Democrat and Chronicle from Rochester, New York on January 8, 1990 · Page 5
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Democrat and Chronicle from Rochester, New York · Page 5

Rochester, New York
Issue Date:
Monday, January 8, 1990
Page 5
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DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE. ROCHESTER. N.Y.. MONDAY. JANUARY 8. 1990 5A VndlnmrD's By J. Leslie Sopko Democrat and Chronicle When Maria Welch disappeared two months ago, she left behind a 5-month-old son, Brad, whom she wanted to be baptized in the Catholic church. Brad's mother, police say, became a victim of accused serial killer Arthur J. Shawcross, who led police to her body Thursday night after he was in custody. But Welch's wish for her son came true yesterday. At a ceremony at Holy Rosary Church on Lexington Avenue, little Brad, now 7 months old, was given godparents, and his mother's family finally was given a chance to celebrate. "She always wanted her baby baptized," said Liz Vigneri, Welch's mother. Vigneri, who has been hospitalized because of the stress and exhaustion resulting from her 22-year-old daughter's dis Repercussions followed Cy Kathleen Driscoll Democrat and Chronicle WATERTOWN - When Arthur J. Shawcross pleaded guilty to manslaughter here in 1972, the case against him was not forgotten. "A case like this just overwhelmed the town. It was an enormous story," said Paul Browne, who covered the events as a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. The investigation into the deaths of 10-year-old Jack 0. Blake and 8-year-old Karen Ann Hill touched off a controversy that upset police, extended the families' suffering and affected the outcome of a major county election. The investigations and the uproar that followed were unusual occurrences in Watertown, a small northern New York city known for its brutal winter weather. Since 1972, Watertown has grown dramatically with the expansion of the U.S. Army post at Fort Drum. Many residents say it no longer is a town where everyone knows everyone else. Painful memories awakened Watertown residents again ask, 'Why?'., By Mary Hedglon Democrat and Chronicle WATERTOWN - At bingo, at bars, everywhere in this North Country boom-town, Arthur J. Shawcross is the talk of the town. Again. Seventeen years ago Watertown was shaken by the slayings of two children 8-year-old Karen Ann Hill and 10-year- . old Jack 0. Blake. Shawcross was convicted of killing the girl. He confessed to the killing of Blake, .... but he was not prosecuted for that slaying. In the time that has passed since the killings, the expansion of nearby Fort Drum has changed the area radically, bringing people, jobs and building. The population of Jefferson County has jumped from 88,000 to 111,000 during thef last decade. Unemployment has dropped from 25 percent to 10 percent. " But Arthur Shawcross may not have changed. Last week he was charged with eight serial slayings in Rochester and he faces grand jury action in three more killings. News of the charges reawakened feelings and questions in Watertown, a city of 31,000 that is 75 miles north of Syracuse. Sam Surace and many others say they have sifted through memories, placing Shawcross in their own lives and in the tragedy that shook Watertown when the two children were killed in 1972. "What's with this guy?" said Surace, a city Department of Public Works crew chief who knew Shawcross in the early 1970s. "Everyone's asking." In the Crystal Restaurant over the weekend, people echoed Surace's question, and they wondered why Shawcross was paroled from prison in 1987, after he had served 14 Vi years of his 25-year sentence. A community gathering place that was last remodeled in 1919, the Crystal is a throw-back to another era. A ham steak dinner, with everything from sliced pineapple to rolls and butter, can be had for $3.45. The Crystal looks out on a public square, the core of downtown. Joan Morgia, of nearby Dexter, remembers working in another restaurant on the square, the former Enrico's. She remembers serving lunch to Karen Ann Hill and her mother, Helene. The little girl loved to watch the nymph-topped fountain in the island, which was directly across from the big plate glass windows that fronted Enrico's. The day the girl disappeared, her mother came looking for her at Enrico's, telling the waitress that she suspected her daughter was riding her bicycle on her way to look at the fountain when she left home. For years afterward, the mother would 1 "" 1 """'W Wii-MBui m ftir v nnnin -iifriftrnWmOTift1,miiiiiiffltnm ,w.v.-,v..J,,.,.vv,.,,,-...