Crime and Lyndon
Sleepy little Vermont towns are not often thought of as places of major crimes.. In the Spring of 2005 Lyndon Institute Senior Jackie Patridge for her community history project became interested in several decades old orginal newspaper articles found at the Shores museum that presented a different side of Lyndon. Jackie transcribed these articles and helped to preserve the towns orginal police badge that had been donated to the museum.
The Caledonian - Record
Lyndonville Police Chief Fontecha Shot, Killed
Lyndonville – Police Chief Alexander A. Fontecha was shot down in the front doorway of his home at 6:45 a.m. this morning by a killer who stood before his house for several minutes shouting for the chief to come out.
The Chief came to his front door and tried to reason with the man, but he was felled almost immediately by a blast from a 12 gauge shotgun. The killer woke Francis Beer, 23, who lives at 6 Raymond Street next door to the chief's home with his shouted curses. Beer went to the window of his apartment and saw a man walking up and down in front of Fontecha's house, shouting and cursing. Beer was unable to distinguish everything said, but told police the man said, "You never ever better do that again, several times."
Floyd Leonard, about 30, told police investigators that he had gone to the Fontecha home to warn the chief that a man was looking for him with a gun. He arrived too late, the man was down the sidewalk near the chief's house, he heard the chief say to the man, "You wouldn't dare shoot me with that gun." Immediately afterward he heard the shot. Moving behind the pole 10 yards from the house he saw a man with a gun walk to the corner and get into a car and drive away up East Street.
Rushing to the chief's house he found Fontecha on the floor across his front door still. He told the chief to lay still and rushed off to get Dr. Ralph Jardine. Fontecha was still alive when Leonard left the scene being held by his son, Robert, 16.
Immediately after the shooting Beer rushed from his apartment to the scene. On the street he met Dr. Philip Halpin who was walking down the street away from the chief's house. He told Beer that Fontecha was dead.
Dr. Jardine arrived a short time later and pronounced Fontecha dead at 7:30 a.m.
Pellets from the shotgun sprayed the front window of the house next door. Several of the pellets imbedded themselves in the window sill. One pellet went through the window struck a typewriter and ricocheted back out the same window.
Harold McBrine who occupies the apartment with his family said that he was awakened by a sound he thought was a window slamming. He went to the window and saw the two holes. Looking out the window he saw a man get into a car and drive off. He was unaware of the shooting until later.
The man reportedly stopped a few streets away and told an unidentified man, "I couldn't help myself." The man was not acquainted with what had happened and did not report to police until later. Ellis Mietevier, 72 of 60 Broad Street, Lyndonville, who operates a barber shop in the Stevens Block on Deport Street, was taken into custody by police shortly after 8 a.m. in connection with the shooting. Mietevier shop is next to the chief's office on the same floor of the building. State Police Lt. Chester ( ) Nash and Sheriff Carroll Lafoe arrested Mietevier.
It was believed that Fontecha helped investigate a small fire that broke out in the Metevier home Thursday. The state fire marshal's office was in charge of the probe.
Fontecha, 45 was a native of Barre. He assumed his duties as chief of Lyndonville's one man force July 22, 1956, arriving here from Northfield, Vt. where he had also been chief. The chief was married, and he and his wife, Eunice, have to children, Robert 16 and Marian, 9.
The 72-year old barber was taken to Caledonia County Jail and lodged there this morning pending an arraignment this afternoon on the charged of first degree murder before judge Lawrence Kimball in Caledonia Municipal Court. The arraignment proceeding has been scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
Metevier was arrested on an officer's complaint, according to Sten Lium, States Attorney. He will be formally charged with first degree murder before Judge Kimball this afternoon on an information filed by the States Attorney.
Scene of Early Morning In Lyndonville
Picture – The two-story home of Lyndonville Police Chief Alexander A. Fontecha at East and Raymond Streets in Lyndonville was the scene of the brutal murder of the 45-year old chief this morning at about 6:45 a.m. The chief was killed as he came through the front door on the porch. His killer fired a 12-guage shotgun from the lawn near the end of the porch on East Street. Pellets from the blast sprayed the building next door.
Lyndonville Police Chief Murdered
Picture- The body of Lyndonville Police Chief Alexander A. Fontecha lies in thee front doorway of his home in Lyndonville where he fell after being shot down by a man with a shotgun. The chief tried to reason with his killer, but was shot down before he had a chance to defend himself. He was unarmed and not in uniform when killed.
Boston Evening Transcript
Vermont's "Toughest Town" Moves to Rid Itself of Gangsters
Lyndonville, Beautiful Near the Border, Tires of Being Rum Runners' Hangout-Vigilance Committee Formed
By: Karl Schriftgiesser
This little town, which lies among the Green Mountains only thirty-five miles from the Canadian Border, is headquarters for one of New England's biggest bootleg gangs. It is the gathering place for criminals from all parts of the United States. The authorities of Caledonia County, in which Lyndonville is located, thus far have done little, if anything, to rid the community of the dozens of young toughs who have flocked here from western Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York, to pick up a few dollars in the border rum racket. It was only when the chief police's potato cellar, hiding place for confiscated booze, was hijacked in broad daylight that any official cognizance was taken of the situation. Lyndonville, aroused, suddenly became tired of being a bootlegging center instead of the quiet and pretty little New England village it had always been before the Eighteenth Amendment became law.
