round up sexual predators in Pensacola and administer polygraph tests, but came up with zero leads. Back at the hospital, to check on the family, one of the girl‘s doctors asked to speak to Steinsiek in private. He’d overheard family members telling Steinsiek the girl had walked home after the rape, then they'd brought her to the hospital.
That was impossible, the doctor said. Someone who sustained those type of injuries in a sexual assault would not have been able to walk afterward.
Steinsiek called her father back down for questioning, but this time put him on the lie detector, where he ultimately confessed to not just raping his daughter, but several other unsolved rapes of local girls as well.
The case, and the attention it received, allowed Steinsiek to cut a unique deal with the Pensacola Police Department. He would stay in Pensacola because he loved the lifestyle, weather and the area, but was able to dictate when he went on loan to other departments all across the region and the country, if needed.
In 1961, he actually trigged an international incident when chasing a suspect in Mexico with Escambia County Sheriff Bill Davis. They tracked the man to Acapulco, where they were able to administer a polygraph test and clear him of any wrongdoing.
The man, however, turned on Steinsiek and Davis, telling Mexican authorities they were working as double agents for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and running guns. A desperation phone call was placed to the FBI, who confirmed they were American police. The two were deported to Miami at 2 a.m., but not before being charged with Violating Mexico's sovereignty.
The incident made its way to the desk of President John F. Kennedy, who personally ordered Florida Governor Farris Bryant to conduct an investigation into Steinsiek's actions. He was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing — home and abroad.
“One week later, I got a call from the FBI field office in Laredo, Texas,” Steinsiek said. “They said they‘d received my lie detector equipment fro Mexico ... but not my guns.”
The headline ran top-stripped across the front page of The Pensacola News Journal on July 12, 1958: "Three Okaloosans Indicted For 18-Year-Old Murder" and directly below, pictures of Ray and Lester.
The story spread like wildfire, taking over front pages of newspapers across the region, then the country.
The men who'd been arrested had been taken to the Panama City jail — not Okaloosa County — at Ray‘s orders. Reports were beginning to circulate that two of the three had failed polygraphs, while one had refused to take the test.
Two of the men were brothers — Jesse Cayson 56, a local liquor store owner, and Doyle Cayson, 51, a local produce vendor.
The third man was William Dorace Brown, 49, a civilian employee at Eglin Air Force Base.
All three were indicted for the first-degree premeditated murder of Lester Wilson.
PART 4: MATTIE LEE