STARKE - Bobby Joe Long died without saying a word.
The infamous Tampa serial killer was pronounced dead at 6:55 p.m. inside the death chamber at Florida State Prison on Thursday night.
"We thank God that this day has finally arrived," said Lula Williams, the mother of victim Chanel Williams. "Now, after 35 years, we can say we had some peace of mind knowing that justice has been served."
Long, 65, was executed by the state for the 1984 murder of Michelle Denise Simms, a former beauty pageant contestant from California. Her body was found that May, near an Interstate 4 overpass by Plant City. She was bound with a rope and her throat had been cut.
But she was only one of his many victims. Long was convicted of killing eight women while terrorizing the Tampa Bay area in the 1980s. He actually confessed to 10 murders, and sexually assaulted many more.
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His other victims faced similar violent ends. Only one is known to have made it out alive. Long abducted 17-year-old Lisa McVey as she was riding her bike home from her job at Krispy Kreme. He trapped her in his apartment and repeatedly raped her for 26 hours.
McVey made up a story that she was the sole caregiver to an ailing parent to try to evoke sympathy from Long. It worked. He let her go.
Her description of the incident led police to Long. McVey, now Lisa Noland, went on to become a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy.
She sat in the front row as his execution started at 6:43 p.m. More than two dozen sat in the crowded gallery to witness the execution. Frank Elliott, the brother of victim Vicky Elliott, wore a white collared shirt, the 10 victims' photos screen-printed on the back.
"The ones that matter," it said above their faces.
In the front row, Algalana Douglas leaned on her knees, her head down. She had waited 34 years to see the death of the man who murdered her sister, Chanel Williams. As the curtain went up on the window into the death chamber, she sat up straight in her seat.
"That was something I wouldn't miss," she said.
Long was given the chance to impart his final words. He chose to say nothing. Then a combination of lethal drugs was administered.
Soon, his breathing became disjointed. His mouth appeared to start twisting and his breathing grew more labored. A state official pressed on his shoulders at 6:47 p.m. A minute later, Long appeared to stop breathing.
His eyelids grew ashen, then his face turned white. A doctor started examining him at 6:54 p.m., and pronounced his official death a minute later.
Long pleaded guilty in the slayings of eight women: Ngeun Thi "Peggy" Long, 19; Michelle Denise Simms, 22; Elizabeth Loudenback, 22; Vicky Marie Elliott, 21; Chanel Devon Williams, 18; Karen Dinsfriend, 28; Kimberly Kyle Hopps, 22; and Kim Marie Swann, 21. In exchange, he received life sentences, except in the murder of Simms.
He was also sentenced to death in the murder of 18-year-old Virginia Lee Johnson in Pasco County. The Florida Supreme Court overturned that sentence and acquitted Long on appeal.
He languished as a death row inmate for 34 years - one of the longest periods ever spent on Florida's death row - haunting survivors and the family of his victims.
He's also believed to have attacked dozens more as the "Classified Ad Rapist," meeting up with women who tried to sell their used furniture in newspaper ads and raping them.
One of the survivors of those attacks attended the execution. Linda Nuttall, 67, was a stay-at-home mom when she and her husband posted an ad in the newspaper to sell some furniture. Long responded to it the week of Memorial Day in 1984 and went to her Palm Harbor home.
There, with her 1-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son in the house, he raped her.
"I had, and I continue to have, a joyful life," she said after the execution. "Today, justice was served."
His death marked the first execution carried out under Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was elected in January. DeSantis' predecessor, Rick Scott, ordered 28 executions, the most of any Florida governor.
As the sun started to set over the prison, a half dozen families and survivors gathered to talk about what the day meant to them. They spoke about their loved ones, but also what it meant to endure this end together, with others who understood their pain.
"This isn't going to bring any of our loved ones back," said Lisa Avery Rich, the cousin of Kim Swann, "but it is going to give us closure."
Noland gave an emotional statement, dedicating it in memory of the 10 women who couldn't be there.
"I vow to carry on," she said, "and be their voice."
Contact Kathryn Varn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.