-g,v ,w.w,m,-l wish tor child mmes tiaae appearance Nov. 6, now must face a much graver task. She is planning Welch's funeral, which will be at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at the same church. She also is trying to deal with her nightmares and a barrage of unanswered questions she has about her daughter's alleged killer, a parolee who admitted he killed two children in Watertown in 1972. "I can't stop wondering what Maria's last thoughts were, how scared she was," Vigneri said. Shawcross, 44, was charged late Thursday with eight counts of second-degree murder in the slayings of Rochester women, many of whom worked as prostitutes, abused drugs or frequented the Lake-Ly-ell avenue area on Rochester's west side. Welch lived on Saratoga Avenue and had been arrested for prostitution. ;, During several hours of interrogation by police, Shawcross implicated himself in 11 killings. The three other cases to which he is linked will be presented to But that was not the case in 1972. At that time, Jack's mother, Mary Agnes Blake, organized a campaign urging the state to investigate the way police and prosecutors handled the case. Blake lashed out at the police department, saying they were not aggressive in looking for her son or investigating her suspicions about Shawcross. Blake suspected Shawcross long before . the Hill girl was killed because he had taken Jack and Peter Blake fishing at a remote quarry several days before Jack Blake was killed. She reported those suspicions to police and accounts of others who claimed they saw Shawcross with her son the day he disappeared. But even though Shawcross was on parole from Auburn prison and had a lengthy criminal record, police never followed up on her suspicions, she said. "The thing that stuck in everyone's mind was that if they had done their job, the little girl would have lived," Browne said. But police long have defended their The Crystal Restaurant on the public square, shown last night, is a community gathering place last was remodeled in 1919 Karen Ann Hill, 8, slain in 1972, loved to come and sit at the booth by the window and stare at the fountain, saying nothing, Morgia said. Before the Watertown killings, Shawcross pushed a lawn mower during the summer as part of the city's "grass gang" and shoveled sidewalks during the winter, Surace recalled. At that time, Evelyn Weise lived five doors down from Shawcross in the Clove-dale Apartments. "We used to be sitting on the porch and he'd go by on his bicycle," Weise said. "He always stopped and talked and was manly and asked us if we needed grand juries in Monroe and Wayne counties. Vigneri has read and watched news accounts in recent days about Shawcross' criminal history and is angry that he was paroled from state prison in 1987. "Where's our justice system? It's cer Maria Welch tainly not protecting people. It's more protecting the person that did the crime," she said. She worries that police and parole authorities were silent when Shawcross settled in Rochester in mid-1987, after being driven out of Binghamton, Broome County, and Delhi, Delaware County, when residents there found out about his past. "The officials knew he was here, but they didn't tell us. That's not right." Shawcross' work in investigating the boy's disappearance, saying they did everything possible to find him and check out leads. "I thought it was handled very well," said David Hennigan, a retired state trooper who was among the law-enforcement officers who found Hill's body under the Pearl Street Bridge over the Black River in 1972. The boy had been missing for four months when investigators found Hill's body. Shawcross led investigators to Blake's body a few days later. Though he admitted killing both Hill and Blake, Shawcross pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter in connection with the girl's death. Prosecutors had no direct evidence linking Shawcross to Blake's death, said William J. McClusky, who was Jefferson County district attorney. Shawcross admitted he killed Blake in discussions on a plea bargain, he said. "I think they (the Blake family) were just blowing smoke," McClusky said this past weekend. MichMl i. Okonitwiki watch this fountain, a waitress recalls. anything at the store. He never said anything out of the way." Yesterday, as Watertown residents tried to figure out what made Arthur Shawcross the way he was, even his mother groped for reasons. "I wish to God I knew why" he became the man police are calling a suspected serial murderer, Bessie Shawcross of neighboring Brownville said yesterday. "They should have never released him from prison in the first place," she said, referring to her eldes: child, named after his father. "Never." Mostly, her frustration and fury is directed at Shawcross himself, if he is the serial killer. "He just didn't take these girls' lives, he destroyed families," she said. Rochester police officials yesterday met with some of the victims' families on the sixth floor of the Public Safety Building downtown for a support-group session. Vigneri said she didn't attend the meeting because of the baptism. A police spokesman refused to comment on the meeting, and family members said afterward they were told not to talk about it But Vigneri's family is grateful that Brad is not alone. His father, Jim Miller, has been caring for him since Welch's disappearance. The godparents are Welch's sister, Lisa Purdy, and her fiance, Ivan Adkins. "She chose them when she found out she was pregnant," Vigneri said. Watertown But the plea bargain came back to haunt McClusky. When he ran for county court a year later, his opponent capitalized on the incident and McCluskey lost. In his campaign advertisements, the opponent, George G. Inglehart, said " 'If you elect me, you'll sleep better tonight,' " McClusky said. "I can see what he was saying. It was a subliminal message." Despite his loss of the election, McClusky discusses the Blake's complaints matter-of-factly, perhaps because of his own personal tragedy a few years later. McClusky's son Leo, then 14, was convicted as a juvenile in the shooting death of Holly Gilbert, the wife of a prominent county Republican. "These were two times the city was convulsed by a