12 such murder cases in 70 years: Dec. 18, 1869 thru Dec. 9, 1939
The events that led to a Sing Sing execution Aug. 29, 1935, can be told as a tale of two types of True Love: one real in the hearts of a farm couple, the other just words tattooed on the left hand of their killer.
Bernice, 50, was there as secretary to the judge sentencing Harold, 46, on a carrying concealed weapon conviction. His rap sheet, dating back to 1914, reflected a pattern of getting into trouble with the law.
Yet she saw something in him -- perhaps in how he stood before the bench, in what he told her judge, in the manner of his speaking -- that prompted her to look beyond the record of his past. Instead, what she saw, what perhaps no one else had ever taken the time to see in him, prompted her to look to the possibilities of his future.
Did they exchange brief glances in the courtroom? Did they exchange some passing polite phrases during breaks in the proceedings? That isn't known. What is known is they began a correspondence that continued throughout his next several years in Great Meadow Prison as he served the sentence her judge had imposed.
Back in the 1930s, the Southern Tier Expressway and other super highways and thruways did not exist. While New York had an extensive network of passenger railroads, a person seeking to travel from the western-most parts of the state to the eastern-most parts had to complete a time-consuming series of connections and stop-overs. In-state air travel, an industry still in its infancy, was not any more direct (if available at all in certain areas) and was a great deal more expensive.
So correspondence was Bernice and Harold's main means of maintaining contact. The prison mail censors must have smiled to themselves as the letters between the two progressed in tone from cautious interest to friendly rapport to fond regard to warm affection.
In his historical profile of Great Meadow Correctional Facility for the New York State Department of Correctional Services magazine DOCS Today May 2000 issue, NYCHS founding member Austin Clarke wrote:
In 1905, New York State purchased a 1,000-acre homestead from the family of railroad magnate Isaac V. Baker. The tract, east of Lake George in the village of Comstock, included tillable lands, pasture and woodlands. By all accounts, the family got the better deal. The state overpaid for the land, much of which could never be cultivated; within a few years of the prison's opening, it was forced to lease 250 nearby acres of arable land to feed the inmates.
For nearly two miles, the grounds fronted the Barge Canal, with the main line of the Delaware & Hudson Railway but a quarter-mile away. . . .
The state [had] intended to build an insane asylum on the site . . . Instead, in 1909, the Legislature appropriated $350,000 for a prison. The new institution would expand the capacity of the evolving system of adult penal institutions, then consisting of three prisons (Auburn, Sing Sing, and Clinton), two men's reformatories (Elmira and Eastern), two women's reformatories (Albion and Bedford) and the asylums for insane criminals at Matteawan and Dannemora.
Of the four prisons, Great Meadow would be the only one to which prisoners were not sent directly by the courts. "Young and promising background first offenders" would be transferred there at the discretion of the superintendent of state prisons (the equivalent of today's commissioner), usually as a reward for good behavior. The "honor prison" would also differ from the established prisons in being set up as an educational institution, with a "School of Agriculture" and industrial training as well as academic instruction for illiterates (chiefly the foreign-born).
The name, too, was a break with tradition. Until then, New York was content with place-names. We don't know whether "Great Meadow" was a name used by the Bakers or if it was christened by a state official, but it was certainly inspired by the nearly level 300-acre field on which the prison would be built. . . .
The magnificent 1865 Baker mansion was used until the early 1970s as the warden's residence (it is now used for offices).
On February 11, 1911, 23 inmates from Sing Sing arrived at the partially completed prison and were housed in the north wing of the cellblock.
Thayer resigned a month into the job and was replaced by William J. Homer, who stayed until his death in 1919.
Homer, 50, was stricken at 11 p.m. Oct. 4th, 1919 with a "paralytic stroke" after making an address to Jewish inmates assembled to observe the feast of Yon Kippur. He died the following morning at 3 o'clock. Homer, a former Erie Railroad traveling passenger agent, had been appointed Great Meadow warden by Governor John Alden Dix in July 1911.
After Homer, Col. William J. Hunt was named to the warden post.
By the time, Harold Farnsworth arrived at Great Meadow to begin serving his weapon possession conviction sentence, the character of the prison had changed significantly from its original "honor system" plan. It was supposed to have been -- and for less than a decade and a half it was -- a prison without a wall around it. But due to (a) overcrowding elsewhere in the statewide system and (b) Great Meadow's underutilization because of the "first offenders only" rule on admissions, that restriction was eroded as second timers were introduced into the inmate population in 1916 during its Homer era and, not long afterward, third timers as well.
Even with some recidivists added to the prisoner mix, hundreds of cells remained unoccupied because of administrators' fears that filling them would result in a steady stream of escapes unless an outer wall was built.
