Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019

Dark past of Disney’s perfect town – including murder, suicide and ‘death pond’

The dark past of Disney’s seemingly perfect town has been laid bare with tales of murder, suicide and a 'death pond'.

Celebration was once hailed as the ultimate dream town for Disney aficionados where they could escape to their very own fantasy land.

Around $4billion was invested by The Walt Disney Company into developing it on the outskirts of Disney World in Florida 23 years ago.

And envious homes – painted white, yellow, pink, tan or blue – and its lush green gardens, bordered by white picket fences, lined the streets.

In autumn, the town used to import fallen leaves to waft around, and in winter fake snow was put on rooftops.

While trees were fitted with speakers playing never-ending bird song.

It appeared to be every inch “The Happiest Place on Earth”.

The town soon expanded and became equipped for 10,000 with a hospital and school nearby.

Residents even referred to it as 'The Bubble' because it was like living in a separate universe.

While some compared it to something out of the Stepford Wives film.

But cracks soon began to show with 'dodgy' buildings, strict rules, a "dysfunctional and weird" school – and death, reports News.com .

"Celebration might have been many things, but it was not a Disney theme park. It was a real town with real problems," said historical writer LJ Charlston.

Plans for the town were first announced in 1994.

Demand was so high that the company asked people to enter a lottery to be in with a chance of snapping up one of the 474 homes.

Around 5,000 people entered longing for a piece of perfection.

The original sales brochure boasted: "There once was a place where neighbours greeted neighbours in the quiet of summer twilight. Where children chased fireflies. And porch swings provided easy refuge from the cares of the day.

"The movie house showed cartoons on Saturday. The grocery store delivered. And there was one teacher who always knew you had that special something. Remember that place?"

But as residents came and went complaints of the painfully contrived ­prettiness and physical ­perfection began to emerge

It was claimed that every house had to have a Mickey Mouse hidden somewhere in the property – just one rule in the 160-page regulations book that residents were said to have been expected to follow.

Only certain plants were reportedly allowed in gardens, and special lanes were built behind homes to hide cars and rubbish bins.

While residents are said to have only been allowed to have certain coloured curtains and had to keep their manicured lawns at a specific height.

Residents Ory and Jan Schiesel, a retired ­couple from Michigan, told the Daily Mail in 2010: "If you don’t like rules, you don’t want to live here".

They said no two adjoining houses could look alike, no home could have more than two cars on the street, while the blinds or curtains had to be white on the outside.

Mr Schiesel added: "Technically, if you don’t have enough bark in your ground cover or you have dead plants in your porch, they’ll send you a letter."

As the years passed, there were also complaints of leaking roofs and other issues with the properties.

An inquiry set up to investigate found that at least 70 homes needed new roofs.

The school also came under fire with classrooms supposedly rammed with 80 children between three teachers.

Many families chose to sell their homes and move away over the “serious academic shortcomings.”

But more sinister things were to come.

In 1998, the town was rocked by an armed home invasion.

A couple were bound and gagged in their home by a gang of masked burglars.

Then in November 2010, resident Matteo Patrick Giovanditto, 58, who lived alone with his Chihuahua, Lucy, was strangled with a shoelace and bludgeoned to death with an axe.

The alarm was raised by neighbours who called police after they had not seen the teacher for several days.

Police then made the grisly discovery.

David Israel Zenon Murillo, who was 30 and homeless at the time, received a life sentence for the murder.

He told police he flew into a rage after Mr Giovanditto tried to sexually assault him.

After the slaying, former pupils of Mr Giovanditto came forward and claimed he had molested them and invited them to sleepovers at his house.

An anonymous mother alleged to The Daily Beast  that Mr Giovanditto – who she has described as a 'cunning paedophile predator' – developed a close relationship with her 10-year-old son.

She claimed he treated him to trips abroad to countries including Mexico, Japan and China.

But the boy suddenly cut all ties with Mr Giovanditto at the age of 14 and she alleged she later learned her son's 'mentor' had been sexually abusing him for years.

Days after Mr Giovanditto's death, a man named Craig Foushee, 52, also a Celebration resident, barricaded himself in his own house for 14 hours.

He began shooting at police officers outside. None were injured, but when they entered the house they found Mr Foushee dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The former airline pilot was said to have been deeply depressed following his divorce, loss of home and the failure of his security business.

Meanwhile, there was also talk of a 'death pond' near the idyllic town with the cookie-cutter homes.

Up until 1998 there was no warnings on the road that, if you took a wrong turn, you risked driving into the water.

There were several incidents that gave the pond its macabre name.

The most well-known involved three young men who’d been holidaying in Florida in the summer of 1998 before they mysteriously vanished.

Their bodies were discovered nine months later inside a car at the bottom of the lake.

Malcolm Longley, a property investor who moved to Celebration from Maidenhead, also claimed there was a seedy side to Celebration with 'wife-swapping' being rife.

He said in 2010: "We call it Celebration Separation. Pretty much all the British people I know who have moved here have come happily married and ended up divorced.

"It’s an incestuous town, and there’s an element of wife-swapping.

"I’d never met swingers that much until I came here."

Gavin Todd admitted that he had seen some move to Celebration "to hide away from problems and find some fairytale ending, but they don’t get it."

Disney sold Celebration in 2004 to a New York company.

Some residents have since rallied behind their town and hit out at the creepy image it has been portrayed as.

Responding to a blog post, one said: "I have lived in Celebration for nine years and I love it. The best part of Celebration is the wonderful and caring people."

Another added: "I absolutely love living in Celebration. It is not creepy at all. Everyone is really friendly and it is beautiful.

"The current problems are for people living in condos, not houses.

"So many people that live here think it is the best place in the world to live and that they are truly blessed.

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