A century ago, it was common during the Christmas holidays for North Country lumber camps to empty, at least briefly. In 1909, in far northeastern New York, the men of Altona in Clinton County enjoyed a welcome break after several weeks in the woods.
Near the settlement of Purdy’s Mills, the camp cook, Adolphus Bouvia, closed down operations on December 23. Widowed a year earlier, he planned to return home and spend time with family, friends, and neighbors, some of whom worked with him on the lumber jobs.
A week later, when Bouvia missed the local New Year’s celebrations, there was some concern about his well-being. The fifty-six-year-old lived alone on the sparsely populated road connecting Jerusalem and Jericho, two of the many local settlements bearing biblical names.
On January 2, two friends called on him, but there was no sign of activity around the home. The front door was padlocked, and there was blood and bits of bone near the entrance. The visitors surmised it was from a rabbit or some other game Bouvia had killed, but doubts surfaced in their minds. The water barrel had been tipped over, which was difficult to account for other than a struggle having taken place.
The men returned the following day with a variety of keys, and after some effort, they were able to open the padlock and enter the house. The scene that greeted them wouldn’t soon be forgotten — blood and brains on the kitchen floor, leading to the dining room, where a ghastly sight awaited. Before them lay Adolphus Bouvia, frozen stiff in a pool of congealed blood — and a good portion of his head was missing.
The sheriff and coroner were summoned, and an investigation began, but it didn’t take long to arrive at a likely suspect. Several bits of information suggested that local resident John Kinney was responsible. When it was discovered he had given $110 ($3000 in 2017) to his brother-in-law, Arthur Lashway (who later returned it), police began searching for Kinney. His family was destitute, and for him to possess even one-tenth that much money would have been highly suspicious.
It was learned that on the previous day, Kinney had begun moving his family about ten miles south of Altona to Morrisonville. He was arrested there by Sheriff Robert Nash, and just hours after the body was discovered, Kinney was back at Bouvia’s house, facing questions from the coroner.
The suspect had already denied to Sheriff Nash that he knew anything about the murder, but admitted having stopped at Bouvia’s home early that morning to drop off a table he had borrowed more than six months previous. Because the hour was so early, he had left the table outside for Adolphus to find when he got up. The table was, in fact, where Kinney said he left it.
When pressured by the coroner, Kinney said he had seen Bouvia and the man’s nephew, Frank “Pork” Lafave of Plattsburgh, walking towards the victim’s home on the evening of December 30. About a half hour later that night, Kinney again encountered Lafave as he returned from the direction of Bouvia’s home. “I have killed uncle and have got his money,” Lafave said, and then gave him half the cash, about $110, to guarantee his silence.
That, Kinney said, is why he at first denied any knowledge of the crime when Nash arrested him, fearing he might be charged with Lafave’s terrible deed. To support that claim, he provided the name of a second witness who had seen Lafave on the road that day — Kinney’s own mother. Authorities were well familiar with Lafave, who had been a resident of the county lockup on a number of occasions.
By evening, after sitting in jail for hours, Kinney decided that his first story wasn’t good enough after all. Part of his alibi had already been disproved, and in embarrassing fashion — his mother, when questioned, said she couldn’t confirm having seen Frank Lafave because she didn’t know him. Kinney then modified his story, becoming less insistent that Lafave had committed the crime, and admitting his own grudge against Bouvia, who, he said, was quite interested in Kinney’s wife.
But before anything else could happen, Kinney’s lies were exposed, delivering his original story a fatal blow. Shortly after midnight, Frank Lafave was taken into custody at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Eaton of Chazy, about ten miles east of Altona. Lafave, who worked at nearby Miner Farm as an electrician, said he hadn’t been to Altona in at least two months. The Eatons verified that he had not left Chazy for the past three weeks, and was at their home on the night of Bouvia’s murder. To Kinney’s great surprise and dismay, the man he accused of murder had a rock-solid alibi, leaving Kinney himself looking more guilty than ever.
Lafave was held, not as a suspect, but as a witness, while the coroner moved forward with the inquest. Plenty of circumstantial evidence incriminating Kinney was presented by locals, beginning with George Trudeau, Peter Lashway, Orville Spinks, and Elrie Parrott, the four men who had found Bouvia’s body.
Trudeau, friend and neighbor of Bouvia, said that on Sunday, January 2, Kinney visited Trudeau’s home to return a gun he had borrowed some time ago. Later that same day, Trudeau called on his neighbor, only to find the house locked and blood and bone spattered about the doorway.
Elrie Parrott, a neighbor who had accompanied Trudeau to Bouvia’s, described the same scene. When they left, Parrott said, they soon crossed paths on the highway with John Kinney and his wife.
Peter Lashway and Orville Spinks, friends and coworkers of the victim, accompanied Trudeau and Parrott to Bouvia’s home on Monday when they discovered the body. They also reported seeing John Kinney in the process of moving his furniture to Morrisonville.
The men described Bouvia’s body, which they said appeared to have been struck three times with an axe. Still fully dressed in an overcoat and other outdoor wear, he was apparently attacked just outside the house and dragged inside to the place where he lay. Bouvia’s cap was cut in several places, indicating he was still wearing it when the axe struck his head.
When officials arrived, they found an empty wallet in Bouvia’s pocket and several coins scattered across the floor, suggesting robbery as the crime’s motive. The money missing from the wallet was eventually linked to Kinney, thanks to one important detail. Bouvia had recently been paid by several individuals, who later confirmed they had included gold certificates (special bills imprinted with the notation “Gold Certificate” at the top) in their payments. Several such certificates were found among the recovered money.
As the inquest continued that afternoon, Adolphus Parker, Kinney’s uncle, left the proceedings and visited the jail. At one point, his nephew reached through the bars, grabbed Parker, and burst into tears, saying he was in terrible trouble.
Returning to the inquest, Parker reported on their conversation, testifying that Kinney said he was “in a bad fix,” and that his wife was the source of the problem. When Parker told him it was believed Bouvia had been killed with an axe, Kinney had shaken his head as if to say no. When his uncle said others believed a gun was used, he had nodded yes.
Several other witnesses attested to Kinney having lied about Bouvia’s whereabouts during the past several days. The most damning of that testimony came from Fred Bouvia, the victim’s son. At about one o’clock New Year’s morning, Fred left the celebration at his father-in-law’s and headed to Jericho to see his dad. On the way, he encountered John Kinney, who said there was no point in continuing because Bouvia (who lived not far from Kinney) had gone to visit Fred’s brother in Chazy.
Note: Bouvia’s story, based primarily on court records, is taken from my latest collection of true-murder stories, Dannemora’s Death House: The Crimes and Fates of 41 Killers Sentenced to Die in Clinton Prison’s Electric Chair.
Next, part 2: the gory details of Bouvia’s death.