By Rhonda Parker
From the short story “The Marina”, by Douglas Cracraft, from the narrative of a scene about the experience of scavenging from an abandoned homeless camp:
Don’t misunderstand… I won’t go into an occupied camp, I don’t care what’s in there. I won’t go into people’s homes, because that’s what the camps are: people’s homes.
It breaks my heart, sometimes, as I pick my way through the remains of their lives, the remains of people I don’t even know, and hope that I never will. I see so much of who they were, and of what they wanted to become . . . and I can see that it was all suddenly ripped away from them, all at once, ripped away and smashed into the ground.
You know what? The earth didn’t mind that those people were there; the earth didn’t take offence (sic) that some people were quietly, peacefully snuggled into its vastness – it’s other people that mind.
St. Augustine – To those who live and work downtown, Doug Cracraft was a familiar site with his bongo drums on Fort Alley, or riding on his bike hauling a load of cans to sell to the local recycling facility. Cracraft’s vicious murder by another homeless man just over a week ago prompted sadness and outrage in the community, but organizers hope that a Candlelight Memorial Service to be held in honor of Cracraft in the city’s Plaza de la Constitucion at the gazebo on Sunday evening at 5 p.m. will provide some healing for those grieved by his death and honor their friend as he deserved.
Said Mary Lawrence, a volunteer with Home Again St. Johns and a friend of Cracraft who shared a garden plot with him at the St. Johns Agricultural Center, “Doug was a kind and gentle man – a lover of nature, books and of music. He loved to dig and plant things. We want to acknowledge that he lived and walked this planet.”
Lawrence also wants people to know that Cracraft was a veteran, and a gifted writer with an internet blog that featured stories set in St. Augustine: http://douglascracraft.blogspot.com/
“Doug grabbed me from the very first. I knew he was a special person. A particularly hard moment for me was when I recently found his gardening gloves, which he’d left behind in my car,” Lawrence said.
On his blog, the 60 year-old native of Jacksonville describes himself as a “street musician” and a “quasi-Millenniumist” and his stories as supernatural and psychological horror, but he also wrote that recently, he’d found himself “drifting more into social issues.”
Wrote Cracraft, “…I have been writing short stories, sporadically, since the Fourth Grade. I had felt cheated by the first haunted house book I had read, when it turned out the “ghost” was only squirrels in the attic, and so, was determined that I could do better.”
Cracraft also wrote in his blog bio, “I fervently believe we are in the End Times, although, until an opportunity presents itself for me to move to the mountains, I am currently a street musician in St. Augustine…”
Lawrence said that while Cracraft wasn’t traditionally religious, he was very spiritual and that a Lakota Indian prayer would be read at the Memorial Service by friend and homeless advocate Dana Usina, who has known Cracraft for over 6 years.
Usina wrote this about her friend via email: “I met Doug about 6 years ago. I was filing in for my son, Lucas, who fed the homeless with FOOD NOT BOMBS in the Plaza. Doug was one of the first I met of St. Augustine’s finest. He lived in the tall bamboo by the river.
“We spent many hours sharing out thoughts on spirituality, family, writing and the art of homelessness.
“He was a Wiccan and myself a Christian. Although the practice of both seemed so diverse we found commonalities in prayer, nature and belief that the world as we know it was embarking on the end times. Douglas was a peaceful man who would do no harm to nature or man. He was a “squirrel whisperer” and fed them daily on his many stops in town. He was a great writer and his story, The Marina, seems to be a metaphor for the end his life. Blessed be Doug, blessed be.”
Cracraft’s mother and sisters will also be traveling from Jacksonville to attend the Memorial Service.
Friend Kari Cobham of the Pirate and Treasure Museum said she used to talk to Cracraft almost every day and continues to feel deep grief over the loss.
“Doug and his drums were an integral part of the tapestry of downtown St. Augustine. There were many days when he set up along Fort Alley that we people-watched and talked music and writing. I’ll miss those conversations; I’ll miss Doug.”
Local social worker and activist Terry Buckenmeyer was also a friend of Cracraft’s and another who describes him as “a quiet, gentle soul who was soft-spoken and well-read.”
Buckenmeyer said Cracraft liked his camp a ways away from others and had a good-sized collection of books stored there.
“He was not a panhandler, but earned his money by collecting cans and playing his bongos for donations. He kept to himself and was kind of a loner, but he still had an impact on those who knew him,” Buckenmeyer said.
Downtown residents also fondly recall Cracraft’s relationship with a squirrel on Fort Alley who would come out and sit nearby while Cracraft played.
Dennis Maloney, a second Lieutenant with the local Civil Air Patrol often walks his dogs downtown. He said Cracraft could often be seen playing his bongos on Fort Alley, riding his bike on U.S. 1, or on East San Carlos coming from a homeless camp near Usina Bridge.
Others posted on Facebook wanting to express their grief, and fond memories of Cracraft.
“I am very sad to hear that Doug was murdered,” wrote Sondra Gabriel. I often him riding his bike around town, and talked with him a few times. I will miss him.”
Another emailed, “Doug was part of the fabric of the community. I don’t think unless someone lives here in St. Augustine, they could understand how tightly interwoven we are as a community. Yes, Mr. Cracraft was homeless, but he was a human being and he was also one of our own. He didn’t cause any trouble for anyone… I am very grieved.”
Gili Riedel Lochner wrote, “I remember him too. He was soft spoken and polite. He collected aluminum cans from one of my friend’s businesses down there.”
Many readers were angered and disturbed by the way Cracraft died.
Keith Mitchell, a waiter in a downtown restaurant near where Cracraft played wrote in an email, “I can’t imagine anyone harming Doug. It just doesn’t make good sense. I still feel sick over this.”
Maloney added, “Doug seemed like a solitary guy who didn’t bother anybody. He didn’t deserve this end.”
Arrested and charged with Cracraft’s death is Matthew Steven Horn, 43, who is listed as “homeless, St. Augustine” on the booking log at the St. Johns County Jail:http://www.sjso.org/inmate_search_warrants.aspx
Horn remains in the county jail without bond and is charged with willful homicide. According to St. Augustine Police Department spokesman Mark Sampson – it could take up to a year before Horn faces trial for Cracraft’s murder.
Sampson said while there has been no actual confession from Horn, details have emerged in the case that point to Horn possibly murdering Cracraft over a soiled cot that Cracraft fell asleep on, and that the crime was alcohol-induced.
Sampson said the case is one of 19 homicides in St. Johns County currently being processed by the State Attorney’s Office – but noted these were not all new or recent crimes.
For more information on the case, also see: