Ray Lemme was a Florida investigator who died suspiciously after investigating Clint Curtis's allegations concerning Yang Enterprises and Tom Feeney. After serving in the Air Force in Vietnam, he became an investigator that helped oversee several state agencies over the course of his career. He worked in the Comptroller's Office and Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) during the 1980s and 90s. Afterwards, Lemme came to work as an investigator in the Florida Department of Transportation's Inspector General office.
While there, Clint Curtis and Mavis Georgalis blew the whistle to him about illegal activities at Yang. Initially dismissive of the allegations, Lemme had a change of heart and investigated them outside of the official purview of his bosses. Lemme told Curtis in mid-June of 2003 that he had cracked the case and would break the story soon. A couple weeks later, he was found dead in a Valdosta GA motel room. His death was ruled a suicide by the Valdosta Police Department, but a closer look reveals a shoddy investigation that potentially covered up murder. Most egregiously, Lemme had severe bruising on his neck indicative of assault, which the VPD left out of their report and hid by pretending their crime scene photographs didn't exist.
Family and early life
Investigator for state of Florida
Clint Curtis investigation
In 2001, Lemme received a report from FDOT employees Clint Curtis and Mavis Georgalis concerning Yang Enterprises (YEI), a contractor for FDOT. Curtis had formerly worked at YEI, observing several illegal activities there. He was then hired to FDOT by Georgalis, who had previously been concerned with overbilling and political corruption regarding the YEI contract. Together, they relayed all of their YEI complaints to Lemme: overbilling FDOT, improper political influence by Tom Feeney (a top Florida legislator and chief counsel/lobbyist for YEI), illegal alien employment, espionage, and Feeney's commissioning of vote rigging software.
Lemme transcribed the allegations pertaining to FDOT (leaving out matters like vote rigging) in his Inspector General report. However, the IG office refused to investigate the report, and Georgalis began getting harassed by her boss. After Curtis complained about this, he and Georgalis (along with other FDOT employees familiar with the YEI contract) were fired. Lemme would later tell Curtis that there had been "pressure from the top" (implying Jeb Bush) to close the case.
At first, Lemme went along with the hostile treatment by FDOT. He was part of the retaliatory effort against Georgalis, even insisting on having her arrested while babysitting her granddaughter. Lemme eventually had a change of heart and became legitimately concerned about the YEI case.
He sought out Clint Curtis several times in 2003 (after he had been fired) to continue interviewing him. Lemme asked Curtis about topics like spies and vote rigging, and while he didn't let on much, it became clear to Curtis that Lemme was making significant headway on the case. Curtis learned (and told Georgalis) that the case involving YEI was much bigger than it had seemed and went higher up. In a mid-June meeting with Curtis, Lemme said he had tracked the corruption "all the way to the top", that the story would break in a few weeks, and that Curtis would be thrilled with it.
What Lemme uncovered is still unknown to this day. YEI's criminality extended into multiple areas, including political corruption, Chinese espionage, election fraud, and potentially even human trafficking, and Lemme appeared to have been investigating all possible angles.
On July 1 2003, motel staff at the Knights Inn in Valdosta GA noticed that the occupant of room #132 hadn't checked out and the door was latched from the inside. They called the Valdosta Police Department, who got the door open and found Ray Lemme slumped dead in the bathtub. There were cuts on his arm, blood in the tub, bloody razors, and a suicide note in the room.
Valdosta police surveyed the room, did the same for Lemme's car, and talked to witnesses. Photos of the crime scene were taken, but Detective Shannon Floyd claimed that they were lost due to an issue with the camera memory cards. They called in a coroner to the room, who quickly pronounced Lemme's death a suicide. By July 2, the police had firmly concluded that Lemme died of suicide.
Thanks to an ID found in his room, the Valdosta police could identify Lemme and where he came from. They called the Leon County Sheriff's Office (in Tallahassee) on July 1, which had already recorded Lemme as missing the day before. His wife, Mary Ann Lemme, and FDOT boss, Bob Clift, both filled affidavits on June 30 detailing how Lemme had been missing for most of the day.
Mrs. Lemme and her daughter Lynn were informed by a Leon County officer that Ray Lemme had died in Valdosta of an apparent suicide. The officer also referred her to Investigator Craig Spencer in Valdosta if she had further questions. She called Spencer on July 2, telling him about Lemme's behavior leading up to his death, and confirmed on July 3 that the suicide note was Lemme's handwriting. Valdosta police had Lemme's car and possessions returned to his family, and Mrs. Lemme expressed her intent to make arrangements to get Lemme's body, which the Valdosta police had moved to a funeral home.
