After 14 years, Disney town of Celebration has its first murder

IT was meant to be the picture-perfect Florida community and the Disney planned town of Celebration had, in its 14 years of existence, never recorded a murder… until this week.

Residents of the town five miles south of Walt Disney World woke up on Tuesday to the sight of yellow crime-scene tape cordoning off an apartment in the town.

A 58-year-old man who lived alone with his chihuahua dog had been killed over the long Thanksgiving weekend, Osceola County sheriff's deputies said.

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The community's famous friendliness is what brought investigators to Matteo Giovanditto's body: Neighbours hadn't seen him for days, so filed a missing person's report, then went into his ground-floor flat in the Idlewyld complex a day later and found him.

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

With 11,000 residents, Celebration is an anomaly in Florida. It has no suburban sprawl and feels like a quaint village. It's the kind of town where customers give Christmas gifts to their favourite shop assistants, where welcoming rocking chairs sit on pavements without being stolen, where neighbours get suspicious if you're not around.

And that's what led to the grim discovery.

Neighbours hadn't seen Mr Giovanditto since the day before Thanksgiving. His black Corvette was also missing. A neighbour was supposed to walk his dog, Lucy, over the weekend, but he failed to answer her calls. A missing person's report was filed Sunday, and next day neighbours went into his flat and found his body. Police won't say how Mr Giovanditto died.

"It is very rare and unusual for a crime of this magnitude to occur in this community," said Twis Lizasuain, a sheriff's office spokeswoman.

As word spread, officials were quick to calm fears: Even with the killer still at large, there was no need to worry; no, not here. Mr Giovanditto's death was an "isolated incident," Ms Lizasuain said. "We don't believe the safety of the residents is in jeopardy," she added.

Few neighbours would talk about Mr Giovanditto, who moved to Florida from Massachusetts. One paper said he had once been a teacher; a neighbour thought he had retired.

The killing tarnishes the perfection envisioned in 1989 when Peter Rummell, then-president of the Disney Development Corporation, wrote to then-CEO Michael Eisner about building a new town on vacant, Disney-owned land in Osceola County. It was to be a "wonderful residential town east of the highway that has a human scale with sidewalks and bicycles and parks and the kind of architecture that is sophisticated and timeless.It will have fibre optics and smart houses, but the feel will in many cases be closer to Main Street than to Future World," he wrote.

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Restrictions on home colour and architecture were also put in the rules. Colonial, Victorian, and Arts and Crafts-style homes grace the streets. And though there's been crime, murder was unheard of, until now.