Tragedy and Mystery at Marco Island Cemetery
Once part of the remote interior of Marco Island, Florida, Marco Island Cemetery stands as a testament to the resiliency of the island’s inhabitants. Spanish explorers named the island La Isla de San Marco, and it is the largest barrier island within southwest Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands region. Today, it is home to over 17,000 residents, as well as thousands of vacationers who visit every year to enjoy the beautiful weather.
In the early 1970s, however, less than 4,000 people resided there. Many had left earlier in the century due to economic hardship and the Great Depression. Old Marco Cemetery, as Marco Island Cemetery was called at the time, was all but abandoned, left to nature and the social outcasts who came there to drink and race dirt bikes and motorcycles along its trails. Then, in 1973, a tragedy occurred that triggered its renewal.
Linda Walters, 16, and Lisa Nankevill, 15, were staying at Lisa’s father’s home on Pepperwood Court, which according to newspaper reports was, at the time, located about two blocks from the cemetery. Lisa’s father awoke during the night to hear music coming from her bedroom. Thinking nothing of it, he went back to bed.
When he woke early the next morning, the music was still playing, and when we went to investigate, he found the two girls missing with a note taped to a picture of Lisa’s mother. He did not report them missing to police because they had taken off on their own before. Many teenagers on Marco Island hung out at the 7-11 convenience store a few blocks away, near Old Marco Cemetery, which was open 24 hours. Later, eyewitnesses placed them at a party that night. They left around 9pm.
Shortly after noon on Wednesday, April 11, 1973, a man named Paul Smith drove onto a deserted road about 100 feet south of Marco Island Cemetery and discovered Linda and Lisa’s bodies. According to newspaper reports, both were wearing blue jeans and blouses. Linda lay on her back and Lisa on her side, about a foot apart. A .38 caliber revolver lay under Lisa’s left knee, and both had been shot through the temple. Police initially ruled it a murder-suicide, but it just as easily could have been a double suicide.
The incident shocked the small, tight-knit community, particularly because Linda and Lisa seemed like typical American high school girls. Both girls were described as “quiet” and “gentle.” Lisa Nankevill had recently lost her mother, an event that matured her beyond her years. She collected scraps of verse and love poems.
Outrage by the senselessness of the act, local residents banded together to reclaim the cemetery. According to Florida Fringe Tourism, “The Island took action by rebuilding the cemetery to honor those who came before. After years of cleaning and mapping out the original grave sites, the cemetery was once again opened and is still in use to this day.”
Today, a loving memorial to lost children, featuring a cherubic angel with open arms, stands in the garden-like cemetery. The 7-11 still sits at the northwest corner of the intersection of Elkcam Circle and Bald Eagle Drive, just north of the burial ground, but all traces of its troubled past have been erased.
The road running past the cemetery is heavily traveled, and many visitors come and go without ever knowing of the tragedy that took place there some 42 years ago. Whatever happened that fateful night, however, is a secret Linda Walters and Lisa Nankevill took to their untimely graves.