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The murder of Orlando P. Dexter

July 14, 2012
By HOWARD RILEY ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

My friend Tom Jacobs of Bloomingdale mailed me a story about a famous Adirondack murder. We go back a ways as Tom and I spent a few summers together at Fort Drum in the 1950s as members of the 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Division of the National Guard.

He writes: "My mother Teresa MacDonald Jacobs and her family lived in the little Town of Santa Clara. On Sept. 19, 1903, Orlando P. Dexter was murdered. At the time my mother was at the ripe old age of six and her older sister Mary (Mae) was 15. My aunt Mae told me many times about this event and in 1968 she asked her granddaughter to type up the story as she knew it. Recently my cousin found the manuscript and mailed it to me. I enclose that story."

The story had also been told by Saranac lake historian John Duquette and was carried in the Senior Outlook newspaper as reprinted from the Lake Champlain Weekly. An Editor's Note on that story had this to say: "You might be interested to know that Henry Dexter was a great, great grandfather of J. Ripley (Rip) Allen of Saranac Lake." Rick Smith writing in the Champlain newspaper called the murder "the most famous unsolved crime in the history of the North Country."

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I am using the version as told by Tom Jacob's aunt, Mary A. Griffin:

"Joseph Alfred owned and operated the Altamont Hotel at Tupper Lake, N.Y., for many years around the turn of the century, together with his close friend and associate, the bartender James Eccles. He also built a small hotel at Madawaska Lake, about forty miles from Tupper. This hotel was opened during the summer and through the hunting season.

"In 1902, Mr. Alfred decided to go into the lumbering business, and after necessary arrangements, he built camps, hired men and horses, and started cutting.

"Everything went as scheduled until after the holidays, when the hauling begins. The first load of logs to start for the river was stopped by Orlando P. Dexter, a New York millionaire who built a mansion with an artificial lake beside it, located about three miles from Santa Clara, a very small town of maybe 50 families. But it boasted two hotels and two churches.

"Malcolm Hulbert, a Canadian, worked in the woods in the winter, and did odd jobs in the summer. He was a strange person; he never talked with anyone and never received a letter from anyone or mailed a letter to anyone.

"Another character was William Kettles. Sometimes he worked in the lumber woods and sometimes he worked for his room and board. He was mentally unbalanced, but Hulbert seemed all right.

"Mr. Dexter received his mail at Santa Clara and drove his horse and buggy to the post office nearly every day.

"When the news came that Mr. Dexter has stopped the hauling of logs, feeling ran high and angry. Men were out of work when they wanted to work the most.

"Mr. Dexter stopped the hauling because part of the route was over his land. Some said it was about ninety feet wide on his land, others decided a little bit more. The road did not pas his house, just cut across one corner. No trees were cut down, just some low brush.

"Mr. Alfred said he lost over thirty thousand dollars and some of the families were in dire straits. After that, Mr. Dexter was in Dutch with everyone.

"On the 19th of December, he started for the post office as usual, and on the way he was shot and killed. After the shooting, the horse ran away and was stopped at the railroad station in Santa Clara. There was a bullet in the back of the seat of the buggy and one in the horse's tail. Blood was found in the buggy, so the Constable was called and he, in turn, notified the D. A. in Malone.

"Mr. Dexter's father, in New York City, was notified and immediately sent a group of Pinkerton detectives to find the killer of his son, Orland P. Dexter. They looked, searched, and did everything they could, but found nothing that could be used as a clue. When they questioned the townspeople, no one knew anything about it. The detectives tried to fraternize with the men at the bars. The men would not drink with them, or even talk to them. In about three weeks they packed up and left for New York City. Before leaving, they said everyone in Santa Clara knew who committed the crime and why."


This column will continue next week.



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