While it may have seemed like a clear-cut case of suicide at first glance, there turned out to be several irregularities (many noted by Clint Curtis) hinting that it was actually a murder staged as a suicide.
To start with, there was little reason for Lemme to pick the place and suicide method he did. Lemme lived in Tallahassee FL, and there was no reason for him to drive all the way to Valdosta GA to commit suicide. Numerous other motels were available along the way, but he apparently picked a seedy backwoods motel more than an hour's drive away. Cutting oneself is also a painful and uncommon method, and it made even less sense given that Lemme was a gun enthusiast.
Nor was the suicide theory conclusive. As can be seen in police photos, Ray Lemme had noticeable bruising on the right side of his neck indicating strangulation or beating. The VPD report said Lemme's body showed no signs of foul play, and initially claimed that the crime scene photos didn't exist due to memory card malfunction. Then in early 2005, these "nonexistent" photographs were obtained from the VPD and published by John Caylor. Several of the photographs directly contradicted the police report (see below), but the most egregious discrepancy was their claim of no signs of foul play.
Whether Lemme was even depressed at all is questionable. Lemme was looking forward to his daughter's marriage, and discussed her with Curtis each time they met. In terms of Lemme's job, he certainly seemed enthusiastic to Curtis about the case he was working on, and he had recently received an award from the FDOT Inspector General office. While his family was divided on suicide vs. murder, they all agreed that Lemme had no previous sign of depression or suicidal tendencies. Bob Clift, however, called Lemme "high-strung" and easily-stressed, and was adamant that he suffered from deep depression. Clift's insistence shocked Lemme's co-workers and brother, whose portrait of Lemme did not at all match Clift's. Lemme did not appear to have any depression medication.
And Lemme's actions show that he was quite conscientious about himself and his family/co-workers. The affidavits of his wife and boss both stated that the last time Lemme spoke to them, he said he'd call them later. In the motel room, there was a partially-consumed water bottle and a cup of coffee from Fast Track, indicating that Lemme had been hydrating. His heart medications were also in the room. All of these actions indicate that Lemme was not planning to kill himself. They make it seem like he was going to Valdosta but planned to return, which would also explain why he called his boss about coming in late but didn't cancel a 1:30 PM appointment with FDOT general counsel.
His suicide note, meanwhile, didn't even mention his daughter. This would be completely out-of-character for someone who (as established above) was doting on her and looking forward to her wedding.
One other reason the police concluded Lemme had committed suicide was that the motel room door was latched from the inside. Motel workers couldn't get the door open, which precipitated the call to police. The police claimed that a hypothetical killer couldn't have left the room and latched the door, but this was untrue. Curtis personally visited room #132 and successfully latched the door from the outside using fishing line. So the police didn't seem to try to falsify their theory.
The police never even verified that Lemme had checked into the motel to begin with. No witness reported seeing Lemme, the police never showed a picture of him to motel staff, and there was no mention of any effort to look at motel security camera footage, despite them doing so for a nearby convenience store to see if Lemme had bought razors there. Curtis found that it was easy to check in with a false name due to a lack of ID verification. So it was entirely possible that Lemme himself never checked in at all.
The timing for Lemme's motel stay was particularly strange. Police found two motel receipts: an unsigned receipt from 6:44 PM on June 29 with the room number and charges, and a signed receipt from 6:54 AM on June 30. They identified them as check-in and check-out receipts, respectively. Yet according to Mrs. Lemme and Bob Clift, Lemme was still in Tallahassee as late as the early morning of June 30. He almost certainly couldn't have checked in on June 29.
The VPD told the Leon County Sheriff's office that Lemme checked in at 6:45 PM on June 30, implying they believed the first receipt was 1 day behind. A VPD officer later said to Brad Friedman that this discrepancy was due to an error with the motel's computer system. They didn't, however, check with Lemme's credit card company to verify that. Furthermore, the police were called because Lemme hadn't checked out by 11:00 AM on July 1, which would have precluded the existence of a check-out receipt.
A more likely possibility is that the receipts were check-in and payment receipts. That makes more sense, given that the June 30th receipt was for a credit card payment, and it matches with Curtis's experience checking into the motel himself. Both receipts should have been generated at the same time, but their dates/times don't match. Since the VPD misinterpreted the receipts, they never tried to resolve this discrepancy.
Motel employee Sabita Villait said that Lemme had checked in "early" on June 30. It's unclear whether she meant early morning or early evening. If the latter, it would confirm the VPD's claim that Lemme checked in at 6:45 PM on June 30; the first receipt would be off by 24 hours and the second would be off by 12 hours. If the former, that would confirm the second receipt's accuracy and place Lemme checking into the motel at 6:54 AM on June 30.
