Tag Archives: Crime and Justice

Book Features Confederates at Elmira Prison Camp


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Michel Fortlouis, a young Confederate soldier, weary of war, was captured by Union troops at Clinton, Louisiana, thirty miles from his home of New Roads. It was August 1864, in the last year of the Civil War. Corporal Fortlouis was shipped north to the Union Prison Camp at Elmira, New York, where he died of pneumonia within ten days of his arrival. More than 12,000 young Southern men passed through the camp. Many suffered the harsh winter. Nearly 3,000 died.

In their Honor – Soldiers of the Confederacy – The Elmira Prison Camp (2009, New York History Review) remembers these men and boys, and tells their stories. Research by author Diane Janowski, who lives in Elmira, brings an  awareness of the soldiers’ relationships – brothers, fathers and sons, cousins and friends. Descendants of the soldiers have contributed harrowing stories of survival or despair. They were captured together. Some made it home.

“This is a different kind of book about the Elmira Prison Camp,” Janowski says. “Many writers and scholars in recent years have done a fine job researching and publishing information about the prison camp’s horrors. I decided to ask the families of some of the prisoners. With 21st century technology I found some families that were willing to talk about this difficult subject.”

The book is not about war strategy, nor conditions inside the camp, the first 40 pages or so offers personal accounts of how the men and boys ended up in Elmira. The rest of In their Honor’s 218 pages  includes photos and diagrams of the camp and a complete revised list of the Confederate dead at Woodlawn National Cemetery.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

AJ Schenkman: Ulster County Jail Breaks


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The court house in Kingston is one of the many historic buildings in an area commonly referred to as the Stockade District or Uptown Kingston. This court house has stood at the present location in some form for centuries. It is not only linked to the founding of New York State in 1777, but also to Sojourner Truth. It was in this court house that she successfully sued for the return of her son Peter. Continue reading

John Brown Day Planned for May 5th


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Frederick Douglass’ great-great-great grandson Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., will give the keynote address at the annual John Brown Day celebration to be held on Saturday, May 5, at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid, NY. Morris will talk about the friendship and enduring legacy of Douglass and fellow abolitionist John Brown.

The two men first met in Massachusetts in 1848, a decade after Douglass successfully escaped from slavery on a Maryland plantation and eleven years before Brown’s history-changing raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. By the time they met, Douglass had become one of the most eloquent and sought-after champions of freedom and equal suffrage for women and men, regardless of race.

Founder and President of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, Morris will also discuss the Foundation’s work today to create a modern Abolitionist Movement in schools all over the country through the vehicle of Service-Learning.

There are an estimated 27 million men, women and children held in some form of slavery in the world today, generating billions of dollars along the supply chain of labor and products that make much of our daily lives possible.

Joining Morris will be Renan Salgado, a Human Trafficking Specialist based in Rochester, who will shed light in his remarks about slavery and trafficking in New York State today. According to the U.S. State Department, there are approximately 17,500 people trafficked into the U.S. each year. Along with California, Texas, and Florida, New York ranks among the states with the greatest incidence of documented slavery in the country.

Young, award-winning orators from the Frederick Douglass Student Club in Rochester will recite from Douglass’ speeches and excerpts from Brown’s letters. The folk quartet The Wannabees and the hip-hop recording artist S.A.I. will also perform.

John Brown Day revives the tradition dating back to the 1930s of making a pilgrimage to remember and honor Brown by laying a wreath at his grave. Over the last 13 years, the grassroots freedom education project John Brown Lives! has worked to keep that tradition alive and relevant.

John Brown Day 2012 is free and open to the public and it is held outdoors. A brief reception will follow in the lower barn at the site. Donations will be appreciated.

For more information, contact Martha Swan, Executive Director of John Brown Lives! at 518-962-4758 or mswan@capital.net.

Visit the John Brown Lives! Friends of Freedom on Facebook.

Lawrence Gooley Presenting Robert Garrow Lecture


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The next lecture in the Adirondack Museum’s 2012 Cabin Fever Sunday, “Tracking Robert Garrow” with author and New York History contributor Lawrence Gooley, will be held on Sunday, April 15, 2012.

In the summer of 1973, serial killer Robert F. Garrow went on a murderous rampage that changed the Adirondack region forever. However, there was much more to Garrow’s story than the murders. From his unfortunate childhood to escapes from the law, the longest manhunt in Adirondack history, and his manipulation of legal, medical and corrections professionals, hear the full story of Garrow’s life from author Lawrence Gooley. Due to graphic content, this program is suitable for adult audiences.

