The Devil's Tree
Backstory and Context
This oak tree, known as The Devil’s Tree, is a seemingly normal tree in a park at Port St. Lucie. It, however, hides a sinister past as there has been the site of multiple gruesome murders since the 1970s, cult activity, and even attempted exorcisms by catholic priests. One of the most interesting features of this tree is the fact that there have been several attempts to cut or burn it down, all of which ultimately have failed (the tree shows markings of failed burnings and marks produced by chainsaws).
Arguably the most important information one can learn about the Devil’s Tree is actually about a man. The man in question was named Gerard John Schaefer: a police officer (and later serial killer). Schaefer lived a terrible life. His childhood was filled with abuse and self loathing. Schaefer suffered from gender dysphoria from a young age that some argue was caused by his alcoholic father's policy of never beating Schaefer’s sister. Because of this, Schaefer received the punishments meant for both himself and his sister whenever they were due. Schaefer began to experiment with his body by stealing women's clothing and wearing it in private. He would go on walks in the forest secretly and tie himself to a tree (now known as the devil’s tree) before beating or cutting himself. This obsession of resentment and worship with the female sex along with his fixation on this tree would lead him to center the majority of his killings around it.
Schaefer used his position as a police officer to lure young women back to his tree (during a time period where hitchhiking was the norm). He would tie them up, sexually abuse them, and then psychologically abuse them before finally killing them. After he was finished (which sometimes took days or weeks) he would keep the dead bodies around for a while before burying them at the tree with their ropes still attached. His downfall came when he was called for a dispatch during the middle of a double kidnapping. Because he was confident, he never concealed his identity so when he left for work and the women escaped they easily identified him, leading to his arrest.
The Devil's Tree, Weird U.S.. Accessed February 28th 2020. http://www.weirdus.com/states/florida/local_legends/devils_tree/index.php.
This site talks about the basic backstory to the tree as well as its exact location in the park. The tree’s reputation began in January 1977 when two girls’ skeletons were found with nooses tied around their necks under the tree. The two girls were identified as missing persons Collette Goodenough and Barbara Ann Wilcox who had disappeared four years prior to their discovery. They had been brutally murdered and sexually assaulted by a “Mr. Schaefer” who was also responsible for “at least thirty more killings.” Schaefer was no stranger to murder as these victims were not his first by any means, only his most famous because of the tree.
Devil's Tree, Florida - What's the story behind this Haunted Tree?, Phenomenal Place. Accessed February 28th 2020. http://www.phenomenalplace.com/2015/09/devils-tree-florida-whats-story-behind.html.
This document focuses almost entirely on Gerard John Schaefer (the man who murdered the two girls found buried at the base of the tree). Gerard was a police officer who used his position of power to lure girls (usually in groups of two) into a secluded place and then bind them before torturing and murdering them. This case was no different in terms of the victim selection but it went a little differently than his other crimes. He started by finding the two teenagers hitchhiking and offered them his badge. He then offers them a ride and they, believing that he is a kindhearted police officer, accept the offer. He drives them down to the tree(which happened to sit near the former spot of his house) and then “binds them, tortures them, and hangs them both on one of the branches and kills them.” After killing them he decapitated their bodies and sexually assaulted the corpses before burying them ten days later.
“The Devil Tree in Oak Hammock Park, Port Saint Lucie, FL.” UrbanLegendsOnline.com, 15 Feb. 2019, urbanlegendsonline.com/the-devil-tree-in-oak-hammock-park-port-saint-lucie-fl/.
This website gives the two most popular stories surrounding the tree. The first tale being the supernatural campfire-esc tale told to inspire fear in the listener. While this is definitely more than a little embellished, it also gives a brief summary of the actual story involving Gerard John Schaefer.
Legendtripper. “The Legend of the Devil's Tree in Port St. Lucie.” Tripping on Legends..., 24 Aug. 2019, trippingonlegends.wordpress.com/2018/06/14/the-legend-of-the-devils-tree-in-port-st-lucie/.
This site gives a very thorough description of the Schaefer killings along with theories as to why the specific spot has garnered so much unrest. It talks about certain attributes that are almost confirmed all the way down to pipe-dream theories. If you want to learn about this horrible man this site has basically all the information one would need and may contain virtually all the information available on the web about this topic.
101, By: History. “The Devil's Tree, Florida: Haunted by Evil.” History 101: Telling the Greatest True Stories of All Time, www.history101.com/the-devils-tree-florida/.
This website gives a lot of backstory to Schaefer’s childhood including many things that I did not personally know. It talks about his abusive father and gender dysphoria at a young age. This gender dysphoria, along with years of childhood abuse and jealousy for his sister (who was not abused because of her gender) led to him developing an intense hatred and envy of the female sex. His childhood culminated in times when he would steal women’s clothes and wear them while sneaking out into the woods. On these outings he would tie himself to what would become known as the Devil’s Tree and harm himself. While he was a sick and twisted man, he deserves sympathy for what he went through but never for what he did.