Posts Tagged ‘crime and justice’

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hamilton County’s Dueling Sheriffs Face Off

Through a technicality in a poorly written election law, B. Frank Kathan was renamed Sheriff of Hamilton County in 1901 despite having lost by forty votes. Jim Locke, initially declared the winner, had already moved into the jail. When the decision was reversed, he stayed put, and the county had two men who claimed to be sheriff. Kathan pursued court options, while Locke armed his men and refused to surrender the jailhouse.

At the time, Hamilton County had two prisoners—one held by Locke in the jail, and one held by Kathan in his home. Kathan angrily demanded the right to take office, but Locke remained entrenched, defying anyone to remove him from the building.

If pushed further by the courts, Locke promised to subpoena all the voters in the county to confirm the intent of each individual ballot. The expense to poor, huge, and sparsely populated Hamilton County would be enormous.

On March 12, the judge issued a confusing order. He refused to impose punishment on Locke for taking over the jailhouse, but also ruled that Locke had no jurisdiction, no legal right to the office of sheriff, and no power to carry out civil or criminal processes.

Still locked out of the jail under threat of violence, Kathan established a second sheriff’s office and bided his time. With further court action pending, he finally made his move a few weeks later. There are two variations of what happened next, but the violent version was recounted in May when the case went before the state supreme court.

On April 1, Kathan and a few of his men went to Lake Pleasant and staked out the county jail. When darkness arrived, he attempted to enter the building. Surprised to find the outside door unlocked, he stepped inside and faced off against Al Dunham, the lone jailer present.

Kathan, described as “a large and powerful man,” dropped Dunham with one punch and commandeered the office. (A second version of the story was much more benign. It claimed Kathan found the jailhouse unoccupied and simply took over.)

Now Locke was himself locked out. He countered by establishing a sheriff’s office in William Osborne’s hotel at Speculator—and the battle of the dueling sheriffs continued.

One of the sheriff’s duties was contacting jurors on behalf of the county. When the juror list was presented to Kathan (since he was the most recent court-approved sheriff), Locke obtained a certified copy from the county clerk’s office.

Jurors on the list received official notices from both Kathan and Locke, and both men submitted billing to the county board of supervisors for their work. To clear up the mess, the board tried to declare Locke the official county sheriff, but that directly violated the judge’s earlier order.

In response, the judge issued a summons demanding an explanation as to why the board itself should not be cited for contempt of court. It seemed like nobody agreed on anything (sounds suspiciously like today’s political environment).

Locke then filed a proceeding that required Kathan to prove he was entitled to the office. The significance of that move wasn’t lost on Kathan: Locke indeed planned to subpoena all of the county’s voters to court where they could verify the intent of every single ballot cast.

Meanwhile, the state appellate court finally ruled on Kathan’s original filing and declared him the sheriff of Hamilton County. Locke, true to his word, remained in the courthouse and began sending subpoenas to hundreds of county residents.

However, just a few days after the appellate court’s ruling, an unexpected tragedy took much of the fight out of Jim Locke. His write-in candidacy had been initiated by William Osborne, and his sheriff’s office was in Osborne’s hotel. Will Osborne had a reputation as the most fearless man in Hamilton County, a title earned, in part, for suffering a head wound in an intense gun battle during which he shot and captured a very dangerous criminal.

In mid-August, Osborne had been injured in a baseball game. In September, during Locke’s struggle to remain as sheriff, came a stunning announcement—Osborne had died of his injuries. After burying his close friend, Locke resumed the fight, but soon decided on a compromise based on leverage he now held—more than half the county voters had already been subpoenaed.

To avoid the great expense of continued litigation, which one writer said “would have almost swamped the county treasury,” Locke demanded compensation for having served as sheriff for the year since he was elected. The agreement also said, “It is understood that, in withdrawing from the case, Locke was not a loser through any previous legal proceedings.”

It was a confusing decision, but the county and Kathan agreed to the terms. Locke’s office was disbanded and the deputies he had appointed were dismissed. It had been a long, tempestuous year, but Hamilton County finally had one official sheriff. And, hopefully, a new set of rules governing write-in votes.

Photo: A few of the many wild headlines generated by the sheriff controversy.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, September 5, 2011

The Dueling Sheriffs of Hamilton County

It’s relatively rare for a write-in candidate to win an election. A recent, high-profile example occurred in Alaska’s senate race when Lisa Murkowski bested Joe Miller, the Tea Party candidate. Miller took to the courts, claiming that misspellings of Murkowski’s name on many ballots disqualified those votes. The ridiculous charge—it’s an election, not a spelling contest—was dismissed. Otherwise, candidates with easy-to-spell names (like Miller, as opposed to Murkowski) would enjoy a considerable write-in advantage.

A precedent for that situation had long been established, but it wasn’t always followed. More than a century ago, an Adirondack election was decided based on the electorate’s inability to spell a candidate’s name and to record it with consistency. The result? Across the state, headlines of potential bloodshed made the news. It was a year before the issue was finally resolved.

It all began prior to the election of fall 1901 in Hamilton County, where the Republicans chose B. Frank Kathan as their candidate for sheriff. The Democrats offered no opposition, yet Kathan lost the election. Say what? Yep, it’s true. He lost, even with no opponent on the ballot.

Leading up to November, a few dedicated Democrats, including some deputy sheriffs (led by William Osborne), felt the party should have offered a candidate. They began urging voters to support a certain write-in candidate, the very popular Jim Locke.

By all accounts, it came as a total shock on Election Day when the ballots were examined and Jim Locke had triumphed by 40 votes (326–286). He was declared the winner and was issued a Certificate of Election, verifying the outcome.

When Locke took over the office of sheriff, Kathan took off for court. Despite opposition, he obtained a show-cause order requiring the Board of Canvassers to recount the votes (Kathan’s claim was that some ballots were “defective”). The judge ordered that the votes be counted exactly as they were cast, and that presented a problem for James Nathan “Jim” Locke.

Though the voters’ intentions were clear, Locke’s name had been written in many forms. In some settlements he was known as Jim, and in others as Nat. On the ballots, there appeared Jim, James, James N., James Nathan, J. N., Nat, and other variations. The recount revealed new totals: Nat Locke–223; J. N. Locke–32; James N. Locke–24; and a number of other smaller groupings.

Since Frank Kathan had garnered 286 votes, he was declared the winner and was issued a Certificate of Election. Hamilton County now had a new sheriff. Well … let me rephrase that. Hamilton County now had two sheriffs. Jim Locke had already taken up residency in the county jail at Lake Pleasant, and he wasn’t going anywhere. Suddenly, the county had a big problem, and the entire state was waiting to see how it would play out.

It wasn’t pretty. Locke soon made his position clear—he expected to remain sheriff. To that end, headlines from Albany to Buffalo proclaimed that the Hamilton County Jail was under siege, and that violence might well play a role in the outcome. As one article noted, “Kathan demanded possession of the keys to the jail, but Locke had three guards on duty, armed to the teeth with revolvers and Winchesters. Kathan’s demands were refused.”

Adding drama to the situation, it was noted that Arietta sharpshooter Jim Higgins was among those defending the jail. A set of Albany headlines in mid-February said it all: “Crack Shot Guards Jail at Lake Pleasant—Supreme Court Defied—May be Necessary to Call Out Troops to Oust Locke.”

With the state militia already mentioned, Kathan turned again to the courts. A few days later, Locke was ordered to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt of court.

Next week: 2nd of two parts: Jailhouse Coup at Lake Pleasant.

