As the residents of Ybor went about their day on October 17, 1933 a nightmare was playing out at 1707 East Fifth Avenue. During the afternoon, neighbors began to grow worried since there had been no one coming out of the modest home all day. Usually the home was bustling with activity and the families patriarch, Michael, was never known to miss a day of work at his nearby barbershop. Worried about the silence, neighbors summoned the authorities to check on the family.
When police arrived onsite they discovered a grisly scene; Michael Licata was found dead in the front bedroom, 22 year old Providence and 8 year old brother Jose were found in another bedroom, and the families matriarch Rosalie was found still clutching a barely alive Phillip who was 14. All had been brutally axed to death, some to the point beyond recognition. Another son, 21 year old Victor Licata, was found in a bathroom with his skin stained with the blood of his family.
Eventually Victor began to tell his account of what happened. According to him, the entire family had ganged up on him to saw off his arms and replace them with wooden ones. He defended himself with a "funny axe" that was rubbery and giving. He claimed to have just knocked his family unconscious and then wrung it out to clean it.
Victor had suffered from mental illness for years and the family did their best to treat him at home. A police investigation revealed that Licata may have been under the influence of drugs, specifically marijuana. At this time in our nations history there was a fierce propaganda campaign to criminalize the "weed with roots in hell". A mere accusation that weed was responsible for Licata's insanity was enough to push his crimes to the forefront of the campaign.
Although Victor was jailed for the crime, through the years other theories have emerged regarding the murders. In the 1930's Tampa was a hotbed for mafia activity with hits occurring in broad daylight. Rumors swirled that perhaps the Licata family was involved in some illegal bootlegging and the family might have been killed as some part of organized crime revenge. Highly unlikely considering the evidence against Victor.
The slain family was laid to rest a short distance away from their home in L'Unione Italiana Cemetery. Victor Licata spent the rest of his life behind bars but committed suicide by crafting his bed sheets into a noose in 1950.