The Dark Days of Dryden

3 03 2015


In the 1990s, Dryden had a reputation for being the “Village of the Damned“.

That unpleasant moniker was received about fifteen years ago, when the town was afflicted with heinous, blood-chilling crimes. It’s like something Stephen King would have conjured up, as if Dryden was just down the road from Castle Rock. A description of the crimes in Dryden from 1989-1999 would be enough to fill a sordid crime novel. Needless to say, long-time residents of the town don’t take too kindly to the name.

Sometimes the moniker is applied to the Ellis Hollow murders of December 1989, to which I’m just going to supply the New York Times summary:

…a gunman tied up four members of a suburban family on Dec. 22, put pillowcases over their heads, shot them two or three times in the head and then set their bodies on fire.

After the state police rushed into a home on Feb. 7 to arrest two people in connection with the slayings, there was an initial sense of relief, mental health experts in the area said. But because the prime suspect, Michael Kinge, 33, was killed by the police in a shootout, many county residents now feel they will never learn why the Harris family was singled out.

A more explicit New York Times article can be found here. Making the event even worse, an investigator planted Kinge’s mother’s fingerprints at the crime scene, and she was in jail for 2.5 years until she was exonerated. She later sued the state, although the judge only awarded $250k of the requested $500 million because she was guilty of using the Harris family’s credit cards. The details and aftermath of the Ellis Hollow murders could fill a book.

The New York Times noted that it was part of a series of untimely deaths at the start of the 1990s – 9 fatalities in 3 months, 7 of which were homicides. The Ellis Hollow murders were the only cases in Dryden, and are separated from the other killings by a few years.

Dryden’s dark days began in earnest during the mid 1990s. Nothing I write will surpass E. Jean Carroll’s “The Cheerleaders,” a piece detailing Dryden’s suffering in those years, and well worth the read. But I’ll offer a quick rundown here.

– On December 29, 1994, 19-year old J.P. Merchant, angry at his ex-girlfriend, breaks into her family home and shoots her father dead. After the rest of the family escapes his attempt to kill them, he drives to a cemetery and shoots himself. Although in Cortland County, the children attended Dryden High, where the father was a football coach.

– On September 10, 1996, high school senior Scott Pace dies in a car accident. His brother Billy had died in a car crash the previous year.

– On October 4, 1996, High school juniors Jennifer Bolduc and Sarah Hajney are kidnapped, murdered and dismembered by the Hajney family’s next door neighbor, John Andrews. Although he was eventually caught, Andrews hung himself in his jail cell.

– On June 11, 1999, a drunk driving accident claims the life of 19-year old Katie Savino, a classmate of Bolduc and Hajney. Three months later, former classmate Mike Vogt commits suicide.

There’s nothing about Dryden that made it any more or less likely to suffer these crimes and losses; just an unfortunate series of events. The constant loss must have taken quite a toll on the town’s morale. By the end of the 1990s, it’s hard to imagine Dryden had much left in community spirit. Yet, life has gone on, and time has healed the wounds of the 1990s; the scars remain, but today the town is known more for its anti-fracking stance than for tragedies. Today, a memorial garden, scholarships, and a fundraising walk serve as reminders to a dark time the town has thankfully moved past.

Cornell and Crime

30 12 2008

So, Cornell is an institution with a long and extensive history, and as with any institution of its size there’s been to be a few…unpleasant crimes associated with the school or its alumni. 

Oh, the prestigious alumni. For example, Michael Ross ’81. By any regard, Michael Ross was the typical Cornellian; actively involved on campus and reasonably intelligent. However, he also had an unpleasant side [1].

Michael Ross had serious mental issues. Rape fantasies. So intense that he started acting on them. His first rape and homicide (via strangulation) was that of a Cornell student, 25 year old Dzung Ngoc Tu, on May 12, 1981.  She was an agricultural economics (AEM) graduate student, who was apparently selected at random. It took a week to located her body at the bottom of Fall Creek Gorge, and while suicide was intially suspected, the Tompkins DA began to assert a case of foul play had occurred. However, there were no leads, and Ross did not admit to her slaying until he was arrested on seperate murder charges in 1984 (apparently he confessed during questioning by a police detective). According to news sources, Ross was never formally faced charges stemming from her death.

Michael Ross was responsible for the rape and murder of seven other young women in the 1980s.  He was executed in 2005, New England’s first execution in 45 years.

Going into another case, there’s the double murder of two Cornell freshmen back in December 1983 [3]. Okay, I’m a horrible person; I have told people this story just for the sake of scaring the crap out of the people who live in Lowrise 7, where it occurred.

What happened was that the crazy ex-boyfriend of one of the victims decided to come to Ithaca and “reason” with her. By that, I mean taking her, her roommate, and five others hostage. After a short time, the girl managed to convince her ex to let the others go, but he kept her and her roommate. He then shot them both and fled. The girl, Young H. Suh ’87, died immediately. Her roommate, Erin C. Nieswand ’87, died of her injuries shortly after bring airlifted to a hospital in Syracuse. As students notified police, the 26-year old killer attempted to flee the area, but was forced off the road at Rout 366, where he then shot himself in the head. He survived, and was sentenced to life in prison in October 1984 [4].

This last one for today goes off on a slightly different tangent. Some of you might be aware of the can of worms that was the CIA’s involvement with mind-altering drugs (like LSD) to see if they could be useful for government business. Well, that didn’t work too well, nor was it much appreciated when the American people found out from declassified documents in 1975 [6].

I order to set up funding for their projects, the CIA worked with various organizations to establish feeder programs that would make the research look legit. One of the primary distributors were two Cornell professors, Harold Wolff and Lawrence Hinkle. The initial programs set up for the CIA was in the 1950s and called “The Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology”. In 1961, it was reorganized as the “Human Ecology Fund” and operated primarily out of the Medical School. This ended by the late 1960s.

For the record, the Human Ecology school adapted the name “Human Ecology” in 1969 (during the time of the program’s operation, it was still the school of Home Economics, so there are no connections worth making between the two).

So we’ll wrap that up for today. For kicks, I’ll attach this lovely article attacking Cornell for its Qatari medical school (Qatar supports Hamas). It’s a little too-partisan for my tastes, but it just proves the point that not everyone from CU and not everything CU does is (or should be) considered “good”.


P.S. I suppose in keeping with the theme of this entry, I’ll update it to include the June 2009 murder of a Cornell researcher by her husband, a doctoral student in computer science [6]. It would appear he slit her throat and left her to die on a walking trail, and then set their apartment on fire, became involved in a high speed police chase and tried to slit his own throat to avoid arrest (which failed). Congrats to Blazej Kot, whose horrific homicidal tendencies  make him destined to join the rest of the historical skeletons in Cornell’s closet.