State Attorney Harry Lee Coe III was born in 1932 in Brooklyn, but he grew up in Lakeland, Florida. He was a Democrat, but many in the party don’t want to claim him. He acquired his nickname "Hangin’ Harry" because of the tough sentences, often exceeding sentencing guidelines, that he handed down as a circuit court judge. Others seem to think his nickname comes from the vicious curveball he threw as a pitcher for the University of Florida baseball team, and later for the Tampa Tarpons.

Coe’s tenure as Hillsborough County’s top prosecutor has always been rocked by scandal. He was the victim of a rash of thefts (and of his own incompetence). From his car and office, he lost 20 pairs of boxer shorts and eight handguns. I never figured out why the State Attorney needs a gun – the image of Hangin’ Harry shooting it out with criminals just boggles the mind.

The latest scandal involves missing computer records and $12, 000 in loans from two employees he supervised. Coe denied any wrongdoing. Though Coe earned $216, 000 in salary and his judicial pension, he was $157, 000 in debt. Many suspect gambling debts since Coe is a frequent visitor to the dog track.

Yesterday, Florida Governor Jeb! Bush ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Coe. After Bush’s letter was released and delivered to Coe’s offices, Coe completely disappeared. He couldn’t be located by his staff or the media. This morning at about 11, Coe’s body was found in his car beneath the Crosstown Expressway south of downtown Tampa. He had apparently shot himself.

There are crooks and there are bureaucrats in politics, but there are rarely any genuine characters like Harry Lee Coe. I may not have wanted him in office, but I will miss the bizarre antics of Hangin’ Harry.

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