Notes on Daniel Somerson (1958-2011)


[Update, 5:13pm, July 21: The police have announced an arrest in the murder of Daniel Somerson; details will be provided at a press conference scheduled for 6pm. Depending on what they have to say, much of the speculation contained below may be rendered moot. My initial thought was to just wait and post this after editing to reflect the new information. But instead, I’ll just post this as it was written a few days ago, and any supplementary info will be appended later. More coming–stay tuned!]

Notes on Daniel Somerson (1958-2011)

It remains unclear how long the body of Daniel Somerson lay undetected inside his home in Fruit Cove before the police found it on July 8. It was presumed to be him because the home was in his name, bought for $225,000 three years ago. A secretive man, neither known nor liked by any neighbors who’ve said so at this writing, Somerson had not been seen in a couple weeks; someone requested a welfare check by the authorities, and they have probably checked on them, as well. It’s unclear what room he was in, or the position of his body. Was the air conditioner on? Unclear.

There are two things, however, that are apparently clear—or, as clear as it gets in things like this. The first is that Daniel Somerson died so violently that even the police in Florida went out of there way to define it as such, with nothing else by way of follow-up. The second is that Daniel Somerson lived his last few years as if he expected something pretty much like this to happen. Whether these questions are ultimately relevant are also unclear, but still, they are worth asking: What was he afraid of, and why?

Full disclosure: I’ve known the deceased for some time now. Our paths crossed often at various poetry readings and open-mic nights around the region—inRiverside, downtown, San Marco, Arlington, the Beaches, St. Augustine. Although he wrote under the pen name of “Jonathan Orion”, his peers called him “Daniel the Love Poet”, but I was never sure if he liked being called that or not. He always wore the moniker more with sinister irony than a literal embrace. He looked like the love-child of Freddie Mercury and Hitler, but with Mercury’s mustache and a nonexistent fashion sense. He always wore jeans and a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off; I don’t remember what his shoes looked like, and I don’t think I ever noticed, which really says a lot about the man’s ability to hold a conversation.

Amidst a Northeast Florida poetry scene that has produced some of the best talents in this country over the past 20 years (Alan Justiss, Al Letson, Nestor Gil, David Gerard, Matthew Hernandez, Bob Shipp, etc.), Somerson was, in my opinion, pretty good. I always found his stuff entertaining, mainly because his performing style was compelling. He spoke firmly, with a voice modulating between tenor and soprano, projecting such that amplification wasn’t needed. His pronunciation was exacting, though laced with a little lisp that, among other things, fueled speculation about his sexuality. Research indicates that he may have been a classically-trained singer, which explains a lot about his performance style. He also wrote in a classical vein. It was the kind of stuff that college kids wrote to their lovers, 100 years ago.

Behind the flowery prose and the trance-inducing voice was a really smart guy with a lot of inner turmoil that was, at times, just barely contained. He’d been asked to leave several events for arguments or outbursts over the years; even in conversation, his tone turned terse and testy when addressing certain subjects, especially politics. I knew he was weird straightaway, because he agreed with most of my work.

Beyond his brutal demise, Daniel Somerson will be remembered as someone who maintained a decade-long rhetorical offensive against theUStrucking industry. He used to drive a mail truck for the United States Postal Service, thus giving him the distinction of being not only a trucker, but a postal employee. This is apparently a highly volatile mix, with contents under heavy pressure. His beef with the government and the United States Trucking Association took deep into the recesses of the federal government—some might say, way too deep.

Among other things, he felt the government needed to be more aggressive about mandating sleep for drivers who, under the existing pay structure, make more money by staying on the road for as long as possible. This has in fact happened, to some extent, but not before a number of awful tragedies involving truckers that were either asleep at the wheel, or so impaired from sleep deprivation and/or stimulant burnout that they were unable to react in time to prevent accidents. Some of the worst such cases happened inFlorida, and this was a subject we discussed countless times. One guy slammed into a vehicle full of children as it idled behind a school bus, killing an entire family and nearly setting the bus on fire, which could have killed many more.

These subjects, while serious, were always discussed collegially. But things changed abruptly following the events of October 25, 2002. On that dayMinnesotasenator Paul Wellstone, then the most progressive among his colleagues, died alongside seven others (including his wife and daughter) in a small plane crash inEveleth,MN, while en-route to a political funeral. Ted Kennedy was also supposed to make that trip, but chose instead to go straight to a Wellstone rally inMinneapolis.

The effects of Wellstone’s death on American history are hard to state precisely, except to say they were tragic. For one thing, it eliminated the most strident critic of the looming war inIraq. The fiasco that Wellstone’s funeral became was cited as a major reason that then-Governor JesseVenturaended his own political career. Wellstone’s seat went Republican, and helped eliminate the last legal check on Bush/Cheney agenda; his successor, Norm Coleman, was beaten by Al Franken in 2008, and one may presume that Wellstone would be pleased by that, if nothing else.

