Part 1 of 2
I wrote a two-part series here on July 6 and July 13, 2013 about George Delcour killing a Lake Placid Police Officer and wounding a second officer in July, 1907. When I find tough stories like this in the archives of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library I am sensitive to the consideration that there may be relatives still around who would be affected by the story ... but in this case it was more than 100 years ago and so I thought I was safe on that account.
However, despite the 100 years gone by, I discovered there are many relatives of Mr. Delcour still around and that they are friends of mine. Mr. Delcour, after his conviction for the killing he had his sentence commuted to time served by Governor Charles S. Whitman and four years later was given a full and complete pardon by Governor Nathan Lewis Miller.
Mr. Delcour was the maternal grandfather of Louise Branch Wilcox, Harlan (Harny) Branch, Jerome (Champ) Branch, Rosie Branch Glover and Gus Branch and their deceased siblings; Joe, George, Marshall, Dick, Roland (Dud), Donnie and Mary. I knew all the family, Dick Branch was one of my best friends and he and I and his sister Louise graduated together from St. Bernard's School in 1944. Their parents were Spencer and Stella Delcour Branch; Stella was a handsome woman and whose father is the man we are writing about.
Try to imagine how large that extended Branch family is today. Shortly after the column in question came out I started getting phone calls from Delcour relatives; saying that he was later pardoned, that he did something exceptional to save the warden's life (turns out it was the Sheriff he saved) and that his many friends signed petitions to the Governor urging his release from Dannemora Prison. I intended to write a story about this family anecdotal evidence without documentationbut thanks to Gus Branch, I have in my possession an incredible amount of documentation, maybe a hundred pages about his grandfather's case.
A brief review
The original story said that Mr. Delcour killed a Lake Placid police officer in a barber shop in Lake Placid when they went to arrest him for what amounted to disorderly conduct after he was observed driving his horse and buggy recklessly through the village streets. It was never denied that he killed the officer but it later came out that he may have acted in self defense; that the officer fired first and then a claim that the dying officer said he himself was to blame for the shooting. There was also testimony that he was not drunk as the newspaper story said, but had been at work all day at the Lake Placid Club.
This review will not attempt to sort out the details of what happened that day but will cover the details of what happened after Mr. Delcour had served ten years in Clinton Prison at Dannemora.
The jurors recant
The 12 jurors at the trial later signed a long statement sent to Governor Whitman claiming that had they had all the evidence when the trial was held, they would not have convicted him. This is from that statement: "We now understand from his death bed, Cutler stated that the shooting resulted from his own acts; that he was responsible therefore; that it was not the fault of Delcour, and that Delcour should not be punished for his death which was then imminent.
"Had such evidence been presented to us, it unquestionably would have changed the result, and we could not have found a verdict against George Delcour for murder in the second degree, and probably no verdict at all against him."
The names of the jurors are listed above, not their signatures. The signatures are on the affidavit sent to the Governor but are difficult to read.
Then I have a copy of an affidavit made in Saranac Lake Nov. 26, 1913, notarized by Thomas E. Daly who owned a store here named The Humidor.
"To All Whom It May Concern.
Know yea that I, L. J. Smith, was with Fred Cutler after he was shot by George Delcour and that he made the statement to me twice that he was to blame, once about eight hours before his death and again about two hours before he died. I wish further to state that I was a first cousin of Fred Cutler."
It was stamped with Daly's notary license under these words and with Smith's signature "The above statement is true. Subscribed and sworn to before me this 26th day of November, 1913.
The sheriff's statement
Following are excerpts from a statement from Essex County Sheriff W. T. Nye sent to Governor Whitman in December, 1914 supporting Delcour's application for pardon:
"Delcour was confined in the Jail at Elizabethtown, from July, 1907, until his trial and conviction in June following.
"Not only was he an exemplary prisoner - obedient to the rules and regulation of the jail - but ever watchful of my interest in guarding both prisoners and property.
"While there confined, one Frank Colby and one Medus Bennway, who were awaiting trial, conspired to break jail and escape, and succeeded in getting a gun smuggled in and into their possession. They tried to influence George Delcour to join them, their plan to kill me if necessary; upon hearing their story, he at once reported it to me, with the result that while I had them in the yard, he searched their cells, found the gun, and delivered it to me. After which they were doubly guarded, subsequently tried and convicted and sentenced for a term of ten years, and are now serving sentence at Clinton Prison.
"The conviction of Delcour for murder in the second degree was a surprise to many who followed the trial - in fact, it was believed by a number that he would be acquitted.
"I shall be very glad to have Delcour receive executive clemency, and endorse his application therefor."