Visit the long ago crime and dire deeds in the Hudson Valley of New York.
The Hudson Valley is drenched in history, culture and blood. In the fall of 1893, Lizzie Halliday left a trail of bodies in her wake, slaughtering two strangers and her husband before stabbing a nurse to death at the asylum housing her. A Jazz Age politician, tired of fighting with his overbearing wife, murdered her and buried the body under the front porch. In 1882, a cantankerous old miner, dubbed the "Austerlitz Cannibal" by the press, chopped up his partner before he himself swung from the end of a rope. Author Andrew Amelinckx dredges up the Hudson Valley's dark past, from Prohibition-era shootouts to unsolved murders, in eleven heart-pounding true stories.
About the Author
Andrew K.F. Amelinckx is an award-winning crime reporter, freelance journalist and visual artist. He grew up in Louisiana and now lives in New York's Hudson Valley with his wife, Kara, and dog, Bingo. After nearly a decade covering crime for various newspapers in the region, he is now a contributing editor for the magazine Modern Farmer and the cofounder (with his wife) of the men's accessory company Fellow Well Met. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and a master of fine arts degree in painting from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
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THE DEVINE MURDER (ALBANY COUNTY)
On August 30, 1925, nineteen-year-old Albert "Billy" Devine Jr. was awakened by screaming in his family's Central Avenue home in Albany.
"Billy, Billy, he's murdering me," screamed Catherine Devine as she burst into her son's room. Blood streamed from her head as she fell across the teen's bed, again telling him that she was being murdered by his father, Albert. This wasn't the first time his parents had gone at it. Their violent arguments and physical altercations over Catherine's drinking and Albert's dalliances were the talk of the neighborhood. Catherine had a thing for alcohol, and Albert had a thing for the ladies. He often left the house at odd hours of the night without explanation. At one point, Catherine hired private detectives to follow her husband and learned he was seen in the company of an attractive blonde. Albert had taken the woman to a number of roadhouses, where they drank and danced while Catherine sat at home. When Catherine learned what her husband was up to, she decided not to pursue a divorce, fearing it would be too hard on the children. But the fights began to escalate.
Billy noticed that the latest fight was worse than usual. As Albert came charging into the room after Catherine, Billy jumped up and slammed his father into the wall. Albert wept bitterly as he told his son over and over that she had driven him to do it. Grace, the Devines' twenty-one-year-old daughter (everyone called her "Cuddles"), also came into the room. She took her mother to the bathroom to get cleaned up. Billy and Grace drove their mother to the hospital and lied to the doctors, telling them that Catherine had been struck by a car.
A few days later, as Billy mowed the lawn, he noticed a mound of dirt under the front porch. He could clearly see it through the latticework and wondered what it was for. He mentioned it to his father when he drove Albert to work, but his father changed the subject. Billy left a short time later for Brooklyn to look for work, staying at his uncle's house. It wasn't just the need for a job, but rather the need to get away from his father, whom he feared, that pushed the teen to leave Albany. As he bid his mother goodbye, he didn't know it would be the last time he would see her alive.
Grace had a dark feeling about her father and the family home. On the night of September 6 — the evening before Labor Day — she and two friends had come home to find the house locked, the lights out and a note from her father on the front door indicating that he and Catherine had gone to Kinderhook Lake, about twenty miles southeast, and wouldn't be home until late. Grace stayed at a friend's house that night and for a week more before leaving the city to visit relatives in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, where Albert was originally from.
Billy returned home briefly in mid-September. Albert told Billy and Grace their mother had up and abandoned the family out of the blue because of their querulous relationship. Given the volatile marriage, the story seemed plausible. But then Billy noticed that the mound of dirt was gone.
On September 28, Grace, who was still in Pennsylvania, received a phone call from her father.
"I have a telegram for you here," Albert told Grace.
Mug shots of Albert Devine Sr., following his arrest for the murder of his wife. Image courtesy of the Albany Times-Union.
"Who is it from?" she replied. "Open it up and read it to me."
