A few days ago, the Brandreth Park Association filed a lawsuit against me, alleging that I trespassed when I canoed through private land last year on my way to Lake Lila.
As part of the suit, the association is asking the New York State Supreme Court to declare that the waterways in question—Mud Pond, Mud Pond Outlet, and Shingle Shanty Brook—are not open to the public.
I did my two-day trip last May, starting at Little Tupper Lake and ending at Lake Lila, and wrote about it for the Adirondack Explorer. Click here to read that story.
I believe the common-law right of navigation allows the public to paddle the three waterways even though they flow through private land. The state Department of Environmental Conservation—as well as several legal experts I consulted—support my position. In September, DEC wrote to the association’s attorney, Dennis Phillips, and asserted that the waterways are open under the common law. The department also asked the association to remove cables and no-trespassing signs meant to keep the public out. Click here to read about DEC’s decision. But the landowners are not backing down. They served me with the complaint in the lawsuit at the Explorer office on Tuesday.
The legal papers do not mention DEC’s decision. We have reported previously that the department and the association disagree over whether a waterway must have a history of commercial use to be subject to the right of navigation. The association contends that Shingle Shanty and the other two waterways have no such history, so they are not open to the public.
The department maintains that if a waterway has the capacity for trade or travel, and if it meets other necessary criteria (such as legal access), then it is open to the public. Furthermore, DEC says recreational use can demonstrate this capacity.
If the Mud Pond-to-Shingle Shanty route is open to the public, paddlers traveling from Little Tupper to Lake Lila will be able to avoid a 0.75-mile portage. That certainly would be a boon. But the larger question is whether the public has the right to paddle waterways that connect parcels of public land, public lakes, or other legal access points. After all, how many rivers in the Adirondacks and elsewhere in the state pass through private land at times? I’m guessing a lot.
After writing about the illegally cut trees on Cat Mountain, which were neither dead nor down, I started thinking about other rule violations I have observed in the backcountry. One such rule violation I have frequently noticed is the storage of personal property on forest preserve in the Adirondacks.
The storage of personal property can usually be found in one of two different situations. It is either in small amounts scattered around lean-tos or in much more substantial quantities in wild and remote area where few will ever stumble upon these hidden caches. And although some of this property is probably abandoned, the majority appears to be in at least seasonal use. » Continue Reading.
During “Slavery in New York? Slavery Today?”, a two-day Convention being held Friday, December 3rd and Saturday, December 4th, experts on contemporary slavery and human trafficking will be joined by scholars, historians, victims advocates, lawyers, investigative reporters, musicians, and the general public to examine slavery and trafficking in New York State and ways to end it. Events will take place around the Lake Placid area.
New Yorkers have long regarded slavery as a southern institution. However, the 1991 discovery of the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan offered irrefutable evidence that New York was a veritable slave society for hundreds of years. Recent research and fresh scholarship have begun to mine a long-buried history. As New Yorkers begin to remember and commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, examining the State’s dual legacy of slavery and freedom will shed new light on the complex narrative of our past. Although largely erased from official history and collective memory, New York “promoted, prolonged and profited from” slavery from the 1620s through the 1850s. Slave labor was here at the start of New Netherland and it continued throughout the British colonial period with such intensity that at times during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, New York City had a larger slave population than any other city in North America.
Around the world today, slavery is still alive and well, generating billions of dollars along the supply chain of labor and products that make much of our daily lives possible. Though a crime in nearly every country, roughly 27 million people are enslaved worldwide today, including nearly 55,000 people in the United States. In the State Department’s 2010 report on human trafficking across the globe, the U.S. was identified as a “source, transit and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor, debt bondage, and forced prostitution.”
According to the Washington, D.C.-based Free the Slaves, slaves are found in nearly all 50 states, from farm fields and orchards to hotels, restaurants, private homes, factories, sweatshops, brothels, and construction sites. Immigrant populations, both documented and undocumented, are especially vulnerable, but native-born Americans are not immune to being enslaved and trafficked. New York, along with California, Florida and Texas, ranks among the states with the greatest incidence of documented slavery in the country.