Lawrence P. Gooley is a proponent of the North Country, a lover of books, and a history enthusiast. He operates Bloated Toe Enterprises, an internet-based business that currently includes Bloated Toe Publishing and The North Country Store. Gooley has also organized a North Country Authors group to help raise the profile of area authors and their works. Gooley’s writings have appeared in various magazines and newspapers. He has contributed to other works, including a recent piece in an annual book series, the Franklin County Review, and has provided editing services for several other titles. He has also authored nine books including Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow.

This program will be held at the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts at Blue Mountain Lake, and will begin at 1:30 p.m. Cabin Fever Sundays are offered at no charge to museum members or children of elementary school age and younger. The fee for non-members is $5.00. For additional information, please call (518) 352-7311, ext. 128 or visit www.adirondackmuseum.org.

Searching for Justice Joseph Crater (Part 2)


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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 weren’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.

A sure sighting was confirmed by three employees of Tupper Lake’s Altamont Hotel. Investigators there pursued the trail to Cranberry Lake. Elsewhere, police spent two days searching every room of every cabin on Saratoga Lake. Later, the Altamont sighting turned out to be a businessman from Buffalo, and the Horicon (Brant Lake) report was proven bogus.

By mid-September, the search had gone nationwide, but most of the top investigators still believed Crater was roaming through the Adirondacks.

Five months after Crater vanished, the plot thickened. Returning to their Fifth Avenue apartment for the first time, Stella found hidden envelopes containing insurance policies, cash, stocks, bonds, uncashed checks, a list of people who owed money to her husband—and a long note, ending with what appeared to be, “I am weary. Love, Joe.”

Police insisted those materials were not present when they searched the apartment months earlier. As the mystery deepened, suspicions and theories abounded. Why would a popular judge simply disappear? Speculation raged as the hunt continued.

It all proved futile—Crater was nowhere to be found, and none of the sightings were positively substantiated. Within a year, the modern equivalent of $4 million had been spent, and leads had been followed in New York City, Maine, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba.

At Crown Point on Lake Champlain, exactly a year after his disappearance, New York City investigators followed up on a report that an unidentified man, now said to be Crater, had died in a fall from the cliff at Big Hollow. Nothing conclusive was ever found.

Like the ubiquitous sightings of Elvis since his death, Crater was everywhere: hunting in the Adirondacks; lounging on the Boardwalk at Atlantic City; a patient in a Virginia sanatorium; prospecting in California; shaved by a barber in North Dakota; and found floating off the coast of New England. Eventually, he was seen in Europe, South America, and in all 50 states.

One caller from Montreal gave the hotel and room number where Crater could be found at that very moment. Authorities in Canada were notified. Rushing to the scene, they burst in to find a thoroughly embarrassed couple on their honeymoon. The prank caller must have been pleased.

Five years after Joseph’s disappearance, an inmate at Dannemora Prison claimed to have knowledge of Crater’s whereabouts, but would share the information only with Stella. She declined, based on the advice of the warden, who said it was nothing more than a scam to seek commutation of the prisoner’s sentence in return for his story.

For insurance purposes, Joseph Crater was declared legally dead in 1939, but the story had legs. The search went on and sightings continued for many decades. Those “I saw Judge Crater!” stories above are rooted among the 16,000 tips received through 1980, half a century after he vanished. He was long referred to as “the Most Missingest Man in New York.”

At the end of his act, Groucho Marx was said to have often commented, “I’m going to step out and look for Judge Crater.” Common for decades as a joke and in graffiti were lines like, “Judge Crater, call your office” and “Paging Judge Crater.” His name made it into the vernacular as well. For decades, the phrase “pulled a Crater” was an everyday expression referring to someone who suddenly disappeared or was being evasive.

His was a complex story with many possible endings: a new life, suicide, a mob hit, and death because of political problems, mistress troubles, or financial dealings. In August 2005, 75 years to the month after Crater disappeared, a new wrinkle surfaced with the death of 91-year-old Stella Ferrucci-Good in New York City.

Among her belongings in a safe-deposit box was a letter marked for opening only after her death. The letter said that over drinks long ago, her husband had heard the names of Crater’s killers. She named them (investigators have followed up with varying results), and said Crater was buried under the Boardwalk, beneath the current site of the New York Aquarium.

