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Last Call

April 25, 2009
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

This is the third and final column on James A. Call, 29, an Air Force officer and deserter. He came to the Adirondacks in August 1954 after the death of his 24-year-old wife. He was heavily in debt from gambling.

He shot three Lake Placid police officers when discovered in a cabin on West Valley Road. Officer Richard Pelkey, 31, died of his wounds, officer J. Bernard Fell, 31, recovered from his wounds, as did 38-year-old Sgt. Dominick Valenze. Call escaped and that started the biggest manhunt in Adirondack history.

Dave Shampine of the Watertown Daily Times writes a history column, "Times Gone By" and wrote an in-depth story about the Call case in 2006. The following quotes are used with Mr. Shampine's permission and he used quotes from a book, "Tailspin" written by Bernard F. Conners, a former FBI agent who has a home in Lake Placid. That book was published in 2002. Call was never caught in New York but made it to Reno, Nevada and arrested on other charges. A newspaper clipping in his possession from the Lake Placid shootings alerted authorities and he was brought back from Reno to face charges here.

Call takes police on tour

The following is from Mr. Shampine's column:

"As Call was being booked at a Reno police station, a reporter with the Reno Gazette, William A. Gold, noticed among his possessions a newspaper clipping. The journalist saw an Associated Press account about the manhunt in New York's Adirondacks. Mr. Gold went to a Western Union office and sent a telegram to authorities in Lake Placid. Two state police officers following a lead in the Lake Placid case were immediately dispatched to Reno.

"The news broke in New York on Nov. 16. The fingerprints of a suspect nabbed in Nevada were the same as the latent prints found in the Perkins Cottage. (The cottage on West Valley Road where the shootings took place was owned by Dr. James Perkins of Watervliet).

"On his second day of custody in Essex County Call took state troopers on a 9-hour auto and foot tour in the snow-covered Adirondacks displaying his hiding places. He had sprinkled pepper along his trail to throw bloodhounds off his scent. He went without food for four consecutive days, and blueberries became a main staple. He smoked cigarettes and sucked on a pipe to help dispel hunger pangs.

"After walking an estimated 300 miles through five counties - Franklin, Hamilton, Fulton, Montgomery and finally Schoharie - Call left the Adirondacks late in October (remember the shootings were in August) at Sloansville, south of the Mohawk River and about 35 miles west of Albany. He stole a car at Sloansville and drove to New York City. There he boarded a bus, heading for points west.

Call pleads guilty

"Call pleaded guilty on May 7, 1955, to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life in state prison. The court accepted a reduction from first-degree murder, pointing to the killer's voluntary return from Nevada, his full confession and the cooperation he gave state police.

"The killer's incarceration lasted 13 years, nine months and 12 days. He had been a model prisoner and had rehabilitated himself, officials said. Leased from Attica Correctional Facility, (he was previously at Dannemora) he was permitted to serve parole in Ohio.''

Dies in car crash

Call moved to Mantua, Ohio, and in October 1970, married 25-year-old Blanche Klose Jenkins, who was recently divorced.

He later bought a Lotus Europa racing car and on May 5, 1974, after being married only fours years, was killed in a one-car crash near his home.

Here is the way Mr. Conners described the accident in "Tailspin:"

"Tires screeching, the Lotus spun and slammed into a steel guardrail on the opposite side of the road-at over 90 mils per hour, according to an estimate by the Ohio State Patrol. With a shattering crash the guardrail pierced the passenger door like a gigantic lance, penetrating the car and emerging through the door on the driver's side. Jim Call, consummate survivor of countless life-threatening escapades, was now the victim of a Sunday morning auto crash."

The Sam Sheppard xase

"Tailspin" is a fascinating book and also makes the case against Call for the murder of Marilyn Sheppard in Bay Village, Ohio in July 1954. However, her husband Dr. Sam Sheppard served time for that crime. That murder was front page news for many months.



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