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Murder on the Forest Home Road

March 6, 2009

Barry DeFuria left me a message last week wondering if I recalled a murder that happened back in the 1960s. His grandson, Travis, had been to the courthouse at the county seat in Malone, someone there mentioned the murder to the young man, and Travis, being a curious young fellow asked his grandfather about it. Now Barry, being just a young fellow himself, did not recall the murder, so here, for Travis, is the story.

Community in shock

This murder happened 50 years ago; it will be exactly 50 years ago come June 1, 2009 when a 20-year-old punk who, I am sorry to say, will have to go by the name of John Doe, to save any more heartache for his relatives, killed one of the most beloved men in Saranac Lake, 50-year-old Kendrick VanOrman.

Mr. VanOrman was a handsome but small, frail man who I believe had suffered from tuberculosis. He drove cab for one-seven taxi service owned by Ray Brundage, which was located at 55 Main St. The tiny taxi stand was tucked into the corner of the Sears parking lot next to where the Artists Guild is today. The building was later expanded and became Mott Chapin's Pot Shop as in making pottery.

Everyone knew him

Everyone who grew up in Saranac Lake knew Mr. VanOrman because, in addition to the taxi business, Mr. Brundage owned school buses, and Mr. VanOrman for many years drove the Saranac Lake High School athletic teams to away games. He was a kind and gentle man, always smiling, and to meet him once was to love him.

I will get to the exact details of what happened in a minute when I review the clippings of the Enterprise stories furnished to me by Michele Tucker, curator of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free library.

In the meantime, after residents learned who was murdered and who that suspect was that was being held in the Saranac Lake village jail (then in the Harrietstown Town Hall), the entire community was outraged.

This sounds like a Wild West story but the police feared that a crowd might try to grab the suspect from them as they transferred him the next day from the local jail to the Franklin County Jail. I went down to see if anything would happen. An angry crowd had gathered at the top of the driveway, near the Town Hall and a few more at the bottom of the driveway but police had cordoned off the area. Other than a few shouts as the suspect was lead out to the police car, nothing happened.

Just the facts

John Doe was a local guy who later was convicted of the murder, was a heavy drinker at that young age, had been dishonorably discharged from the Navy and also had recently been married. The following are excerpts from various copies of the Enterprise, this first one by my friend, the late Tony Piro:

"One of Saranac Lake's most liked men, Kendrick VanOrman, 50, of 304 Broadway, was beaten and shot to death in cold blood yesterday afternoon about 2:30 by (John Doe), 20, who took VanOrman's taxi and $100.

"(Doe) was arrested at 6:30 yesterday afternoon (June 1, 1959) near the St. Regis Hotel on Broadway and after questioning was arraigned for first degree murder by Justice of the Peace William Mansion. (Doe) waived examination and was remanded to the Franklin County jail in Malone.

"VanOrman, a local taxi driver for 20 years, was hit four times over the head with the butt of a .22 caliber revolver and then shot twice through the back of the head as he lay unconscious, face down. The beating and shooting took place in a wooded area about five miles from Saranac Lake on the Forest Home Road.

"Police Chief William Wallace said that (Doe) and his young wife, Jane, (she was 18) went to the Brundage taxi stand at 55 Main Street at 2:10 p.m. yesterday. They asked to be driven to the trailer home of Mrs. (Doe's) father, which was situated near the McMaster's Road.

"When they arrived the couple went into the trailer and (John Doe) soon came out and told VanOrman he wanted a ride back into Saranac Lake. On the return trip, near a marshy place, (Doe) told police that he asked VanOrman to stop the car because he was sick. (Doe) got out, then pulled VanOrman out of the car and demanded all his money. He told police that he marched VanOrman about 50 yards into the woods, took the man's belt, tied his hands behind he back and while VanOrman begged him not to shoot him, pistol whipped him and shot him twice in the back of the head."

Next week, the trial and conviction.



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