By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
According to Miami Beach Police Sgt. Paul Marcus, head of the violent crimes unit, Santa went straight from Waterman's apartment to police headquarters on Eleventh Street and Washington Avenue to turn Phil in. He took Miami Beach police officers to the apartment where Waterman was waiting for him. Santa stayed in the patrol car while police went to knock on Waterman's door. "Waterman lets the police officers enter his apartment," Marcus says over coffee at police headquarters. "They immediately detected the odor of decomposition and saw what appeared to be the body sticking out of the closet, so they brought him in for questioning."
Waterman eventually confessed to killing Jolene. He pled guilty to second-degree murder on April 10, 2002, and is currently serving a twelve-year sentence. After the investigation, Santa developed a friendship with Marcus, who marveled at the homeless man's ingenuity. "A couple of years ago, a two-year-old boy was murdered by his mother's boyfriend in an apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue," Marcus recounts. "Family, friends, and neighbors set up a shrine in the kid's memory. Tony was riding his bicycle one day and was so moved by what he saw he became the shrine's keeper. He would keep it clean and made sure no one stole the stuffed animals and the toys left behind as mementos."
Marcus feels pity for Santa, but the 25-year police veteran also realizes that Tony, as he knows him, chooses to stay on the streets. "He enjoys the freedom of not conforming to normal society."
He gave Santa clothes, food, and even a couple of used bicycles. "Whenever he'd get arrested," Marcus says, "I would check the criminal court database and call him on his cell phone, when it was turned on, to let him know when he had to show up for a hearing."
Marcus and Santa have not spoken in three months. "I guess his cell phone is turned off," Marcus says, looking glum. "Hopefully he's doing alright."
Santa wound up on the Miami side of the John F. Kennedy Causeway in 2003. He says he had been sober for almost a year and had been given a free apartment by a Miami real estate investor he won't name. "I was living over by 71st Street and Palm Bay Lane," Santa says. "I just met the guy one day and he asked me if I wanted to get off the streets. It was beautiful. He bought me linens. He paid for everything. I thought he was setting me up for some gay type shit, but he never asked me to do anything for him, other than help maintain his properties." Santa would paint walls, mow the lawn, pick up garbage, and do other handyman's chores. "But then I started drinking and smoking dope again, so he kicked me out," Santa says.
Back on the streets, Santa found shelter at the vacant lot where he currently lives. The lot is behind a now-defunct auto repair shop where Santa met Gabriel, a car mechanic who has become one of Santa's few close friends. "That's my Cuban brother right there," Santa says on a chilly Wednesday afternoon in January.
Gabriel, a tall, burly man with a receding hairline and a massive beer gut, has stopped by the lot to drink a few cold ones with his pal. Gabriel remembers when he first saw Santa in the empty lot and asked him if he wanted work. "I got the shop owner to pay him $50 a day to pass out flyers a couple of days a week," Gabriel says. Santa didn't complain: "For a homeless monkey like me, that's a lot of money. I could have all the booze, dope, and pussy I could buy. I was in seventh heaven."
Eventually Santa became the shop's watchman. Whenever the shop owner picked up junked cars for spare parts, he would park the vehicles in the vacant lot and allow Santa to sleep in them. Gabriel still comes by to visit Santa. "He's always been straight with me," Gabriel says. "He's treated me better than some of the Cubans who I came over with. I hate to see him living out here. If I had money, I'd help him get a trailer."
The area along 79th Street from NW Seventh Avenue to the John F. Kennedy Causeway is a dangerous place to live on the streets. In November of last year, Santa got his first taste of the violence when he was riding on 79th Street. Some mook in a passing automobile struck him on his back with a blunt object. "My ass went tumbling to the ground and all I heard was: öGot that cracker!'" Santa says, lifting up his shirt to reveal a surgical scar in his abdominal area where doctors removed his ruptured spleen. "I ended up in the emergency room at Cedars Medical Center. I almost died."
A week later Santa was stabbed in the back and arms by a man who stole his bike. "I've got no feeling in my left forearm and wrist because of the cuts," he says. "Like Mr. Macho, I chased after the guy. I ended up getting the short end of that stick."