CELEBRATION, Fla. | Celebration, Disney’s master-planned, picture-perfect Central Florida community, never reported a homicide in its 14-year existence — until this week.
Residents of the town five miles south of Walt Disney World woke up 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 Thanksgiving weekend, Osceola County 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 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 and neighbors tend to get suspicious if they notice you’re not around.
That’s what happened with Mr. Giovanditto, detectives say.
Neighbors hadn’t seen Mr. Giovanditto, who owned a bottom-floor condo at a building called the Idlewyld, since the day before Thanksgiving. His black Corvette was missing, too. A neighbor was supposed to walk Mr. Giovanditto’s dog, Lucy, over the weekend, but he wasn’t responding to her calls.
A missing-person report was filed Sunday, and the next day, neighbors went into Mr. Giovanditto’s apartment and found his body. Investigators won’t say what type of scene they encountered or how Mr. Giovanditto died.
“This is very rare and unusual for a crime of this magnitude to occur in this community,” said Twis Lizasuain, a sheriff’s spokeswoman.
On Tuesday, detectives poked a Crime Stoppers 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. Mr. Giovanditto’s relatives were notified of his death.
As word of the homicide blew around town like leaves from the maple trees that line the sidewalks, people started to worry.
“I’ve always thought of Celebration as a very safe community,” said Heather Hardy, who lives there six months a year and was sitting on a wooden rocker downtown, reading a book.
Officials were quick to soothe people who live here: 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 said.
Still, the killing sullies the type of perfection envisioned in 1989 when Peter Rummell, then-president of the Disney Development Corp., wrote to then-Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner about building a new town on vacant Disney-owned land in Osceola County.