New owners of orange grove vanished; leaving mess, destruction behind

Reporter: Gina Tomlinson
Published: Updated:

Before Hurricane Irma struck Southwest Florida, Bob Johnson and his wife sold one of the few you-pick orange groves left to a young couple. After the storm, the couple vanished.

The old orange grove on Misty Morning Lane, off Corkscrew Road, may look run down now, but the branches along the ten-acre lot hold history.

“Their kids come in here, and when their kids get old enough they bring their kids in,” Johnson said. “So, it’s a tradition for the people that come out.”

A tradition 79-year-old Bob worked long hours to bring back.

“It’s not nice to come down to a place you had — we were the first ones to build out here — and see what happened to the place,” Johnson said.

Before 2016, this was the only orange grove business in Southwest Florida that let guests pick the fruit right off the tree.

After nearly 40 years, Bob and his wife Judy decided it was time to retire. So they sold You-Pick Citrus to a couple they said had intentions to carry on their beloved orange grove.

“Then the hurricane hit and they let everything go,” Johnson said.

Whatever the hurricane didn’t destroy, Johnson says, the couple did.

“It was terrible,” Johnson said. “I mean, they had baby diapers just thrown out. I never seen such a mess.”

When the couple started missing payments on the property, Johnson took a trip out to the orange grove to find his once lush plantation torn up, and overgrown with weeds.

“It’s a shame these people left this property and didn’t take care of it,” Johnson said. “It’s a shame.”

As for the couple, they are nowhere to be found.

“This was all full of trees, they took them all out,” Johnson said. “That’s all gone.”

Lately, Johnson planted a couple new trees. But his wife Judy just can’t get herself to come out to the place she loved to see all the damage.

“Well, she hasn’t been out here yet because it’s just too heartbreaking,” Johnson said.

WINK News went to two different addresses and called five phone numbers that matched the names on the contract but couldn’t find the couple.

“Life goes on, so, you grin and bear it and that’s it,” Johnson said.

Now, Johnson has listed the orange grove property for sale again, with the hopes this time will be better.

Johnson and his wife sued the couple this past December, but they have not been able to find them to serve them with the lawsuit.

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