Tuesday, October 15, 2013

High Peaks Suicide Recalls 1975 ‘Man in Chains’

Man in Chains 1975The discovery of the body of a missing Massachusetts man in the High Peaks recalls the discovery of a body in North Hudson nearly 40 years ago this month.

He would claim that his chains, padlocks and handcuffs would shackle him to salvation.  He would be forced to do as Jesus had done – fast for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. It was a quest to purify his body and his soul.

But his desert wasn’t exactly the howling wilderness Jesus had wandered, it was a patch of woods in North Hudson,  about a half-mile from the Northway .

He had big feet.  Size 13. He wore working man’s clothes and shoes, which had carried his six-foot three-inch frame far north from New York City and the cheap hotel he called home.

He hitchhiked, but not very well.  He wore a three-quarters length wool coat, had a bushy beard and long hair, and was harassed by police for “soliciting rides.”  He carried plenty of smokes – several packs of Pall Malls and two cans of roll-your-own Bugler, along with cigarette papers, and about 80 books of matches.  He brought along three pens, and an 8 x 10 notepad, but never opened them.  All this was stashed in his green duffle bag along with the chains.

The bag was heavy, because it contained all he felt he needed. There were two lengths of chain – one 10-foot, the other six – the kind of standard chain used by truckers and sold at truck-stops along the highway from New York City to North Hudson. There were several Ludell padlocks, and two sets of hand-cuffs. These he used to secure his arms and legs between two hemlocks. He tossed the keys out of reach.

Earlier, that spring, he had lasted three days before running out of water. He screamed himself hoarse before he found a rock and pounded relentlessly on the chain until it broke. He was found by state troopers shuffling down the highway wrapped in bands of steel and chains, obviously suffering from mental health problems.

The State Police criminal investigator Max E. Hunt later remembered that he was obsessed about a conspiracy that kept scientists from turning grass into milk like a cow. Police later said that he had been given a mental evaluation. “It wasn’t an elaborate mental exam,” Hunt said. “But he didn’t appear to pose any threat to anyone else. In fact, he didn’t appear to pose much threat to himself… He’d chained himself to a tree before and broke the chains when he ran out of water. He displayed, then, some sort of a desire to live.”

Later in an Elizabethtown court he said he would return and would find a better spot for his fast. Columnist Barney Fowler, who interviewed some of those in the courtroom that day and reviewed the court and police records, described him with the perspective of 1975:

“He was examined by mental health authorities. Symptoms noted included indifference, withdrawal, delusions of persecution and omnipotence and hallucinations. He was not considered dangerous. He was released. He was not considered violent. No one had been harmed. His promise had not been born in fact. He was, indeed, a man of strange idiosyncrasies, but the world was filled with wanderers who live in hellish strange worlds all their own.”

Five months later, on October 26, just before 9 am a hunter from Croton-on-Hudson noticed what he thought was a deer skeleton about a half mile west of the Northway. According to the police report, “after picking up the skull and noticing it seemed more human than animal, he started looking around and found what appeared to be shoes chained to a tree; he further saw clothes, canteens… he realized he had discovered the remains of a human body.”

State Police said they found relatives in New York, but his body remained unclaimed and the man in chains was buried at county expense.

You can read more about the Man in Chains in Barney Fowler’s Adirondack Album, Volume 2 (1980). William Braun covered the discovery for the Lake Placid News; his story can be found online [pdf].

Photo by the NYS State Police investigators.


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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

13 Responses

  1. PC says:

    Why is a comparison being made between these two stories?

  2. Millie says:

    Suicide is an incredibly personal decision. My life has been touched by it in a few different ways. From mental illness, to cries for help, to physical pain and suffering, each case is different. Linking these 2 cases does a disservice to everyone dealing with suicide and mental illness, and their families and friends that struggle with them.

  3. Paul says:

    John isn’t “linking” anything in the cases. It seems pretty obvious that this recent incident would bring back memories (“recall” as he says) of the other. I think it is an interesting story. Never heard about it.

  4. Scott van Laer scott says:

    The two individuals probably had very different mind sets. The 1975 case is one of the more fascinating and curious deaths in the region.

  5. John Sasso Mountain Man John says:

    After reading this column, I found that a real disservice was done to the reader attempting to compare this incident from 1975 to the Scott Haworth case. The only similarity is mental illness and death in the Adirondacks, but the man described in this column was not suicidal.

    Furthermore, the author doesn’t even state clearly how he sees the relationship between the two cases. I hope this column was not written just for the sake of writing something!

  6. Paul says:

    Mountain Man, read it again. There was NO attempt to compare the cases! Even you seem to get that since you wrote this:

    “the author doesn’t even state clearly how he sees the relationship between the two cases”

    Which is it. He is comparing them or he isn’t?

    He isn’t! One just made him remember the other. Why do so many folks think it odd that the rare event of finding a suicide victim in the woods would remind him of another suicide victim found in the woods?

    These comments are insane!

  7. PC says:


    “The discovery of the body of a missing Massachusetts man in the High Peaks recalls the discovery of a body in North Hudson nearly 40 years ago this month.”

    The implication is that there are similarities. There are none, to our current collective knowledge, except that both men died in the woods. The 1975 case appears to not be a suicide, and we don’t know enough about SH at this point in time to jump to conclusions about whether he was mentally ill.

    Also, if you visit the Almanack’s Facebook page, you’ll see that they are indeed comparing the two cases – just read the comments on the story.

    • Paul says:

      PC, just commenting on what is written here. Other than the fact that a body was found in the woods what is the specific comparison that John made or even implied and how? Please be specific.

      BTW how is chaining yourself alone to a tree and throwing away the key where you can’t get it not a suicide? This wasn’t Times Square. That is my comparison not John’s.

  8. CD says:

    What a fascinating yet sad story. I can see how someone would think that chaining oneself in the ADKs and throwing away the key would constitute suicide. But we have to remember that if this gentleman had delusions, his brain worked fundamentally differently than most of ours would. I am glad the story was written for two reasons. It brings to light how much better educated the public and the police are today than they were in 1975, and I am grateful this poor man is being remembered. It is fundamentally sad that his body wasn’t claimed by his own family.
    The case of Scott H is very different. He worked in a mainstream job until late August, when he walked out of his own life. Unless he left a farewell note, his reasons for committing suicide will always be speculative, but depression certainly cannot be outruled. He had a circle of friends and family that loved him and that was looking for him. So while this is a great article, any suggested parallels are unfounded in my opinion.

    • Paul says:

      I assume the 1975 incident was ruled a suicide? That was the only parallel I suggested. The circumstances are obviously different.

      Again the fact that this recent incident “recalled” an earlier incident was the only point I think John was trying to make. Can’t speak for him. If one reminded someone of the other it did, you can’t argue with that.

  9. RW says:

    Whether comparing the two “suicides” (Hmmm, I’d say the prior one is better, mmm, no, maybe not… how stupid to “compare” suicides) or prompting our brains to “recall” a prior incident… I am thankful for this article as I love any kind of history regarding various areas and find this article, which I never read before, very interesting- so thanks for digging it up!

  10. leclairro says:

    This is a little off topic, but am I the only one who finds it strange that a hunter was unable to distinguish the differance in a deer and a human skull untill he found clothing and human belongings to confirm the source?

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