It was March of 2007. While accessing a vacant plot of land for future development, a surveyor in Ft. Myers, Florida, made a grisly discovery — what appeared to be dozens of human bones scattered across the property.
After the surveyor reported his findings, local authorities searched the area and found a total of eight skeletons scattered throughout a 200-yard radius. At first, detectives floated the theory that the remains were dumped there by a shady nearby crematorium, or even that they came from an old cemetery. However, as they collected evidence about the placement of the bodies and noted the lack of clothing or personal items, the investigation began to take a darker turn.
All eyes were on Fort Myers as the case unfolded. Even John Douglas, a former FBI agent famous for pioneering the field of criminal profiling, weighed in. “To find eight bodies in one place, that’s really bizarre,” he told NBC News, adding that the circumstances led him to believe that the remote area was a “serial murderer graveyard.”
At the mention of a serial killer, local attention swiftly turned to Daniel Conahan, a man on death row. In 1999, Conahan was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and kidnapping. By that point, he was also suspected of committing what came to be known as the “Hog Trail Murders,” named for the wooded areas where the impromptu graveyard was found.
Profile of a Serial Killer
Daniel Conahan was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1954 and was raised in Punta Gorda, Florida. As a teenager, Conahan realized he was gay, a fact that displeased his parents, who sent him to several psychiatrists. A loner in high school, Conahan enlisted in the Navy four years after he graduated, but it was a short-lived career.
He was dishonorably discharged from the Navy for making several sexual advances to other sailors. One of which resulted in a major brawl. After being booted from the service, he returned to his hometown of Punta Gorda.
Not long after Conahan’s return to Florida, mutilated male corpses began to turn up. The first was found in Punta Gorda in 1994. The man’s genitals had been removed, and there was evidence of rope burns. He was never identified.
Four more male victims were discovered throughout the area in early 1996, each bearing similar injuries. With police fearing that there may be a serial killer on the loose, there was finally a break in the case in April of 1996. A sixth body was identified as 21-year-old Richard Allen Montgomery, a man who had gone missing just the day before he was found. With this tightened timeline, investigators were able to narrow in on a suspect.
Speedy Trial and Conviction
Witnesses came forward who indicated Daniel Conahan as a person of interest, including two men who had narrowly escaped him. One fled when Conahan’s car got stuck driving down a dirt road, while the other, a man by the name of Stanley Burden, had barely survived the encounter. He told police that Conahan offered him money to pose for nude photographs. Conahan then drove Burden out to a remote wooded location, tied him to a tree, sexually assaulted him, and nearly strangled him to death.
Conahan’s house was searched, turning up evidence that linked him to both Stanley Burden and Richard Montgomery. Conahan was arrested and tried for the murder of Montgomery. While he awaited trial, yet another victim was found who had been killed in a similar manner.
Conahan waived his right to a jury trial, allegedly because he feared that a jury of conservative Floridians would be biased against him as a gay man. His bench trial lasted only 25 minutes, with Judge William Blackwell swiftly finding Conahan guilty of first-degree premeditated murder and kidnapping. He was sentenced to death.
Daniel Conahan is currently housed at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida. He may be locked away, but the Hog Trail Murders still haunt southwestern Florida—especially since clues from the past keep turning up.
Several more bodies matching Conahan’s distinctive pattern of attack have been found since his incarceration: one in 2000, two in 2001, and one in 2002. Then in 2007, Floridians were rocked by the discovery of the mass burial site in Fort Myers. Stanley Burden had been attacked within a mile of that location. The timeline of the victims’ deaths, their bodies’ location, and the manner of death led police to believe that Conahan was responsible, bringing his suspected number of victims up to 19.
In February of 2020, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office released a new rendering of the first known victim of the Hog Trail Murders, a man who was found in early 1994. Conahan may be behind bars already, but authorities hope they can identify this victim and the decades-old cold case to rest. If you recognize him, reach out to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office at 941-639-0013.