Joe Henderson: Bobby Joe Long is why the death penalty exists

Bobby Joe Long
Some of 341 people on Florida's death row may be innocent. Bobby Joe Long is not.

Lawmakers created the death penalty for monsters like Bobby Joe Long. That’s true whether you believe in capital punishment or not.

During the early 1980s, he murdered at least eight women in Tampa, but only after torturing and assaulting each one. He dumped their bodies and then went looking for more victims. His appetite for violence was insatiable.

Long himself estimated he raped at least 40 women, many of them under-aged girls.

He has been on Florida’s death row since 1985, longer than anyone currently there. Barring a late reprieve, that will come to an end around 6 p.m. Thursday when he faces lethal injection. It is the first death warrant signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Well, if anyone must be the first, Long is the best candidate.

Long caused unspeakable terror during his murderous rampage through the Tampa area. He was in the Ted Bundy class of killers, a predator who stalked women to satisfy his own twisted need.

Will anyone grieve when Long finally is gone for good?

Oh, probably. Death penalty opponents argue that murder is murder, whether done by the criminal or the state. There is religious opposition to capital punishment. Some argue that the drugs used to execute the condemned are inhumane. They say locking people like Long up forever, never letting them out, would be justice.

There also will be those who cheer Long’s departure from the living. That’s how it was when Bundy had his date with the electric chair. That was unseemly, even considering what Bundy had done.

And, there is the fact that Florida gets it wrong a lot.

There have been 165 such cases nationwide since 1973. 

Florida leads that list with 29 individuals wrongly sentenced to death, according to The latest reversal was Clifford Williams in March, 42 years after his conviction for a murder he didn’t commit.

There is no doubt about Bobby Joe Long, though.


He received the death penalty for the murder of 22-year-old Michelle Simms. Law enforcement linked him to at least eight other murders.

His offender page on the state Department of Corrections website is jaw-dropping in its horror.

He has four 99-year sentences for robbery, kidnapping, and other crimes. Long received 30 life sentences – 30!

The only way Long was ever going to leave prison was in the back of a hearse, either by natural causes or something else.

Do we need the death penalty, or would it be enough to know a sociopath like Long was never going to walk free?

We can debate that all day. If Florida abolished capital punishment, I would be fine with that. Killing Bobby Joe Long won’t bring back his victims.

But if seeing the life leave his body gives comfort to any of those people affected by his rampages, I’m fine with that too.

This state likes to sentence people to death, that’s for sure. In Florida, 338 men and three women await their date with the needle. There is a good chance some of them are innocent.

Bobby Joe Long is not one of them.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  • Rebecca Jamin

    May 21, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    This Thursday is LONG overdue. I hate the fact that I’ve paid to feed this monster for over 30 years. Deserving children have been hungry ad I’ve een feeding him? The death penalty, in this case, is appropriate. Do it.

  • Marinella van ten Haarlen

    May 22, 2019 at 9:09 am

    Hi there,

    well, your article is heavy stuff.

    No doubt, Bobby Joe Long is an absolute monster.

    But you are justifying the capital punishment for another person.

    Quota: “But if seeing the life leave his body gives comfort to any of those people affected by his rampages, I’m fine with that too.”

    I wonder, how many people are tortured to death, wrongly sentenced to death. It can’t be justified.

    One should lock Long up for rest of his evil life.

    The death penalty will not change Long’s satanic nature, just killing him in questionable circumstances. After all, who, except the ghost of revenge, has got a good feeling through his death, after all these years?

    I feel ruther sorry that he can not think of his evil deeds a little longer.

    With collegial respect

    Marinella van ten Haarlen

    • Marlene Wilkins

      May 22, 2019 at 5:07 pm

      Hi Marinella,

      I am Michelle D. Simms best friend from 3rd grade on….This monster, should have no thought what so ever if he lives or dies….he didn’t give Shelly that same chance. I don’t expect Shelly to be restored back to life, however, he had no right to take hers…..he is not someone that is being wrongly sentenced….I have waited from 1984 from the night Shelly’s mom called to tell me that she had been killed to see this day. Will I think of him on this day??….hell no, but please be asured that my childhood friend will be with me all this day…..and I will have nothing but great memories of her….no this is not a day to think about him anymore, but to remember Michelle Denise Simms, and all the others he took with no regards to them what-so-ever…those are the ones we will remember…

      • Angelina Proia

        May 22, 2019 at 7:17 pm

        You cannot decry murder and then murder someone. Despite the evil he perpetrated, his children did nothing to deserve the complicated emotions that they’re likely going to have to deal with for years knowing their father isn’t here and why. You’re spreading around misery. I’m sorry for your loss, but this isn’t right.

      • Marinella van ten Haarlen

        May 23, 2019 at 10:44 am

        Hi Marlene,

        I am very sad to hear about your personal expierence. I am very sorry for this and believe me, I am not talking small what Mr. Long did. I am just against capital punishment.
        Try to find a closure after today, even if Long will have another stay or reprieve. He destroyed so many people and lifes, he is not worth it.
        All the best!
        Marinella van ten Haarlen

  • Angelina Proia

    May 22, 2019 at 7:18 pm

    Why do I have a feeling that the author of this article has done nothing personally to help at-risk women and children? How about you do something to protect others instead of cheering that someone else is going to die?

Comments are closed.


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