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Two women murdered in Saranac Lake

September 10, 2011
By HOWARD RILEY ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Allen Mooney died in the electric chair at Clinton Prison in Dannemora on Tuesday, May 4, 1904, for the murders of Ellen Thomas and Viola Middleton of Saranac Lake.

The two women were shot to death at a home in Saranac Lake (in the newspaper clippings, no street address was given) on Election Day, Nov. 4, 1902.

The writing style and the details reported in stories more than 100 years ago were different. A number of area newspapers had covered the murders and the ensuing trial, so the following pieces are excerpts from those stories.

The Adirondack News - St. Regis Falls, Saturday, November 8, 1902: "Saranac Lake was the scene of a disgraceful shooting affair last Tuesday evening. A young man, 25 years old, by the name of Allen Mooney, while intoxicated and in a jealous rage, entered the home of Fred McClellan and opened fire upon Mr. McClellan and Viola Middleton who were sitting on a bed. Allen fired two shots at each of them. The first shot struck McClellan in the breast and glanced off, producing a painful but not serious wound. Two shots struck Viola Middleton, one in the chest and the other in the abdomen, and it is expected she will die. (She died three days later.)

"Mooney then went to the room occupied by Charles Merrill and Ethel Fayette, (the early newspaper reports wrongly identified Ellen Fayette Thomas as Ethel Fayette) of whom it appears he was very jealous. The room was in darkness but he fired toward the bed. The ball struck the woman just below the heart, and she died an hour later.

"As the murderer was attempting to pass through the hall to make his escape he was captured by Merrill and held until a policeman arrived."

The Malone Farmer - Wednesday, May 27, 1903 (After the jury was selected, District Attorney Gordon H. Main outlined the people's case against Mooney, with slightly different details than the earlier newspaper reports):

"The prosecution showed that Mooney was enamored over Ellen Thomas and became jealous of one Charles Merrill, his nephew; that on election day, last fall, the defendant went to the house of Fred McClellan in Saranac Lake, where McClellan, a woman by the name of Viola Middleton, Merrill and Ellen Thomas were staying, and asked McClellan to turn away Merrill and allow him to stay in his place. This McClellan refused to do. Mooney went away and later in the afternoon purchased a revolver and some cartridges of Mr. Loomis. About 8:30 in the evening he again went to McClellan's house, and, knocking, asked to see Merrill. Upon being told that Merrill was not there he entered the house, and, going into the room where McClellan and Middleton were staying said: 'Throw up your hands and if you have anything to say, say it quick.'

"He then began shooting, one ball striking and killing Viola Middleton and another wounding McClellan. From there he entered the parlor where Ellen Thomas and Merrill were together and opened a fusillade upon them. Merrill had taken the precaution to crawl under the bed and remained unhurt, but one of the bullets struck and killed Ellen Thomas, the woman for whose death Mooney was tried."

(A Saranac Lake policeman named Moore arrested Mooney at the scene, and attorney R.M. Moore was Mooney's defense counsel.)


The defense uses insanity plea

"Mr. Moore, having shown that the defendant was heir to insanity and having shown by the experts that in their opinion Mr. Mooney, after drinking, was unconscious of his acts, rested his case for the defense."

Some of the testimony: "Dr. Crego of Buffalo and Dr. Trautmann of New York, both noted authorities on diseases of the brain, testified that Mooney's physical condition was such that when aroused by a small amount of liquor he would become violently insane and unconscious of his acts, that from peculiarities of his head, eyes and looks they would class him as a degenerate who was much more susceptible to insanity than a normal man."

Then the reporter, who had no byline, weighs in at the conclusion of the story about the trial:

"Mooney is a man of slight build, small in stature, with sandy complexion, hair slightly curly, and peculiar eyes somewhat deformed.

"The terrible crime for which he has been sentenced was surrounded with all the accessories of moral debauchery and is one of the sequences which so often occur in connection with that sort of life."


Mooney becomes a Catholic

Plattsburgh Sentinel - May 6, 1904 (Reporters often attended executions, and I can only guess that this unnamed reporter was at Mooney's execution):

"Mooney had been brought up in the Baptist faith, but shortly after the execution of the Wormer brothers he sent for the Rev. Father Bellanger, pastor of the Catholic church of Dannemora, and asked to be instructed in that religion. He was baptized by Father Bellanger on December 23, and on February 22 he made his first communion, and after which he received Holy Communion twice, the last time being three hours before his death.

"From the day of his baptism he began with the greatest of care, preparations for the end, his fervor increasing as his last moments drew near. For over an hour immediately preceding the execution he held continually in his hand a large crucifix looking at it devotedly and carrying it with him to the chair and holding it until his life was blotted out."



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