Why Did People in Florida Cut Off Their Limbs

One hundred miles west of Tallahassee and east of Pensacola lies Vernon, also known as the middle of Florida, if there’s ever such a thing. It is a town that has become famous but for all the wrong reasons and something that the residents won’t be proud of.

The sign at the entrance to city hall in Vernon.
Source: Imgur

This middle of Florida was the center of attention in the summer of 1984 when a reporter from Panama City was in the town for a boring, dull city council meeting. This gathering would later erupt into an all-out wild brawl.

Having a Hook for a Hand

This brawl involved members of the town, and what was very interesting about the fight was a particular participant, J.C. Armstrong, a character that fascinated the entire event. Mr. Armstrong was missing his left hand, and the appendage was replaced by a hook, which he then used repeatedly to jab a woman at the council meeting brawl.

A brawl breaks out in city hall.
Source: YouTube

The reporter approached Mr. Armstrong’s wife, whom he asked about her husband’s missing appendage, to which she replied in a dark tone, “I think you know.” I was about a crazy past which sounds like a made-up story, but it’s true!

Cutting Off Limbs for Money

She was referring to the worst-kept secret in the Florida Panhandle, the “Nub-City” story, when dozens of town residents were missing arms, hands, eyes, or feet. The career insurance investor John J. Healy termed it a “three-year orgy of self-maiming.”

A man with an amputated leg stands on crutches.
Source: Justice and Police Museum

The Nub Club was at least 50 local members strong in the 1960s, all of whom were receiving payments from $5,000 to $300,000 in insurance payouts for their missing body parts in insurance. These cases of one losing their extremities in Vernon became weirdly common.

Trying To Solve Their Money Problems

Vernon, Florida, a town not up to about five square miles in area size, is located on the former shipping route for gopher tortoises along Holmes Creeks. These tortoise shells did sell for a pretty penny back then. It meant that many in the town had plenty of wealth at the time.

A man holds up a Gopher Tortoise.
Source: YouTube

It was an economic engine that wasn’t sustainable, which the town’s population continued to practice until the ’50s. The residents of Vernon during the mid-20th century had found a new way around their dwindling tortoiseshell economy and cash revenue problems.

No Evidence of Self-Mutilation

To this very day, there isn’t any proof or evidence that states or shows that the self-mutilation of the town’s residents was done on purpose to profit from insurance fraud. This was only assumed because the tiny American village accounted for two-thirds of the total dismemberment cases in the entire United States of America.

A man sits on a bench in the city of Vernon.
Source: YouTube

Stories ranged from hunting accidents and men getting hurt trying to protect their chickens to a farmer that lost his foot after mistaking it for a squirrel. All of the victims of these unusual stories and accidents had taken out new insurance policies a few days earlier.