The Truth Behind The Hog Trail Murders

The so-called "Hog Trail Murders" in South Central Florida are believed to be perpetuated by Daniel Conahan Jr. who was ultimately sentenced to death after being convicted of just one murder, though it is suspected he killed up to 19 men in the mid-1990s, according to The Line-Up

Those believed to be his victims have still not all been identified, but according to court records the bodies of five men were all found nude and posed in the same area in the dense Florida woods in 1994 and in 1996. Some had been tied to trees; others had their genitals cut off, according to court documents. Another showed signs of having run barefoot and naked through the woods. 

The bodies of young naked white men started showing up in a wooded area in Charlotte County, Florida, in 1994. The first was found that year on February 1, 1994. He was badly decomposed and could not be identified. 

Then on January 1, 1996, a second John Doe's nude body was discovered, and a third on March 7, 1996. While police could not figure out who the men were, it was clear they'd been murdered. One strange thing: It appeared the men had allowed themselves to be tied to trees, as no defensive wounds were found, but there were ligature marks on their bodies and on nearby trees.  

That year more bodies and body parts were discovered

Then, on April 17, 1996, some unlucky soul ventured upon a human head in those same woods in close proximity to where the other bodies were found. Investigators searched the area for the rest of the body but could only found the torso and pelvis of the man who was identified as Kenneth Lee Smith. During that search, however, police found a fifth murder victim, Richard Allen Montgomery. Forensic evidence from Montgomery's body showed that the killer had removed Montgomery's genitals, along with those of John Doe #1 and John Doe #3, utilizing a sharp instrument, most likely after they were killed, according to court documents. Now that police had two victims' names, and the stories were hitting the news, they were able to track witnesses. Even more helpful to the case, informants came forward.

According to court records, friends of Montgomery told police there had been a man in a blue car who would hit up panhandlers and guys who frequent the streets to offer them money to take them out to the woods and take nude photos. His victims were often drifters and drug addicts — people who were hard up for money — and they agreed to go. But two victims who got away unraveled the mystery of how these men ended up naked and murdered in the Florida woods. According to court records, a man named David Payton, who was himself serving time in jail, told a corrections officer he thought he knew who might be doing these killings. 

One man got away from Conahan by stealing his car

Payton told investigators that he'd been picked up by a guy who gave him marijuana, valium, and beer as they drove around. After a while, he asked Payton if he could take him out to the woods to take nude pictures of him while loosely tying him to a tree. Needing the cash, Payton agreed. But Payton told investigators on the road out to the woods they encountered a couple of pick-up trucks loaded with people and dogs, and the man's demeanor quickly changed. Payton started getting bad vibes, per court records. 

The car ended up stuck in a mud hole and the man insisted Payton stay in the car while he went to ask the guys in the pick-up truck for help. Payton told investigators he knew he had to get out of there, so as soon as the car was pulled out, he stole it and drove off. Being intoxicated, he said the next thing he remembered was waking up the next morning in a Fort Meyers jail. He'd been arrested for driving a car that was reported stolen. 

Now police had a paper trail to find their suspect. They interviewed Conahan, who of course denied knowing anything about any of it, and they inserted an undercover officer to bait him. In the meantime, while they were trying to get enough evidence to prosecute the person they believed was murdering and mutilating men in the South Florida woods, they found the man who untangled it all. 

Another man barely escaped with his life

On August 15, 1994, the same year the first John Doe was found, a man named Stanley Burden was approached by a guy who said his name was Dan. Dan asked Burden if he needed work, and told him to get in his car. There, he offered Burden $120 to go with him into the woods and take nude photos. Burden needed cash so he agreed, but said absolutely no sex stuff, according to court documents. 

At first, he said, Dan tied the ropes loosely as he took Polaroids, but then claimed it didn't look right and he needed to make the ropes tighter. Burden realized that he could not move his arms. Then, Dan began to fellate Burden, and when Burden didn't show arousal, Dan got mad and started strangling him with a rope. Burden said he was able to turn his head to the side so that he could still breathe. 

The struggle ensued for about 20 minutes, with Burden going limp sometimes, per court records, and Dan attempting to penetrate him. Burden said Dan told him to "give up and let me do my job," but ultimately, it was Dan who gave up.

 According to the court records, Burden told investigators he thought Dan was worn out. Dan said he'd give Burden $100 to keep his mouth shut about the incident, but never did. Instead, he left him tied to that tree to die. Burden was able to get free, but he did not go to the police.  

More bodies were found after Conahan's conviction

In the end Conahan was convicted of kidnapping and only one count of first-degree murder, for that of Richard Montgomery. He was sentenced to death in 1999 and remains at the Union Maximum Security Corrections Center where he's been since 2000. According to the Death Row Penalty Center, his execution date is still not set. 

The Line-Up reported that after Conahan's conviction more dead men were found that investigators believe he may have murdered. According to the website there was one body found in 2000, two in 2001, and another in 2002. Then, in 2007 a mass burial site was discovered in Fort Myers, in a county that neighbors Charlotte County, where the original bodies were found. 

In 2020 the Herald-Tribune published police renderings of the still-unidentified John Doe #1, hoping someone may identify the person who was found in Conahan's dumping grounds 1994. 

One of the eight bodies found in the Fort Myers mass grave in 2007 that police think could be victims of Conahan was 21-year-old Erik Cohler. His mother, Carol Broderick, told the Herald-Tribune when she found out what happened to her missing son, "There is no closure. Not when you know he died a horrible death."