If Harold had been permitted to stand atop the wall and look eastward with binoculars, he might have see some western parts of his native Green Mountain state, Vermont, such as Lake St. Catherine, only a relatively few miles away. Would he have harbored a hope to escape to it, except for the hope of another kind of escape that Bernice's letters held out to him -- the opportunity to break away from his criminal past, a chance to "go straight" and to make for them a life together?
When Farnsworth arrived at Great Meadow, Hunt was still warden but not for long. Highly regarded, he had been offered the warden post at Auburn Prison but turned it down in order to stay at Great Meadow. But that was not to be. In 1931, Hunt was tapped to head Attica, the system's fifth maximum security prison.
Known as Brooklyn's Last Irish Boss, Charles "Vannie" Higgins was one of only a handful of mobsters who knew how to fly a plane and had a valid pilot's license to prove it. Knowing that his boyhood buddy would be flying up for dinner with him June 17, 1932, Warden Wilson had inmates clear a nearby meadow so Vannie could land his plane.
The next night, Vannie was back in Brooklyn for his 7-year-old daughter's tap dance recital. About 11 o'clock as he left the Prospect Park hall with his daughter, Higgins was gunned down gangland-style, having protectively run from her toward his assailants so as to draw away from her their gunfire.
The bootlegger's violent death, coming little more than 24 hours after his Great Meadow visit, put into the public spotlight the Wilson-Higgins dinner and the use of inmate labor to clear a "landing field." Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, running for President, made the appropriate public comments criticizing the warden's actions. But Wilson indicated there would be no apologies coming from him for his having welcomed "a social visit" by his old friend from their old neighborhood, a buddy whom he could never again see in this life.
Perhaps Farnsworth was among the inmates who cleaned the meadow to make a field for the warden's boyhood buddy to land his plane. But if not, Harold would surely have learned about it from the prison grapevine. For Farnsworth, another kind of buddy story started at Great Meadow. His cell mate was a New Rochelle burglar about 20 years his junior: Alfred J. Lindsay.
The younger convict must have been generally aware of, if not personally privy to the romance by correspondence between Harold and Bernice. That kind of thing would have been hard to conceal within the narrow confines of a prison cell, especially given the life-transforming effect that the long-distance relationship with her was having on Farnsworth. Her letters had led Harold to dare think, even to plan on making an honest living so that she and he could be together after his release. Harold may well have wanted someone with whom to talk about those plans, if only to make sure they didn't sound foolish at his age when spoken aloud. Lindsay was a handy listener.
Harold headed for Cattaraugus to demonstrate to Bernice that he really meant what he wrote her about making a new start in life and to ask her to share that life with him.
Lindsay headed in another direction.
Bernice accepted Harold's proposal and they were wed soon after he had arrived back in the county.
The Farnsworths took up farming in the Cold Spring near Randolph.
Their farm house was, according to the New York Times description, "on a little traveled dirt road in the Cattaraugus hills."
The farming community where they settled is situated in the southwestern part of the county and takes its name from nearby Cold Spring Creek that feeds into the Allegany River.
Today that region of Western New York has a significant Amish presence, but not so back when the Farnsworths were newlyweds. The Amish didn't begin settling there in noticeable numbers until the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Though Farnsworth and Lindsay had gone their separate ways after being released from prison together, they kept in touch. When Alfred informed Harold about having a hard time finding legitimate work, the older man offered to take him on as a farm hand.
Not that the job would pay much, if anything. The whole country was in the midst of the Great Depression. But at least the Farnsworths could share with him the food on their table, the roof over their heads and the logs burning in their fireplace. Bernice went along with Harold in opening their home to her husband's jobless former cell mate. After all, Alfred had made known his jobless situation around Christmastime 1934; so taking into their home someone in need seemed keeping with the spirit of the season.
But Alfred's much more negative attitude about life in general belied the "True Love" tattoo etched across the fingers of his left hand. The Farnsworths' evident happiness in their own true love could well have had a reverse effect on Lindsay, prompting a resentment in him having little to do with his work around their farm.
The degree of violence inflicted upon the couple by Alfred strongly suggests that more than a monetary motive was involved in the double murder. Harold had been shot three times in the head. Bernice had been hacked to death with a double-edged axe. Given that the Farnsworths were about the same likely age as Lindsay's parents, one wonders whether Alfred's relationship with his own mother and father figured into the fury of the attack.
The slayings at the Farnsworth farm happened Tuesday March 5th but three days elapsed before the crime became known. On Friday, March 8th, Harold was found at the bottom of a flight of stairs and Bernice's body was discovered in the cellar. Missing from the farm were the couple's few valuables, their car and Alfred.