* Chandra Bhatnagar, ACLU Human Rights Project Staff Attorney and counsel for 500 Indian men trafficked into the U.S. as “guestworkers”;
* John Bowe, award-winning investigative journalist and author of Nobodies: Modern American Slavery and the New Global Economy;
* Florrie Burke, Co-Chair of Freedom Network (USA), expert on the treatment of trafficking victims and one of the first social services respondents to Deaf Mexicans forced to sell trinkets on the New York City subway in the mid-1990s;
* Mia Nagawiecki and Betsy Gibbons, New York Historical Society;
* Renan Salgado, Farmworker Legal Services of New York;
* Ron Soodalter, author of Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader and co-author with Kevin Bales of The Slave Next Door;
* Tina M. Stanford, Executive Director, New York State Office of Victims Services;
* Dr. Margaret Washington, Professor of History at Cornell University and Sojourner Truth biographer;
* Dr. Sherrill Wilson, urban anthropologist at forefront of effort to research, interpret and protect the African Burial Ground discovered in Lower Manhattan;
* Duane Vaughn, Executive Director of Wait House, an emergency shelter in Glens Falls for youth ages 16-21; and
* Dr. J.W. Wiley, Director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism & Inclusion, SUNY Plattsburgh.
8 am-3 pm Educators Workshop at Heaven Hill Farm
7 pm-9 pm Slavery, Film & the Shaping of an American Conscience at Lake Placid Center for the Arts
8 am-5 pm Anti-Slavery Convention at High Peaks Resort
5 pm-6 pm Wreath-laying Ceremony at John Brown Farm State Historic Site
9 pm-? Closing Reception at Northwoods Inn
“Slavery in New York? Slavery Today?” is co-sponsored by the freedom education project John Brown Lives!, John Brown Coming Home, the New York State Archives Partnership Trust, the National Abolition Hall of Fame, and the Center for Diversity, Pluralism & Inclusion at SUNY Plattsburgh. Participants include:
When out in the backcountry I tend to bushwhack through areas that receive little human traffic so I rarely encounter examples of illegal tree cuttings. But this past summer I went on an eight-day trip hiking and bushwhacking through the heart of the Five Ponds Wilderness from Stillwater Reservoir to Cranberry Lake where I discovered tree cutting on the top of Cat Mountain on my final night.
This put a slight damper on an evening highlighted by watching multiple Independence Day fireworks displays and culminating with sleeping under the stars on the cliffs. The cut trees were located around the single large campsite just off the cliffs to the north. This site is obviously very popular with campers given the fire ring and the large, flat, open area perfect for pitching tents. » Continue Reading.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has sided with paddlers in the dispute over the public’s right to canoe through private land on Shingle Shanty Brook and two adjacent waterways.
In a letter to the landowners, DEC asks them to remove cables, no-trespassing signs, and cameras meant to deter the public from using the canoe route. If they fail to comply, the department warns, the matter could be referred to the state attorney general for legal action.
Christopher Amato, DEC’s assistant commissioner for natural resources, wrote the letter in September after negotiations with the owners failed to reach an agreement. “The Department has concluded that Mud Pond, Mud Pond Outlet and Shingle Shanty Brook are subject to a public right of navigation, and that members of the public are therefore legally entitled to travel on those waters,” Amato said in the letter, dated September 24.
Amato told the Adirondack Explorer that DEC won’t take action right away. He hopes that the owners—the Brandreth Park Association and its affiliate, the Friends of Thayer Lake—will reconsider their position over the winter. Spokesmen for the owners declined to comment.
The Explorer will carry a full report in its November/December issue. The story is online now and can be read here.
The Explorer touched off the dispute last year by publishing my account of a canoe trip from Little Tupper Lake to Lake Lila. Instead of portaging around private land, I paddled down the three waterways. After that article appeared, the Sierra Club asked DEC to force the landowners to remove a cable and no-trespassing signs along the route. The landowners, however, put up a second cable and installed motion-activated cameras.
DEC contends that the public has a common-law right to paddle the waterways. The owners argue that the common law applies only to water bodies that have a history of commercial use (and the three waterways in question do not).
If the landowners stick to their guns, it’s likely that the dispute will end up in the courts.
Past posts to the Almanack on this topic, both by Mary Thill and myself, have generated much discussion. It will be interesting to see what readers on both sides of the debate have to say about this latest development.
Illustrations: Phil Brown on Shingle Shanty Brook by Susan Bibeau; a map of the Lila Traverse is online.
The Franklin County Historical and Museum Society invites its members and friends to the annual meeting of the Society on Thursday, October 7, 2010 at the First Congregational Church of Malone, corner of Clay and Main Streets. The annual meeting begins with a social hour at 5:30 pm, dish-to-pass supper at 6 pm, followed by the reports to the membership and culminating with a program on notorious beer baron Dutch Schultz. Please bring a dish to share and table service. Members are encouraged to make ‘old fashioned’ recipes and to bring copies of the recipe to share. There is no cost to attend, but membership dues for 2010 and 2011 are welcome. The Franklin County Historical and Museum Society, founded in 1903, is a membership organization dedicated to collecting, exhibiting and preserving the history of Franklin County, NY. The House of History museum is housed in an 1864 Italianate style building, most recently the home of the F. Roy and Elizabeth Crooks Kirk family. A museum since 1973, the House of History is home to the headquarters of the Franklin County Historical & Museum Society and its historic collections pertaining to the history of Franklin County. The recently renovated carriage house behind the museum is the beautiful Schryer Center for Historical & Genealogical Research, which opened in 2006. The Schryer Center contains archival materials and a library of family history information and is open to the public. FCHMS is supported by its members and donors and the generous support of Franklin County.