The effects of Paul Wellstone’s death on Daniel Somerson were perhaps as severe. To him, Wellstone represented the last chance for a positive resolution to his dispute, the last chance for proper regulation of the trucking industry. Somerson was just one among probably thousands of Americans who immediately saw something shady to the senator’s demise. The ricin attacks began a year and a half later. Overall, some 62 incidents of possible ricin contamination occurred during this time. No one was ever caught, indicted or arrested. Daniel Somerson is the only person named as part of that investigation.

To this day, there remains wide public suspicion that Daniel Somerson was the person self-identified as the “Fallen Angel” who sent ricin to the White House and US Senate in 2004. Ricin is far more lethal than the more well-known powdery poison anthrax, yet far more accessible to the average person; made from castor beans, the ingredients are common and the instructions widely available online. The government is fully justified in taking note of persons looking up such information. Whereas anthrax spores must be inhaled to be effective, ricin can kill just by touching the skin, making it an ideal vehicle for quick mass-murder.

Somerson was married at least once, perhaps twice. Records indicate a man by his name was married inMainein the ‘80s. He was married to a teacher here for some years during the time I knew him. She, too, was a poet of some skill, but that ended; she never returned to the readings, and he never mentioned her again. She was very pretty, but folks still assumed he was at least bisexual, or that they were both swingers, or that she was a beard. At no point did anyone seem to think he seduced her by traditional means.

Years later, he placed an ad on the Internets seeking a roommate—no, that phrasing doesn’t quite describe it. The ad reads: “A life led by two people together, is a life much easier, more fulfilling and i need your help running this home. Offering trustworthy, responsible female opportunity for no cost housing and modest financial support in exchange for domestic skills and homemaker talents. Gorgeous large home on 1.5 acres, located in a peaceful and tranquil setting. Clean, safe and secure environment. I will work diligently to meet your every reasonable need and desire. Please, you must be a kind, gentle and empathetic person. My intentions are absolutely honorable and my heart is in the right place with this effort to find someone special. This is a committed and monogamous relationship. Complete details and a photo exchange available with your thoughtful response.”

He was offering to trade free lodging for female company, like having a live-in girlfriend, but more to the point and without the slow burn or awkward build-up. Now, that’s technically legal, but it’s obviously a sketchy proposition, one that is reportedly on the upswing inAmericatoday. How that even comes up in conversation among close friends, I have no idea. It essentially offers a legal loophole to prostitution, in many different ways. (The porn industry offers another: It’s illegal to pay a woman for sex, unless you record it and sell the video; that’s just fine.)

The kind of woman who would respond in the affirmative to such an offer, tendered anonymously by a rank stranger, almost certainly constitutes a sort of hyper-dimensional portal into all kinds of bad trouble. Especially if she’s hot. She’d either be a grifter, a runaway, or a girl running from someone who might have the skills to take out Daniel Somerson in his own home. The man was an ex-trucker who lifted weights, knew of weapons and had already turned his home into a fortified compound, living almost in anticipation of possible violence. But if he was still working that kind of angle, I could easily see it all ending up as it did.

It’s possible that the pressures induced by the “Fallen Angel” debacle played some role in wrecking his marriage and sending him on the trajectory that terminated in Fruit Cove a couple weeks ago. (He once implied that FBI agents had interrogated his wife at her place of business, but that is not confirmed.) The authorities have not yet conclusively ruled out suicide, but there’s no indication that anyone feels that way.

I last spoke to him via phone, sometime in late May or early June. He seemed well enough, pleasant and conversational. We caught up on a couple years’ worth of political skullduggery, reviewed the current wars and made predictions about the next ones. He asked if I knew where to score some herb; his previous hookup (a mutual friend) has recently died. I didn’t, but even if I did, I’d have probably said no anyway, because I always assumed that he remained under some kind of government surveillance. Not to be conspiratorial; I just figured that if you draw “Fallen Angel”-type heat, it never cools down completely.

Given his nature, he was obviously not the type to service his habit in nicks, dimes or doubles—more like a quarter-pound at a time. An ounce or more is felony weight, which changes the whole dynamic of any such transaction. Upon hearing that he’d died in a home surrounded with cameras, with no obvious signs of forced entry, I wondered if perhaps he’d found the wrong connection. What kind of person drives out into the middle of nowhere, aka Fruit Cove, to carry out a felony drug deal? My guess is the type of person who didn’t really care about the risks or the consequences, and that is a very dangerous type of person.

Ultimately, who knows what was going on out there? Odds are that the full details of Daniel Somerson’s weird life and weirder death will never be revealed. Certainly most of his secrets went to the grave with him (assuming that he’s been buried), and those that remain will be held tightly by his killer(s) until Death comes for them in some form that leaves no connection to the karma that set it in motion. Until we hear otherwise, we can safely assume that Somerson’s murder was related either to vice or to his vendetta against the trucking industry. Maybe he was the “Fallen Angel”, and in the absence of a provable case, the decision was made to eliminate him. Or maybe not.; July 21, 2011

[Update, 6:13pm: Police announced the arrest of 24 year-old Latoya Jordan, whom they allege had met Somerson via the Internet, then moved into his house. Something happened at some point–those details were not revealed–leading to Somerson’s violent death, by means that also not been mentioned yet. Given the size disparity, one assumes that he was shot, or was killed by other means while sleeping or otherwise incapacitated. The phrase in bold print a few paragraphs up basically summarizes the situation as presently understood. RIP, Love Poet!]