Photo: At Lake Pleasant, old jail and courthouse on left, modern courthouse on right.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bill McKibben, Christoper Shaw Arrested in Climate Protest

Writers Bill McKibben and Christopher Shaw were arrested Saturday in front of the White House as they took part in a demonstration trying to persuade the Obama administration to deny construction of a 1,700-mile pipeline that would carry Canadian tar-sands oil to American refineries.

McKibben, Shaw and approximately 65 others were being held in a DC jail over the weekend pending a court appearance Monday. Both McKibben and Shaw are former Adirondack residents who maintain strong ties to the region. Shaw is a contributor to Adirondack Almanack; McKibben is a climate change activist who co-organized the tar sands pipeline demonstration; both teach and lead an environmental journalism program at Middlebury College, in Vermont.



In addition to the risk of oil spills along the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed path from Alberta to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, Canadian tar sands could be North America’s largest “carbon bomb,” McKibben says. “If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you’d run the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 390 parts per million (enough to cause the climate havoc we’re currently seeing) to nearly 600 parts per million, which would mean if not hell, then at least a world with a similar temperature,” he wrote last month in an op-ed on TomDispatch.com.

The Department of State will decide by the end of the year whether to issue a permit for a pipeline to cross the U.S.-Canada border, so McKibben says the decision lies solely with the Obama administration and will be a test of the president’s commitment to the environment.

Protest organizer tarsandaction.org issued a press release Sunday stating that 2,000 people are expected to participate in the sit-in before it ends, September 3.

Photograph courtesy of Tar Sands Action. Christopher Shaw is third from the right.


Monday, June 20, 2011

The Unlikely History of Pigeons in the Adirondacks

Unlike eagles, hawks, and others, pigeons are an Adirondack bird surrounded by neither lore nor legend. Yet for more than a century, they were players in a remarkable system of interaction between strangers, birds, and their owners. Others were tied to noted historical events, and a few were undisputed participants in major criminal activity.

The bird referred to here is the homing pigeon. According to the Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State, the Rock Dove is “commonly known as the domestic or homing pigeon,” and is a non-native, having been introduced from Europe in the early 1600s.

They are often mistakenly called carrier pigeons, and the confusion is understandable. There are carrier pigeons, and there are pigeons that carry things, but they’re not the same bird. Homing pigeon are the ones used to carry messages and for pigeon racing.

Racing them has proven very popular. Regionally, there is the Schenectady Homing Pigeon Club (more than 60 years old), which in the 1930s competed with the Albany Flying Club and the Amsterdam Pigeon Club.

The existence of those clubs, the carrying of messages, and other related activities are all based on a long-studied phenomenon that is still debated: how the heck do homing pigeons do what they do? Basically, if taken to a faraway location and released, they usually return to their home, and in a fairly straight line.

Flocks have been released and tracked by airplanes, and transmitters have been attached to the birds, confirming their direct routes. They use a variety of navigation methods, the most important and least understood of which involves the earth’s magnetic orientation.

In recent decades, Cornell University’s famed ornithology unit summarized their findings after extreme testing: “Homing pigeons can return from distant, unfamiliar release points.” And what did these scientists do to challenge the birds’ abilities? Plenty.

According to the study, “Older pigeons were transported to the release site inside sealed metal containers, supplied with bottled air, anesthetized, and placed on rotating turntables, all of which should make it hard for them to keep track of their outward journey.” The birds still homed effectively.

This unusual ability has been enjoyed and exploited for centuries. In 1898, in order to keep up with European military powers, the US Navy established the Homing Pigeon Service. One use was ship-to-shore communication in any conditions—when pigeons sent aboard the ship were released with a message attached, they flew directly back to their home loft.

Their use during World Wars I and II is legendary, and many were decorated with medals. In 1918, pigeon racing was temporarily banned in the United States to ensure that all birds were available for the use of the military.

In peacetime, homing pigeons were treated with near-universal respect and were weekly visitors to the North Country. Whenever one with a metal band or a message tube attached to it was found, standard protocol was followed by all citizens. The birds were immediately given water and food. If they appeared injured, the information from the leg band was given to local police, who tried to contact the owner.

Caring for the birds, whether ill or healthy, was automatic, and it continued until the journey was resumed. For more than 130 years, Adirondack weekly newspaper columns mentioned the landing of homing pigeons (but usually called them carrier pigeons). If a bird somehow appeared to be off course, the leg band information might appear in a short article or in an advertisement.

That informal system was widely used and religiously followed. To further protect the birds (and the system itself) and to confirm their importance, New York State’s Forest, Fish, and Game Commission made it law: “No person shall take or interfere with any… homing pigeon if it have the name of its owner stamped upon its wing or tail, or wear a ring or seamless leg band with its registered number stamped thereon, or have any other distinguishing mark.”

“Homers” were often used for races from 100 to 500 miles. They didn’t always alight where the owner intended, usually due to stormy weather. Many of the birds that landed in the North Country came from Montreal, where their use for racing and message carrying was common.

In 1912, one Canadian visitor settled inside the walls of Clinton Prison at Dannemora. The warden dutifully cared for the bird and attempted to contact its owner.

In 1898, little Miss Gertrude Hough of Lowville received a letter by US Mail from the Los Angeles post office. It had arrived in LA attached to a pigeon that had been released by Gertrude’s father from Catalina Island, more than 20 miles offshore.

And in 1936, a homing pigeon landed on the window sill of a Malone home, where it was treated to the proper care. Well beyond the norm, the bird’s journey had begun in Montana.

Invariably, efficient systems like bank accounts, credit cards, the internet, and homing pigeons are usurped for other purposes. In recent years, pigeons have been used by ingenious crooks to smuggle drugs from Colombia and diamonds from African mines.

In both cases, the North Country was light-years ahead of them. In 1881, an elaborate case of diamond smuggling from Canada into St. Lawrence County was uncovered. A Rensselaer Falls farmer brought to customs authorities a dead “carrier pigeon” with part of a turkey feather, filled with diamonds, attached to the bird’s leg.

During the investigation, two more diamond-carrying birds were shot. It was discovered that baskets of birds were being mailed to locations in Canada, and other flocks were located south of the border, awaiting duty. Shipments of pigeons had originated at DeKalb Junction, Heuvelton, Rensselaer Falls, and Richville, and the value of diamonds successfully smuggled was estimated at $800,000 (equal to about $17 million today).

During Prohibition, both booze and drug smuggling were rampant. In 1930, US officials were tipped off that a number of homing pigeons were routinely being shipped north into Quebec. Upon release, they crossed back into northern New York.

Authorities at Ogdensburg were put on the case when it was found that each pigeon bore a payload of about one ounce of cocaine. At times it was literally a fly-by-night operation—some of the birds had been trained to fly under cover of darkness.

Homing pigeons also played a role in regional historical events. In 1920, a military balloon launched from Rockaway Point in New York City sailed across the Adirondacks. Last sighted above Wells in Hamilton County, it then vanished. Extended high-profile searches turned up nothing, and three men aboard the balloon were lost.

Such missions routinely carried homing pigeons for air-to-ground communication. It was believed that an injured pigeon (broken leg) found on a Parishville (St. Lawrence County) farm had been launched from the balloon, and that its message had been lost during the accident that broke the bird’s leg. It was suspected that the balloon had finally gone down over Lake Ontario.

One of the most famous kidnapping cases in American history occurred in 1932 when the Lindbergh baby disappeared. When the body was found, nearly every newspaper in the land covered the story the next day with multiple articles.