Mrs. Lemme swore that Lemme left for work on June 30 at 5:15 AM. Bob Clift swore that Lemme called him at 6:20 AM on June 30, saying he wasn't coming into work that day. The call was made from 850-997-3845, a payphone at the "Pay Fast Track" found on the intersection of Highway 19 and Interstate 10 in Jefferson County FL. To get from that payphone to the Valdosta motel (a 48.3-mile distance) in 34 minutes would have required maintaining an average speed of 85 MPH. This was significantly above the speed limit in both Florida and Georgia, and Lemme was apparently never ticketed or stopped.
While not impossible, it's highly unlikely that Lemme did that. Which leaves three main possibilities:
- Bob Clift lied in his sworn affidavit about the Lemme phone call
- The call was real, and the credit card receipt was wrong
- Someone else was at the motel on June 30 at 6:54 AM under Lemme's name
In the Leon County Sheriff's Office incident report about Lemme being missing, they said:
I later had dispatch to use the TAC Center to map the 997-3845 number and had it come back to a "Pay Fast Track" on US 19. This was a pay phone and the call was made at 0619 hrs.
Bob Clift reported the time of the call as 6:20 AM. The fact that the Leon County Sheriff's office corrected that to a more precise time (6:19 AM) implies that they did look at phone records. So it's likely that the call reported by Clift was real, leaving only the latter two possibilities.
The Valdosta police report did contain one witness report that might have helped resolve the timeline: "Palmer", another motel guest, told police that he had seen Lemme's car parked near room #132 since 3:30 PM on "Sunday afternoon (June 30, 2003)". But since Sunday was actually June 29, it's difficult to know which day the witness was referring to. If Palmer meant June 29, then either Lemme's wife lied about when he went missing from Tallahassee, or he wasn't the one who checked in. If Palmer meant June 30, Lemme arrived at the motel before 3:30 PM on June 30. That would either indicate he checked in earlier that day, validating the nearly-impossible 6:54 AM receipt time, or imply that he was doing something else at the motel (like meeting somebody).
Ultimately, all of the suggested check-in times are problematic:
- 6/29, 6:45 PM: Lemme was still in Tallahassee according to his wife. If this time is correct, somebody else almost certainly checked in under his name. Motel worker Sabita Villait disputes this time, saying that Lemme checked in on the 30th. However, Palmer potentially saw Lemme's car outside his room on the 29th, which makes this unclear.
- 6/30, 6:54 AM: It would have been virtually impossible for Lemme to get from the payphone to the motel by this time. That also implies that somebody else checking in under his name.
- 6/30, 6:45 PM: The payphone Lemme called from at 6:19 AM was located in between Tallahassee and Valdosta, implying he was en route to Valdosta that morning. If he spent ~12 hours in Valdosta before checking in, he was probably there for a reason other than suicide. This check-in time also conflicts with the 8:10 AM time on his alleged suicide note. He would have checked in at 6:45 PM, inexplicably stayed there for over 12 hours without sleeping in the bed (as the photos indicate), and only then killed himself.
Aside from the preceding issues, several forensic irregularities were observed by Curtis, such as the suicide instrument (razors) being too far away from Lemme's hands, the tourniquet being removed from the body rather than loosened (as is usual), and the notebook allegedly used to write the suicide note being at an unnatural angle. Another irregularity is the hand with which Lemme is said to have cut himself: the cuts are on his left arm, indicating he made the cuts with his right hand, but Lemme's step-brother says that Lemme was left-handed.
None of these problems with the suicide theory were seriously considered by the Valdosta police. They rushed to classify it as a suicide as quickly as possible, never did an autopsy on Lemme (which would have been mandatory if he died in Florida), and avoided pursuing potential leads that might have disproven the suicide theory (such as the door latch, whether Lemme really checked in, and the timeline discrepancies). Some of their statements were also shown to be falsehoods by the police photos, which they initially hid the existence of.
In late 2004, as the Clint Curtis story gained steam, the Valdosta Police Department briefly reopened the case due to public interest. Their decision to reopen the case implies a recognition that their initial investigation was inadequate. However, it was immediately closed after talking to someone at FDOT. They never revealed who that person was, or why the words of someone at the Florida Department of Transporation caused an investigation in Valdosta GA to be closed. Soon after, in 2005, John Caylor acquired the VPD crime scene photos.
