Victor Licata- 1




Who Was Victor Licata and why does this case matter so much to us today?


Victor Licata - Oct 1933

1.1 – VICTOR LICATA & The Birth of the Anti Marihuana Laws:

Why should anyone care about a set of grizzly murders that occurred almost 100 years ago? Or about a kid (Victor Licata) who was framed for those murders?

The answer can be found almost daily in your local newspaper. Open up any major newspaper and you can read about the latest “MARIHUANA” arrest.   Mostly the police are quoted as using words such as “Pot Growers”, “Drug Users”, etc.  However (if you are like me), and look hard enough, one notices that somewhere in the article, the words “Cancer Patient”, or “Medical Uses” are turning up, more and more often.

Which leads this author to a question of his own; Why is cannabis / marihunana and especially medicinal Marihuana against the Law? Why can’t doctors prescribe it, let alone people use it for pleasure?

The answer lies in what happened during the 1930’s, because it was during that time that our Federal Narcotics police began a massive dis-information campaign against Marihuana, saying that this plant that had been in use safely and effectively in the U.S. for over a hundred years previously and elsewhere for thousands of years before that, was a “Killer Drug", that under it’s deadly influence young girls were jumping out of 5th story windows, that young boys were grabbing axes and chopping people to death. This was the original Reefer Madness campaign.

But this is not a book about the Reefer Madness campaign per say, it is instead about Victor Licata; a young man who had the misfortune of becoming a legend of sorts of the Reefer Madness campaign. Some have even gone so far as to say that the Victor Licata case was the origin of the anti Marihuana laws themselves.


The legend of Victor varies from storyteller to storyteller, but in general it goes something like this.

A normally sane and quite young boy by the name of Victor Licata, one-day smoked two Marihuana cigarettes (aka Reefers), which he had obtained in a pool hall.   Two weeks later, he goes totally insane.   In a drug induced rampage, he grabs an axe and kills his own Mama.   He chops his father to death.   He kills his baby sister, he kills his . . . etc. . . . And the next day (when he wakes up in jail), he starts to cry.   He can’t figure out why his parents are not there to get him out of jail. . . etc.

Again, the exact story as well as the number of people he kills varies from storyteller to storyteller. But one thing they all agree on, and that was that it was the Marihuana that had driven this normally sane and quiet young man into insanity. Had it not been for the Marihuana peddler in that pool hall he never would have done it, for how else could anyone explain how this normally sane and quite young man could wake up in jail the next day, remembering nothing of what had happened the night before not being able to understanding why his parents were not there to get him out? Yes, without a doubt it was the effects of the Marihuana – Now being referred to by federal narcotics officials as "The Assassin of Youth and "The Killer Drug"

Thus according to narcotics officials, the need for new and stronger laws to combat this terrible scourge and growing menace.


The Licata case (and the fact that it was their very own son who was accused of having committed the murders), did not go unnoticed by either the public or the narcotics police. To quote just one newspaper editorial at the time:

Tampa Daily times - Oct. 18, 1933 [1A]
Editorial - "Stamp Out This Weed Of Flaming Murder" MARIJUANA!

Smoke that inflames the brain.   Vapor that turns the blood to seething, boiling lava.   Witness yesterday.   A family slain.   A loved son behind bars, his finger-prints on the murder axe.

Recently the State opened a campaign against sale of the weed.   Arrests were made here in Tampa and elsewhere in the State.   One convicted seller has been sentenced to a year in prison.   And still, officers and underworld tipsters declare, marijuana is sold---is purchased----is smoked in Tampa.

Hundreds, those who are in position to know, declare are addicted to its use.   Hundreds of persons---many of them young---many of them girls---have inflamed their brains with marajuana.   Hundreds of others, unless the sale is curbed and stopped, will join the ranks. --- Stamp it out!

And while the State of Florida already had some control laws in place. It is generally recognized that it was the Victor Licata incident that led to the passage of much, much tougher anti-Marihuana laws within the State. This happened within months of the murders, thus from the very first, Victor was becoming a legend. Thus one truely could say that the Victor Licata case was the origin of the anti-marihuana laws themselves.

And in the mind of the average Floridian, why shouldn’t these laws have been passed?   After all look at what Marihuana has done to this poor young man who had killed his whole family.   Even Eric Goode in a chapter entitled “Marijuana, Crime, and Violence,” stated it as follows: [1B]


"If cannabis (Marihuana) could be shown to have a criminogenic and violence-inducing effect, the argument would shift from an issue of civil liberties to the question of the protection of society.   It would no longer be a matter of the condemnation and criminalization of a certain style of life, of preventing the user from "harming" himself and prohibiting him from enjoying his own particular "vice" in the privacy of his home, much like pornography.