Her father obliged. It was from her mother, he told her. Albert read the short note aloud: "I'm in Pittsburgh. Send my clothes to me here. Mother." Grace asked her father to forward the telegram to her in Dunmore. Suspicion began creeping into her mind. Why was her mother in Pittsburgh, and how could she send her mother anything without an address? She received the telegram the next day, but it made no difference to see the note in person — it remained as mysterious as when her father had read it to her over the phone.
Billy returned home for the Thanksgiving holiday. The next morning, his father woke him.
"Billy, I've killed your mother," said Albert, tears streaming down his face. He begged Billy to "stick with me" and not tell the police what he'd done. Billy couldn't believe what his father was telling him, but the more he thought about the strange goings-on at his family's home, the more the truth seemed all too clear.
Albert lied, telling his son he'd buried Catherine in the woods near Bennington, Vermont. In reality, Billy had been walking over his mother's grave every time he went in or out the front door. Billy left that day and headed for Dunmore. He didn't initially tell his sister the truth, but his father's sickening secret, Billy's terrible fear and the truth of what had happened to his poor mother were eating away at him with a paralyzing fierceness. Finally, Billy told his sister what happened to their mother. From there, the story was told to their relatives, including their paternal grandmother, with whom they were staying in Dunmore. Eventually, the Pennsylvania state police got wind of the news. Like a dam bursting from an unstoppable pressure, the story came pouring out of Billy when he was confronted by Pennsylvania detectives. It had been nearly three months since Albert had killed his wife.
On the morning of Sunday, September 6, Albert and Catherine woke up around 9:00 a.m. and ate breakfast. Albert suggested they go for a ride that day. With nowhere in particular to go, they meandered for a while before Albert suggested they head to Bennington, Vermont, about forty miles to the east. They'd been there before and had enjoyed themselves. Catherine instead suggested Kinderhook where they had friends, but Albert nixed the idea, believing that if they went to Kinderhook, Catherine would only get drunk. They arrived in Bennington and had a lunch of fried chicken at the Alps Hotel. After lunch, they headed toward home, and that's when the fight started. Catherine still wanted to go to Kinderhook, but her husband refused. Back home, they ate dinner in silence, metal scraping across china the only sound. After dinner, the fight started up again. But Albert was done with fighting.
As Catherine sat in the dining room reading the newspaper, he calmly walked up behind her and repeatedly slammed a hammer into the back of her head. She stood, stumbled into the kitchen and slid down to the ground. He'd ended their years of bitter quarrels for good.
After putting a note on the front door for Grace, Albert sat in the dining room with the lights out and listened to his daughter laughing with her friends as they came onto the porch. He sat very still, his breathing shallow, the tension nearly unbearable. The noise from outside stopped as Grace read the note. She and her friends left without coming into the house. Albert acted quickly then, dragging his wife's body through the house and into the yard before removing the latticework on the side of the porch and rolling the body into the shallow grave he had dug the week before. He poured lime over the body to help the decomposition, tidied up and then returned to his life as if nothing had happened. He hired a handyman to repaint the inside of the house and slap on some new wallpaper. He hired another young man, Edward Allen, to stay at the house and cook and clean for him. There were reports of more than a few wild parties held at the residence in the days and weeks after the murder.
A Times-Union reporter would later remark that it was up to "the psychologists, psychiatrists, and the psychopathists" to determine how a man could murder his wife and then "carry the dread secret around with him, as one would carry a handkerchief." Albert Devine was able to go to work and act like nothing was wrong, at least until a telegram from his mother arrived.
THE TRUTH REVEALED
On Thursday, December 3, Albert received a telegram from his mother while he was at work.
"The state police are on their way," read the telegram. "Your boy has been doing a lot of loose talking."
Albert called her on the phone and confirmed that his son had indeed told the police about the killing. His mother warned him that if the story was true, it would be best to give himself up. Devine left work and headed home. By that time, Allen had moved out of the house, and Albert was all alone. He sat in the living room drinking gin and ginger ale, chain-smoking cigarettes and flipping through magazines, waiting. Finally, the doorbell rang. Albert knew the police had arrived to arrest him. He gulped down the rest of his drink and headed for the door. It was only the paperboy.