[Update, 2:21 pm, August 1: I received an e-mail from Carrie Coombs, the ex-wife of Daniel Somerson. She read the article above and wanted to add some essential insight. With her permission, her words follow this; I may reprint them in a separate post as well.]

I am Daniel’s ex-wife, the “very pretty” wife you referred to. We were married for 7.5 years, together for 10. I thought you did an EXCELLENT job writing about Daniel’s activism, whistleblowing, and safety advocacy concerning the trucking industry. I was with him when the proverbial *shit* hit the fan. We were in and out of court several times. The case history is all well-documented and available online. This was one of Daniel’s passions, and I thank you for giving the issue the attention it so deserves. Also, your paragraph about Senator Wellstone’s death and it’s affect on Daniel was spot-on. Thank you for reminding me about that ~ I had forgotten. Those several years were very stressful and it’s impossible to remember everything that transpired!

I hesitated to contact you right away after I read your “Notes” article because there were also several things you mentioned that were very distressing to me. I have been very heartbroken over Daniel’s murder. He and I tried reconciling twice after our divorce in 2007. We were last together from January to April in 2009. Even though I had not seen nor spoken to him in 2 years, I have always loved him very much and I so wanted him to meet someone that he could be happy with. His murder came as a tremendous shock to me. I really do believe that Daniel had the best of intentions; unfortunately, he let the wrong person into his home. I have needed some time to process all the emotions and flashfloods of memory the past several weeks before addressing my concerns with you.

First of all, Daniel was very proud of his Jewish heritage and your comment about likening his appearance to a cross between “Hitler and Freddy Mercury” was hurtful to me. Also, I felt that mentioning his manner of dress was irrelevant.

The paragraph in which you mention the (mis)perception of Daniel’s sexuality was very hurtful as well. Daniel loved women – hence all the poetry about his past loves and the poems about me. I can assure you I was not his “beard” nor some sort of cover for him. Our marriage was legit…every part of it. I think some people have that misperception of him because they do not understand his dichotomy: how could a man who professes to be a rough-and-tumble truck driver be so eloquent with poetry? It was really the poetry that enabled Daniel to be more in touch with his feminine side and take the edge off of his surly demeanor. We had a very deep, loving, difficult relationship. We went through hell and back together. I miss him very much.

Shelton, I don’t mean to upset you by this. There were so many other facets of Daniel, about which most people are clueless. I just wanted to set the record straight with you. No obituary has been written, so I consider your article about Daniel as an obituary of sorts.

Daniel always spoke highly of you and considered you a voice of reason in this *town*. Thank you for your publication.

10 responses »

  1. I knew Daniel quite well, and I loved his quirky style. Apparently you did too, Shelton. Mr. Pete Thomas may well know things that we don’t, but (imho) you have very accurately described the dangerous trajectory that I believe led to Daniel’s tragic end.

    God rest his beautiful and tortured soul.

    “For way down in the emerald sea
    I feel this touch embracing me
    It’s like a voice that’s calling me
    in slow, seductive tones

    From Tarpon Springs to Naples’ flare
    Each road it seems could take me there
    Of all of this I’m most aware
    Will it turn my heart to stone?

    I could join a country club or two
    Recite at Tampa’s arts venue
    Hold my breath till I turn blue
    and still end up alone”
    -Daniel Somerson, from “This Vacancy”

  2. I remember hearing Daniel read at any number of poetry readings in Jacksonville ( Nicotine meltdown in 1998, San Marco contemperary Jazz lounge circa 2000, The Juice and Java etc. etc. ) , I always liked his passion. A lot of guys might have thought his jeans were a little to tight for a straight male , but his poems were more mature than most of the insecure bleeding heart men in the poetry scene at the time. To imagine that he was murdered in his own home strikes a sad chord with me. Who can you really trust to enter your safely secured castle ? No one , but a lonely heart is willing to take risk that may not be worth the reward in the end. Rest in Peace Daniel.

  3. He was never a postal employee, but worked for a mail hauler
    He was not a singer in any sense and certainly not classically trained
    Dan knew nothing about Castor beans or ricin
    He was married three times

    You are right that the full details will never be known

  4. I want to comment on learning of Daniel’s death. I will say its odd the way things have happen in his death. There is one key point here. Daniel has helped more truck drivers than he may have realized. He was a very kind person to many in the industry. At least some of us are very grateful!


  5. Mr. Hull, ANY reference to Hitler re: Daniel, even in the most oblique way, show that you are an absolute ass. During my brief association with Daniel, I was made aware of his acknowledgement and appreciation for his Jewish roots. I suppose you are also a fan of Jesse Jackson and his antisemetic rhetotric. Your article was wholly speculative, showed NO depth of Journalistic knowledge and “outed” you as a wanna-be and a hack.

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