Lela Collins’ mother probably misplaced it back in the late 1930s or early 1940s when she went swimming in Lake Weir.
OCKLAWAHA — Lela Collins got a double shot of family and Marion County history on Wednesday.
Collins, 67, of Center Hill, Florida, accompanied by her husband, Don, was presented a personalized "ID" bracelet at the spot where it had been lost by her mother, Edith Marie Curry Zier, perhaps 80 years ago as she walked across a field on her way to Lake Weir for a swim.
The bracelet was found in 2016 during a metal detector sweep. The property was the location of the Ma Barker House, where the infamous 1935 FBI shootout unfolded.
The bracelet, lost circa 1940, was found under an oak tree a stone's throw from a boat house seen in 1935 photos and still standing on the lake.
"This is unbelievable. I felt a real connection with my mother," Collins said as Marion County Tax Collector George Albright presented her the stainless steel bracelet with her mother’s name engraved on it.
Edith Marie Curry, a native of Center Hill in Sumter County, was born April 26, 1921, and died on March 28, 2009. She served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II and was married to Harry Zier in 1943 according to family history.
Edith Marie Curry graduated from South Sumter High School (then known as Bushnell H.S.) in 1940.
According to Lela Collins, her mother suffered a back injury in a car crash a few years either way of her graduation. During her recovery she went to stay with her aunt and uncle, James and Ila (Curry) Cauthen, who lived about a block west across County Road 25 from the Ma Barker House location.
Lela Collins said her mother made no mention of the long lost bracelet when the two went swimming at the same location years later, when she was about 7, but Lela Collins developed a lifelong curiosity about the infamous house.
"I remember standing at the gate on the property and looking at the house. I was fascinated by the bullet holes," she said.
Lela Collins said her mother had mentioned the story of the Barkers when she was a young girl and called them "gangsters."
She said her mother was of modest means as a youth and had little or no jewelry and she was somewhat surprised her mother had the bracelet in those days.
Albright, whose family once owned a summer home adjacent to the Ma Barker House, mowed grass on the property in the 1960s. He has long spearheaded efforts to preserve the history and house and serves as board president of the nonprofit Ma Barker House.org.
The organization’s website states: "We are not glorifying gangsters. We are honoring law enforcement. This was and is documented as the longest gun battle in FBI history. It is also basically was the death knell to the mobster and gangster movement."
An involved search for the bracelet’s owner or their relatives by Albright led him to Lela Collins. The final clues came after Albright’s search indicated Collins lived in the Sumter County area.
Lela Collins has called a visit to the Ma Barker House a "lifelong dream come true."
The Ma Barker House was owned by the Bradford family and rented by Kate "Ma" Barker and her son Fred George Barker in November 1935 as members of the Barker/Karpis Gang were sought in connection with the kidnappings of brewery president William Hamm and banker Edward Bremer, according to FBI.gov.
The FBI website indicates the Barkers learned about the Bradford rental house on Lake Weir while staying in Miami at the El Commodore Hotel under fake names.
The original Bradford/Ma Barker House property was made infamous by a roughly five-hour shootout on Jan. 16, 1935.
The bracelet was found, along with numerous shell casings of various calibers, bullets and a "pinky ring" with the initials "F.G.B." believed to indicate Fred George Barker, following multiple metal detector sessions on the acreage. That happened after the house was floated on a barge across Lake Weir in 2016 to its current location at Carney Island Marion County Park.
Lela Collins said she thoroughly enjoyed the tour of the Ma Barker House.
"This was awesome; once in a lifetime" Lela Collins said. She described the tour as a wish "60 years in the making" granted.
Lela Collins’ family moved often as her father, Harry Zier, was a master sergeant in the Air Force. She was born in Alaska and then the family moved to Tampa and then to her mother's original home, Center Hill, in 1963.
Lela and Don Collins were married in 1972 and both were with the Sumter County Sheriff's Office — Lela for 18 years and Don for 22 years. They retired in 2017.
"Mr. Albright has been dedicated and left no stone unturned in his research about the Ma Barker House," Collins said. "I appreciate him uniting me with my mother's bracelet."