Among the first stories was one emanating from Lowville, New York, where a homing pigeon had landed at the home of Arthur Jones. The bird’s leg had a non-traditional attachment—a piece of twine holding a paper tag bearing the inscription, “William Allen, New Jersey.” It was William Allen of New Jersey who found the Lindbergh child’s corpse.

Lead investigator Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf (Stormin’ Norman’s father) followed up on the information and then issued a statement: “Reports from Lowville show that no registry tag was found on the carrier pigeon. This practically precludes the possibility of further tracing the pigeon unless the owner of the same voluntarily reports its absence.”

In June, 1936, before more than two dozen reporters and celebrities, former World Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey and his wife released a homing pigeon from the tower of the Empire State Building at 11:20 am. Less than five hours later it arrived at Scaroon Manor on Schroon Lake, bearing the first honeymoon reservation of the season.

It wasn’t for Dempsey’s honeymoon—it was just a publicity stunt to keep his name active in the media, and certainly raised the manor’s profile as well.

Photo Top: Homing pigeon with message in tube.

Photo Middle: WW I military troops in trench, sending messages by pigeon.

Photo Bottom: Winged members of the military.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Mary Thill: Hudson River Rafting Travails

Hudson River Rafting Company owner Pat Cunningham pleaded not guilty in Hamilton County Court Thursday to two counts of reckless endangerment. He is scheduled to go to trial in August. Adirondack Life just posted details of the case in “Risky Business,” a story Mary reported for its May/June issue. The Almanack asked Mary Thill to bring our readers up to speed on the latest developments – ed.

The charges are connected to two trips on the Upper Hudson River last summer. But for more than a decade, guides who’ve worked for Cunningham have said that the Hudson River Rafting Company sometimes 1.) overbooks rafts 2.) sends customers in rafts piloted by unlicensed guides-in-training and 3.) launches inexperienced customers in their own boats without guides. The company’s reputation among the guiding community and in rafting towns like North Creek and Indian Lake has not been good for a while. For reasons that are explored in the article, that reputation has been held as local knowledge, until recently. » Continue Reading.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Missing NYC Sport: Adk Guides Take The Stand

Suspicious circumstances had developed surrounding the disappearance of respected New York City businessman John C. Austin in July 1891. Two insurance companies who held life policies on Austin were deeply interested in his possible whereabouts. Neither had bought the story that Austin had drowned near Coney Island, leaving three small children fatherless. They believed a boat had picked him up and that Austin was now living and hiding out in the Adirondacks.

Colonel Edward C. James, a nationally renowned, colorful attorney represented the insurance companies. His opening statement was a classic. After building to a crescendo, James presented his climactic claim: “Gentlemen of the jury, I will show you John C. Austin as he is today, alive and well.” With that, he unwrapped a heretofore mysterious package, revealing a nearly seven-foot-tall cut-out likeness of Austin, taken from a hunting photograph.

The courtroom was stunned, and for the entire trial, the jury and a packed house of spectators were constantly confronted with a powerfully connected message. Facing them from a corner was the huge likeness of the missing man in hunting regalia, while in the courtroom sat a grand selection of Adirondack woodsmen dressed similarly to Austin, awaiting their turn to testify.

The plaintiffs appeared to have a tough case to prove, but their attorneys approached the trial from an angle that would elicit much sympathy. Pointing to Austin’s three young children strategically placed in front of the jury box, they presented their opening line: “The only question you are called upon to decide is whether the father of these three little children was drowned on July 4, 1891.” The intent was obvious, but no less effective.

Colonel James enjoyed some remarkable moments, shocking the court with the revelation that Austin, widely believed to be very well off financially, was in fact virtually bankrupt. He owed over $2500 (about $62,000 today) on various bills. Since his disappearance, Austin’s home had been sold for substantially less than its mortgage value. Days before vanishing, he withdrew $150 from the business (equal to $3,700 today). And on July 3, he had cashed a $400 check (equal to $10,000), even though his account to cover it held only a $2 balance.

The $400 check (he vanished on July 4—it was written on July 3 but postdated for July 7) had been cashed by his brother-in-law (Carruthers), who was stiffed for the full amount. Colonel James pointed out that Austin, a supposed pillar of society, apparently wasn’t so averse to fraud after all, having knowingly committed it against his own relative. It was powerful stuff.

The keystone of James’ case in support of those suspicious elements was what the media described as the “mountain flavor” of the courtroom. The effect was enhanced by the fact that many of New York’s “well-to-do,” including a number of top attorneys, frequented the Adirondacks as a favored getaway. Their interest in the Austin case was further piqued by the opportunity to see and listen to “their” guides speaking in court. Thus, the serious legal battle did contain a sideshow element.

When the time came for the Adirondack guides to testify, the defense suffered a serious setback. James Ramsay of Lowville said he had known Austin for many years and had delivered him to Crystal Lake in Lewis County just a month after Austin’s disappearance from Manhattan Beach.

However, Ramsay recounted conversations they shared regarding Austin’s recently deceased wife and the status of his children. During intense cross-examination, the details he had provided were shredded due to inconsistencies. The plaintiffs’ attorney suggested that Ramsay’s statements bordered on perjury, delivering a strong blow to the defense case.

Other guides, however, acquitted themselves quite well before a thoroughly pleased audience, some of whom recognized the mountain men by sight. Certain testimony, like that of Charles Bartlett, helped undo the damage from a day earlier. Much was made in the media of the visitors from the mountains and their service in court (their rough appearance was also noted). Colonel James, himself a North Country native (from Ogdensburg), was appreciative of their efforts.

Bartlett was followed by a parade of fellow guides who insisted they knew Austin and had spent time with him. He was said to have stayed for a while at Eagle’s Nest on Blue Mountain Lake. Some described his behavior at the Algonquin Hotel on Lower Saranac Lake, where he displayed outstanding skill on the billiard table. Austin was, in fact, known in New York City as an excellent pool player—one witness had played against him a day or so before he vanished.

Among those who took the stand were Eugene Allen, Edwin Hayes, Robert King, Walter Martin, and Ransom Manning, all described as guides in the Saranac Lake area. Others included Hiram Benham, James Butler, Thomas Haley, Charles Hall, and James Quirk, offering convincing proof that Austin had perpetrated a fraud and was moving about in the mountains, avoiding detection.

The men described encounters with Austin at several well-known establishments: the Ampersand Hotel, Hatch’s, the Prospect House, Miller’s Hotel, and Bart Moody’s. Many of the sightings were by multiple witnesses. One of the biggest problems for the company case was the outright honesty of the guides, who frequently used “I don’t remember” when asked about details from the events of the past few years. They were being truthful, but hearing that statement repeatedly from witnesses helped suggest the likelihood of faulty memories.

When testimony ended, Colonel James offered a fine summation supporting the statements from many people who had seen Austin since his supposed drowning. Trull, the lead attorney for the Austin family, enamored himself with the crowd, making light of the guides’ claims chiefly by attacking Ramsay, who had made conflicting statements. By targeting the guide with the weakest testimony, Trull hoped to dismiss them as a group. He smiled at the weak memories of some, and dismissed as untruthful those who recalled the past with remarkable clarity.

He also ridiculed the idea that a man in hiding could wear “ … leggins’, slouch hat, corduroy trousers, duck coat … what a likely yarn! Dressed in this conspicuous manner … and he wanted to hide!” Trull’s voice fairly dripped with smiling sarcasm.

The analogy was actually warped (though he would certainly stand out in New York City, no man who dressed like that in the mountains would be conspicuous), but the erroneous concept was lost on the jurors—city men who routinely dressed in suits.

