Sunday, April 7, 2024

The Fulton County Desperado: Charles “Eddie” Baker

It was a bitterly cold day in February of 1907 when Edward Lofts walked out of his home at Blue Corners on the Western edge of Saratoga County, hitched up his team, and started for Amsterdam with a load of wood. Little did he know that as he urged his horses westward the peaceful scene he left behind would soon be transformed into one of tragedy and horror. Six weeks earlier Edward and his wife Cornelia had taken in their sixteen-year-old nephew, Charles Edward “Eddie” Baker. All had been going well with Eddie in the home, with everyone getting along and the young man even assisting with work on the farm. 

The Shooting of Aunt Cornelia

While what exactly transpired between Eddie Baker and Cornelia that morning was never revealed, as his aunt wrote in a letter the words “Eddie is standing by me smiling,” she was shot four times by her nephew, three of the bullets striking her in the head. Miraculously, the fifty-three-year-old Cornelia survived, and possessing what the Amsterdam Evening Recorder would later describe as “more than ordinary vitality,” took herself out of the house and headed towards a place of safety. Fortunately, the home of their closest neighbor, Edward Case was within sight, only 600 feet down the road, and with Cornelia somehow finding the strength to get herself as far as their mailbox she cried out and collapsed. It was also fortunate that her neighbor heard her cries, and quickly carried her into his home. Realizing the need for immediate medical assistance, Mr. Case harnessed his team, heading for Amsterdam and the nearest physician. On his way, Case encountered Cornelia’s husband heading in the same direction, quickly told him what had happened, and continued toward the city for help.  

Nephew Shoots His Aunt Near Charlton, Daily Saratogian, February 16, 1907.

When Doctor David Neer Taylor arrived, he quickly determined that Mrs. Lofts would need to be attended to in a hospital and that evening she was transported to Amsterdam. Once there, the one bullet that remained in her head was removed and with that, her chances of recovery were assured. In one reporter’s zeal to uncover details of this incident, he had stopped at the Case house only hours after the shooting and was even given a chance to speak with the victim personally. In his article published in the February 21, 1909 Amsterdam Recorder, carrying the headline “Aged Woman Shot by Nephew,” he told of how during his interview she refused to say anything about the shooting except to repeat the phrase “Poor foolish boy.”

While his aunt fought her way to her neighbor’s house, Eddie Baker was searching the Lofts’ home for valuables. Taking a wallet containing fifteen dollars from his uncle and arming himself with a second handgun owned by his aunt, he soon headed out into the cold, walking south along West Line Road.  At 2 p.m. that afternoon, he arrived on foot at Hoffmans, a hamlet and railroad stop along the Mohawk River seven miles east of Amsterdam, where he purchased a new pair of shoes and then boarded a car to Schenectady on the electric railroad. 

Born in Jordan, New York, a village along the Erie Canal just west of Syracuse, in 1891, Eddie Baker was the nephew of Cornelia Lofts’ husband, Edward through his sister Anna. Eddie was the fourth of six children born to carpenter Emmet J. Baker and his wife. In Jordan, Eddie obtained an eighth-grade education, along with a bad reputation and a tendency to run away from home, one time even making it as far as Montreal, Canada. From an early age, Eddie Baker had numerous scrapes with authorities, his delinquency becoming so bad that at one point he was sent to a reformatory in White Plains, New York. By 1905 the Baker family had moved to Steel Avenue in Gloversville. 

With photographs and details obtained from his family, Saratoga County Sheriff James Shaw quickly distributed this description in the February 22, 1907, Amsterdam Evening Herald:

Charles Edward Baker, aged 16 years; height 5 feet 3 inches: weight 135 pounds, eyes greyish blue:  hair, light brown: teeth, white and even: small round face, pink cheeks. When last seen he wore a long gray overcoat, plaid grey suit, new lace shoes, size 7. When freshly shaven he is pimply.

