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Murder on the Forest Home Road, part 2

March 14, 2009

A recap of last week's column:

A 20-year-old Saranac Lake man was arrested June 1, 1959 and charged with the first degree murder of 50-year-old Kendrick VanOrman, a beloved Saranac Lake taxi and school bus driver. According to Enterprise stories at the time, the site where the body was found was about 5 miles from Saranac Lake on the Forest Home Road and about 150 feet back in the woods in what was known as the "Five Hills" section.

(The killer's name will not be used. He was a 20-year old when the crime was committedhe was married the previous July, 1958 and a daughter was born to the couple on July 27, 1959, 57 days after he killed Mr. VanOrman.)

Convicted and retried

John Doe, 20, of Saranac Lake plead guilty to second degree murder on Sept. 29, 1960 and was sentenced to 50 years to life after the plea was accepted by Supreme Court Justice Michael Sweeney of Saratoga Springs who was called in to preside.

Bear with me here because I am piecing this together from many Enterprise stories. Apparently, Justice Andrew Ryan had died after (Doe) was first convicted as you will read in this Enterprise story published on the front on Friday, Sept. 30, 1960:

"The late Justice Andrew Ryan of Plattsburgh on January 23 (1960) sentenced Doe to die in the electric chair. The prisoner was taken to Death Row in the Sing Sing Prison to await execution. As in all such cases the State Court of Appeals made an automatic review of the case and reordered a new trial as it sharply criticized the admission of Doe's original confession into evidence.

"Following the order for re-trial, Doe was returned to the Franklin County jail in Malone. Then on Aug. 12, he was one of five prisoners to break out of jail by assaulting a turnkey, and stealing his car."

Of the other four (all names were used in the original story) there was a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old from Saranac Lake, and two teenagers, one fromm Malone and the other Burke. Following a manhunt which covered most of the North County and southern Canada they were captured in Huntingdon, Quebec.

DA Henry Fischer

According to the Enterprise at the time: "The motion to accept the plea was made by District Attorney Henry Fischer of Malone who had prosecuted the original case. The DA told Justice Sweeney that any jury in a new trial would be reluctant to impose a death sentence in view of the fact that the defendant's original statement could not be introduced into evidence.

Again, from news clippings, its seems that Doe's original testimony was not allowed into evidence because it was brought out at the trial that after finding the body and Doe was brought to the BCI office in Ray Brook there was no attorney or member of Doe's family present and that Doe was never advised of his rights to counsel until 4:30 a.m. the next morning, June 2.

(Again, the so-called "Miranda Rights", which reads in part, you have a right to remain silent, you have a right to an attorney, etc., which the police are required to read to a suspect before he gives any statement was not mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court until 1966.)

The DA continued: "Fischer asked that the reduced plea be accepted and that Doe be given the maximum sentence under the law to make certain that if he ever walked the streets again, he would be 'an old man when he does so' "

The sentencing

After the sentencing was read Justice Sweeney asked Doe if he had anything to say and he answered, "no". Then here is what the Enterprise had to say:

"Doe, who was clad in a white shirt and gray trousers, seemed emotionally unaffected by the sentencing. After a brief talk with his wife he was taken from the Franklin County courthouse to the jail and then at 5:45 p.m. was taken from the jail in the company of Sheriff William Girard and two State Troopers and began his trip to the prison at Dannemora."

According to the Department of Corrections Web site,

Mr. VanOrman's killer, John Doe, was released from prison, July 27, 1983 (his daughter's birthday, 7/27/59) serving 23 years after having been sentenced to a prison term of 50 years to life. He would have been 44 years old when he was released and today age 70.

Other newspaper quotes

Patrolman Neil Rogers of the Saranac Lake Police Department testified at the trial. Neil was a big, soft-spoken guy and also well-known as a bobsledder. He was on a 4-team with Jerry Morgan, Dew's brother and Neil's brother-in-law (married to Nancy Rogers).

