Oct 8, 2020: We are not the couple found dead. Plus, Aunt Rebecca found dead in Erie Canal and Mason murder--old family letter.

Oct 8, 2020

 Dear Friends and Family,

If you hear about the couple found dead in our apartment complex, I want to assure you it wasn't us (one local friend was worried when I didn't answer my phone yesterday). On our way home from our daughter's Tuesday night, we thought police cars were chasing us for some unknown traffic violation, so we pulled over. They blew past us and pulled into our apartment complexYesterday morning, our apartment management emailed us"At approximately 7:40pm, suspicious activity was reported. Management and the Baldwinsville Police Department immediately reported to the scene and determined that a shooting occurred resulting in the death of two residents...Anyone with information that could assist should call the Baldwinsville Police Department...You might notice an increased police presence on the property as the authorities continue their investigation." A blanket was covering the patio doors to their apartment yesterdayThe dead man looks familiar to me, probably seen on my walks. For the news story, click hereIf you are aware of anyone who could be in a domestic violence crisis, we recommend Vera Housea non-profit we help support.
Given today's emotionally painful climate, I think it's more important than ever that family and friends stay connected and help each other find joy and fight against hopelessness. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). find joy in staying in touch with youwatching rescued baby elephants on Youtube, taking drives/walks with family, and working to prevent the transmission of CMV, the virus that injured our daughter Elizabeth’s brain.
My friend Jules is a therapist in charge of the Air Force's psychological health programShe likes the Air Force's suicide prevention motto: "Connect to Protect". She says that fundamentally, people just want one thing--to belong. She suggests that if you notice someone has lost their smile, ask them, "You don't seem yourself, are you OK? Is there something I can do for you?" If the person says no, she suggests stating, "OK., just let me know if that changes." She believes "it's better to give someone the gift of connection than the gift of silence--it's OK to be intrusive to make sure someone is OK."
For those of you who may remember Jules's name, she is the sailor who talked Jim and me into helping her and her husband Neil sail her boat from Maryland to Mystic in the winter. You can read excerpts of my book"Mystic Seafarer's Trail,"at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00A3RX85E . One excerpt Chapter 1: Shortly after stepping out of my new home with my hound for our first stroll through the historic seacoast village of Mystic, a woman pulled over in her van and yelled, "Excuse me." Assuming she was a tourist wanting directions to Mystic Pizza or some other attraction, I wasn't prepared for what she really wanted to know. "Do you realize the back of your skirt is tucked into your underwear?"...If you want to watch me on a boat interviewing a shipwreck explorer who finds true sailing disasters, see: https://youtu.be/-MWJBfIxIBE
Attached are pictures of rainbows we saw the other day on our way home from Seneca Falls, the village considered the inspiration for the set of Frank Capra's movie, "It's a Wonderful Life". The movie is set in the fictional village of Bedford Falls in upstate NY. It has a bridge similar to the one over the canal in Seneca Falls. In real life, a woman threw herself off that Seneca Falls bridge into the canal, but a man jumped in and saved her. The woman was pulled out, but the man drowned. Perhaps the Seneca Falls bridge story inspired some of the story line in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” (Sadly, my great-aunt Rebecca Chamberlain Whyland did successfully drown herself in the Erie Canal in 1941 by driving her car into it--or was it murder? See below my signature for clues). The best thing about Seneca Falls is its simple, free It's A Wonderful Life museum. Filled with memorabilia and images donated by Karolyn Grimes, who played “Zuzu” in the film, what especially touched me was that they distributed pamphlets on suicide prevention, how to handle the loss of someone and how to support suicide prevention legislationbecause the theme of "It's a Wonderful Life" is to give people pause before doing something at the height of emotional distress. That movie helped me when I was in despair after my daughter Elizabeth was born with a severely damaged brain in 1989. The Museum’s Exhibit includes quotes from Frank Capra that focus on his philosophy of the value of each individual, together with images from the film. I particularly like his quote: "People are seeking spiritual and moral reassurance, and if the movies can't supply this, they will be serving no worthwhile purpose."
I have been asked by my local TV access station to find guests who can present hopeful or happy information to cheer up the public. One of my upcoming interviews will be with Michael Whitehouse, a business consultant, who will be talking about "How to Make a Living Remotely". You may also get inspired by this interview: “Ask the Expert: "The Power of YES: Learning After Age 50 withElizabeth Saede".
I will try to update my public Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLisaSaunders, with more photos of upstate NY villages near the old and new Erie Canal along with my local access TV interviews once they get uploaded to Youtube.


Aunt Rebecca. Probably taken in the 1930s.

The old Erie Canal seems to be steeped in more drama and mystery than our apartment complex. My cousin Teresa is making me question if our Aunt Rebecca of Hamlin (Brockport) really killed herself by driving into the Erie Canal. Perhaps she was murdered? I've been watching a lot of Cold Case shows lately. Killing someone then driving them into the water is one of the oldest tricks in the book.  Aunt Rebecca  went missing on a Saturday, Nov. 8, 1941, (just weeks prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor)and was found underwater the following Wednesday.