Baker made good his escape from the authorities and found his way to Portland, Maine where he booked passage under the name George Hunter on the schooner Alice P. Turner to Baltimore, Maryland. During the voyage Baker broke into the desk of Captain Joseph L. Bonsal, stealing a gold watch and handgun, then fleeing as soon as they docked. When Captain Bonsal discovered his loss, he immediately went in pursuit, following the thief to the outskirts of Baltimore where he had him arrested. While being interrogated by the Maryland authorities, Baker revealed his real name and his whereabouts were passed on to the Saratoga sheriff. On April 4, 1907, less than two months after he assaulted Cornelia Lofts, Eddie Baker was convicted of larceny and given a three-year sentence in the Maryland Penitentiary. 

Freed From Prison But Arrested Again, Daily Saratogian, November 13, 1909.

After serving two and a half years, he was released into the hands of Sheriff Shaw and brought to Ballston Spa to answer the charge of shooting his aunt. Only weeks after having been brought back to New York, Eddie Baker stood before Saratoga County Judge Henry Theodore Kellogg, was quickly convicted of 012nd-degree assault, and on November 23, 1909, sentenced to three years in Dannemora’s Clinton Prison. Released in January of 1911, by that fall Eddie Baker was again in trouble, accused of holding up Glovemaker Charles Dye, and only out of jail by posting a one thousand dollar bail.

The Murder of Norman Briggs

On Tuesday, October 24, 1911, Eddie, identifying himself as his older brother Hiram Baker, placed a phone call to Wadsworth’s Livery in Gloversville, requesting a team and two-seat wagon for a hunting trip into the wilderness above Northville. With Wadsworth employee Norman Briggs at the reins and Baker sitting in the second seat with his Winchester rifle, the two headed out later that day. Early Wednesday morning Briggs’ body was found in the road to Northville at a railroad crossing a mile and a half south of Sacandaga Park. Norman Briggs had been shot in the back of the head and then dragged 150 feet before being left on the ground. An investigation by Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Vill soon revealed that those near the scene of the crime had seen a wagon with one man behind the other go by around seven thirty in the evening and soon after heard a single gunshot. An examination of the body also revealed that the money Briggs should have been carrying was missing. 

Norman Briggs, Amsterdam Recorder, October 30, 1911.

Sheriff Vill quickly determined who both the victim and his passenger were and spread the word of the murder and a description of the suspect by telephone. He then headed north to begin the search along the road to Lake Pleasant. 

After the shooting, Baker took the wagon south and was seen passing alone late Tuesday night going back toward Saratoga County. Later that night he took a room at the Adirondack Homestead, a hotel outside of Northville owned by William H. Cole. As he talked to the hotel owner that night, he mentioned that he had hit a bump in the road causing his nose to bleed as he thought they might have noticed the blood on his wagon. The next morning he announced that he was going north to camp across the river from Hope Center, and asked to borrow a light buggy, a request that was refused. As he was leaving, he handed two letters to Mrs. Cole, one to his mother and the other to his brother, asking that they be mailed. 

Postcard, Adirondack Homestead, Northville, New York, Gail Cramer, Northville Historian.

Driving his team out at a leisurely pace around 9 a.m., he traveled only two miles before making an extended stop at Sanborn’s blacksmith shop where he lingered until Noon. From here Baker again headed North, and after traveling only a couple miles he backed the wagon into the woods and tied the horses to a tree. Here he spent the afternoon setting up camp, possibly in hopes of a response from his brother as it was later revealed that the letter contained a confession to the murder of Briggs as well as a request that additional ammunition be brought to him. In the late afternoon Eddie Baker took one of the horses, and mounting on a makeshift saddle headed south. As his departure was seen by a passerby, it is possible that Baker headed out after he realized his camping spot had been discovered. The person who had seen him recognized who he was and quickly went by wagon to contact authorities. 

Pursuing the Murderer

At the Anibal Hotel in Northville, the witness located Gloversville Police Officer Reuben Rossman who agreed to help with the search and possible capture. Back on the road, a short distance above the Northville bridge they saw Baker approaching on horseback. As darkness had fallen, and the officer felt he would know Eddie Baker if he could see his face, he hailed the passing rider and asked for a match. In response, he was given a gruff reply as Baker roughly urged his horse southward. Turning their carriage around, the two gave chase, losing sight of the fleeing rider near Sacandaga Park, not far from where Baker only hours before had shot and killed Briggs. At Sacandaga Park, Officer Rossman called in a report of what had happened and then continued the chase by automobile, going as far as Fishhouse without finding any sign of the rider. 