Cattaraugus Sheriff Lester W. Carlson and his deputies learned from interviewing neighbors and others that the Farnsworths had taken on Lindsay as a farmhand about two months earlier but had severed his employment Monday, March 4, the day before the homicides.
Carlson disclosed to newspapers that Harold, originally from Montpelier, Vt., and Alfred, originally from New Rochelle, Westchester, had been inmate buddies at Great Meadow. The sheriff also outlined the story of Harold and Bernice -- their meeting in the Salamanca court, their years of correspondence during Farnsworth's imprisonment, and their marrying after his release the previous August.
NYPD Detectives Walter Clancy and John Northeis of the West 13th St. Police Station spotted him in a restaurant at 6th Ave. and 49th St., Manhattan. His furtive behavior aroused their suspicions. Despite the March weather outside, his wearing gloves inside the warm eatery didn't seem appropriate. But when he took the glove off his left hand, they saw the letters on the back of the fingers. They spelled out the phrase "True Love." That fit a "wanted" sheet description of the suspect in the Western New York double-murder case.
Taken to the West 68th St. Stationhouse, Lindsay was questioned by Deputy Inspector Michael McDermott. Detectives said the fugitive admitted the killings but claimed self-defense, alleging he was attacked when he insisted on being paid back wages of $10 a month for the time he had worked on the farm.
Alfred had driven the Farnsworth car to his sister's home in New Rochelle for a change of clothes and then drove to Manhattan where he abandoned the vehicle at Columbus Avenue and 96th St. Police recovered it there after his arrest.
Accompanied by other law enforcement officers, Cattaraugus District Attorney A. Edward Krieger, armed with an arrest warrant charging first degree murder, departed Jamestown, N.Y., that evening to bring the suspect back to the county to face trial.
Exactly one month after the homicides, Lindsay heard judgment rendered: the penalty of death on the conviction of first degree murder. While legal processes were quicker in the 1930s, the single month between the March 5th crime and the April 5th trial court judgment still appears remarkably swift. Perhaps that reflected a determination by the law authorities in Cattaraugus to brook no delay in seeing speedy justice done in this particularly heinous case.
Key to the accelerated rate at which proceedings progressed was D.A. Krieger's decision to try Lindsay only for the savage slaying of 57-year-old Bernice Kenyon Farnsworth. Not that the district attorney credited the claim by Alfred that his killing Harold was an act of self defense. Rather, the prosecutor obviously reasoned that the self-defense claim, already straining credulity when advanced to justify shooting Farnsworth in the head three times, totally lacked the least bit of plausibility to explain away the vicious hacking to death of Mrs. Farnsworth.
In addition to being widely known in the county's legal circles because of her former work as a judge's secretary, her family name -- Kenyon -- had roots in Cattaraugus history tracing back to before the Civil War.
Winfield Scott Kenyon, who was born at New Albion Dec. 12, 1843, served in Company B of Western New York's 154th NY Volunteers Regiment. He died at Salamanca March 13, 1919.
Recruited from Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, the Hardtrack Regiment (as it became known) was organized at Jamestown, N. Y., mustering in there Sept. 24, 1862. The regiment's bloodiest battle took place at Chancellorsville but it also earned battlefield flag honors at Gettysburg, Lookout Valley, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Atlanta, Savannah, and in the Campaign of the Carolinas.
Cattaraugus County's Civil War veterans, like their former comrades in-arms around the country, had celebrity status within their home communities, being honored guests at annual patriotic events.
For many decades, one of the most poingnant moments during July 4th parades would be the line of march of those venerable old warriors, (fewer each year) stepping slowly but stubbornly forward along the route, some with the aid of canes. Winfield Scott Kenyon saw more than 50 July 4ths come and go before he passed away.
The remains of three other Kenyons are also nearby in the Central Road section of Randolph Rural Cemetery:
The Kenyon family roots in Cattaraugus and the regard for Bernice Kenyon in the county's legal community may have been among the several factors D.A. Krieger took into consideration in deciding on the unusual course of trying Lindsay for her murder, instead of both murders.
Lindsay was represented at the trial and on appeal by G. Sydney Shane, of Salamanca, and Cornelius J. McCarthy, of Olean. In the late 1930s and early 1930s, Shane would chair the Democratic Party in the county and in 1943 be a candidate for State Supreme Court Justice.
On July 11th, the state's highest appellate bench, the Court of Appeals -- headed by Chief Judge Frederick E. Crane -- affirmed Lindsay's conviction and sentence without issuing a written opinion (per curiam). Judges Crane, Irving Lehman, John F. O'Brien, Irving G. Hubbs, John T. Loughran, and Edward Ridley Finch all concurred. Judge Leonard Callendar Crouch did not sit in the case.