In addition to the evidence of pre-mortem injuries to Lemme, there were other discrepancies between the police report and the photos. Right next to the bathtub, there was a bloody towel with a belt placed on it. Det. Floyd's report claimed that there was blood on the belt but not on the towel, despite the blood clearly being visible in the photo that she took. Her sketch of the crime scene showed the belt laid out straight on the towel, but it was actually curled up in the photo. Floyd also made no mention of the water bottle or coffee cup in her report, crime scene sketch, or evidence list, despite having taken a picture that focused on those two items. In fact, that picture was the only one with no corresponding description in her report. For the bathroom counter, almost every item was described and entered into the evidence, but a Knights Inn key card holder was not.
James Holt, the motel employee who cleaned up Lemme's blood, is confident that the water bottle, coffee cup, and key card holder were not in the room when he arrived. To the best of his knowledge, nobody entered the room between the police and him. That necessarily indicates that the police took those three items, but failed to record them on the evidence list. Holt also remembers seeing a Heineken beer can in the trash can, which the police never photographed or recorded.
While there was no definite proof Ray Lemme was murdered, the VPD evidently failed to rule it out. Enough issues exist with the suicide theory to raise serious questions. At best, they conducted a sloppy investigation to force a particular conclusion. At worst, they intentionally covered up a murder.
There were a couple other peculiarities with the Lemme case as well:
- In the trunk of Lemme's car, there was a rope with a dark stain. The police claimed to do a presumptive test for blood and get a negative result.
- His watch was found on the bathroom counter, stopped at 12:34 PM on June 30. Either Lemme put it there, in which case its stopping is unexplained, or someone else was in the room and placed it there (potentially after it stopped while on Lemme's wrist).
- A pager was left in Lemme's car. The last number to call was 850-960-6969 (a Panama City FL number), followed by 911.
- Curtis said that Lemme always carried a manila folder containing his work on the case. There was an empty manila folder found in Lemme's room.
- There was no mention of the motel key card that Lemme should have had, and a key card holder was suspiciously omitted from the scene description (see above). A key card could have been tested for fingerprints to determine if Lemme himself entered the room. Looking closely at the photo of the bathroom counter, the key card might have been inside the unmentioned card holder.
- Obituary for Ray Lemme
- Lemme's 1988 investigation of a mortgage fraud case
- Lemme's 1989 investigation of a telemarketing scam
- Lemme's 1990 investigation of S&L fraud, page 1
- Lemme's 1990 investigation of S&L fraud, page 2
- HRS secretary made Lemme quash 1993 Medicare investigation
- Murder plot against Lemme in 1994
- Lemme was initially rude to Georgalis
- Clint Curtis's account of their conversations
- Valdosta police report on Lemme's death
- John Caylor's investigation
- Lemme was excited about the case and a gun enthusiast
- Ray Lemme police photographs
- Brad Friedman's inquiry into the "suicide" case
- Motel room door could be latched from the outside
- ID was not required at the motel
- Affidavit of Lemme's wife
- Affidavit of Lemme's supervisor
- Leon County Sheriff's Office incident report
- Distance from alleged FL payphone used by Lemme to Valdosta motel
- Highway speed limits
- Other forensic irregularities observed by Curtis
- Email correspondence with Rix Dobbs, August 2017 - "One thing you should note - Raymond Lemme was a southpaw - left handed. Would a lefty open the vein in his left arm using the less dominant right hand? Look at the photos. His LEFT arm was the one cut."
- James Holt interview transcript
- BradBlog discussion 1
- BradBlog discussion 2
- High-quality police photos
- Witness interview transcripts
- April 2017 email with Chief Brian Childress - initially volunteers to answer questions, but then refuses despite the investigation being closed
- FDOT August 2003 release with picture of Lemme
- Bernt von Grabe - Florida investigator who may have worked with Caylor to get the photos
- "RAY LEMME: A SKEW TO A KILL"
- JB Marc von Grabe's resume
- Grabe posts about his book in 2008
- Other contact info on Grabe - phone 760-717-3989 and email jbmarc AT home.com
- Another video by Grabe: "OBAMA SECURITY RISK (TAKE 2)"
- Tampa Bay Times, "HRS accused of trying to quash inquiry", 1994/10/17 - Jim Towey allegedly ordered Lemme to quash an investigation into Medicaid fraud
- 1994 murder plotters associated with right-wing groups
- Coroner who pronounced Lemme's death a suicide considered unethical by some, resigned in 2006
- Xymphora's blog post about Lemme's death (alleges that the local Valdosta police were "no doubt used to doing dirty work for the thugs who run Florida")
- Democratic Underground member AikidoSoul says: "Very interesting to me personally is the mysterious death of Ray Lemme who was found dead in a motel bathtub only a short drive from my house. I interviewed a woman deputy who works at the Valdosta Sheriff's Department, and thought that their claim that it was a suicide was decidedly hasty."