The issue of the criminogenics of marijuana takes the debate out of the murky habitat of the user.

Everybody is affected if the drug produces the will to do harm to another."

Thus the need to protect the public from this horrible “killer drug”. Thus the need to pass Florida’s original anti marihuana Laws.

The following newspaper headlines dealing with the incident indicate the seriousness of the matter.
[ ]- Oct. 17, 1933 pg. 1&10 "Axman Kills 4 Tampans”
[ ]- Oct 17, 1933 pg. 1+10 "Crazy Youth Slays Family"
[ ]- Oct. 18, 1933 pg. 1&4, c. 6 “Dream Slayer Talks in Cell” (Licata tells reporter how he killed five)
[ ]- Oct. 18, 1933 pg. 2 “Marijuana Joints and Dealers Listed For Clean-up Drive By Law Agencies”
[ ]- Oct. 18, 1933 pg. 1&4, c. 5 ”Joint Funeral For 5 Victims”
[ ]- Oct. 18, 1933 pg. 6 "Stamp Out This Weed Of Flaming Murder" (Editorial)
[ ]- Oct. 19, 1933 pg. 1 “Thousands View Victims Of Maddened Ax Slayer”
[ ]- Oct. 19, 1933 pg. 2 “Rewards for Marijuana Convictions Announced”
[ ]- Oct. 19, 1933 pg. 3 “Axmen’s Toll 19 Lives Here”
[ ]- Oct. 19, 1933 pg. 5 “Kin To Defend Dream Slayer”
[ ]- Oct. 20, 1933 pg. 11 “Final Rights For 5 Slain”
[ ]- Oct 20, 1933 pg. 11 Editorial - against Marihuana. "Stop This Murderous Smoke" possible date error
[ ]- Oct. 21, 1933 pg. 12 “Licatas Plan Insanity Move”
[ ]- Oct. 31, 1933 pg. 3 “Board Reports Licata Insane”
[ ]- Oct 31, 1933 pg. 1 "Report Shows Ax Slayer Of Family Insane"
[ ]- Nov. 02, 1933 pg. 5 “Alienist Says Licata Insane”
[ ]- Nov. 03, 1933 pg. 5 "Order Commits Slayer Licata"

[ ]- Oct. 18, 1933 pg. 1 - "Son Held in Tampa Slayings"

JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, Jacksonville, Florida
[ ]- Oct. 27, 1933 “The Workings of a Good Law” (Editorial about a Marijuana arrest and seizure.)

KEY WEST CITIZEN, Key West, Florida
[ ]- Oct. 18, 1933 pg. 1 “Denies Slaying Of Family; Says He Had ‘Dream’”

[ ]- Oct. 18, 1933 pg. 1&8 ”Crazed Youth Kills Five Of Family With AX In Tampa Home”
[ ]- Oct. 18, 1933 pg. 8 “Logan To War On Marijuana Here”
[ ]- Oct. 15, 1945 pg. 1 “5 Dangerously Insane Escape Chattahoochee”
[ ]- Oct. 16, 1945 pg. 4 “Murderer Escapes” (Editorial)
[ ]- Dec. 07, 1950 pg. 10 “AX Killer Ends Life In Prison”
The fact that Victor had been framed for murder did NOT seem to come into play anywhere. Thus a legend was born.


Were the situation to have stayed a Florida incident, it probably wouldn’t have mattered all that much to us today. In all likelihood (after some unit of time), the Florida state legislators would have seen how silly the very concept of Marihuana (which had been used in medicines for over a hundred years in the US), as a producer of violent crimes really was.   After all, why weren’t users in other States not going around committing acts of violence etc? No doubt the laws would have been repealed long ago.

However this was not to be the case. Forces way beyond the State of Florida were to soon turn the Victor Licata incident into the stuff of legends.   Soon Harry J. Anslinger and the DEA (then known as the Bureau of Narcotics) would enter the picture changing an otherwise local incident into a major campaign of hysteria against the use of Marihuana.

-- Tampa Daily times - Oct. 18, 1933 – Only part of Editorial is shown
[1B]-- The Marijuana Smokers by Erich Goode Chapter 9 - Marijuana, Crime, and Violence