In the end, the jury was out only 23 minutes, returning to declare Austin dead. There were several moments of complete silence following the announcement, as if everyone were stunned.

Then, punctuating the victory, Trull revealed the major role that sympathy had played in the case. Turning to the jurors, he said, “Gentlemen of the jury, on behalf of my clients, the three little orphan boys left alone and helpless by John C. Austin, I thank you.”

Excused by the judge, the jury filed out, stopping only to offer Trull an unusual comment that was in keeping with the prevailing air of sympathy: “We want to contribute our fees as jurymen to the unemployed poor, and want you to arrange the matter with the clerk for us.”

The companies later dropped a plan to appeal, instead deciding to cut their losses and pay the settlement. Thus ended the court case over the insurance claims. But as far as the companies were concerned, that’s all that was settled. They remained convinced that Austin had successfully duped everyone and was alive, well, and soon to be much better off financially.

When the Austin family received the death benefit checks, they were at the same time relieved and angry—relieved to collect the amount in full, but angry with the section of the check that said, “Pay to the executors of the estate of John C. Austin, deceased.” The insurance company had drawn a line through the word “deceased,” emphasizing their belief that he was still alive.

Though Austin had been pronounced dead, his story wasn’t. Reports came in of more sightings, and two agencies asked for a bounty in exchange for bringing him to New York.

Barely a month after the trial ended, headlines reported that Austin was under surveillance by a detective in Toronto. Subsequent articles addressed the issues of his status. Having been pronounced dead, was he now safe? Could a country extradite someone who had been pronounced dead? Could the other country accept extradition of a deceased person?

The questions were put to Colonel James, who commented on the jury’s decision: “They did not seem to appreciate the evidence that was presented, and with one fell swoop, they killed Austin and rendered his children orphans. It was sheer murder, but they thought they were right. You may have thought I was jesting when I said that the jury killed Austin. It is not that.

“Actually, Austin is not dead, as this revelation proves. There is no reason to doubt the truth of the report. He is judicially dead in this country. As long as he stays in Canada, he is alive, all right. As soon as he crosses the border into this country, he drops dead—theoretically.”

That’s the last anyone heard of John C. Austin.

Photo Top: Manhattan Beach Bath House on right.

Photo Bottom: Headline from the Austin case.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Adirondack Guides: The Missing NYC ‘Sport’

Adirondack guides from over a century ago are themselves part of the lore and history of the region. Their handling of city “sports,” coupled with their great abilities in the woods, provided the background for many a legendary tale. Guides were often strongly independent and shared a great affinity for the solitude of the deep woods. So what were nearly two dozen of these woodsmen doing in a New York City courtroom in the winter of 1893–1894?

They were present for the culmination of a terrific news story that had earned sustained coverage for more than two years. Dozens of American and Canadian newspapers followed the tale, which at times dominated the New York City media. A key component was its Adirondack connection.

The story centered on well-known businessman John C. “Jack” Austin, 38, of Brooklyn. Fit, trim, and very athletic, he participated regularly in team and individual sports. In industry, he was known to have enjoyed success, providing a comfortable, if not wealthy, existence for his family. Austin’s wife died in February, 1891, leaving him with three young children to raise, which he was doing with the aid of their very attentive housekeeper.

The afternoon of July 4, 1891, was like any other holiday in Austin’s life, with plans to attend the horse races or go swimming at Manhattan Beach. He kissed the children good-bye and went on his way, promising to take them that evening to the Independence Day fireworks.

Nearly nine hours later, the clerk at Manhattan Beach was performing the nightly check of the safe’s contents when he encountered an envelope bearing the name and street address of John Austin. For bathers visiting the beach, it was normal procedure to hire a bath room for changing clothes, and to deposit any valuables (wallet, cash, rings, watches) in envelopes provided by the facility. The owner received a numbered ticket which was later used to recover those goods.

After finding the envelope with Austin’s name on it, the clerk searched Room #391, where he found a coat, vest, shirt, hat, trousers, and underwear. In the pockets of the clothing were a case of business cards, a penknife, some keys, and some pencils.

Since it was nighttime and Austin’s personal belongings were still present, there was only one logical explanation: the owner likely had drowned. The clerk called for help, and in the presence of the bathing pavilion superintendent, the Manhattan Beach chief of police, and a fireman, the security envelope was opened.

Inside were items of varying value: a pocketbook containing a few dollars and some change; a ring with the letter S on it; and a lady’s gold watch and chain, studded with pearls.

The family was contacted and apprised of the situation. Joseph Austin (John’s brother), and Thomas Carruthers (John’s brother-in-law) positively identified the belongings as John’s, and a search was initiated. For two days, police and volunteers patrolled the water and the beaches, covering not only Manhattan Beach, but the nearby shores of Jamaica Bay, Plum Island, Rockaway, and Sheepshead Bay.

Veteran lawmen and experienced searchers knew what to do and where to look. Drownings were not uncommon off the shores of Coney Island, where tides and the prevailing winds routinely sent victim’s bodies to the shore sooner or later. Austin was presumed drowned, and alerts were issued to authorities on Staten Island as well as the New Jersey shore on the outside chance the body might surface there.

Over the course of ten days, nothing was found, which in itself stirred suspicions. Some suggested that a northwest wind had driven the body out to sea, but police and beach veterans knew better. Austin’s room, #391, had been rented at about 4:00 pm, and for several hours following, a strong flood tide had pushed inland. To a man, they recognized it as an unusual circumstance that Austin’s body had not washed ashore—if he had, in fact, drowned.

The family filed a claim with two insurance companies, where Austin’s coverage totaled $25,000 (equal to about $620,000 today). However, since no body had been recovered, one of the companies had already begun an investigation, despite the stellar public image of Austin as a respected, honest, hard-working family man. They wouldn’t be paying on the claim just yet.

A number of peculiarities, both large and small, were noted in the situation surrounding John Austin’s disappearance. He was known to be wearing a very valuable diamond ring, but only an inexpensive ring was found in the envelope.

The same was true of the lady’s watch that was found. Austin always wore his own watch, described as “a magnificent chronometer.” Friends and relatives said the valued watch was being repaired at a jeweler, but the insurance company discovered that the watch had been picked up on July 3, the day before he vanished. The jeweler’s shop was very near Austin’s office, but for some unknown reason, he sent a messenger boy with a check to pick up the watch.

It was also learned that John Austin patronized Manhattan Beach regularly and was well known to many of the workers—yet no one recalled seeing him on July 4. Further, on that day it was chilly and windy, reducing attendance to about 600 on a beach that often held many thousands of bathers. Despite the sparseness of the crowd, no employees could be found who had seen Austin.

Co-workers and partners confirmed that the missing man always carried plenty of cash, almost never less than $100. And yet the envelope of his belongings held just a few dollars.

He was also known to many as a very prolific and strong swimmer, often covering extreme distances. Drowning seemed an unlikely end for such a fit and able swimmer.

Another possibility was floated: perhaps Austin had been hiding out while an imposter went to the beach on his behalf, used the changing room, and deposited the valuables (which had since been deemed not so valuable after all). That would explain why (in an unusually sparse crowd) no attendants had seen Austin. Maybe he hadn’t been there at all.

Many more suspicious developments spurred further investigation, expanding far from the confines of New York City. Austin’s three orphaned children were now living with his sister, who was a resident of Montreal, Quebec.

It was learned that their missing father was one of a great many city dwellers who frequented the Adirondacks for hunting and fishing expeditions. Since the Adirondacks were little more than an hour south of Montreal, investigators kept digging.