The House of History is open for tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4pm through December 31, 2010; admission is $5/adults, $3/seniors, $2/children, and free for members. The Schryer Center for Historical & Genealogical Reseach is open for research Wednesday-Friday from 1-4 pm October 13-May 1, weather permitting. The fee to use the research library is $10/day and free to members.
Information about Franklin County History, the collections of the museum and links to interesting historical information can be found at the Historical Society’s website.
Please contact the Historical Society with questions at: 518-483-2750 or [email protected] Photo: Gangster “Dutch” Schultz, the subject of the program at the Franklin County Historical and Museum Society’s Annual Meeting.
Despite the physical evidence against Saranac’s Allen Mooney in the murders of Ellen Thomas and Viola Middleton, he could still hope for a lesser conviction, even manslaughter, due to extenuating circumstances. Epilepsy, a weakness for drink, extreme jealousy—the man was obviously beset by many problems. Not a saint by any stretch, but was he a wanton killer?
Unspoken, though, was another factor—Mooney’s extended family. His relatives from the Malone area, and south to Saranac Lake—the Merrills, Jocks, Stacys, and other Mooneys—shared quite the infamous reputation. In the decade surrounding Mooney’s trial, without citing particulars, they committed: assaults, burglaries, robberies, wife beatings, at least 3 murders (and a fourth suspected with arson), prostitution, incest, child abuse, family abandonment, and more. This was no secret. Leading up to the trial, many of the family’s escapades had been highly publicized in recent years. It would be very difficult for jurors to ignore that reality. And, if Mooney should be considered insane because his aunt was insane (as the defense claimed), then maybe he was an incorrigible criminal like so many members of his extended family.
The courtroom was packed throughout the trial, and extensive testimony hinted that the jury might struggle to reach a verdict. During deliberations, the first vote was 7 for 1st-degree murder and 5 for 2nd-degree murder. With that much uncertainty, a consensus seemed unlikely. It looked like Mooney might be spending the rest of his life behind bars, but at least he’d be alive.
But early the next morning, almost before the court session began, it was suddenly over. The verdict was in: guilty of murder in the first degree. Mooney was told to stand, and the judge pronounced sentence: “That you be confined in Dannemora State Prison until the week beginning July 6, 1903, when, in compliance with the law, you shall suffer death by having a current of electricity pass through your body until you are pronounced dead.” Mooney, calm as ever, spoke only to thank the judge.
He was a condemned man with just six weeks left to live, but Mooney wasn’t the only one under pressure. Dannemora’s executioner felt the heat as well. He was scheduled to dispose of six prisoners during the week of July 6, including that infamous threesome, the Van Wormer brothers, who had brutally murdered their uncle and terrorized his family.
Joining them were William “Goat Hinch” O’Conner (committed murder during a robbery), and Kate Taylor, who was believed long abused by her husband (until she killed him, cut off his head, stuck it in an oven, tried to cut his leg off, burned the corpse, and fed the bones and ashes to the chickens). Allen Mooney was in fine company.
Appeals delayed his execution (and Taylor’s, too), subjecting Mooney to unexpected angst. Taylor, female, was held in a special cell, but Allen was with the others on Death Row. Described during his trial as “stolidly indifferent,” Mooney now sat nearby as, one by one, the Van Wormers were walked down the hallway to waiting death. Each said goodbye to Mooney. Reports of the boys’ final moments appeared beneath large, bold headlines in newspapers across the country. The last to go was the middle brother, and in memorable fashion:
“Burton’s departure from the death house made the most pathetic scene of all. Besides the aged priest, there was but one person in the world to whom he might say goodbye. That was Allen Mooney, the last occupant of the death cells, who sat in the corner of the front of his cell, sobbing like a child. As Burton stepped from his cell, he looked back toward Mooney’s cell, which was out of his view because of a great iron screen built for that purpose, and called: ‘Goodbye Mooney. I hope you don’t have to go like this.’ And then he marched to the death chair.”
The procession of priest, warden, and guards guided Van Wormer to the death room, where, for the first and last time, he met Robert Elliott, Dannemora’s chief executioner.
