TUPPER LAKE - When they were kids, cousins Donnie and Ricky Skiff would steal off to a corner of their grandmother's house in Tupper Lake whenever Donnie came to visit and listen to the Doobie Brothers and Cheech and Chong on her 8-track player.
Years later, Donnie Skiff, who was born in Saranac Lake but spent most of his life in Pennsylvania, was still into music. He played drums for an '80s-style rock band called Wicked Sins. The band spent two years recording an album and just laid the last tracks in mid-April. Toward the end of April, they were in the midst of remastering the album and planned to move on to finding a distributor.
Skiff lived with his dad, also named Donnie, who grew up in Tupper Lake. He told bandmate Dyer Knight that he was so excited about the album that he wouldn't let his dad listen to it until it was totally finished and remastered.
He never got the chance to share the final product with him.
On Monday, April 27, Donnie Skiff, 34, went missing. Searches conducted over the following weeks turned up first his truck and then his decaying body near Plymouth, Pa. The cause of death is still being investigated, but two men are now in jail on homicide charges and police are alleging that they beat him to death.
Skiff's family, in Tupper Lake and Pennsylvania, are left behind to try to come to terms with the tragedy. They cannot understand how such a violent end could come to such a nice man.
"I think he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Jeff Tokach, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania's first assistant district attorney.
Ricky Skiff, who was very close with Donnie when they were kids, returned to Tupper Lake recently after spending a few days with Donnie's father in Pennsylvania. He said much of the Tupper Lake family was there, and many Pennsylvanians showed up at the services to pay their respects.
The senior Donnie Skiff is far from over it, Ricky Skiff said. The two were close, and while the recent events have brought him some closure, they have also been hard on him.
Ricky Skiff said Donnie was probably one of the nicest people he'd ever met and had his own unique way of living.
"He was his own person; he made no bones about it," said Ricky Skiff. "He never changed himself. Donnie had his own style."
He said Donnie had long hair for as long as he could remember, and for a while it was a family joke to tell him to cut his hair. Then, Skiff said, everyone in the family stopped bothering him about it because they realized that he was never going to chop it off.
And, Skiff said, it was a good thing. That long hair served him well as a drummer for an '80s rock band.
Ricky Skiff never heard Donnie's band but remembers Donnie playing on cousin Chris Skiff's drum set when he came up to visit.
"He was an unbelievable drummer," said Ricky Skiff. "He had a passion for it."
The two weren't as close before Donnie died as they had been when they were young, but Ricky Skiff said that's a part of life.
"It's just what happens when you get older and you develop responsibilities," he said.
Chris Skiff, another of Donnie's cousins and a Tupper Lake police officer, said the Tupper Lake wing of the family has been trying to be supportive while not adding to the stress of the family in Pennsylvania.
"It's tough being away," Chris Skiff said. "We hope that they know we're always thinking about them."
He said he hopes Donnie's killers are punished with at least life in prison. He said prosecutors in Pennsylvania should have enough evidence on which to convict the two men.
"There's no doubt," Skiff said. "They've got everything they need down there. (One of the charged men) led them to the body."
Skiff said he thought it was unfortunate that two people with lengthy criminal records were shown sympathy by getting second chances, while Donnie had all his second chances taken away from him.
"He was a really, really good person," said cousin Chris Skiff. "He would do anything for anyone."
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