It was then ascertained that John C. Austin was no stranger to the North Country. To be more specific, a number of those stalwarts of the north woods, the Adirondack guides, claimed to have not only seen Austin since his supposed drowning, but had guided him in several areas, including the Saranac Lake region.

New developments caused further consternation. Of the two insurance policies which together were equal to well over $600,000 (in 2011), one had been secured by Austin on July 1, just three days before he vanished. And, after procuring the new policy, he had asked a secretary in the insurance office if it took effect at that very moment. It did seem an unusual query. With confirmation, he requested that the policy be sent to him ASAP. It was mailed that afternoon.

A few witnesses eventually came forth, claiming they had seen a man disappear while swimming well offshore on July 4. Skeptical detectives suggested another scenario. Since Austin was widely known as a powerful swimmer, they believed he swam a few miles out, where he was picked up by a boat and secreted for a time at the home of his good friend, Henry LaMarche, south of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, not much more than ten miles from Manhattan Beach.

LaMarche denied it, but his gardener and other employees stated emphatically that they had seen Austin with LaMarche in the days following the supposed drowning.

Following up on Jack Austin’s great love of the north woods, detectives found many Adirondack guides who had known him over the years and claimed to have recently seen him and/or worked for him. One of them provided a photograph, said to have been taken recently. It showed Austin in full hunting gear.

Confident now that this was a scam, the insurance companies denied the family’s claims, which were made on behalf of the children. Both sides had taken a firm stand, and the matter of whether or not John C. Austin was alive or dead would be decided by the courts.

Thus, in December, 1893, about twenty Adirondack woodsmen found themselves en route to New York City for an extended stay, courtesy of the insurance companies. They were to testify about their interactions with Austin and the range of his movements.

Next week: From the big woods to the big city.

Photo Top: Manhattan Beach, circa 1900.

Photo Bottom: Headline from the Austin case.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

APA Meeting: Champlain Bridge, GIS, Enforcement

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will hold its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Thursday, May 12, 2011 at APA Headquarters in Ray Brook, NY. This month’s meeting is one day only. The meeting will be webcast live online. Meeting materials are available for download from the Agency’s website.

The Full Agency will convene on Thursday morning at 9:00 for Executive Director Terry Martino’s report where she will brief the Board on monthly activities and accomplishments.

At 9:30 a.m., Regulatory Programs Deputy Director Richard Weber will update the Board on the status of the Champlain Bridge project, telecommunication projects and the Agency’s emergency flood response. The Regulatory Programs Committee will then consider approving a shoreline setback variance and a second renewal for construction of structures in Resource Management and Rural Use lands. The Committee will also deliberate authorizing General Permit 2011G-2 which allows for the use of Herbicides for vegetative management around guide rails, signs and delineator posts adjacent to wetlands.

At 1:00, the Park Policy and Planning Committee will convene for a staff presentation that highlights the various Geographic Information System applications and services which staff diligently provides to local governments and other stakeholders in the Park. The Agency’s GIS and staff expertise is routinely used by municipalities in support of local land use planning efforts.

At 1:45, the Enforcement Committee will hear a second reading of the revised Civil Penalty Guidance. The guidance is intended to assist Agency staff in the determination of appropriate, fair civil penalties for violations. The committee will also discuss a new strategy to deal with violations related to older subdivisions of land.

At 2:30, Town of Chesterfield, Essex County Supervisor Gerald Morrow will provide the Community Spotlight with an overview of his Essex County community. Supervisor Morrow will discuss town accomplishments, opportunities and challenges ahead.

At 3:15, the Legal Affairs Committee will hear a report on legal guidance for the upcoming building season. Agency staff will review information flyers prepared for the general public that cover camping units in DOH-permitted private campgrounds, shoreline expansions and group camp principal buildings.

At 4:00, the Full Agency will assemble to take action as necessary and conclude with committee reports, public and member comment.

The June Agency is scheduled for June 9-10, 2011 at Agency headquarters in Ray Brook.

July Agency Meeting: July 14-15 at the Adirondack Park Agency Headquarters.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

SNIRT ATV Rally Comes Under Fire

An ATV rally, SNIRT (Snow/Dirt), is coming under fire from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Adirondack Council for apparent purposeful destruction of wetlands near Otter Creek and Brantingham Lake in the Southwest part of the Adirondack Park in Lewis County (the Eastern side of the Tug Hill Plateau).

The event drew attention after YouTube videos of the event from 2008 and 2010 surfaced showing ATV users riding through wetlands, past posted signs, and drinking at the event, and after the rally’s organizers sought to move the event onto some state lands. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 11, 2011

A Search for the ‘Missingest Man in New York’

After NYS Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater went missing in New York City in 1930, the search led to Plattsburgh and then to the Meridian Hotel, a few feet across the border from Champlain.

Nothing concrete was found in New York’s northeastern corner, but a few days later, Crater was sighted at Fourth Lake in the Old Forge area. He was also “positively” identified as one of two men seen at a Raquette Lake hunting lodge in late August. Two detectives followed that trail, while others were summoned to confirm a sighting at the Ausable Club near Keene Valley.

As if that wasn’t enough, it was announced that Crater had spent a couple of days at Hulett’s Landing on the eastern shore of Lake George, and then at Brant Lake. Police and detectives pursued every lead, while headlines told the story from New York to Texas to Seattle. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Local History: The Search for Judge Crater

Amelia Earhart. Pattie Hearst. Jimmie Hoffa. Famous vanishing acts that obsessed the public and saturated the media. In their time, they were big, but it’s doubtful they topped the notoriety of New York State’s most famous disappearance, that of Supreme Court Justice Joseph Force Crater. And some of his story played out across the Adirondacks and the North Country.

The tale has now faded, but in 75 years it spawned fiction and nonfiction books, countless thousands of newspaper articles, was satirized in Mad Magazine, and formed the plot for movies. It was used for laughs on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Golden Girls, and others. It fostered a guaranteed punch line for standup comics, and produced a common slang expression that appeared in some dictionaries.

The basic details of the story begin with Joseph Crater’s rapid rise in New York City politics. A graduate of Columbia Law School, he taught at Fordham and NYU and aligned himself with the Democratic Party, a move that significantly boosted his private law practice. The New York City wing of the party was widely known as Tammany Hall, where corruption ran rampant and payoffs were routine.

Crater worked within that system, and in 1930, at age 41, he was appointed to the New York State Supreme Court, filling a vacancy. With a career that was flourishing, a dapper public persona, and plenty of power, prestige, and money, “Good-time Joe,” as he was known, had New York City and life itself by the tail.

After the June court session ended, he and wife Stella (she was still in her teens when he married her more than a decade earlier, after handling her divorce) headed for their retreat in Maine for some relaxation. On August 3, Crater received news of a problem in New York. He headed back to the city, leaving Stella with words to the effect, “I have to straighten those fellows out.”

The rest of the story has been repeated thousands of times. The main components are: he went to their apartment on Fifth Avenue; spent time at his courthouse office early on August 6; removed several files there and brought them back to the apartment; had his assistant cash several checks for him; and bought one ticket to see Dancing Partner on Broadway later in the evening.

He dined with attorney William Klein and showgirl Sally Lou Ritz, and shortly after 9 p.m., they parted company. Crater was said to have hailed a cab, supposedly heading for Broadway—and was never heard from again. Nada. Zippo. Nothing.

Because of Joe’s frequent comings and goings, Stella was only mildly concerned with his absence at first. She grew nervous when he didn’t make it back for her birthday, August 9. Within days, she sent her chauffeur to New York to look for Crater, but he only found assurances that Joe would eventually show up.