Mooney’s reprieve lasted five months, when the court of appeals affirmed his sentence. The execution was two months away, but within a month, reports surfaced that he wasn’t eating, and mostly languished in his cell, deteriorating physically. But after watching the Van Wormers, who converted to Catholicism and clung to crucifixes as they went to their deaths, Mooney took action. He summoned the Catholic priest and converted from the Baptist faith he had been born into (but apparently ignored), hurrying to achieve baptism and first communion by March.
Two months later, just as his cellmates had done, Mooney took Communion and clung tightly to a crucifix. On May 3, 1904, he walked his final steps to join Robert Elliott and the waiting chair. One electrode was attached to his head, and less than four minutes later, Mooney was gone.
To the relief of some, a subsequent autopsy revealed that his liver and kidneys were in good condition, dispelling the notion that physical infirmities in Mooney’s organs might have caused momentary insanity. He was the only inmate executed at the prison in 1904, and the only Franklin County resident to die in Dannemora’s electric chair.
Photo Top: Saranac Lake early street view.
Photo Middle: Court of Appeals document upholding Mooney’s conviction.
Photo Bottom: Sing Sing’s electric chair, same as the one in which Mooney died.
Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several 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.
On May 12, 1903, Franklin County attorney Robert M. Moore was at wit’s end. After two years of haggling, all possibilities had been exhausted, and he knew his client was in serious trouble. There was nothing left but a claim of insanity. If that failed, a man was sure to die.
The client was Allen Mooney, and his crime in Saranac Lake became one of the most talked-about murders in North Country lore. It’s not a particularly complex tale, but its salacious and violent aspects guaranteed plenty of media coverage. Legally, it was pretty much a cut-and-dried case. Mooney admitted the shootings, and there was plenty of evidence against him. However, peripheral factors never mentioned in testimony may have “eased” the jury’s decision. And, there were opinions voiced in court that would never be allowed to reach a modern jury’s ears. It all combined to determine a man’s fate. Not to say that Mooney would have otherwise been found innocent; he was guilty, but his sentence may have differed sharply.
In the early 1900s, Saranac Lake was in some ways like the Wild West. Smuggling, shootings, public drunkenness, prostitution, and murder were subjects bemoaned in the press as far too frequent. Any day was a good day for hell-raising, but Election Day was a particular favorite in many towns. Of course, the folks involved in Mooney’s crime led pretty rough lives. They may well have been clueless that it was Election Day.
The year was 1902, and the principals were: Allen Mooney, 25, a plumber’s assistant; Fred McClelland, 30, a friend of Mooney’s; Charles Merrill, 22, a local laborer and Mooney’s nephew; Viola Middleton, about 30, housemate of McClelland; and Ellen Thomas, about 24, known in Saranac Lake as Ethel “Maude” Faysette, love interest of both Mooney and Merrill.
On Election Day, the group was said to have been drinking and carousing at McClelland’s house. When Mooney eventually became loud and abusive, Fred threw him out. Testimony about the day’s events varied, but there was no disagreement on what happened that evening. Mooney, fueled with alcohol and driven by jealousy over Ellen Thomas, managed to get into the house through a door that had only a chair propped against it (the lock didn’t work properly).
By all accounts, he entered a bedroom and found McClelland there with Middleton. Mooney aimed his gun at McClelland, telling him “If you have anything to say, then say it quick.” After a momentary pause, Mooney fired two shots. One hit McClelland and deflected into Viola Middleton, and the other struck Middleton directly.
Charles Merrill and Ellen Thomas were in another room together. When the shooting began, Merrill hid beneath the bed. Mooney entered, shot the girl twice, and left the room. Charles Merrill was uninjured, and most reports claim he managed to jump Mooney, subdue him, secure the gun, and hold him until the local officer arrived. Both men were jailed (Merrill as a witness), and Mooney was said to have soon fallen into a deep sleep. Upon waking the next morning, he claimed to have no recollection of the previous night’s events.
McClelland’s wounds were serious, but he survived. Ellen Thomas died shortly after the shooting, and Viola Middleton lasted only a few days. In spring 1903, Mooney was indicted on two counts of 1st-degree murder and one count of assault. Awaiting trial, he was held in the bottom floor of the county jail in Malone, in what was referred to as “the cage.”
As usual, the case was tried in the newspapers until the actual trial date arrived. There were stories of Ellen Thomas (as Maude Faysette) having been arrested two days before the shooting, only to be released the next day. And, local bars were taken to task over serving liquor to Allen Mooney, knowing his condition and his reputation.