Perhaps he sleeps with the fishes after all.

Photos: Judge Joseph Force Crater; Dapper Judge Crater was always dressed to the nines.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

The Search for NY Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater


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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 to Maine for her birthday, August 9. Within days, she sent her chauffeur to New York to look for Crater, but he only found assurances from others 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 remained 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 known that Crater 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 New York City 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.

Next week, the conclusion: Like Elvis, Judge Crater is everywhere!

Photos: Judge Crater reward poster (the $5000 is equal to $65,000 in 2012); Judge Crater and wife Stella on the last day they were together, August 3, 1930.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

William Kennedy’s Prohibition Story:
An Interview with Exec Producer Dan Swinton


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The passage of the Volstead Act and prohibition against intoxicating liquor caused a profound change in American culture by breaking the traditional mold of heroes and anti-heroes. Popular media has romanticized the anti-hero “gangster” role, and some of the greatest actors of the movie-making era have portrayed names like Al Capone, “Bugs” Moran, “Bugsy” Siegal and “Machine Gun” Kelly on the silver screen. In many instances, thugs, authorities and officials become the puppets of the crime boss, or the authorities become as violent as the criminals do.
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Lawrence Gooley: The ‘Spanish Swindle’ Revisited


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Many of us have received e-mail scams from fake sources (bogus relatives, supposed political prisoners) promising great financial reward if we agree to help them recover a secreted fortune. I’ve received them from Ghana and Germany, and even one from the country of West Africa. Never heard of it? I can assure you it’s real—in 2008, world traveler Paris Hilton said “I love Africa in general. South Africa and West Africa, they are both great countries.”

The senders of these messages range from detained relatives and imprisoned citizens to dethroned kings, urgently seeking help. Most people think it’s “an Internet thing,” but the only thing new about it is the manner of delivery.

That particular scam has been around for more than a century. Known as the Spanish Swindle, it is believed to have originated in Spain’s infamous prisons during the late-nineteenth century. Inmates with far too much time on their hands took advantage of a corrupt system, developing many criminal strategies and exercising them to great effect.

The original Spanish Swindle hasn’t changed much, except that it was often a two-step process. The first was to hook the sucker with a plea for empathy and the promise of great wealth. When a nibble was received, the ante was raised with an urgent plea to help rescue the prisoner’s poor, innocent daughter from the clutches of some tyrant or lecher.

Just as is done with e-mail today, hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of such messages were sent at the same time by mail. In the Adirondacks, a few hotel owners were among those who received the letters, their addresses having been obtained from newspaper advertisements. The plea was appropriately modified— in the hopes of gaining sympathy, the sender claimed to have once been a hotel owner himself.

None of those in the Adirondacks who received the message were fooled by the scam attempt, but elsewhere, pharmacists, doctors, and others were victimized, much to their embarrassment. The Spanish Swindle became so successful that, in 1912, the US Official Postal Guide began including a complete description of the process in order to alert employees.

That’s not to say North Country folks are immune to trickery. All types of swindles have been attempted in the region, many of them successfully. A number of scams from long ago focused on obtaining a person’s signature. A sort of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) then took over: if your name was on a document, you were bound by its clauses. Even if a signature was obtained fraudulently, victims often paid to avoid court time and public embarrassment.

In 1888, teams of encyclopedia salesmen made the rounds in Franklin County, targeting schoolteachers. The first salesman gave his best pitch for a great new line of books, innocently asking the teacher to sign his log book to record the visit. A few days later, a second man delivered a full set of books, demanding payment from the surprised teacher, whose signed order was offered as proof of sale. (Sleight of hand and “bait and switch” were routine components of scams. Papers were subtly arranged to obtain signatures on documents hidden beneath.)

Sleight of hand was sometimes replaced by the latest technology. In 1889, swindlers focused on the devoutly religious, of which the North Country had many. An attractive female pleaded for donations of ten cents to aid overseas missionary work. Donors, asked to sign a sheet, were all too happy to have their names displayed on the list of generous givers.

But vanity came with a price. Beneath the sheet was “an ingenious copying paper which transcribed the name onto a promissory note.” In those days, a promissory note was as good as a check or a banknote. The notes were quickly cashed and the scammers moved on.