Finally, Stella hired a private detective, but just like the chauffeur’s efforts, it produced nothing of substance. Friends were confident he would soon be seen. Everything at the apartment seemed normal—travel bags, watch, clothing, and other personal effects were there—but no Joe.

An unofficial search ensued, but alarm really set in when court resumed on August 25 and he still hadn’t surfaced. For various reasons, no official report was made until September 3, a month after Stella had last seen him. An investigation began, and soon many lurid facts were revealed.

As it turned out, there had been plenty of women in Joe’s life, and he was deeply involved in the Tammany machine. It was noted that he had withdrawn $20,000 from the bank at about the time he was appointed to the Supreme Court. Coincidentally, in the ongoing political corruption probe, that was the figure named as the going price for judgeships and other positions.

Dozens of other ugly details were revealed as investigators kept digging. Meanwhile, there was one other important issue to deal with—where the heck was Justice Crater?

A month after his disappearance (but within a week of when the official search began), authorities had traced nearly every second of Joe’s trip to New York. After the dinner date, the trail went cold. The police inspector issued this statement: “We have no reason to believe he is alive, and no reason to believe he is dead. There is absolutely no new development in the case.”

At the time of that statement, a friend said that Crater had mentioned taking a trip to Canada (but gave no reason why). The focus of the continuous search was on far upstate New York. In fact, as far upstate as you can get. In northeastern Clinton County, Plattsburgh reporters were contacted by NYC police and urged to investigate rumors that Crater was in the vicinity.

At Champlain, north of Plattsburgh and less than a mile from the Canadian border, was a famed Prohibition hotspot, the Meridian Hotel. Just a few feet inside of Canada, it was a favored watering hole for thirsty Americans. Crater was reportedly seen at the Meridian, and, since he was a horse-racing enthusiast, it was assumed he had stopped at Saratoga on his way north.

Read Part 2: The search for Judge Crater spans the Adirondacks.

Photo Top: Judge Crater reward poster (the $5,000 is equal to $65,000 in 2011).

Photo Bottom: Judge Crater and wife, Stella, on the last day they were together, August 3, 1930.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Horse Racing Legends: Eddie "Peg Leg" Jones

Inspiring stories of success are often rooted in the lives of people widely perceived as being handicapped, yet have somehow managed to overcome daunting obstacles. A fine North Country example is Eddie “Peg Leg” Jones, who narrowly escaped death as a young boy but lost a leg in the process. For most people, the loss of a limb might well be the focus of the remainder of their lives. But Eddie’s story is one where outstanding achievements offered no hint on the surface that great physical impairment had been overcome.

Edward Jones was born in January, 1890, in New Haven, New York, southwest of Pulaski and just a few miles from the shores of Lake Ontario. Life on the family farm included hunting, and just a few weeks before his thirteenth birthday, Eddie suffered a terrible accident. While crossing a stone wall, he was struck by the accidental discharge of his shotgun. The injuries were severe, and amputation above the knee was necessary.

When he entered adulthood, Eddie engaged in the horse trade, buying and selling farm stock along the western foothills of the Adirondacks. Harness racing had long been a mainstay of North Country life, and dozens of communities hosted half-mile tracks. Through his love of working with horses, Eddie was drawn to the sport, so he jumped in with one foot.

The physical activity involved in training horses was challenging, but Eddie had no intentions of stopping there. He wanted to drive. Granted, it could be rough and rigorous, but it seemed a plus that this was a sport where the participant sat while competing.

That was true, of course, but without a second leg to provide balance and body control while racing, Eddie would have to improvise. A thick leather pad between his body and the sulky frame was all he used for support. He learned to balance by trial and error.

By the time he was 22, Eddie had proven he could drive. Using three main horses and racing at venues from Watertown to Batavia, he gained experience and earned several wins. Three years later (1915), behind five main mounts, Jones’ skills as both trainer and driver were unquestioned.

At Gouverneur, Canton, Watertown, Fulton, Rome, and Cortland, he was a multiple winner. More success came at Batavia, Elmira, and De Ruyter, and at Brockport, Ontario, Canada as well. Other forays outside of New York to Mount Holly, New Jersey and Hagerstown, Maryland led to more wins. In 120 heats, races, and free-for-alls, Eddie took first place 64 times, finishing outside of the top three on only 26 occasions.

While training and racing horses could be lucrative, it was also expensive. Eddie was married by then and needed a steady income, some of which was earned from bootlegging during Prohibition. He routinely smuggled booze in the Thousand Islands area until he and several others were arrested shortly before Prohibition was repealed.

After that, Eddie assumed a more legitimate lifestyle, managing hotels and other establishments while continuing on the racing circuit from Buffalo to Ogdensburg. In the winter he competed in ice races, which were often as well attended as the summer races. Heuvelton, one of the smaller venues, once drew more than 600 for an event held in February.

Through the 1930s, Jones continued to win regularly on tracks from Ormstown, Quebec to Syracuse, Elmira, and Buffalo, and many stops in between. The nickname “Easy Pickins” followed him, based on two things—his initials (for Edward Parkington Jones), and his uncanny use of pre-race strategies that helped him rise to the occasion at the end of a race.

In 1936, Jones took over as manager of the Edwards Hotel in Edwards, midway between Ogdensburg and Watertown. While working there, Eddie dominated the regional racing circuit and increased his stable of horses to 16.

He also began competing in Maine, but in the late 1930s, like so many others during the Depression, Jones fell on hard times. Though he was winning regularly, Eddie was forced to auction his horses, and in 1939, he filed bankruptcy. Life had taken another tough turn, and it looked like Jones, now 49, would end his career on a low note.

But “Peg Leg” Jones, as he was widely known in the media, was far from average. If losing a leg at age 12 hadn’t stopped him, why would he give up now?

And he didn’t. Eddie frequented the same tracks where he had raced over the years, now driving for other horse owners who were happy to have him. Eventually, Syracuse horseman Charles Terpening hired Jones to train and drive for him. Relieved of day-to-day money worries, Eddie flourished. In the early 1940s, despite his age, he began winning more and more races, particularly behind a famous horse, The Widower.

Soon Eddie was a big name in harness racing across the state, winning at Saratoga and many other venues, and competing on the Maine circuit as well. But the best was yet to come.

At the end of the 1944 season, Peg Leg Jones was the winningest racer in the US Trotting Association (covering the US and the eastern Canadian provinces). No one else was even close to Eddie’s total of 152 victories (86 with pacers and 65 with trotters).

Such a heavy schedule surely took a toll, and in the following year, Eddie (what did you expect?) took on even more work. Driving in 437 races across the Northeast, Jones, now 55, once again led the nation in wins with 118. His blue and red-trimmed silks became famous at northern tracks as he finished in the money in 78 percent of his races.

Jones had another excellent year in 1946, and continued racing and winning for several more years. In 1948, at the age of 58, Eddie set the track record at Booneville, just as he had done at Gouverneur in 1934 and Sandy Creek in 1942.

In the early 1950s, Jones began entering horses at Dufferin Park in Toronto. After an illness for which he was treated in the hospital at Oswego in fall, 1952, he went once again to Toronto in January. It was there that Eddie’s journey came to a sudden, tragic end.

On January 7, his lifeless body was found in the tack room. A razor lay nearby, and Eddie’s throat had been cut. More than $2,500 was found on him, and with no apparent motive for murder (like robbery), his death was officially ruled a suicide.