single criminal act," Browne said. In her complaints about the way the case was handled, Mary Blake claimed investigators had made her the target of their probe instead of her son. MIChMl J. Okonitwtki Police seek link to 2 slayings in Watertown area Democrat and Chronicle The investigation of Rochester's serial slayings has aided state police in Water-town, Jefferson County, where state police are trying to solve two homicides of their own. Investigators from Troop D, Zone III, in Watertown are looking into the possibility that two unsolved deaths are connected to Arthur J. Shawcross, the man whom police have linked to 11 deaths in the Rochester area, said Watertown Investigator Wayne Corsa. He and a senior investigator visited Rochester Saturday to inform Rochester police about the two cases and to learn about investigative techniques used in Monroe County. The body of Irene Izak, 25, was found in 1968 on Wellesley Island in the Thousand Islands, four years before Shawcross was convicted in the slaying of an 8-year-old girl and admitted killing a 10-year-old boy. The body of Patsy Vineyard, 20, washed ashore near Sackett's Harbor on June 6, 1987, about a month after Shawcross was paroled on the 1972 conviction. Corsa said he found some differences between his cases and those linked to Shawcross. Izak's body was not found in water. And a number of the Monroe County victims have been linked to prostitution and drugs, while Izak and Vineyard have not. Many of the victims here were strangled or suffocated. Corsa said Izak died of blunt trauma to the head. A cause of death was never determined for Vineyard. AmwtM Lcin Democrat and Chrontck James Miller. Maria Welch's boyfriend, holds their son now seven months old. conviction In an interview Friday, Blake said city police spent a week searching her basement for evidence of her son's death. They also wanted her to submit to a lie detector test For a time, Browne confirmed, the investigation into the Blake boy's disap- pearance focused on Mary Blake and her J family, apparently because of her status -as a poor woman whose family previously had been in trouble with the law. "If she was a college-educated woman from the right side of town, Shawcross would have been in custody," Browne said. Police and city officials denied that charge, according to newspaper accounts. In an Oct. 18, 1972, edition of the Daily Times, former city manager Ronald Forbes and Mayor Theodore Rand defended their department's handling of the Blake case and dismissed her complaints. "Don't you know she (Mary Blake) was complaining all along?" they said in the story. Girl was taken from the yard of her house By Kathleen Driscoll Democrat and Chronicle WATERTOWN The day she died, Karen Ann Hill spent some time sitting under a tree near the Pearl Street house where she and her family were staying. The 8-year-old had gone to a neighbor's house to find playmates, but no one was available so she came back, said Linda Miles, Karen's aunt. "She wasn't the type of child who would wander off," Miles said yesterday. Karen's mother, Helene, was inside the house packing on Sept. 2, 1972, because she and her husband, Stanley Fisher, were preparing to move. They had been staying with Miles and her family for a few weeks and had found a place of their own, said Miles, who is Fisher's stepsister. Family members had seen Karen sitting under a tree in the yard in early afternoon. But when they looked out again a short time later, she was gone. Neighbors and relatives searched the neighborhood frantically and called police by 5 p.m., Miles said. "People were looking for her everywhere," Miles said. Late that night, investigators found her body beneath an old steel section of the Pearl Street Bridge over the Black River, near Miles' house. She had been raped and strangled. Arthur Shawcross was arrested the next day. He later pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Karen's death and admitted killing 10-year-old Jack O. Blake four months earlier. He led police to the boy's body deep in a nearby woods. Shawcross apparently took Karen from the yard while the family was inside the house, Miles said. When Miles learned the child's body had been found, she did not tell Karen's mother immediately. Instead, they took Helene to the police station where she could talk with investigators and a clergyman. Words can't describe the grief that overwhelmed the family, Miles said. "I was just getting to know her when this happened. ... All she did was cry, day after day," recalled Miles, in an interview at her Watertown home. Karen's mother remained in Water-town for some time before she moved back to Rochester. She and Miles' stepbrother eventually split up. She remarried and eventually returned to Watertown to visit Prayer meeting called to mark man's arrest Democrat and Chronicle A Rochester minister has announced a community prayer meeting to mark the arrest in the serial killings. The gathering will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Benjamin Temple Church of God in Christ, 85 Prospect St. "We prayed before for God to work things out. Now we want to pray to God to thank him for what he's done," said the Rev. Mary Benjamin, co-pastor. The church held a prayer service last month in honor of the slain women. Benjamin also is working to establish a safe-house for Rochester prostitutes.

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