Photo: 1951 North Country headline noting the return of the Spanish Swindle.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

The Hulett Hotel Fire on Lake George


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The rise of local and specialist history publishers such as Arcadia and History Press has been a boon to local history and an opportunity part-time writers and historians to have their work published outside the vanity press. One of those part-timers is George Kapusinski, long time denizen of Huletts Landing on Lake George and publisher of The Huletts Current blog. His second effort for History Press (his previous work Huletts Landing on Lake George was published by Arcadia) has just been published, and it’s a fascinating and well-written account of the devastating fire at the Hulett Hotel 1915. Even more revealing is the well-researched tale of the trial held in the aftermath of the fire.

Broken into 12 chapters, which include short, readable and informative sub-chapters, The Hulett Hotel Fire on Lake George (History Press, 2012) features a set of unique photos of the events surrounding the fire and the fire’s aftermath, only recently discovered taped to the back of an Abe Lincoln lithograph. But this is more than the tale of the fire and the rebuilt hotel’s preeminence among early 20th century Lake George resorts. After the hotel was rebuilt, a mysterious figure claimed that the hotel’s owner, William H. Wyatt, had paid him to start the fire. Kapusinski investigates the resultant arson trial in detail, including the burning of Wyatt’s former Glenwood Hotel just three years earlier at Lake Bomoseen.

In a wide ranging narrative, Kapusinski takes us into the time period, explores the places (including Wyatt’s Trojan Hotel in Troy where he was arrested), and explores the motives and character of the those involved. A great read.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Dannemora: Love So Strong, It’s Criminal


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Ah, Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. Chocolates, flowers, and special cards are a must. Maybe a family meal, or perhaps a romantic dinner for two. Jewelry? Diamonds? The sky’s the limit when it comes to making your sweetheart happy and showing true dedication. But it’s all pretty amateurish compared to real commitment. Which brings us to Fred Roderick and Agnes Austin. Their love is one for the history books.

Here’s the story as described in 1883 in a couple of newspapers. Without hard facts, I can’t account for all the details, but you have to admire the sense of purpose, focus, and ingenuity this couple used to achieve togetherness.

At Sageville (now Lake Pleasant, a few miles southeast of Speculator), Fred Roderick, about 25 years old, had been jailed for stealing a pair of horses, which had since been returned. In those days, a convicted horse thief could expect to do time in prison. Next to murder, it was one of the most serious crimes—horses were a key component to survival in the North Country.

In rural Hamilton County, it was no simple task to organize a trial, so for several months the county jail served as Roderick’s home. It was lonely at times, but he wasn’t entirely without company. Every Sunday, the local Methodist pastor brought a dozen or so members of his congregation to the jail, where they sang songs and held a prayer meeting.

For a couple of years, young Agnes Austin was among the church goers who participated. Shortly after Roderick’s incarceration, parish members noticed that, instead of lending her voice to the choir at all times, she seemed to have taken a personal interest in Fred’s salvation.

Soon Agnes gained special permission from the sheriff for weekday visits which, she assured him, would lead Roderick down the straight and narrow. But it seemed to work in the reverse. Agnes began showing up at the jail less often on Sundays and more frequently during the week. Imagine the whispers among her church brethren. Their pretty little friend was consorting with a criminal!

Or maybe her missionary efforts were sincere after all. Fred Roderick finally came forward and accepted religious salvation, owing it all, he said, to young Agnes. People being as they are, tongues wagged more frantically than ever about the supposed scandalous goings-on. Mr. Austin forbade (what was he thinking?) Agnes from making any more jail visits. Taking it one step further, he spoke to the sheriff, hoping to kill a tryst in the making.

It wasn’t long after that Agnes disappeared. With her supposed lover lingering hopelessly in jail, why would she run away? Well, as it turns out, she didn’t. Agnes and Fred had made plans. She was told to hide out at his father’s camp, where he would join her after his escape. (Country jails were often loosely kept, and escapes were common.)

After waiting more than a week for her sweetheart, Agnes took matters into her own hands, which led to a sight that shocked the residents of Sageville. A constable rode into town, and behind him trailed Aggie Austin. The charge? Horse theft. In broad daylight, she had taken not just any horse, but one of the very same horses Fred had stolen!

Because she was female, and because she made no effort to run when pursued, bail was set at $600—which Agnes immediately refused. To the puzzled bondsman and the sheriff, she explained: if Fred couldn’t be with her, then she would be with Fred. To that end, she had left the camp, stolen a horse, made sure she was caught, and now refused to be bailed out of jail.