Coming back from Lake Pleasant, and following the leads that had come in while he was gone, Sheriff Vill soon found the wagon and one horse abandoned at the campsite in the woods. As the sheriff searched for clues he learned from a passerby that Eddie Baker had been seen leaving on horseback, and heading south in the direction of Northville, soon passed where Rossman had just encountered the fugitive. 

As the search continued, Vill combined forces with Deputy Sheriff Stoddard of Mayfield and one other man to investigate a sighting not far from the scene of the murder. Driving slowly in the darkness the officers spotted Baker on horseback going through the woods and stopped their automobile not far from the hamlet of Cranberry Creek. Proceeding back on foot, they soon heard a horse coming down the road and stepped off into the brush. As Baker passed, he saw the men step on the road, responding by heading into the darkness while firing his gun. Assuming that he was trapped between the parked car and the men behind, Baker dismounted and fled into the woods. 

The officers, not willing to risk searching in the dark, were soon joined by a group who had traveled from Gloversville by auto. As the group discussed their options, Baker slipped back to his horse and was soon heard galloping down the road. He was next spotted near the Village of Mayfield where Sheriff Vill took a shot at him from his moving automobile without effect. After they had stopped and exited their car, Baker started shooting at the men, with bullets soon flying in both directions. 

Baker Kills Again

While Baker was unscathed in the exchange, his horse was wounded, spilling the rider from his back. Using the fallen animal as cover, Baker again fired at the officers, after which he fled on foot into the night. During this battle, both Gloversville Officer John Pollock and Deputy Edward Stoddard were shot. While Stoddard was hit in his hand losing a finger, Pollock’s injuries would prove fatal from a bullet in his right leg that shattered his femur. 

Police Officer Outlaw Baker’s Second Victim, Saratogian, October 17, 1911.

The next morning police and members of the New York National Guard Second Regiment, in total numbering fifty men, started the search. By using bloodhounds the fugitive was tracked to a wooded area adjacent to the Washburn farm on Mountain Lake Road two miles north of Gloversville. Soon Eddie Baker was spotted moving along a gully armed with a rifle. A running battle ensued between five of the officers and Baker, all firing their weapons as they came to bear on their target. In this fight, Baker was the loser, being struck twice, with one bullet shattering a bone in his leg. As he was transported to Gloversville’s Littauer Hospital he confessed to murdering Briggs, claiming however it had resulted from a drunken brawl between the two. 

The sentiment of local citizens to take the punishment of Eddie Baker into their own hands was at a fever pitch as the news that Officer Pollock had died hit the streets. Crowds began to gather around the hospital and the authorities were hard-pressed to keep the groups from forming into an uncontrollable lynch mob. In what could be seen only as an act of desperation bordering on callousness, The prisoner was taken to the jail, with a vivid description of the move detailed in the Saratogian of October 28, 1911:

John Henry Pollock, Amsterdam Recorder, October 30, 1911.

Policemen appeared in the doorway, bearing a litter over which a sheet had been thrown. Thinking that the white cloth covered the dead form of the slain policeman, those gathered about the hospital removed their hats and bowed their heads. The litter bearers placed their burden inside the wagon, and the door banged shut. Gloversville Police Chief  George R. Smith leaped to the seat beside the driver and ordered the latter to make all speed to the Fulton County Jail at Johnstown. 

Though not widely reported at the time, there was another death during the efforts to capture Baker. A laborer for the Johnstown street department named John Valik was struck and killed by an automobile carrying police from Johnstown and other nearby towns while he was putting down a crosswalk and unable to avoid the speeding automobile. The seven-passenger Thomas Touring Car was owned by James L. Northrup and driven by his chauffeur, Charles Jeans, with the accident resulting in Jean’s being taken into custody, though never being charged. 

