At 6’4” tall and 240 pounds, handsome Vincent Nostokovich looked like he’d stepped out of a Tarzan movie. And, like Tarzan, he lived in the jungle with his animals.
Trapper Nelson or the Wildman of the Loxahatchee, as he was called, arrived in Hobe Sound, Florida in 1930, built a log cabin for himself in the swampy northern Everglades, on the banks of the Loxahatchee River, and survived by fishing, trapping animals, and selling their furs.
He would often go to a nearby Fish Camp to join his friends. Legends quickly developed about him. His appetite was gargantuan; he reportedly ate entire pies at one sitting. He rarely wore shirts or shoes. Women loved him and he loved them back—especially heiresses with real estate to their names.
He eventually amassed over 800 acres and opened a zoo where he wrestled alligators as part of the show--and that was when his troubles began. The state of Florida intervened, first claiming he owed taxes—he sold acres of land to pay that debt. Then they claimed his zoo was unsanitary and closed him down completely. (It’s difficult to get the full story, though, as the “facts’ differ.)
In any case, the closure of his zoo was a disaster for Trapper, and not surprisingly, perhaps, he grew increasingly convinced there was a plot to drive him from his land. He also worried about his health. After a while, he didn’t even trust his friends and required them to send him letters or postcards before visiting.
On June, 1968, his friends found him dead from a gunshot wound to the stomach. A lot of people thought he had been murdered--they questioned how he could have physically managed that and why he wouldn’t have shot himself elsewhere had he seriously intended to kill himself. A police investigation ruled his death a suicide, however.
And once Trapper Nelson was dead, the state DID take over his land, just as he had feared. Today, you can visit his camp, other buildings, and see the animal cages as part of Jonathan Dickinson State Park.