No one knew for sure the reason, and the truth will be clouded forever. As one report said, “The ‘backstretch telegraph’ laid it to a jealous husband or a money deal gone bad.” On the other hand, the suicide angle was supported by the money found on his person, and the fact that he had recently been ill. It was suspected that he may have had a serious disease or was in a lot of pain.

The tall, slim form of Eddie “Peg Leg” Jones would be missed by many. He won hundreds of races and thrilled thousands of spectators, and for more than four decades, the man with one leg had stood tall in the world of harness racing.

Photo Top: Saratoga Trotting Track.

Photo Bottom: Trotting scene from 1915.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Notorious Outlaws Meet Boonville’s Jesse Knight

Among the North Country men who made their mark in the Old West was a native of Boonville, in the foothills of the southwestern Adirondacks. He became a success in business, politics, farming, and law, and played an important role in the development of a wild territory into our 44th state. But it was ties to some notorious characters that brought him a measure of fame.

Jesse Knight was born in Boonville on July 5, 1850, the son of Jesse and Henrietta Knight. His grandfather, Isaac, had settled in Oneida County in the early 1800s and raised a family, among them Jesse’s father. But young Jesse never knew his dad, who left that same year for California, and died of yellow fever on the Isthmus of Panama. (The isthmus was a newly created US Mail route to reach California and Oregon, and a popular path for pioneers headed West.)

Jesse attended schools in Lewis, Oneida, and Fulton counties, and at 17 went to live with an uncle in Minnesota for two years. He moved to Omaha, and then settled in the Wyoming Territory. Within a decade, Knight progressed from store clerk and postmaster to court clerk and attorney. At Evanston, near Wyoming’s southwest border, he ran a successful law practice and served as Territorial Auditor.

He also acted as a land sales agent for Union Pacific. Among the properties he sold was 1,906 acres on the Bear River … to one Jesse Knight.

In 1888 he was elected prosecuting attorney of Uinta County, and in 1890, when Wyoming attained statehood, he was voted a member of the state constitutional convention. He was also elected as judge of the Third Judicial District.

By this time, Knight was doing quite well financially and had added to his landholdings. On nearly 1400 acres along the Bear River and more than 800 acres of hills, the judge’s ranch had developed into an impressive enterprise. Within the fenced property, he grew high-quality hay (250 tons) and rye (50 tons), and raised herds of superior-grade cattle and horses.

Irrigation was a key element: two main ditches (one was 3 miles long, 20 feet wide, and 4 feet deep) supplied ample water. The Union Pacific rail line bisected the property, allowing Jesse’s products easy access to markets elsewhere.

Besides his showcase farming operation, Knight’s public career was also flourishing. In 1896, he suffered what appeared to be a setback, failing to win the Republican re-nomination for district judge. Unfazed, he ran as an Independent and won handily. A year later, he was appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Wyoming to fill an unexpired term. In 1898, Knight was elected to a full 8-year term.

His business ventures were similarly successful. Besides the ranch, he owned part of a copper mine. He was also one of only two Americans working with several of Europe’s wealthiest men in developing oil wells in Wyoming. The consortium was valued at $10 million (equal to over a quarter billion in 2011). Jesse had a seat on the board of directors.

In 1902, his prominence was noted in the naming of the Knight Post Office, which served a community near Evanston for 19 years.

On April 9, 1905, though still a young man of only 55, Supreme Court Justice Jesse Knight died of pneumonia. He had accomplished a great deal for any man, let alone a poor, fatherless boy from the wilds of New York. His survivors included a wife and five children.

Among Knight’s legacy are connections to some of the West’s notorious characters. In his capacities as rancher, lawyer, prosecutor, and judge, he dealt with many violent, dangerous men over the years. According to biographers of “Big Nose” George Parrott, it was Judge Jesse Knight who sentenced Parrott to hang for the attempted robbery of a Union Pacific pay car and the subsequent killing of two lawmen who were pursuing him.

It was pretty much an average crime story until Parrott tried to escape from jail before Knight’s sentence could be carried out. The attempt prompted an angry mob to forcibly remove Big Nose from his cell and string him up from a telegraph pole. (But it wasn’t easy.)

John Osborne, one of the doctors who had possession of Parrott’s body, examined the brain for abnormalities. Further dissection of the body led to lasting fame for Parrott’s remains. The skull cap that had been removed was saved, and over the years it served as an ash tray, a pen holder, and a doorstop. A death mask of his face was also made. That aside, now it gets gruesome.

The body was flayed, and the skin was sent to a tannery, where it was made into a medical bag, a coin purse, and a pair of shoes, all of which were used by Osborne. The shoes were two-toned—the dark half came from the shoes Parrot wore during the hanging, and the lighter part was made from his own skin.

Doctor Osborne wore the shoes for years—even to the inaugural ball when he was elected governor of Wyoming! The rest of Parrott’s remains were placed in a whiskey barrel filled with a salt solution, and eventually buried. The barrel was uncovered in 1950, and it was found that the skull cap neatly fit the remains, proving it was Parrott’s body. Other tests later confirmed the results. The death mask and “skin shoes” are now on display in a museum in Rawlins, Wyoming.

In 1903, Supreme Court Justice Knight was involved in the famous case of Tom Horn, a former lawman and detective turned outlaw and hired gun. In a controversial trial, Horn was convicted and sentenced to hang for the killing of a 14-year-old boy. Justice Knight was among those who reviewed the appeal, which was denied. Horn was hanged in November, 1903.

The most famous character linked to Knight was Roy Parker, who was actually Robert LeRoy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy. They met when Cassidy was arrested for horse theft, a case tried in “Knight court.” After delays, the trial was finally held in 1894. Cassidy was very popular, and many of his friends were in town with the intent of intervening on his behalf.

A verdict was reached, but Knight ordered it sealed, to be opened on the following Monday, by which time it was hoped many of the visitors would have left town. But Cassidy’s friends were loyal, and high anxiety reigned in the packed courtroom when the verdict was read. To counter the danger, the sheriff, several town officials, many private citizens, and the attorneys all came to court armed. Famously, Judge Jesse Knight carried a pistol, hidden beneath his robes.

The jury pronounced Cassidy guilty, recommending him to the mercy of the court. Knight sentenced him to two years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary at Laramie. A few months before his scheduled release, Cassidy’s sentence was commuted. The term imposed by Judge Knight was the only prison time Butch Cassidy ever served during his lengthy, notorious career.

Photo Top: Jesse Knight.

Photo Middle Right: Big Nose George Parrott.

Photo Middle Left: Shoes of George Parrott … literally.

Photo Bottom: Robert LeRoy Parker, aka Butch Cassidy.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Adirondack Labor: New York’s Anti-Loafing Law

It’s interesting (sometimes) to listen to the multitude of political pundits, politicians, and talking heads as they inform us what our “founding fathers” intended, and the rules, ethics, and morals this country was founded on. In reality, they are often telling us what they WANT the founding fathers to have believed. History tells us they are often far off the mark, but the lack of accuracy doesn’t deter them from saying it publicly anyway.

The often muddled view of history offered by some commentators is troubling, and is usually, of course, self-serving. But the modern media has proven one thing: if you say something often enough, whether it’s accurate or not, people (and maybe even the speaker) will begin to believe it.

When it’s intentional, that’s just plain wrong. History is important. It can offer valuable perspective on possible solutions to some of our problems, and can play an important role in how we view the present and future. It can also tell us more about who we are, something that was brought to mind recently as I listened to a radio discussion about the current jobless rate.

The focus was on the nation’s high unemployment, which reminded me of how I annoyed my teachers long ago when that very same topic was discussed. Back then, we all learned how lucky we were not to live in other countries, an argument that was backed with plenty of scary facts.

