For those of you who are looking for a road trip blog, or something racing related, you're going to be disappointed because this isn't either. Well, maybe it is in a way because it is a true story, and had life taken a few different turns along the way, maybe I wouldn't even be posting this here. Go grab your favorite beverage and start reading. I promise, this will be as interesting as any Road Trippin' blog I've ever done. Ready?
To start this story, I need to back up the clock to about 1974, but we are going to bounce back and forth in order to tell it right. I would have been 11 years old then, and was starting to ask questions about the family history. My mother's maiden name was Smith, and so were her parents. My father's name was Miller, but his mother's name was Jenniejohn. One day I asked my Dad why that was, and he told me that his mom divorced her first husband and remarried. Being inquisitive, I wanted to know why they divorced. Dad told me that he'd tell me the whole story when I was a little older and could undertand. I had no choice but to wait.
In a related seguay, I need to bring something else up here. I was a big kid for my age... bigger than a lot of my classmates. When I was 12 years old, Dad taught me how to drive his pickup. It was a standard - 3 on the tree Chevy - his only new vehicle he ever bought. I loved the truck and he knew it. I think that between my size and not being able to wait to drive, he took me out on the back roads and taught me how to drive. This was the type of bond Dad and I had. And soon, I was driving all over the place. We'd stop at the convenience store, he'd grab a 6 pack of Genny beer bombs, and we go joyriding until they were gone. And along the way, we'd talk about everything from school to girls to whatever. No subject was taboo. And this was how I got the job driving packer trucks at Canandaigua Speedway. When they asked how old I was, I said 16 but was only 12. They knew I was lying, but they also were sympathetic to my story. I told them how my Dad took a cut in pay to keep his job and could no longer afford to take us all to the races. I told them that if I got a job there and got in for free, he wouldn't have to pay my way and could apply my admission to his ticket. Rather than flat out deny me, they pointed at a particular truck and told me to take it out for a test drive. Of course, it was a standard and they figured I wouldn't be able to move it. As it turned out, I not only got it started, but never jackrabbit started or ground the gears when I shifted. They called my bluff, I beat them at their own game and left them no choice but to hire me. I drove packer trucks up until I was 19 and was the only driver who never wrecked, spun out or got stuck even once.
Dad and I were out joyriding one day when I was 13, and we got on the subject of why Grandma divorced her first husband. He finally told me why, and I was just blown away. He said that Grandma's first husband went to prison for killing Dad's brother Charles. When I started asking questions, he didn't have many answers. All he knew was that his father went to prison for killing his brother.
In 1985, Grandma's health started to deteriorate and she needed more care than the family could provide. It was decided that she would benefit most from a nursing home, and that's where she went. Off and on I'd ask questions about Grandma, and asked Dad to get her to spill her guts. While cleaning out her house, Mom found some newspaper articles of the story that Grandma had kept hidden all those years, which invigorated my questioning of Dad. I told him that if he were ever to know the truth, he'd have to ask now while she could still answer. He said that if she wanted him to know, she would talk. She never did and took her story with her when she passed away in 1987. This story is why I had dreams as a teenager of being a homicide detective. Had I followed them, who knows where I'd be today? Unfortunately, I discovered marijuana first. I didn't think there were many pot smoking detectives on the force, so I never persued it. I've always regretted my decision.
It's funny how things work out at times. When Dad's health started to deteriorate back in 2009, I told myself that if he were to ever know the truth, I'd have to be the one to get the shovel out and start digging. The problem was, I didn't have enough information to start with. The newspaper articles that Mom found were stashed away someplace and nobody remembered exactly where. Along with those newspaper articles was another piece of the puzzle... Dad's original birth certificate that appeared to be doctored. Dad knew this from seeing it himself. Dad had lots of ups and downs in his recovery process, and when he started coming back strong, I decided to start pumping him for info again.
Fellow DTD'er Jay Mooney tipped me off back in the beginning of January to a website that contains over 15 million old New York newspapers that are scanned and archived for things just like this. There is a flaw with the website however. The search method in the website isn't an exact science. There was a huge learning curve in trying to retrieve information. Using exact terms and phrases were turning up nothing, while loose terminology seemed to be more productive. This took a while to figure out and Dad knew I was working on his story. On the outside, he didn't seem to care one way or the other. On the inside though, I think he really wanted to know, and that inspired me to keep searching. My first tipoff that I was headed in the right direction came back in the middle of January when I located a 1948 newspaper column that told of my great grandfather's accidental death in a brush fire. Until I read that story, I had only heard about it through Dad. http://i108.photobuc...ril20th1949.jpg
I didn't realize in January how close I was to striking gold. I told Dad about a week before he died about finding the newspaper report of his grandfather's death. Unfortunately, Dad died February 11th and never got to learn the truth. One week after his passing, the information started trickling in. 2 weeks after he died, I got pictures from a relative that ask even more questions. And a month after Dad died, I think I've finally cracked the case. After several lengthy phone calls, email exchanges and facebook conversations with my cousin Sue (who I haven't seen or talked to in almost 35 years), along with literally hundreds of hours searching that newspaper website, this is what I've discovered...