It gets better. The next morning, Fred informed the sheriff that he wished to marry Miss Austin, and Agnes confirmed the same. Papa Austin most certainly would have objected, but Agnes was 19, of legal age to make her own choice. And that choice was Fred.

The judge was summoned, and the sheriff and his deputies stood witness to the joining. The district attorney weighed in as well, contributing what he could to the couple’s happiness.

Though separate trials were required, he promised to “bring both cases before the same term of court, and thus allow the pair to make their bridal journey together to their future mountain home at Clinton Prison.”

Now THAT’s commitment.

Photo: Clinton Prison at Dannemora, notorious North Country honeymoon site.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Black History Symposium to Examine Prison State


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The City College of New York Black Studies Program presents a symposium, “Confronting the Carceral State II: Activists, Scholars and the Exonerated Speak,” 1 – 7 p.m. Tuesday, February 14, in The Great Hall of Shepard Hall, 160 Convent Ave., New York City. The event, consisting of two panels of activists and scholars plus a book signing, is free and open to the public.

The symposium builds upon the work begun by “Confronting the Carceral State: Policing and Punishment in Modern U.S. History,” a symposium held in March 2010 at Rutgers University. “At that conference,” a press statement from the organizers said, “it was made abundantly clear that the mass incarceration of the poor and people of color was an issue that demanded not only study but action.”

“Confronting the Carceral State II” is intended to inform and inspire study and action. All are welcome to join the audience and engage the panelists and each other in the discussion. The event program follows:

1 – 2 p.m. Reception and book signing for participating authors.

2 – 4 p.m. Panel One: Historical Perspectives:

Dr. Yohuru R. Williams, associate professor of African-American history, Fairfield University, moderator: “I Am Troy Davis: The Execution Narrative and the Politics of Race in 21st Century America.”

Dr. Donna Murch, associate professor of history, Rutgers University: “Towards a Social History of Crack: Drugs and Youth Culture in the Age of Reagan.”

Dr. Heather Thompson, associate professor of history, Temple University: “Ending Today’s Carceral Crisis: Lessons From History.”

Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: “Occupied Blackness: Urban Policing and the Inevitability of Stop and Frisk.”

4 – 6 p.m. Panel Two: Activists and the Exonerated Speak:

Dr. Johanna Fernandez, assistant professor of Black and Hispanic Studies, Baruch College, moderator: “The New Phase in the Struggle to Release Mumia.”

Javier Cardona, arts & education director, Rehabilitation Through The Arts: “Doing Hope: Applying the Arts to Rehearse and Re-Create Life Within And Outside Prison.”

Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, professor of geography, CUNY Graduate Center: “The Popular Front Against Mass Incarceration: Movement, Perils, Prospects.”

King Downing, program analyst, American Friends Service Committee: “Doing Justice Work.”

Felix A. Navarro, Jr., Leaders Against Systemic Injustice (LASI), City College Student Organization: “Opening The Eyes Of The Youth.”

Vanessa Potkin, senior staff attorney, The Innocence Project: “Addressing Wrongful Convictions.”

Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, “Exonerees From The Central Park Jogger’s Case.”

6 – 7 p.m. Reception and book signing for participants.

For more information, contact Professor Venus Green, 212-650-8656, vgreen@ccny.cuny.edu. To RSVP, please call 212-650-8117.

Photo: The Vernon C. Bain prison barge operated by the City of New York. This medium and maximum security prison facility houses 800 prisoners. It was built in 1992 at a cost of $161 Million. Courtesy Travels of Tug 44.

Boonville’s Jesse Knight, Wyoming Pioneer Judge


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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, while running a successful law practice, he 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.

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.

His 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 Parrott 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.

Photos―Top, Jesse Knight; Middle right, Big Nose George Parrott; Middle left, Shoes of George Parrott … literally; Bottom, Robert LeRoy Parker, aka Butch Cassidy.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck’s Tory Son Cornelius?


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Governor George Clinton of New York sat down at his desk, in January 1781, to read a painful letter from Judge Robert Yates. The letter concerned the son of a now deceased acquaintance, Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck. It involved his oldest son, Cornelius Hasbrouck, who as Clinton read the letter, sat in a Kingston jail tried, convicted, and branded for stealing “sundry oxen and goods and chattels of the United States of America”. Continue reading

Books: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America


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The name Aaron Burr instantly calls to mind one event: his duel with Alexander Hamilton, in which the latter, one of the darlings of American politics, was slain. But there was so much more to Burr, one of the most fascinating characters in American history, now revealed in American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America (Simon & Schuster, 2011) by DC-based historian David O. Stewart.