Gov. Herbert H. Lehman declined to commute Lindsay's death sentence to life imprisonment.
"What's the use?"
Instead, he ate regular prison fare of that day: a hamburger, boiled potatoes, lima beans, and rice pudding.
He walked "the last mile" stolidly, without physical aid, behind the priest, and through "the little green door" to the execution chamber. He glanced briefly at the witnesses assembled and then sat down in the electric chair without a word. No final formal statement.
As the guards adjusted the electrical attachments and restraints, he maintained a silence that, in a sense, seemed to sum up his attitude of the moment and perhaps his abiding general mind frame throughout his short life: "What's the use?"
The current was applied at 11 p.m. Before he was pronounced dead at 11:08 p.m., the electricity passed through his body for a few minutes, including his "True Love" tattooed left hand, the hand that helped kill two True Lovers.
Their cases are explored, each in turn, in their own terms and, as this page gives ample evidence, also are explored as the means for connecting to other personages, events, developments and currents in the histories of the county, state and country.
-- The case of Alfred J. Lindsay points up the value of Daniel Allen Hearn's excellent Legal Executions in New York State.
His book's entry for the Lindsay case provided sufficient details to establish the romantic elements of the murder victims' background story, thereby helping guide the approach pursued in follow-up research. New York Times and other newspaper accounts of the discovery of the crime, capture of the suspect and his execution all amplified, enhanced and expanded that basic story line. The following are among the newspaper that carried stories on the case: Syracuse Herald, Plattsburgh Daily Press, Olean Times Herald, Oswego Palladium Times.
-- Mary Bryant's listing (on the PaintedHills.Org website) of Randolph Rural Cemetery grave stone information was most useful. While the names and dates transcribed from the tombstones do not prove beyond doubt that Bernice Kenyon was the daughter of Winfield Scott Kenyon, the proximity of their graves in the cemetery's Central Road section and proximity of the birth dates make plausible the following scenario:
Presumably named for the famous general who had fought in the Buffalo and Lake Erie region during the War of 1812 and who later played a major role in the Indian Wars, Winfield Scott Kenyon was born in December of 1843. He was about 19 when he joined the 154th, known as the Hardtrack Regiment, that mustered in 1862. After the Civil War, Winfield married Olive G., who was about two years older than he. They had three daughters, Morna G., born 1873; Dora G., born 1874, and Bernice, the youngest, born 1874. Their mother died in 1910 and their father in 1919. Bernice and her husband, Harold, were in killed in 1935 and are buried next to each other in the Central Road sector of the cemetery. Dora died in 1940; Morna, in 1962.
-- The Kenyon name goes back in Cattaraugus at least as far back as the very early 19th Century. In 1808, Benjamin Kenyon was reported to have bought Lot #63 at Cattaraugus Village, built a house there, where until his death about 1830.
In March of 1892, W. L. Kenyon of Randolph was listed as an official NYS sugar weigher for the Cattaraugus region.
According to his website, the booklet "presents a detailed account of the organization of the 112th and 154th New York Volunteer Infantry regiments in the summer of 1862, when some 2,100 recruits from Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties converged at Camp Brown.
"This history of the rendezvous describes what the new soldiers experienced in the weeks before they were sent to the front, often using their own words.
"Long since vanished from the city scene, Jamestown's most significant Civil War site is revisited in the pages of Camp James M. Brown. Soft cover, 45 pages, four photographs and wrap-around cover photo."
Click cover image to access information about related publications.
-- A. Edward Krieger, who as Cattaraugus District Attorney prosecuted the Alfred J. Lindsay case, later went on to win the GOP nomination for County Judge, besting the then powerfully entrenched Republican establishment, and ultimately won election. But, only a few hours after conferring with DA Joseph A. Nevins about the upcoming court term and only 36 hours before he was to be sworn in as judge Jan. 1, 1950, Krieger was killed in a car crash near Salamanca. The driver of the other car and its passenger were also killed. Sheriff Morgan I. Siegel reported the Krieger car, with two passengers, and the other vehicle collided on a curve in the road between Olean and Salamanca..
-- One of Alfred J. Lindsay's two attorneys, Cornelius J. McCarthy died Jan. 5, 1978, at Olean General Hospital following a brief illness. McCarthy, 69, of Hamilton Ave., had been an attorney in Olean for 45 years.
Son of Cornelius J. and Margaret Cullinan McCarthy, he was born in Dunkirk on March 29, 1908. McCarthy Jr. married the former Mary Isabelle Krampf of Allegany on Sept. 7, 1939 at St. Bonaventure Church, Allegany, He was in business with G. Sidney Shane of Salamanca under the firm name Shane & McCarthy, Solicitors.
The webmaster is not related.