Today, Hassie still regales customers with stories about
Hurston when they visit her restaurant while tracing the
footsteps of the famous writer.
In the early 20th century, a band of outlaws known as the
Ashley Gang terrorized the Treasure Coast, robbing banks and
leaving lawlessness in their wake. The gang had all the elements
for a headline-grabbing story line: handsome ringleader John
Ashley, who wore a patch over his eye, family loyalty, romance,
Robin Hood-like acts of kindness, bootlegging, an Everglades
hideout, bank and train robberies, shootouts, escapes and
It all came to an end Nov. 1, 1924, when St. Lucie Sheri J.R.
Merritt and his posse gunned them down in an ambush after
being tipped o by Ashley’s girlfriend. The question that lingered
for years and prompted an
inquest was whether the
gang members were shot
trying to escape the lawmen
or whether they were
summarily executed. The law
ocers were later cleared.
In our 2007 story, we
found the last living
person, Ed Register, who
remembered as a young
boy seeing the bodies of
the Ashley Gang laid out on
Second Street in front of Will
Fee’s hardware and mortuary
in Fort Pierce. And we shared
the recollections of Edwin
“Hap’’ Merritt, who stated
atly that his grandfather
had no intention of bringing
the Ashley Gang members
back alive that night.
Register died in 2013 at
the age of 93 and Merritt
died in March at the age of
77 — the last links to one
of the Treasure Coast’s most
notorious crime stories.
Zora died in 1936 at the age of 59 and was buried in the family
plot of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Milton Card. During the course
of our reporting, we discovered that the nal resting places
for the “bravest woman in the world’’ and her parents were
unmarked graves at Riverview Memorial Park, formerly the Fort
Pierce Cemetery. At this writing, we are working to rectify this.
OUTBOARD ATLANTIC CROSSING
Al Grover is the rst person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a outboard in 1985.
We found we had a history-maker in our midst when we
proled Al Grover in 2011. Grover, who spends winters in Vero
Beach, made maritime history when he became the rst person
to cross the Atlantic in an outboard in 1985. Grover made the
crossing with his son in a boat Grover designed and built himself
at his marina in Freeport, N.Y. The boat, outtted with two 65 hp
Evinrudes, motored from Newfoundland to Portugal.
We are happy to report that Grover, 89, and his wife of 65
years, Artie, still winter at their home on the beach and leave for
Long Island every summer once the tomatoes Artie tends in her
garden in Vero have ripened.
ZORA NEALE HURSTON
We retraced the last years of the
life of celebrated writer Zora Neale
Hurston with our inaugural issue in
2006, interviewing several people who
knew Hurston during her last years in
Fort Pierce until her death in 1960.
Author of Their Eyes Were Watching
God, Hurston was buried in an
unmarked grave in Fort Pierce’s Garden
of Heavenly Rest until 1973, when
novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte Hunt placed a
marker at the site believed to be hers.
One person we met in the course of producing the story was
Hassie Russ, who recalled her days as one of Hurston’s students
when the writer was a substitute teacher at Lincoln Park Academy.
Hassie with her husband, Charles, are owners of Granny’s
Kitchen, the oldest retail business in the Lincoln Park area of
The Russes are known for cooking favorites such as oxtails,
smothered pork chops and fried chicken. In 2009, the restaurant
underwent a $329,000 renovation that included a new banquet
room, oce space and an apartment.
Hassie Russ, left, seen with her husband, Charles, and daughter, Angela, in
Granny’s Kitchen, had Hurston as a substitute teacher at Lincoln Park Academy.
Writer Zora Hurston spend
her last days in Fort Pierce.
The criminal career of John Ashley and his
gang came to an abrupt ending.