At one time or another, Burr was considered a man of great integrity, a shoo-in for the presidency, a murderer, and a traitor. Yet the most outrageous story about Burr is known to few and understood by fewer still. As he neared the end of his vice-presidential term in 1804, he began an extraordinary scheme to create his own personal empire in North America.

For generations, historians and writers have scratched their heads over what Aaron Burr was up to when he traveled west in 1805, leaving the vice presidency while under indictment in two states for the murder of Hamilton. Did Burr mean to foment secession of America’s West? Insurrection in New Orleans? An invasion of Mexico and Spanish Florida? Or simply to lead a settlement of Louisiana lands? In American Emperor, Stewart tells this astonishing part of Burr’s story, tracing his descent from made man to political pariah to imperialist adventurer.

The same passion for history that led the New York Times to print a glowing review of Stewart’s first book, The Summer of 1787, about the writing of the Constitution, can be found in his new account that combines history with an arresting adventure story.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Lecture: Famous Murder Case at the Adk Museum


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The first program of the Adirondack Museum’s 2012 Cabin Fever Sunday series, “Chester Gillette: The Adirondacks’ Most Famous Murder Case” will be held on Sunday, January 15, 2012.

It’s the stuff movies are made of- a secret relationship, a pregnancy and a murder. Over a century after it happened in Big Moose Lake, Herkimer County, the Chester Gillette murder case of 1906 is the murder that will never die. The murder of Grace Brown and the case following was the subject of Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 book An American Tragedy, and the Hollywood movie A Place in the Sun.

The story continues to be told today with a 1999 Opera at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and in a 2011 documentary North Woods Elegy. Author Craig Brandon, considered among the world’s foremost experts on the case, and author of Murder in the Adirondacks, will present and lead a discussion.

Craig Brandon is a national award-winning author of six books of popular history and public affairs and a former award-winning reporter.

Held in the Auditorium, the program will begin at 1:30 p.m. Cabin Fever Sundays are offered at no charge to museum members or children of elementary school age and younger. The fee for non-members is $5.00. The Museum Store and Visitor Center will be open from noon to 4 p.m. For additional information, please call (518) 352-7311, ext. 128 or visit
www.adirondackmuseum.org.

New Book on Convicts in Colonial America


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Independent scholar Anthony Vaver’s blog Early American Crime has staked-out some substantial ground with what he calls “an exploration of the social and cultural history of crime and punishment in colonial America and the early United States.” Now Vaver has an outstanding volume to accompany his work on the web, Bound with an Iron Chain: The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America (Pickpocket Publishing, 2011).

Most people know that England shipped thousands of convicts to Australia, but few are aware that colonial America was the original destination for Britain’s unwanted criminals. In the 18th century, thousands of British convicts were separated from their families, chained together in the hold of a ship, and carried off to America, sometimes for the theft of a mere handkerchief.

What happened to these convicts once they arrived in America? Did they prosper in an environment of unlimited opportunity, or were they ostracized by the other colonists? Anthony Vaver, who has a Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, tells the stories of the petty thieves and professional criminals who were punished by being sent across the ocean to work on plantations. In bringing to life this forgotten chapter in American history, he challenges the way we think about immigration to early America.

The book also includes an index and an appendix with helpful tips for researching individual convicts who were transported to America.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

New Book: Sport of Kings, Kings of Crime


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A new book, The Sport of Kings and the Kings of Crime: Horse Racing, Politics, and Organized Crime in New York, 1865-1913 by Steven A. Riess, fills a long-neglected gap in sports history, offering a richly detailed and fascinating chronicle of thoroughbred racing’s heyday and its connections with politics and organized crime.

Thoroughbred racing was one of the first major sports in early America. Horse racing thrived because it was a high-status sport that attracted the interest of both old and new money. It grew because spectators enjoyed the pageantry, the exciting races, and, most of all, the gambling.

As the sport became a national industry, the New York metropolitan area, along with the resort towns of Saratoga Springs (New York) and Long Branch (New Jersey), remained at the center of horse racing with the most outstanding race courses, the largest purses, and the finest thoroughbreds.

