This column was written by Brian Crandall, who runs the blog “Ithacating in Cornell Heights.”
The 21st Century Library Campaign – Tompkins County Public Library
[fvplayer src=”https://vimeo.com/120846728″ loop=”fale” mobile=”https://vimeo.com/120846728″]
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 didn’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.
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.