I began writing this article in June, 2009 and finished it in May of 2010. Today, I'm compelled to reprint it because I cannot stop thinking about Tracy. I did bring pertinent information up-to-date.
In February of 2009, Chris George’s car was found abandoned near a wooded area in Apopka, Florida. Also known as George Onda, family members and friends didn’t think much of it because he often took off to go on drug-induced binges. Three weeks later, the family called Apopka police and a search ensued. One of the volunteers was a guy by the name of James “Jimmy” Hataway. He was one of only two people who last saw George alive. When the case went cold, police closed it out, but reopened it later. Today, the Ocoee Police Department has linked a total of 6 victims to James Virgil Hataway. In 2011, Chris George's bones were found in Lake Carter, about 15 miles outside of Orlando.
Tracy Ocasio was last seen on May 26, 2009, leaving the Tap Room bar on Raleigh Street in Orlando’s MetroWest neighborhood, at 1:30 AM. Her car was found abandoned about 15 miles from the bar, not far from Hataway’s home. A year later, the Ocoee police department named him as the only suspect in her disappearance. Until then, he was merely a person of interest.
Soon after Tracy went missing, I went to pick up a few prescriptions from the pharmacy. As she was ringing up my purchase, I asked the always friendly woman behind the counter if she knew anything about the missing woman and the guy police have in custody (on another charge) who might also be tied into Jennifer Kesse, last seen on January 24, 2006. (It was pretty big news around Orlando for both women.) At first, she didn’t quite know, so I mentioned the bar a mile or so away called McGuinnty’s Irish Pub. I told her he used to go there.
“Oh, yeah, I remember seeing him on the news. I thought he looked familiar,” she said. “I think I used to see him in here.” I told her McGuinnty’s was one of his hangouts because he lived nearby at the time.
As a single mother, I just don’t picture my clerk as much of a drinker and, needless to say, neither am I any longer, but I was more of one back then and I knew who this guy was the first time I saw his picture on the local news. McGuinnty’s has been closed for about ten years now, but I can remember some of those times like it was yesterday, and I can easily remember the people who oftentimes frequented the place.
I never befriended James Virgil Hataway at that bar and there were some very good reasons why. The people he hung around with were skinhead types. Hoodlums, plain and simple, and most of the time the regular crowd stayed on one side while they planted themselves on the other. They were young - mid 20s to early 30s - the way I saw it. Today, Hataway would be around 36. They shaved their heads and had goatees. They were a tough group hanging with rough, but good-looking women. There were a few I knew by name, but not much else. Dallas was a good guy. Today, I don’t remember most of the names but I do remember the faces. To give you an idea, Matt had at one time been a nice young man until he got mixed up with that bunch. His change was overnight. Clean cut one day, shaved head the next, with tattoos and piercings all over and a nasty, punk, degenerate attitude. He went from saying hello and friendly conversations to wanting to beat the living crap out of anyone in his way and for no good reason. Of course, I never said a word to him again after he snarled one night. These were the guys who had no respect for anyone but their own small clique of friends. They had the ultimate chip on their shoulders. They had no respect for anyone but their own and it’s clear that Hataway had no respect for human life after information emerged from law enforcement accounts.
Hataway was always the quiet one in the crowd, never starting trouble, yet it didn’t surprise me in the least that he became the only suspect in Ocasio's disappearance. A surveillance video from the Tap Room showed Hataway and Ocasio leaving the bar together. Allegedly, she offered to give him a ride home to Ocoee, a couple of miles northwest of the bar. Although never charged with her disappearance, he was found guilty of first-degree attempted murder, burglary, robbery, and false imprisonment, and sentenced to life in prison in 2011. That incident occurred in 2008. He choked his victim, Rachel Clarke, tried to snap her neck, and repeatedly slammed her head into the pavement. Fortunately, there were witnesses that heard her screams for help and she was rescued.
Hataway was a guy who fancied himself “the worst criminal in the universe” by using the alias Vader McGirth on his now closed MySpace page, named after the Darth Vader character in Star Wars. He was no stranger to police because of his extensive criminal record dating back to 1993. It includes kidnapping causing bodily harm, drug possession, and many traffic offenses.
When I questioned one of the former bartenders at McGuinnty’s, she told me he used to ask her for a ride home once in a while. Did you ever give him one? “No,” she said, “I always told him I live in the opposite direction.”
I asked her if she was glad she didn’t and she emphatically responded, “YES,” but she never would have thought that he could have done such a thing, other than because of the type of crowd he was always hanging with. Where did they all come from, I wondered. Why did they congregate at McGuinnty’s? She said many of them lived in the trailer park behind the bar. She also told me that most of them had since outgrown that skinhead phase, and some are married. For the record, much of that trailer park is now a housing development.
“He wouldn’t care who it was, he would make them disappear, just like he told me. The way he would talk about people … what he would want to do,” said a former roommate who did not wish to be identified, because he said he had received threats from some of Hataway’s friends.
Before his arrest on drug charges in 2009, Hataway lived with his father in Ocoee. He also worked with his father dredging ponds. Clearly, police wanted him off the streets.
“This Jimmy has a preponderance to do violence, he snaps, he gets angry, it’s always a woman, ride home, end up alone,” said Sgt. Mike Bryant of the Ocoee Police Department, in June 2009. “He’s very familiar with going out into open land at night and not getting caught dumping land debris and waste, that’s a concern…”
“We believe he did it. He’s always been a suspect,” the detective added. “He is suspected of killing her.”
Too bad for Tracy because this young woman was a true blue Orlando Magic fan. That’s why she went to the Tap Room bar that fateful Tuesday night on May 26, to watch her team win, and win they did, against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Too bad another James, James Hataway, was there to watch her lose her life in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. No one ever saw her again. Just like magic, he made her disappear.
She needs to be found.