Riess narrates the history of horse racing, detailing how and why New York became the national capital of the sport from the mid-1860s until the early twentieth century. The sport’s survival depended upon the racetrack being the nexus between politicians and organized crime.

The powerful alliance between urban machine politics and track owners enabled racing in New York to flourish. Gambling, the heart of racing’s appeal, made the sport morally suspect. Yet democratic politicians protected the sport, helping to establish the State Racing Commission, the first state agency to regulate sport in the United States.

At the same time, racetracks became a key connection between the underworld and Tammany Hall, enabling illegal poolrooms and off-course bookies to operate. Organized crime worked in close cooperation with machine politicians and local police officers to protect these illegal operations.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Alcatraz Island Exhibit at Ellis Island Museum


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Every year only 1.5 million people can visit Alcatraz Island, but the demand to see the historical landmark is twice that. New Yorkers now have the chance to see what “The Rock” was like with the opening of Alcatraz: Life on The Rock, a traveling exhibit that tells the legendary story of Alcatraz Island, at the Liberty National Monument’s Ellis Island Museum of Immigration. The 2,800 square-foot modular exhibit of artifacts and interactive displays runs until Jan. 12, 2012 on the third floor of the Grand Hall.

Created by Alcatraz Cruises in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS), the 2,800 square-foot modular exhibit features authentic artifacts and recreated areas of the prison. Visitors enter the exhibit through a Civil War Sally Port to a touchable model of the island and can then explore four eras of the island’s history: “Preserving the Rock,” “Strength: The Native American Occupation,” “Life on the Inside,” and “Military History.” Murals, video clips and memorabilia help bring to life other historical elements of the island such as its role as a military prison, the Native American occupation of 1969–71, Alcatraz’s depiction in pop culture and the island’s lush flora and fauna. Visitors can also get an inside look at the infamous federal prison, operated from 1934–1963.

Guests can visually experience life inside the prison by looking through a mock tunnel, similar to the one dug by prisoners attempting escape, and by searching for Civil War era etchings in a recreated prison wall. The exhibit features several rare, authentic artifacts, including an original letter written by Robert “Birdman” Stroud, a blood-smeared baseball from the Alcatraz exercise yard, a butter knife turned weapon and a cookbook that the Alcatraz Women’s Club sold to families on the island.

Admission is included with all Statue Cruises tickets to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and is only accessible by ferry during operating hours.

To purchase tickets, visit www.statuecruises.com. Museums interested in booking the Alcatraz: Life on the Rock exhibit can learn more by calling Denise Rasmussen at (415) 438-8320.

Lawrence Gooley: Lincoln’s Avengers


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There is a historical connection between a group of North Country men and the Abraham Lincoln story. On the downside, the men in question are linked to a dark subject, the aftermath of Lincoln’s death. On the upside, they played a positive role in the hunt for the president’s assassin. With admiration, they have been referred to as Lincoln’s Avengers.

Several men from Clinton, Essex, St. Lawrence, and Warren counties belonged to the Sixteenth New York Cavalry. Shortly after Lincoln’s death, the troop was among the military escort at the president’s funeral. An honor, surely, but not the event that would bring them a measure of fame.

In the days following the assassination, multiple search missions were conducted in Washington and elsewhere in the hopes of finding John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices. After several false alarms, important new information was uncovered, requiring a swift response.

On April 24, five days after Lincoln’s funeral, headquarters in Washington ordered Lieutenant Edward Doherty to gather 25 men of the Sixteenth New York Cavalry and report to Colonel L. C. (Lafayette) Baker, Special Agent for the War Department. Among those to step forward and answer the call were ten men from the Adirondack region.

Doherty met with his captain and later reported: “He informed me that he had reliable information that the assassin Booth and his accomplice were somewhere between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. He gave me several photographs of Booth and introduced me to Mr. Conger and Mr. Baker, and said they would accompany me.

“He directed me to scour the section of the country indicated thoroughly, to make my own disposition of the men in my command, and to forage upon the country, giving receipts for what was taken from loyal parties.” In other words, move now. There was no time to prepare. Food and other needs would have to be secured from sympathetic US citizens, who would later be reimbursed.

For two days the troop pursued leads almost without pause, finally ending up at the now infamous Garrett farm in Caroline County, Virginia. Inside the barn was perhaps the most wanted man in American history, Booth, and one of his conspirators, David Herold.

