Sat, Dec 04, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Town that Disney built shocked at first murder

TROUBLE IN THE BURBS:Celebration, Florida, lured residents with the prospect of safety and community, but crime has now become a reality in the idyllic town

AP, CELEBRATION, Florida

Celebration, Florida, Disney’s master-planned, picture-perfect community, has never reported a homicide in its 14-year existence — until this week.

Residents of the town 8km south of Walt Disney World woke up on Tuesday to the sight of yellow crime-scene tape wrapped around a condo near the Christmas-decorated downtown, where Bing Crosby croons from speakers hidden in the foliage. A 58-year-old neighbor, who lived alone with his Chihuahua, had been slain over the long US Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Osceola County, Florida, sheriff’s deputies said.

The community’s famous friendliness is what brought investigators to Matteo Giovanditto’s body: Neighbors hadn’t seen him for days, so they filed a missing person’s report, then went into his condo a day later and found him.

A few years ago, a resident joked with a reporter that Celebration would feel like a real town when a bike was stolen. Now, it has an unsolved killing on its hands.

With 11,000 residents, Celebration is something of an anomaly in central Florida. There’s no suburban sprawl — the entire place is reminiscent of a quaint New England village.

It’s the kind of town where people give Christmas gifts to their favorite Starbucks barista, where welcoming wooden rocking chairs sit lakeside on a sidewalk without being stolen, where neighbors tend to get suspicious if they notice you’re not around.

And that’s what happened with Giovanditto, detectives said.

Neighbors hadn’t seen Giovanditto, who owned a bottom-floor condo at a building called The Idlewyld, since Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving. His black Corvette was also missing.

A neighbor was supposed to walk Giovanditto’s dog, Lucy, over the weekend, but he wasn’t responding to her calls.

A missing person’s report was filed on Sunday and the next day neighbors went into his apartment and found his body. Investigators won’t say what type of scene they encountered or how Giovanditto died.

It seems Celebration is having bad week. Two standoffs, including one that dragged into Thursday night and resulted in evacuations of several homes, also unsettled residents.

Officials, though, were quick to soothe people who live here: Even with the killer still at large, there was no need to worry; no, not here. Giovanditto’s death was an isolated incident, Lizasuain said.

On Tuesday, detectives poked a sign offering a reward into the lush grass outside the condo, next to a receptacle for dog waste bags. They found the Corvette at an apartment building in a neighboring Orlando suburb. His relatives were notified of his death.

As word of the homicide blew around town like the leaves from the maple trees that line the sidewalks, people started to worry.

Few neighbors would talk about Giovanditto, who moved to Florida from Massachusetts. The Orlando Sentinel reported that he had once been a teacher; one neighbor thought he was retired.

The killing sullies the type of perfection envisioned in 1989 when Peter Rummell, then-president of the Disney Development Corp, wrote to then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner about building a new town on vacant, Disney-owned land in Osceola County.

Houses incorporated “New Urbanism” ideas such as placing the garage out of sight in the back and a front porch close to the sidewalk to encourage neighbor interaction.

Residents arrived in 1996. Critics viewed it as something out of films like The Truman Show, or The Stepford Wives, which skewered uptopian visions of suburban US life.

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