In May 1903, court testimony confirmed the shooting was done by Mooney in a drunken, jealous rage. Intent was proven by his purchase of a gun and cartridges that afternoon. Upon arrest, he reportedly said words to the effect, “I’ll go quietly. I’ve made a fool of myself.” Attorney Moore, left with no other defense, strove to prove Mooney’s insanity at the time of the shooting.
As evidence, he cited Mooney’s aunt (his father’s sister), who “lost all control of herself” during hysterical fits that kept her confined to a Canadian asylum for many years. And, Mooney himself was said to have suffered epileptic seizures since childhood, often turning violent during the attacks. Doctors said that, due to his physical condition, a small amount of alcohol could cause him to “become violently insane and unconscious of his acts.”
Best of all, though, were the professional opinions about Mooney’s appearance. As one reporter wrote, the doctors said, “From the peculiarities of his head, eyes, and looks, they would classify him as a degenerate who was more susceptible to insanity than a normal man.” Add the booze, and you had a powder keg, but one that was not responsible for its own explosion.
The prosecution was inclined to agree, partially. Four doctors, including one from the Ogdensburg Insane Asylum, upped the ante with this assessment: Mooney “ … represented a low type of manhood and possessed certain peculiarities of degeneracy.” But they also felt he was rational, and based on the same factors cited by the defense—physical condition, appearance, and actions—they believed Mooney was conscious of his acts.
Next week: The verdict; some interesting new friends; Mooney’s introduction to Robert Elliott.
Photo Top: The Franklin County Government Buildings, early 1900s.
Photo Bottom: Saranac Lake in the early 1900s.
Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several 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.
In late 1928, the life of an Adirondack guide came to an unfortunate, premature end. Like many of his brethren who died from accidental shootings over the years, the victim succumbed to a serious gunshot wound. But the demise of Eula Davis was no accident. Clearly, this was a case of murder, and the beginning of a twisted saga that kept all eyes glued on the Lake Pleasant region for some time.
The story began on November 30 when local handyman and guide Ernest Duane, 34, reported to police in Speculator that he had found Davis, 60 (also a handyman and guide), dead. The body was located in the Ernest Brooks cabin on Whitaker Lake, several miles northwest of Speculator village. Duane offered to accompany them to the site, but the lawmen opted to investigate on their own, a decision that would prove vital as the case developed. A sad scene awaited them. Davis’ corpse was frozen solid; apparently, he had died of exposure and/or loss of blood. A gaping bullet-wound in the lower back was the overriding cause, and Davis had not died easily. Unable to rise after being shot, he had dragged himself across the floor. His body was partially covered with a quilt, and a pillow had been drawn close to Eula’s head, signifying an attempt to keep warm and somewhat comfortable. He had used rags to form a rough tourniquet, and had broken a pencil tip while trying to write a note.
Further investigation revealed an empty wallet in Davis’ pocket, punctured by the fatal bullet.
Davis had many friends in Speculator, and they began searching for the killer while police worked to develop certain clues. Within a few days, they focused on one suspect: Ernest Duane.
An autopsy had uncovered bits of paper money embedded in the body, revealing that Davis’ wallet had not been empty prior to the shooting. Finding the damaged money would surely lead to the killer. But why would Duane kill a popular local man known to be his friend?
Davis, said to have guided for boxing champion Gene Tunney several months earlier, had done quite well financially. It was public knowledge that he had earned several hundred dollars, and had recently purchased winter provisions in town. Questioning of local merchants yielded critical information: in the past few days, someone else had been shopping. Among the legal tender used for payment was a $10 bill with two neat holes in it. The customer was Ernest Duane.
He was brought in for questioning, and after being confronted with evidence, Duane finally confessed to the crime. He offered a lengthy tale, including the decision to rob the old man, who was deaf. When Duane entered the cabin and saw Davis facing away from the door, he shot him in the back. He then took the old man’s wallet and headed for home. On the way, Duane said, he removed only one bill and then flung the wallet into the woods.
Since the empty wallet had already been found in Davis’ pocket, police knew Duane was lying. (He really didn’t seem to have much of a plan. Why admit the shooting but lie about the robbery?) At any rate, a search crew with rakes went to Whitaker Lake in hopes of finding the missing cash buried beneath new-fallen snow. They found nothing.
The next day, police returned to take evidence photographs of the crime scene—but it was gone! That’s right—the entire crime scene was no more. In one of those great Adirondack mysteries, the remote cabin had burned overnight. Arson by Duane’s sympathizers seemed the only plausible explanation.
A day later, Ernest told police where the money was hidden, admitting he had emptied the wallet and placed it back in the victim’s pocket. In Duane’s woodshed they located a roll of bills, pierced by what appeared to be bullet-holes. Employing a bit of trickery, they told him they hadn’t found the money, so Ernest provided written directions. The successful ruse created physical evidence that might later prove valuable.