For one thing, other countries allowed no choice when attacking certain problems. We were told that some countries didn’t even ALLOW unemployment. Idle men were conscripted into the military and/or put to work for the good of the nation. All male teenagers were required to begin military training. Those countries were said to be anti-freedom, but we had choices. That kind of thing couldn’t happen here.

And that was my cue to interrupt. I’ve always read a lot, and as a teenager, I was ready to challenge my teachers (and pretty much any authority). So, I thought I had a really good set of questions about those terrible practices, something I had learned on my own.

My teacher, a fervent military man who still seemed to be fighting World War II, was not amused when I said I knew of just such a place. I said that they made unemployment illegal and forced men to take jobs chosen for them by local authorities (unless the man chose one of his own). Each man was required to work a minimum of 36 hours per week.

Even worse, I added, the government passed another law ordering all teenagers 16 or older to attend military drills or perform military duties. Doing so earned them a certificate, and here’s the kicker: without that certificate, young men were not allowed “to attend public or private school or obtain employment.”

Right away the other students began guessing. Russia? Germany under Hitler? Cuba? (Cuba did outlaw unemployment at that time.) Who would order its citizens in such fashion? My classmates knew it had to be someplace evil. After all, we were in the midst of the Cold War.

At that point, I knew I was in trouble. The instructor was staring at me with cold, beady eyes, waiting for me … no, daring me … to say it. So I said it. It wasn’t intended as a criticism. I was just happy to know the truth, excited that I had learned something unusual on my own, and couldn’t wait to share the surprise (that is, until his stare began).

“New York State and the Anti-Loafing Law,” and that’s about all I was allowed to say. The teacher immediately launched into an explanation. It was true, he said, but it was nothing like the situations in other countries. We did those things, but it was different.

And he was right, maybe. But what bothered me was how he seemed to take it personally, how insulted he was. It seemed to suggest that this was HIS country. It was, but it was my country, too, so I fought back. As I soon learned, you might have the truth, but might makes right.

The Anti-Loafing Law was passed in New York State in 1918, less than a year after the US entered WW I. Maryland and New Jersey led the way, and we were next. I found it fascinating that in a democracy, the law could require all men between the ages of 18 and 50 to be “habitually and regularly engaged in some lawful, useful, and recognized business, profession, occupation, trade, or employment until the termination of the war.”

If a man didn’t have a job, a local authority was assigned to choose one for him. And no one could turn down a job because of the level of pay. Every man must work. It was the law.

“Useful” work had its implications as well. Already, by orders of the US General Provost, Enoch Crowder, men between the ages of 21 and 30 were “not permitted to be elevator conductors, club porters, waiters, pool room attendants, life guards at summer resorts, valets, butlers, footmen, chefs, janitors, or ushers in amusement places. Men of that age were needed for war.

New York’s government, indicating there would be few exceptions to the new law, fed the media a wonderful sound bite taken directly from the text: “Loitering in the streets, saloons, depots, poolrooms, hotels, stores, and other places is considered prima facie evidence of violation of the act, punishable by a fine of $100 or imprisonment for three months, or both.”

Still not clear enough? Charles Whitman, governor of New York, chimed in: “The purpose … is to force every able-bodied male person within the State to do his share toward remedying the conditions due to the present shortage of labor.” By signing the law after New Jersey passed theirs, Whitman had a handy reason: if we didn’t pass our own law, men from New Jersey would flood across the border into New York State to avoid being forced to either work or fight.

How would it sit with you today if you read this in your favorite online journal? “The State Industrial Commission will cooperate with the sheriffs, the state police, and other peace officers throughout the state to find the unemployed and to assign them to jobs, which they must fill. It will be no defense to anyone seeking to avoid work to show that he has sufficient income or means to live without work. The state has the right to the productive labor of all its citizens.”

Governor Whitman admitted “there may be some question as to the constitutionality” of the law, but enforcement began on June 1, 1918. Sheriffs across the state were required to act, and they did. Some, like Clinton County Sheriff John Fiske, made sure there were no scofflaws, scouring local establishments as the law instructed, looking for loiterers.

Those who were jailed in Clinton County had to pay a fine and serve their time, just like the law said, but they weren’t allowed to sit idle. Fiske put them to work full-time in the community, ensuring they would comply with both the letter and the intent of the law.

On the surface, those laws look absolutely un-American and undemocratic. The argument was, extreme times (WW I) call for extreme measures. Other states and countries (including Canada) passed similar laws. Maybe New Yorkers were lucky. In Virginia, compliance was extended from ages 16 to 60. And some people retire today at 55!

Learning all of that was interesting, but sharing it in school was less than wise, at least in that particular classroom. After that, my so-called “history teacher” saw me as nothing but anti-American, and he made life miserable for me. He caused me to dread that class every day.

I argued that protesting and speaking out were critical to America—it’s how the country was formed. But it didn’t matter to him, and after that, I didn’t care. I lost all respect for him. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t just deal with the facts, and the truth. In my mind, that’s what every history teacher’s work should be based on.

I always hated those lame “George Washington cut down the cherry tree” stories. Making stuff up just means you have something to hide. Apparently they didn’t want us to know he owned slaves. As a teenager, I wanted the truth, and I could deal with it. It was far more interesting than some of the stuff they fed us.

Photo Top: NYS’s Compulsory Labor law.

Photo Middle: Clinton County Sheriff John Fiske.

Photo Bottom: NYS law ordering lawmen to search each community for able-bodied males.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Six Charged in ‘Ethan Allen’ Insurance Fraud Case

A federal prosecutor in Houston, Texas, has charged the owners of an insurance company with committing the fraud that left Shoreline Cruises unprotected when its 40 ft tour boat, the Ethan Allen, capsized on Lake George in 2005, leaving 20 people dead.

United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced on February 18 that Christopher Purser, 49, of Houston, and five other defendants have been charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to launder money.

Jim Quirk, the president of Shoreline Cruises, said he had provided information to the Internal Revenue Service and the US Attorney’s office and had offered to travel to Houston to testify against the defendants.

According to Quirk, he paid premiums on a $2 million policy for approximately two years before the Ethan Allen capsized. Two weeks after the accident, he was told the policy he had purchased did not exist.

The indictment alleges that Purser backdated documents after the Ethan Allen accident to make it appear that Shoreline Cruises had not purchased coverage while the vessel was operating on Lake George when, in fact, Shoreline had purchased exactly that type insurance policy. The indictment also alleges that none of the insurance companies involved in Ethan Allen’s insurance policy had the financial ability to pay the claims.

Quirk said that he was provided documents that purported to show that the insurer had the means to pay any claims. Those documents were false, the indictment alleges.

One of the defendants, Malchus Irvin Boncamper, a Chartered Certified Accountant, allegedly prepared fraudulent financial statements and audit reports that were transmitted to Shoreline Cruises to create the false appearance that its insurers had financial strength.

In 2008, Shoreline Cruises, Quirk’s Marine Rentals and boat captain Richard Paris settled lawsuits filed by the families of those who who died in the accident. The terms of the settlement remain confidential.

The conspiracy, wire fraud and obstruction of justice charges each carry a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years imprisonment and a fine of not more than $250,000.

According to US Attorney Moreno, the charges are the result of an intensive, four year investigation conducted by the Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations, the Texas Dept. of Insurance, the New York State Dept. of Insurance, the California Dept. of Insurance and several foreign governments.

Photo: Lake George Mirror files.

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror
or visit Lake George Mirror Magazine.



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