It wasn't until the next day that Albert was arrested by Albany police and taken to the Fourth Precinct station house for questioning. He was calm as he was led into the interrogation room. Albert denied he'd killed his wife, even after detectives hammered away at him for nine hours. Finally, the investigators brought in Billy to speak with his father in order to try to get him to confess.
Billy, pale and shaking, entered the interrogation room.
"Why don't you tell these men the truth?" he tearfully asked his father. "Tell them what you told me."
"You're crazy," his father replied coldly. "I never told you that stuff."
The two were left alone for an hour in the hopes that Billy could persuade his father to confess. It would be several more hours of questioning by police before Albert finally broke down and admitted to the killing.
Back at the Devine house, curious neighbors and city residents who lived nowhere near the Central Avenue home showed up to watch the police dig up the remains of Catherine. The news traveled fast, and the city could talk of little else as, day after day, the newspapers reported the details of the investigation, from important revelations to minutiae of little value.
At first, no one could believe Albert had killed his wife. He was a wellliked and respected member of the community. An impeccable dresser, he always sported a fresh haircut and a clean shave. Devine had served as a city alderman and was the current Republican ward boss for his area. He'd been a draftsman at the New York Central railroad's shops in West Albany for twenty-two years and taught classes there as well. But he had another side. Besides his violent behavior toward his wife, he also had a string of extramarital affairs.
The police interviewed a profusion of witnesses, including several women allegedly romantically linked to Devine. For a while, investigators were working under the mistaken belief that there was another body buried on the Devine property, possibly one of Albert's lovers or a male conspirator who helped bury Catherine and then was murdered by Devine to keep him quiet. But there were no other bodies.
Albert's version of events differed from that of the police and prosecutors. He claimed his wife had a gun. They wrestled for it, and Catherine was shot during the struggle. Afterward, still in a rage, he struck her in the head with the hammer. Albert's story seemed as thin as gossamer, since the coroner didn't find any bullet holes in the victim, there was no evidence that a gun had been fired in the house and no pistol was recovered during the intensive investigation.
Devine's lawyer, Joseph L. Delaney, the brother of Assistant District Attorney John T. Delaney, who was helping prosecute the case, said it was self-defense. The defense lawyer's brother decried it as premeditated murder. The two brothers went at it during one court appearance, nearly coming to blows as they argued over legal issues. Initially, Albert was held without bail, but his lawyer later wrangled his release before police rearrested Albert and again held him without bail.
The case saw delay after delay until April 28, 1926, when Albert appeared in Albany County Court and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, avoiding the possibility of the electric chair. He was sentenced to twenty years to life and shipped off to Dannemora State Prison farther north in New York's Adirondack region. By 1940, he was out of prison, had resettled in Plattsburgh, New York, and was working for the Pal Blade company, which manufactured razors. He died in 1963 at the age of eighty-two. The "death house," as the newspapers called the Devines' Central Avenue home, was later torn down. A car dealership now stands where one of Albany's most notorious murders took place.CHAPTER 2
TEMPERANCE AND ARSENIC (RENSSELAER COUNTY)
IDLE GOSSIP AND THE BIRTH OF A TERRIBLE IDEA
The idea of killing his young wife, to whom he'd been married only a few days, first came to Henry G. Green on an exhilarating sleigh ride in Hoosick, New York, on February 14, 1845. Henry, his new wife and his friends, including Alzina Godfroy (who, he had to admit, he was still sweet on), had a lovely time that day, full of laughter and gaiety. But Alzina's words — "Why did you marry Mary? I would have married you in the end" — continued to loop through Henry's mind. Additionally, the day before the sleigh ride, Henry's mother had passed on gossip about Mary Ann's unvirtuous behavior in Troy before she and Henry had met. Those stories, even if they were nothing more than malicious gossip, had him thinking that perhaps he'd been a bit hasty in marrying Mary Ann Wyatt, a girl he barely knew.