The men of the Sixteenth surrounded the barn while negotiations and threats were passed back and forth between Booth and Lieutenant Doherty. Booth refused to leave the barn despite warnings he would be burned out. He even offered to shoot it out with Doherty’s men if they would pull back a certain distance from the barn.

Realizing he faced almost certain death, David Herold decided to surrender. After leaving the barn, he was tied to a tree and questioned. He verified for Doherty that it was indeed Booth inside the barn. The original plan, he said, was to kidnap Lincoln, but Booth instead killed him, and then threatened to do the same to Herold if he didn’t help Booth escape.

Doherty again turned his attention to the barn and its lone desperate occupant, who refused to come out. Finally, Everton Conger, one of Lafayette Baker’s detectives who accompanied the troops, set fire to the barn around 3 am. The idea was to force their quarry out, but things didn’t go as planned.

Due to the rapidly spreading blaze, Booth could be seen moving about inside the barn, and one of the men, Boston Corbett, decided to act. Claiming he could see that Booth was about to shoot at Doherty, Corbett fired. His shot hit Booth in the neck, coincidentally only an inch or two from where Booth’s own bullet had struck Lincoln.

Their captive was dragged from the barn, still alive, but he died about three hours later. Shortly after, his body and the prisoner, Herold, were taken to Washington. The most famous manhunt in American history was over.

Within several months, the men of the Sixteenth were discharged, carrying with them the pride (and the attending glory) for delivering what many felt was justice. Most of them returned to humble lives, sharing their story with family and friends over the years.

Six of the ten North Country men who participated lived at one time or another in the Saranac area. They had connections to many regional communities, having been born, lived in, or died in: Bangor, Beekmantown, Brushton, Cadyville, Chester (Chestertown), Elizabethtown, Minerva, Norfolk, Olmstedville, Plattsburgh, and Schuyler Falls.

As often happens, the spelling of names varies widely in census records, military records, and newspapers. This admired group of North Country heroes included: David Baker, William Byrne, Godfrey Phillip Hoyt, Martin Kelly, Oliver Lonkey (or Lompay), Franklin McDaniels (or Frank McDonald), John Millington, Emory Parady, Lewis Savage, and Abram Snay (Abraham, Senay, Genay).

In 1865, Congress voted reward money to those involved in the capture of many individuals. Among those so honored were the men of the Sixteenth New York Cavalry, the envy of all others for killing the man who himself had murdered a legend.

Photo Top: Actor and assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Photo Middle: Conspirators at the ends of their ropes. Hanging, from left to right: Mary Surratt, David Herold, Lewis Powell, and George Atzerodt at Washington, DC, on July 7, 1865.

Photo Bottom: Congressional award list for Lincoln’s Avengers. The North Country men received the modern equivalent of $28,000 each.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Young Al Capone: Scarface in New York


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Many people are familiar with the story of Al Capone, the “untouchable” Chicago gangster best known for orchestrating the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. But few are aware that Capone’s remarkable story began in the Navy Yard section of Brooklyn. Tutored by the likes of infamous mobsters Johnny Torrio and Frankie Yale, young Capone’s disquieting demeanor, combined with the “technical advice” he learned from these insidious pedagogues, contributed to the molding of a brutal criminal whose pseudonym, “Scarface,” evoked fascination throughout the world.

Despite the best efforts of previous biographers lacking true insider access, details about Capone’s early years have generally remained shrouded in mystery. Now through family connections the authors of Young Al Capone: The Untold Story of Scarface in New York, 1899-1925, William and John Balsamo, were able to access Capone’s known living associates. Collecting information through these interviews and rare documents, the life of young Al Capone in New York comes into greater focus.

Among the revelations in Young Al Capone are new details about the brutal Halloween Night murder of rival gangster “Wild Bill” Lovett, grisly details on how Capone and his Black Hand crew cleverly planned the shootout and barbaric hatchet slaying of White Hand boss, Richard “Peg Leg” Lonergan, insight into the dramatic incident that forced Capone to leave New York, and more.

Bill Balsamo, considered by some to be one of the premier Capone historians, has invested more than twenty-five years in researching and writing this book. He is the author of Crime, Inc. (now in its fifth printing). John Balsamo worked on the Brooklyn waterfront for more than thirty years while compiling extensive material regarding the life of young Capone.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.