"Under cross-examination by DA Henry Fischer, Rogers told the dramatic story of finding VanOrman's body. Sgt. William P. Miller of the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, one of the party, suddenly cried out, according to Rogers, 'I have found him.' Doe (who was at the scene with his wife), then asked, 'How is he?' Miller said, 'He's dead.' And again according to Rogers, "Doe's exclamation was, "Oh, my God!' And, according to Rogers, Doe then started to sob, Mrs. Doe was nearby, and the couple sat on the ground and embraced each other."

His family

Mr. VanOrman was survived by his wife, Barbara Durgan VanOrman and by two sons, Kendrick Jr., of Sacketts Harbor (a former basketball star at Saranac Lake High School) and Leon who was in the Army stationed in Washington, D.C. and by two grandchildren.

Here, in this letter sent to me by my friend Sandy Hayes, is a great, personal tribute to Mr. VanOrman about that terrible day in 1959:

March 7, 2009

Dear Howard:

I read, with interest, but also many sad memories, your story of Ken (Van) VanOrman's death on June 1, 2009.

Van was the bus driver for the Bloomingdale kids who went to school in Saranac Lake and, for five years, I sat in the front row seat across from him and had the daily job of taking attendance every morning for him. I had to count everyone on the bus and give him a list of who was present and who was missing for some records he must have been required to keep for Ray Brundage, his boss.

I can still vividly remember that fateful day, when he didn't come to school to pick us up to take us back to Bloomingdale. After we had waited about a half hour, Ray drove the bus up to Petrova to pick us up and said Van had taken a passenger in his taxi and had not come back in time to get the bus and he, Ray, didn't know where he was.

We didn't think anything of it and rode home with Ray. The next morning, all of our parents had to tell us what had happened to Van and you can imagine how hard it was for all of us to get on that bus that day. Because it was the last month of school that year, we probably only rode the bus about another 12 or 15 days, but it was a very sad ending to our school year. Every year, on the last day of school, Ray Brundage, who had 5 or 6 busses, had his drivers take all of us out to Fish Creek for a picnic and he did the same that year, but for the Bloomingdale kids, it was a bittersweet ending to our school year without our beloved bus driver and friend, Van.

I have forgotten the name of John Doe, but would remember it if I ever heard it again. I think his mother maybe owned the Alpine Hotel. I think he went to Dannemora prison and the one thing I do remember is, shortly after he was released from prison, he walked into a local Saranac Lake bar and I immediately knew who he was and it was all I could do to control myself and get out of the building before I did something that would have probably put me in jail.

These memories certainly are not good ones to remember, but when you can remember such a wonderful man after 50 years, the pleasure outweighs the sadness of that terrible day. Thank you for keeping Van's memory alive.

On March 22, 2008, you wrote an article about Tim Howard, who was the Major at Troop B for a while and Gary Kubasiak, a former local State Trooper who moved back home to Gowanda and was murdered by James Swan on August 30, 1982. I was going to write to you then, but said "the hell with it" and never did.

Gary was a very good friend of mine. In fact, he had a salesman's license in my office when he was stationed here. He couldn't sell honey to a hungry bear, but wanted a license, so I helped him get one and he kept it in my office until he moved to Gowanda. I was with Gary for two days until the day he died. I stayed at his house whenever I went to Buffalo to visit my son who was going to college out there. He went to work that morning and I left to come home, only to wake up the next morning to hear he had been killed. It is a very long and interesting story, but I immediately returned to Gowanda and was honored to be able to stand in the State Police detail next to Governor Carey, as the only two civilians in line, at the funeral.

That is where I met Tim Howard and brought him and his family back to Upper Saranac Lake to stay at a place I was developing, called Saranac Pines, formerly Bungalow Bay, near the Wawbeek. I don't want to put all the details in writing, but one day, I will tell you "the rest of the story" about Tim Howard, Gary Kubasiak and the funeral.

Your friend, Sandy



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