To support the families of Officer John Pollock and liveryman Norman Briggs a fund was established by the citizens of Gloversville, with over fifteen hundred dollars collected, a sum that would be supplemented by other fundraisers planned in the months after their deaths. 

1903 Broadalbin & Johnstown topo maps with locations added, author’s collection.

Twenty Years to Life

The trial of Charles Edward Baker for the death of Norman Briggs ended on March 15, 1912, with his receiving a sentence of twenty years to life in prison. Noted as a model prisoner during his time awaiting trial, he rarely showed any emotion except during the few brief moments he was given to speak with his family. 

Once in Dannemora, Baker reverted, soon being labeled as “incorrigible” by the prison authorities. Only six months into his sentence he attempted to escape, followed by an attack on a fellow inmate with a screwdriver, and in another incident acting as the leader in a prison insurrection. His behavior was such that in 1921 he was transferred to Auburn Prison, a maximum security facility in Auburn, New York, though three weeks later he was returned to Dannemora. Over the next five years, he continued to fight the system being given over 1,300 prison punishment days. 

On January 16, 1926, he was permanently transferred to Auburn Prison. With that move, he changed his behavior, quickly becoming a model prisoner.  His transformation was so great that he never had a mark against his record over the next six years. As further proof of his transformation, during the Auburn riot of 1929, he sided with the guards and helped fight the fires set by prisoners. By the time he began applying for parole after being in prison for twenty years, he held the position of an inmate clerk. After four rejections, his application was accepted in 1933. 

When the New York State Parole Board held a public meeting to consider the parole of Charles Edward Baker, six witnesses shared their reasons against his release. The first to speak was Tom Vill, the Sheriff of Fulton County at the time of his arrest. During his testimony, he spoke of the threats made against those who prosecuted the case, as well as Baker’s criminal tendencies during his years in Gloversville. 

Next was Officer Pollock’s son, who brought up the sacrifice of his father and the suffering and loss that the family endured at the hands of Baker. Also speaking that day were Officer Pollock’s sister and two sisters of Norman Briggs. 

Banned from Fulton County

On Friday afternoon, June 2, 1933, Charles “Eddie” Baker was released from Auburn Prison, and directly into the arms of Gloversville Sheriff Lee Ingram to face a warrant charging him with the murder of Patrolman John Pollock. In October of 1933, Supreme Court Justice Ellsworth Lawrence dismissed the murder indictment against Charles Edward Baker, citing insufficient evidence and the lack of witnesses to testify concerning the twenty-one-year-old murder. 

After being taken back to Auburn Prison, In mid-October of 1933, Eddie Baker walked out a free man. Escorted by a parole officer, he was accompanied to Buffalo, New York where he took up the occupation of a barber. As part of his release, he was required to never again step foot anywhere in Fulton County. 

The 1934 Buffalo City Directory lists “Charles Baker – beauty shop 1497 Hertel Ave, r. 52 Burgard Pl.’’ The 1936 directory shows the beauty shop property as a vacant store and someone new residing at the Burgard Place address. He was last heard of in 1939 when he attended his father’s funeral. At that time it was noted that he had established himself in business and was making himself again as a member of society. 

A special thanks to Northville Historian Gail Cramer for allowing the use of the Adirondack Homestead postcard image. 

Sources for this article are the online resources at ancestry.com and the newspaper archives at fultonhistory.com and nyshistoricnewspapers.org.

Photo at top: Fulton County Puzzles over Baker’s Trial, Albany Evening News, October 30, 1933. 

All photos provided by the author.

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Dave Waite has had a lifelong interest in the Adirondacks and often spends time exploring the park and learning about its history. His stories about Adirondack and Upstate history have been published by several historical societies including those in St. Lawrence, Warren, and Saratoga counties. Dave recently published his first book, Thrilling Attractions and Weird Wonders, which brings together over thirty of his stories from Saratoga County and Upstate New York.




2 Responses

  1. David Bower says:

    Very interesting story. Considering the bloodshed he left in his wake, it’s amazing that he was ever released and eventually became a modest success. Thanks for the great story.

  2. Susan says:

    Interesting story that leaves one wondering what happened to him in the end.

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