Monday, January 19, 2015

My Grandpa went to Prison! (or did he?)

Genealogists like nothing better than to unearth a notorious ancestor.  The solid, upstanding, hardworking salt-of-the-earth “American Gothic” type ancestors are nice, but let’s face it, they don’t make the news.  Newspapers then, as now, were most concerned with selling copies, and what generated better sales than a story of crime and punishment?
I discovered just such a story quite by accident one day while tooling the newspapers online for any mention of my WALSH ancestors in the small upstate New York city of Glens Falls.  My grandfather, John Mortimer Walsh, who acquired his middle name in honor of his maternal grandmother Anne Mortimer, always went by the nickname “Morty”.  Since any search invariably turned up hundreds of Walshes to wade through, I searched using his somewhat unusual middle name, placing “Mortimer Walsh” in quotes and hitting the search button.
Up popped some articles from Glens Falls area newspapers detailing the involvement of Mortimer Walsh in the middle-of-the-night robbery of 36 tires from the showroom of the F.F. Newberry  Company Garage.  The business was located at 63 Warren Street, Glens Falls, which to this day still houses a tire business.  The robbery occurred on Thursday, August 27, 1925.  The three perpetrators, Jesse Brown, Loren Paul Guernsey and J. Mortimer (sometimes identified as Martin) Walsh were arrested with 36 hours of the crime.  Guerney was taken into custody upon his return from Yonkers, NY, where he had journeyed to sell the stolen merchandise. 
With all the Walshes in the vicinity, how could I be sure the one arrested for this crime was my grandfather?  Well, for starters, the unusual name was a dead giveaway.  Early articles about the crime identify him as “Martin Walsh”, but once court proceedings started, his name is given as “J. Mortimer” or “John Mortimer” Walsh.  Secondly, his address is given as “near Quarry Crossing.”  Having never heard of Quarry Crossing the area before, I Googled it and found there is a Quarry Crossing Street in the town of Kingsbury, Washington County.  The area is so close to the Warren County border and the town of Queensbury that it must have at one time been part of it.  A look at the 1925 New York State census (taken as of June 1) finds the parents of John Mortimer Walsh, James and Jennie Walsh, and some of his siblings, living at Quarry Crossing.  Thought John is not enumerated in the household, this is solid proof that he had ties to the area mentioned as his address.
   The ultimate end to the case was that Loren Guernsey supplied evidence enough to have a jury convict Jesse Brown, in exchange for what amounted to a slap on the wrist.  John Mortimer Walsh ended up pleading guilty as a result of Brown’s conviction.  Both Brown and Walsh received sentences of 2-5 years of hard labor at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York. 
The three suspects were charged with third degree burglary.
Unfortunately no record could be found for my grandfather ever having served any time at Clinton.  The records housed at the New York State Archives were checked and nothing was found.  An inquiry to the Warren County Court resulted in the claim that nothing about the case could be found.  I have yet to inquire there in person, which may yield a different result.  By 1930, he is enumerated living in his parents’ home, employed as a laborer.  So what is the story here?  Did he or didn’t he serve time?

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