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Crews demolish historic house damaged by fire

PARRISH — A historic house in Parrish was leveled Tuesday after it was destroyed by fire almost a year ago.

Shrouded by tragedy, the home originally belonged to Gettis Lee, who was murdered with his wife in the mid-1950s.

The property now belongs to Charles Parrish, whose former wife, Tina, and his children, Rebecca, Mark and Dalton, lived in the home at the time of the fire last May.

It was Rebecca Parrish’s 17th birthday the evening the fire erupted in the home. She was in her room doing her hair when she realized something was wrong. “I went out my bedroom door and all this smoke blew in my face,” she said Tuesday.

She took a detour out the side bedroom door and out the front door. Flames shot out the windows.

That night the family received aid from the American Red Cross, which was on the scene with an emergency response vehicle. The family stayed in a motel for a month and then went to Georgia, Rebecca Parrish said.

After growing up in Manatee County, she couldn’t stay in another state, she said.

“I lived there for 16 years and it happened on my birthday,” she said. “That was the worst birthday ever.”

When Charles Parrish moved into the house in 1987, he didn’t know the home’s history. His mother knew but didn’t tell them because she thought they might get “spooked,” he said.

Parrish, who plans on selling the lot, was disappointed it could not be restored.

“I was hoping somebody could buy it and fix it up because it’s a historic house,” he said. “There was some people who asked about it, but it was far too gone for that.”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation because it is suspicious, said state fire marmarshal Jack Shireman.

Gettis Lee, owner of the grocery and gas store on U.S. 301 just south of State Road 62, lived with his wife, Merrill, in the house until that fateful day in 1957 when someone killed them.

According to Herald archives, some claimed he crossed Tampa bolita gambling interests and that a professional hit man got him. About 36 hours after they discovered the couple missing, Merrill Lee’s body was discovered in a canal less than a mile from the home, beaten, slashed and shot four times. The search continued for Gettis Lee, but his body did not turn up until six years later, when two men stumbled upon his body in a field east of U.S. 301 and south of State Road 62.

No one really knows what happened to the couple, but rumors flew. Some speculate that he might have crossed someone he knew from his gambling habits or from a soured relationship with lady friends he was rumored to have, said Charles Parrish.

“It’s a small town; everybody has their theories,” he said.

Jessica Klipa, Herald staff reporter, can be reached at 708-7906.