Police also discovered that Duane owed $200 in fines for game law violations. With a motive and a confession, they now had what appeared to be an open-and-shut case.
But appearances can be deceiving. Still, Duane would go on trial, though under unusual circumstances. Neither the Hamilton County district attorney nor the county judge were lawyers. That unprecedented situation was addressed by Governor Al Smith, who appointed a special prosecutor and assigned a judge. In the meantime, Duane enjoyed cowboy novels in his cell and visits from his new bride, a 14-year-old that he married only a month before the Davis murder.
The prosecution played a powerful hand in the trial, led by impressive witnesses. Doctors dismissed Duane’s epilepsy as a non-factor, and Leonard Egelston, a police officer, introduced some surprising evidence. Early in the investigation, he had taken photographs inside and outside of the cabin. The apparent arson was, as it turned out, a futile attempt to destroy evidence.
The prosecution also offered Duane’s signed confession, along with the note directing officers to the hidden stash of bills. The note was presented as proof that Duane was sane and clear-headed enough after the murder to hide the stolen money and remember where it was hidden.
The defense focused on proving Duane’s supposed mental abnormalities, which they claimed had been exacerbated by the lonely life of a woodsman who often spent long months alone. It seemed like a weak argument at best, but then came the kicker: Duane’s epilepsy, seized upon by his attorneys in a strategy described as the “dream defense.”
Medical experts and Ernest’s brother, Joe, testified about his condition, bolstering claims that he had committed the crime, but had done so “in a fit of insanity.” Supporting the argument was his dismissal from military service during World War I due to a mental disorder (again, epilepsy).
Contrary to what had been earlier announced, Ernest finally took the stand in his own defense. Despite his detailed confession and the note leading officers to the stolen money, Ernest now claimed a seizure had enveloped him as he entered the clearing near the cabin that day, and it subsequently erased all memories of the next several hours. If he had killed Davis and stolen the money, he had no recollection of having done so. (Forty-five years later, serial killer Robert F. Garrow would make the same claim in the same courtroom for the same crime of murder.)
But there was more to Ernest’s story. Later that night, he suddenly awakened, believing he had shot and robbed Davis. Frantically, Duane jumped out of bed and searched his pockets for money. Finding nothing, he concluded it had been nothing more than a terrible nightmare, and went back to sleep.
In the morning, Ernest went out to cut some firewood. Reaching into his jacket pocket for a match, he instead found a wad of bills. With an earnestness befitting his given name, he told the court, “Then I knew that what I had dreamed was true.” During final summation, his attorney cited “the murder dream which turned out to be reality.”
The jury struggled, and early on, one member promised his vote for acquittal would never change. (So much for an open-and-shut case.) Eventually, they found Duane guilty. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Heffernan was reluctant to pronounce sentence, but he had no choice.
Through a breaking voice, and with tears flowing, he said, “I have but one duty to perform. I have wished it would never come to me, but Mr. Duane, you stand convicted of murder in the first degree, for which the punishment is death.” Seated nearby, the judge’s wife wept openly.
At 3 am, Ernest Duane was removed from his cell and sent off to Sing Sing to await execution. The odd hour was chosen to avoid an expected rescue attempt by Duane’s family and friends.
The defense appealed the verdict, causing an immediate stay of execution. When the appeal was denied, a new trial was sought, but that too was disallowed. Ernest was scheduled to die the week of January 15, 1930. Only one hope remained—commutation by the governor.
Just 24 hours before his execution time, word arrived that Governor Franklin Roosevelt had commuted Duane’s sentence to life in prison. Among other things, the governor felt that a person denied military service due to a mental disorder should not be put to death for that same disorder. When the message was relayed by his keepers, Ernest’s comment was a flippant, “Then I guess I’ll lose my chicken dinner,” the last meal he had requested. He was removed from death watch and assigned to work in the prison shoe factory.
Was it really an out-of-character, spur-of-the-moment decision for Ernest Duane to shoot and rob Davis? Perhaps not, if the “apple-doesn’t-fall-far-from-the-tree” theory holds water. Duane’s father, with a wife and seven children at home, had once pursued and married the 15-year-old daughter of the man with whom he was boarding. That offense netted him five years in Dannemora Prison for bigamy. He later was convicted of game violations.
Ernest had been arrested for drunkenness, game violations, and had married a 14-year-old girl. His character witness and brother, Joseph Duane, had been arrested for car theft and fighting, and he and Ernest had been arrested together for operating a “Disorderly House” (their hotel was used for prostitution).