I'm now trying to get a hold of the nearly 80-year-old coroner's report on my Aunt Rebecca of Hamlin (Brockport), wondering if she really killed herself by driving into the Erie Canal. I want to know why the coroner determined she died "by suicide while temporarily insane." How did he know she wasn't murdered and driven into the canal or that she wasn't the victim of a hit-and-run? Aunt Rebecca  went missing on a Saturday, Nov. 8, 1941, and was found underwater the following Wednesday. My local librarian is helping find clues, like the Brockport newspaper article headlined, HAMLIN LADY FOUND DEAD IN SUNKEN AUTOMOBILE, stating: "A 37-year-old Hamlin woman, Mrs. Rebecca Whyland, who had been missing from her home in the Chase Road since Saturday was found dead in her automobile, which was located at the bottom of the Barge canal, last night, between the Lake road and Sweden-Walker road, about two miles east of this village. Lester Whyland, her husband, reported to Sheriff Skinner that she left home, Saturday, on a shopping trip and when she did not return, that evening, he reported her missing. Following a "hunch," Mrs. Whyland's brother-in-law, Ray Conley of Hilton searched along the Canal bank until he noticed tire marks going into the Canal. The sheriffs office was notified and for an hour a boat hook was used along the bottom of the canal. Finally, it struck the car in the center and a tow truck was called. When the car was raised, Mrs.  Whyland's  body was found jammed under the steering wheel and the top of the automobile was crashed as  though hit by passing barges. The body was taken to the morgue where an autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death. In an effort to clear up the case, Sheriff Skinner stated that he would continue his conversations with Mr. Whyland and Mr. Conley today.."

A week later, on November 20, the newspaper reported the following: Coroner Issues Suicide Verdict Funeral Held Saturday Coroner Davide H. Atwater, after a thorough investigation, listed Friday, the death of Mrs. Rebecca Whyland of Chase road, Hamlin, who was found Nov. 12 in her car at the bottom of the Barge canal, as "by suicide while temporarily insane." Besides her husband, Lester, Mrs. Whyland is survived by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Chamberlain; two sisters, Mrs. Wilbur VanDorn and Mrs Harold Brown; two brothers, Arthur of Rochester and Irving of Hilton;  and several nieces and nephews. Funeral services were conducted from her late home, Saturday, afternoon at 2 o'clock. Internment took place in Parma Union cemetery.

Wouldn't a barge have reported that they hit an object in the canal? Jim wants to know if she was wearing the "yellow diamond" ring when her body was found. According to my cousin Laura, her family feared there may have been a curse around it as two of our family members who owned it died at age 37. Prior to Aunt Rebecca, my great-grandmother Alice Lee owned the ring and died from leukemia at 37. Prior to her, my uncle Frank owned it and hung himself (he was in his 20s). According to Cousin Laura, Uncle Frank "bought it and proposed to a lady who turned him down. He was so distraught and depressed that he hung himself in the barn." (My Cousin Laura's family sold the "yellow diamond" ring in a Tiffany setting and learned that it was actually a yellow sapphire.)

My local librarian is helping me investigate Rebecca's death and the find the stretch of road she was reported to have driven in from: “Lake Road is called Main Street in Brockport and Sweden-Walker Road runs parallel to Main (Lake) Street. The road that follows the canal is called East Canal Road. I've driven it and it's very picturesque with no guardrails or anything to stop a car from running off the road. That stretch is about four miles,” said Jacquie Owens, Adult Services Librarian, Baldwinsville Public Library. Owens questions Rebecca's suicide verdict along with me and hopes that as a family member, I may be able to get a copy of the coroner's report (see note below). She says, "In the back of my mind, I did a double take when I saw the suicide by reason of temporary insanity. What was the reason for the insanity? Was there any evidence that she was acting strangely or did the coroner just assume she was because it looked like a suicide? I hate when scientists make assumptions. Also, they said that the car was crushed as if a barge passed over it. Didn't the barge, if there was one, think to report the scraping, especially since it damaged the boat? And did a barge even pass by between the time she went in and the time she was pulled out?"

I uploaded the above articles and the photograph I keep of  her beside my computer on Find a Grave at: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/153574329/rebecca-c.-whyland  

I'm also looking into the 1826 case of the missing, probably murdered Freemason William Morgan who was trying to publish a book exposing Freemasonry's secrets. The "Morgan Murder" caused division in my 19th century family who lived along the Canal per a letter I recently read from my 4th great-grandfather, banker William Sisson of Lyons (a Freemason), to his brother-in-law, my distant uncle, Justus Gale, of Rochester, who supported the Anti-Mason movement.

If you have any Erie Canal stories or tips on how to solve old "Cold Cases", please let me know as I'm currently working on a new book, “Walking the Erie Canal Trail: Secrets  of the 8th Wonder of the World, CMV and Pandemic Pizza". 

Notes: Monroe County's Office of the Medical Examiner offers the ability to get coroner's reports if you are entitled to it. The hours for record information requests are Monday through Friday (10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.). Autopsy Authorization Request: include a $40 check or money order payable to Monroe County, and send to Office of Medical Examiner, 740 East Henrietta Road, Rochester, NY  14623" https://www.monroecounty.gov/health-medicalexaminer#Archival. The New York State Archives may be an easier way to get a hold of the report.


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