He'd first seen her on the stage in Berlin, New York. She was part of a traveling troupe of actors working for the temperance movement performing a three-act play, Moral Exhibition of the Reformed Drunkard, written by Dr. D.G. Robinson. The play, which described the evils of drinking and extolled the joys of sobriety, had been performed by the little troupe throughout New England and New York State for more than a year when Henry caught the performance — and the acting bug.
Henry had recently been booted out of his Baptist congregation for intoxication, so the ideas espoused by the players resonated with him, and it didn't hurt that one of its members was a stunningly attractive, witty and intelligent young woman about his age. His pursuit of Alzina soon forgotten, Henry took to the stage, singing in the troupe's chorus before taking on an acting role. He quickly won the affections of Mary Ann. Not long after, Henry packed his things and took to the road with the troupe. But a few weeks later, the play petered out in Columbia County, New York, and Henry, Mary Ann and her brother David left the group. It's possible the shakeup of the acting troupe had to do with the play itself, which had become controversial. It caused such a stir in Worcester, Massachusetts, in fact, that it was banned. Apparently, the actors were too good at their portrayal of vice, and many stodgy New England teetotalers thought their important message shouldn't be mixed up in the theater, which one temperance publication called "the devil's trap" of the country's youth.
That was all right by Henry, since he was ready to return home and had managed to get what he wanted: Mary Ann Wyatt. When the group broke up, he and Mary Ann decided to get married and return to Berlin. First, they traveled north to Stephentown, where Mary Ann was staying, since she'd found another acting gig. Henry and David returned to Berlin to make preparations for the wedding. Upon his return, Henry gave everyone the good news and invited his friends, including Alzina, to the wedding, which was set for February 17, more than a week hence. He returned to Stephentown on February 10. Instead of waiting a week, he and Mary Ann eloped that day, marrying in a small chapel near where Mary Ann had been boarding. David Wyatt was their witness.
Henry and Mary Ann returned to Berlin as man and wife and began boarding at the home of Ferdinand and Mary Hull, where Mary Ann had stayed when she was performing in the town. The couple seemed happy, and their future looked bright. Henry told a friend that he had married for love, that he and Mary Ann were well suited for each other and that Mary Ann had a better disposition than Alzina. Then Henry's mother showed up in town from Troy, and things quickly unraveled.
Henry's mother, Sally Green, and Henry's sister didn't even bother to meet Henry's new bride. Instead, they set themselves up at a tavern and inn across the street from where Henry and Mary Ann were living and called for Henry to come speak with them. Inside the inn's parlor, Sally confronted her son about his rash decision. The Greens were a well-respected family with long ties to Rensselaer County. For Henry to marry so obviously beneath his station was a slap to the face of his family's history and heritage, in his mother's opinion. Mary Ann wasn't from money. She was originally from Thornton, New Hampshire, but at eighteen had left home with her brother David to work in one of the many cotton mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, the epicenter of America's textile industry. After three years, she and David joined the temperance players and began traveling throughout the Northeast. At that time, acting was not a profession held in high regard, although attitudes were beginning to change. Sally told her son the gossip around Troy concerning Mary Ann's loose morals. (Sally would later regret spreading malicious rumors about the young woman that Sally didn't even believe to be true.) Henry told his mother that he believed his wife was virtuous and was marrying for love. At an impasse with Henry, Sally and her daughter left that afternoon to go back to Troy. But the seed had been planted.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hudson Valley Murder & Mayhem"
Copyright © 2017 Andrew K. Amelinckx.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I From a Trickle to a Roar
1 The Devine Murder (Albany County) 15
2 Temperance and Arsenic (Rensselaer County) 22
3 The Last Days of "Legs" Diamond (Greene County) 32
4 The Austerlitz Cannibal (Columbia County) 51
Part II The Widening Maw
5 The War of the River Counties (Ulster County) 61
6 Death on a Dairy Farm (Dutchess County) 66
7 Death Takes a Halliday (Sullivan County) 74
8 The Tory Cowboy (Orange County) 86
Part III Tides and Tribulations
9 The Escaped Convict (Putnam County 97
10 The Pearl River Double Murder (Rockland County) 104
11 Murder on the Eudora Imogene (Westchester County) 115
About the Author 143