The Duanes earned plenty of notoriety in their time. With this writing, perhaps Eula (Ulysses) Davis will escape relative anonymity, having suffered a terrible, undeserved fate.
Photo Top: Map of the Speculator-Lake Pleasant-Whitaker Lake area.
Photo Right: L to R: Speculator today remains an outdoor playground.
Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several 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
The Wilmington Historical Society will be hosting a program with historian and author Amy Godine entitled “Have You Seen That Vigilante Man?” to be held on Friday, July 30th at 7 pm at the Wilmington Community Center on Springfield Road in Wilmington.
Night riders, white cappers and vigilante strikes; the darker side of American mob justice was not confined to the Deep South or the Far West. Adirondack history is ablaze with flashes of “frontier justice,” from farmers giving chase to horse thieves to “townie” raids on striking immigrant miners to the anti-Catholic rallies of the KKK. Amy Godine’s anecdotal history of Adirondack vigilantism plumbs a regional legacy with deep, enduring roots, and considers what about the North Country made it fertile and forgiving ground for outlaw activity. » Continue Reading.
In 1958, at the urging of Sheriff Carl McCoy, Warren County’s Board of Supervisors established a marine division within the Sheriff’s department, one of the first local marine patrols in New York State. The supervisors appropriated $5,661 to pay pay the salaries of deputies and to purchase one boat, a 23 foot Lyman utility, for patrolling Lake George.
A photo of that boat being driven by McCoy, reproduced here, will hang on the wall of Warren County’s new Public Safety building, along with other photos documenting the history of the Warren County Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriff Bud York has launched a drive to assemble and display material associated with the Sheriff’s department, which will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2013. “I’ve always belonged to law enforcement agencies that valued their history, and the history of the Warren County Sheriff’s Department deserves to be preserved,” said York.
In 1911, York said, Undersheriff Mac R. Smith compiled photographs of the Sheriffs who had had served during the department’s first century.
“Those photos were hung on the walls of the Sheriffs Office in the court house in Lake George, where they remained until Warren County moved to the new municipal center in Queensbury,” York said.
After that, York said, the photos were stored in boxes. County historian John Austin located them and made them available to the Sheriff’s office, which reproduced them. They now hang in the new Public Safety building.
“Among them are Bert Lamb, a relative of Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover’s wife Kathy, Fred Smith, who founded F.R. Smith and Sons and Carl McCoy, the uncle of Lake George Supervisor Frank McCoy,” York said at a press conference to announce the project earlier this week.
Frank McCoy attended the press conference, as did Bill Carboy, the son of Sheriff Bill Carboy, and former Sheriff Fred Lamy.
Because of the number of relatives of former Sheriffs still living in the area, York hopes that the public can help find photos of Sheriffs who are not represented on the wall.
Those former Sheriffs are: Henry Spencer, Jospeh Teft, Artemus Aldrich, James Thurman, Dudley Farin, James Cameron, Luther Brown, King Allen, Stephen Starbuck, Gideon Towsley, William Clothier, Edgar Baker, Truman Thomas and Robert Lilly.
Anyone with any information about any of these Sheriffs should contact Sheriff York at 743-2518.
I have come to the conclusion over the years that collecting things is a very human trait. I suspect this harkens back to our prehistoric selves, whose days were filled with collecting, be it foodstuffs for later consumption or burnables for the evening’s fire. With the advent of the corner market and central heating, most of us (at least in this country) no longer have “real needs” that are fulfilled by the urge to collect. As a result, we turn our craving for collectibles to other things, which in my case includes books and sand. Collecting objects from the outdoors is therefore a natural habit. Who among us as a child didn’t come home with pockets full of rocks, or pluck a few flowers to present to Mom? Even as adults we eagerly pick up nature’s little treasures when they come our way. Two of the more commonly collected items are feathers and nests. » Continue Reading.
Here is our list of the Adirondack Almanack‘s ten most popular stories of 2009, in descending order.
History of Adirondack Airplane Crashes This year’s tragic death of two in the crash of a Piper Cherokee 140 single engine aircraft en route from Saratoga to Malone spawned this look at the some 30 major plane crashes that have happened in the Adirondacks since 1912. Adirondack danger and disaster stories have always been an Adirondack Almanack reader favorite. I’ve covered thin ice, earthquakes, drownings, bridge collapses, mining, boating, and of course, our 10 Deadliest Accidents in The Adirondack Mountain Region. New Study: Coy-Wolves Evolved To Hunt Local Deer A new study by scientists from the New York State Museum showed how local coyotes have evolved to be bigger and stronger over the last 90 years, both expanding their geographic range and becoming the top predator in the Northeast – by interbreeding with wolves. 2009 was also notable at the Almanack for our addition new natural history contributor Ellen Rathbone. Ellen’s regular looks at our natural world have included how feral cats impact wildlife, the joys of macro wildlife photography, local unique trees like the Black Tupelo; she has stuck up for skunks, pondered porcupines, and even gave three cheers for carrion beetles (“nature’s sanitary engineers”).