John Miller, who my Dad was always told was his father, married my grandmother in either 1923 or 1924. They lived on Eastman Avenue in Rochester in 1927 and had 2 kids... Doris born in March of 1926 and Charles in June of 1927. John Miller was arrested for Murder, 1st Degree on September 5th, 1927 for the death of his 4 month old son, Charles. This was big news back then with news articles in papers all across the state. This account of his arrest was found in a Schenectady newspaper. http://i108.photobuc...ly/09061927.jpg
Traditionally, murder trials are lengthy processes and get dragged out in court for sometimes up to a year and more. Prosecution needs time to build a case and the defense needs time to build and alibi and excuses. One of the most bizarre things I've ever seen came when I found this next article where the father asks the district attorney for permission to attend the baby's funeral. This was found in a Schenectady paper dated September 8th... http://i108.photobuc...ly/09081927.jpg
After further investigation, I find this account in the September 8th edition of the Niagara Falls newspaper explaining how brutal John Miller was, and how the state wants him to undergo psychiatric evaluation to see if he is fit to stand trial. http://i108.photobuc...iagaraFalls.jpg
And then I hit a major road block. No matter what I do, I can't find another followup. The Rochester newspaper for the week of September 5th is not archived on this website - go figure. I've been unable to find an obituary for Charles even as I write this. My search turned to 1928 where I figure I am going to find the results of this trial. Nothing turned up with John Miller's name attached to it for the entire year. So now what?
I played a hunch and was rewarded with huge dividends. Murder 1st was the original charge which carried a possible sentence of the death penalty. My thought was, I wonder if this brutal "CS" would try to plea bargain to save his own life? I figured that since nothing turned up in 1928, then it was likely that he plead guilty without a trail, and probably before the end of the year. So I searched the month of December 1927 in the Rochester newspaper and find this in the 12/6/27 edition... http://i108.photobuc...RochesterDC.jpg
Unbelievable. He offers to plead guilty to Murder 2nd to spare himself of the death penalty? What a pussy/coward! Not only did he brutally and savagely beat, burn and torture his own son, but he hit him in the back of the head with a clenched fist hard enough to create a quarter sized hole in his skull. And then begs for leniency??? But wait... there's more. MUCH more. My Aunt Doris visually appears normal, but is mentally retarded... probably the mental capacity of a 6 year old. Her left arm also isn't functional. She carried it her whole life just below her breasts, across her stomach as if she were using a sling. Mom and Dad were always told Doris' condition was because of Polio. Other family members were told that her arm got caught in a wringer washer. And there are others that say they were told she fell down the stairs in a baby carriage while in the care of her father. It's beyond coincidental that her physical ailments are almost identical to the injuries that caused the death of her brother, and the story changing from relative to relative suggests a coverup and that there was never any Polio. If I could ask Grandma just one question, it would be why she didn't spill her guts on this guy when she had the chance. This is Dad and his sister Doris somewhere around 1936... http://i108.photobuc...DadandDoris.jpg
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle prints the following account of his sentencing dated 12/9/27... http://i108.photobuc...RochesterDC.jpg
It would be hard to find anything good in all of this, especially when I found out that he served his term and was released. Family members all agree that Miller should have fried at low voltage in the electric chair. But there is good to be found after all. The conviction date of John Miller was December 8th, 1927. My father was born October 20th, 1929. This means that it is humanly impossible for John Miller to be the blood father of my Dad because there was no such thing as conjugal visits in those days. And that explains a lot when you look at Dad's birth certificate. The maternal side shows my grandmother as being Dad's mother, and on the paternal side it says John Miller - but written over the top of an erased name. When you hold it up to the light, you can barely make out the last name of the real father. We figure that Grandma met some guy at work after Miller went to prison, wound up getting pregnant with my Dad, and because she still wasn't legally divorced from Miller, gave Dad the last name of Miller to match her and sister Doris.
While exchanging information with my cousin Sue, she went through her photo album and found a couple of pictures of my grandmother posing with some man where they are intimately embracing eachother. Both are fully dressed, but he is sitting on a rock with her on his lap, and their legs are entwined and holding hands. Both have big smiles on their faces. Sue always thought that the man in those pictures was John Miller. She emailed them to me because I had never seen the guy. I figured if anyone were to find resemblance between this guy and my father, I would. After looking at the pictures, I see NO similarity between them whatsoever.
A couple of days later, I am at my Moms house and told her of these pictures. Mom wanted to see them because she went to John Miller's funeral at the request of my grandmother. So did Dad. Mom thought that she could positively say one way or the other if this was him or not. When she looked at the pictures, she said it wasn't the guy she remembers at the funeral. Interesting...
2 days later, Mom and I are going through our family photo albums looking for pictures of Dad. Ma asked me if I would assemble a video of Dad for his rememberance party next month. In the process, she found a picture of my very young grandmother, in a wedding dress, with a groom. It is also definitely not the same man in the pictures that Sue sent me.
After studying the pictures, we believe that the wedding picture is Grandma and John Miller and the other pictures are of my Dad's real father. Dad looks like neither fellow, but my older brother resembles the man in the picture on the rock somewhat. There is no writing on the back of the pictures.
Grandma and John Miller... http://i108.photobuc...randGrandma.jpg
Grandma and ??? http://i108.photobuc...y/Nickerson.jpg
I could use some help investigating this further. If you know anyone in the Auburn Correctional Facility that can look up John Miller's file/report from December of 1927, I know of a bunch of people who would like to read it.
If you are in the Brockport area and can chase down the death of John Miller who died in 1960 or 1961, I'd like to see that too. Mom remembers going to Brockport for his funeral - against Dad's wishes. He went only because he was asked to by his mother.
I'm still trying to locate the obituary of Charles Miller, who died on September 5th, 1927 and was buried in the West Webster Cemetery. I'm extremely interested in survivor names. One newspaper account of the murder states that John Miller had 2 other children. If Doris was one of them and my father hadn't been born yet, who is and what happened to the the other?
And if you know anyone with the last name of Nickerson from Rochester, please say so. I'm especially interested in anyone with the name Robert or Harold, or who might have worked at Kodak Park in 1928 - 1929.
Response here will dictate whether or not there is a Part II.