Kids Enter Big Tupper Ski Area Fight One of the big stories in the region in 2009 has been the reopening of the Big Tupper Ski Area. Back in March, when reopening the old slopes was still very much tied to a development plan that included 652 high-end home and townhouses, a 60-room hotel, and more, Mary Thill took a look at the movement to enlist kids in the plan to make the development happen. “The project has become a sensitive issue, drawing questions about its scale, financing, tax breaks, new utilities and backcountry building lots,” Mary wrote, “Inside Tupper Lake, there have been shows of political and public support. Some have questioned whether asking kids to wear ski jackets and carry signs shills them into a much larger debate. And to miss a point. Nobody is against skiing.” Indeed, nobody was against skiing, and Tupper Lakers eventually worked diligently, apolitically and successfully to reopen their slopes.
Upper Hudson Rail Trail Planned: North Creek to Tahawus When the Almanack broke the news in October that there were plans afoot to transform the northern end of the Upper Hudson Railroad into a 29-mile multi-use trail from the North Creek Railroad Station to Tahawus, it sparked a great discussion between supporters and critics of the plan the spilled over into a follow-up post by new Almanack contributor Alan Wechsler. “We already have a paved path from North Creek to Newcomb – it’s called State Route 28N,” the first commenter opined. The ensuing debate covered the history of the rail line, the role of the federal government in seizing Forest Preserve land in war time, and the legal questions surrounding its subsequent abandonment.
Adirondack Fall Foliage Seen from Space Sometimes short and simple, fun and interesting, are just the ticket. Our discovery of a NASA satellite photo of the Northern Forest and parts of southeastern Canada taken several years ago at the peak of fall color was hugely popular.
Opinion: Hiking, Drinking and News at Adirondack Papers Mary Thill struck a nerve with local media folks (and even sparked some hate mail) when she questioned the wisdom of two new publications by local newspapers, including the Post-Star‘s leap into the weekly entertainment rag business, what she called a “crayon-font attempt to take ad share away from the excellent but shoestring real community newspaper.” The post inspired a collaboration with the Lake George Mirror‘s publisher and editor Tony Hall. Hall has offered some enlightening insight into the origins of the APA, the question over whether State Senator Ron Stafford was really an environmentalist, and some great expanded coverage of Lake George. The partnership with the Lake George Mirror opened the door for a similar weekly contribution from Adirondack Explorer editor Phil Brown, who has come forward with a return to the Battle of Crane Pond Road, some insight into Clarence Petty, and when it’s alright to call it a day. The jury is still out on the Adirondack Daily Enterprise better-designed hikey new outdoor-recreation publication as a business decision, but the bimonthly, called Embark, is gradually growing a low ad percentage; it appears to be helping keep at least one reporter employed, so we wish it well in 2010.
The Adirondacks: Gateway for Quebec Hydroponic Marijuana Whether a measure of what Adirondackers are really doing behind closed doors, or a testament to our fascination with crime drama, when Mary Thill (clearly the winner of this years “readers’ choice” award!) covered the July story of the largest border drug bust ever, readership went off the charts. “A billion dollars worth of this weed funnels through Clinton, Franklin, and St. Lawrence counties annually, according to Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne,” Mary wrote. “A look at the map is all it takes to see that much of it travels through the Adirondack Park on its way to Albany, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and as far south as Florida.” The news was a fascinating inside look at where some American marijuana comes from, but probably no surprise to those who were following the other big drug story of the year: the discovery of some 800 marijuana plants growing in Essex County.
Lawrence P. Gooley has published another outstanding chronicle of Adirondack history, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow. The book chronicles the story of Garrow, an abused Dannemora child, turned thief, serial rapist and killer who admitted to seven rapes and four murders, although police believed there were many more. Among his victims were campers near Speculator where Garrow escaped a police dragnet and traveled up Route 30 through Indian Lake and Long Lake and eventually made his way to Witherbee where he was tracked down and shot in the foot. Claiming he was partially paralyzed, Garrow sued the State of New York for $10 million for negligence in his medical care. In exchange for dropping the suit, Garrow was moved to a medium security prison. He was shot and killed during a prison escape in September 1978 – he had faked his paralysis. » Continue Reading.
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