Thousands of tourists from Canada pass through this town each year on their way back through the States. Not one out of fifty of them realize, as they swing down Main Street, or stop at the Darling Inn, famous Vermont hostelry, that they were passing through a spot proportionately as Chicago or New York. They do not realize that the young men they see hanging on the street corner in front of the lurid advertisement of "Public Enemy" (which stands beside a church's Wayside Pulpit) are roughnecks out of city slums, youngsters who, when darkness descends, will disappear to the northward to come roaring over back roads with heavily laden cars filled with ales and whiskies. They do not realize that among these youngsters are, at times, men wanted so badly by the New York police that Commissioner Mulrooney of that city sends special detectives, heavily armed, after them. They do not realize that among this crowd at times, are killers, gun men, dope fiends, holdup men, some of the toughest and nastiest of city crooks. Lyndonville, however, has known this for years, but until a week ago has been content to turn its head the other way and look with pride upon its $200,000 high school, its modern hotel, its up-to-date garage, its brick business block as material evidence that all is right with Lyndonville.
If Lyndonville heard someone in congress not long ago declare that there were more men from Lyndonville in penitentiaries, according to population, than from any other place in the United States, it paid no attention. But that was before a recent Sunday morning when four men, in broad daylight and while neighbors were about in plain view, drove up to the home of the chief of police and broke into his cellar to take back a costly load of liquor which he had seized ten days before. That, in truth, was the final straw. The mumblings of the better citizens became louder and took articulate form. The sheriff was called in, the Federal Prohibition enforcement agent was spoken to, the attorney general got a letter. This display of arms and boldness of the daytime hijacking alarmed the citizens who had heretofore tolerated the congregation of toughs and wiseguys in the boarding houses, the poolrooms, the barber shops, and the lunch counters of the town.
An Ultimatum Served
The St. Johnsbury Caledonian printed a stirring editorial. A vigilance committee, shrouded in mystery, was formed. The trustees of the village of Lyndon and the selectmen of Lyndonville got together. An ultimatum was served.
Some of the gangsters took to cover. Others, in the words of one interviewed by the Transcript, said, "Aw what the hell? They ain't bothering us none. We may have to keep quiet for a while, but the price of booze is down anyway, and it'll all blow over in a week or so. What the hell?"
The sheriff of Caledonia County, blue-eyed, tall, young Frederick. A. Flint, asked to comment on the situation, after haranguing the reporter on the consequences that would come were misquoted, refused to say anything worth quotation except that the gangs would move or go to work. Just how the local authorities will rid the town of the undesirables has not been made public, other than that cryptic statement of the High Sheriff of Caledonia County.
The first action of the authorities were two raids on garages, in which several cars allegedly used for rum running, were seized. When, upon examination, it was found that some of these had neither smoke screen adjustments nor defective brakes, they were rather sheepishly returned to their owners. The others were kept under lock and key, awaiting claimants. It is believed that authorities will strike, if strike, they do, in another direction, thus getting not the big men of the border running racket, but these wise guys who work for them at $25 per load brought through. The ancient and honorable phrase, "without visible means of support" may be dusted off for the arresting warrants, if steps go that far.
High School Youths Among Them
The greatest argument used by towns-people against the presence of the outside gangsters is that these toughs are having an unusually bad influence upon the native sons and daughters. Many boys and even girls of high school age are said to be hanging out with the imported runners, drinking and carousing with them at near by dance halls, experiencing new thrills driving rakish cars at high speed over back roads and along the main high way trail of experienced pilots. Recently they arrested a boy of thirteen for breaking and entering, according to the local newspaper, and his justification of the crime was that he had as much right to do that as the bootleggers of the town had to carry on their illegal operations. This shocked the townspeople, and for the first time they looked upon the runners as an evil influence hitherto unsuspected.
Lyndonville, once home of Theodore N. Vail of telephone fame, site of the famous Darling show place and farm, pride of northeastern Vermont, and neighbor of St. Johnsbury, once known as the "lily white town" of the State, has long been the seat of the Parker gang. Ray and Glen Parker are kings of Vermont bootlegging. Where then once they have figured in the news. Lyndonville is home of a well-known girl runner, known as Queen of the Rum Runners, whose exploits upon occasion have burst into print. Its nearness to the border makes it an ideal place for a hangout. It is just out of the range of the border patrols, which seldom come more than thirty miles away from the important if imaginary line between the two countries, unless they are engaged in a hot pursuit. Its quietness is attractive, although it occasionally gets on the nerves of the runners who like thrills and excitements. When it gets too much for them to stand, they engage in such sophomoric pleasures as driving automobiles down the sidewalks of the town and beating up protesting highway policemen. Except for such actions as rum running their criminality has been neither noticeable nor vicious.
Perhaps that is why Lyndonville authorities have chosen to ignore them. Every one knew of their existence and no one seemed to care. But things are different now. The toughs must go. They must stay clear of the street corners, and keep out of sight. But, most of all, their new and most dangerous racket must stop. This is hijacking.
It is only recently that the hijacking of liquor loads has been prevalent here abouts. Some think that the chiefs cache was hijacked, although others are of the opinion that its "rightful" owners grabbed it off. But aside from this episode hijacking has been going on. A Lyndon bootlegger lost two loads within a week to an enemy gang and other hijacking operations have been reported. Fearing that such activities may lead to shooting and possibly gang wars, the citizens are alarmed.
So far guns have been in little evidence in this neck of the woods. But many of the rum runners are going armed these days fearful of being held up, not by authorities, but by rival gangs. If any large attempt to "muscle in" on the Parker gang or any of the other smaller but well established gangs which "own" this territory should come about there undoubtedly would be trouble. Lyndonville is pretty well known all over the country by gangsters, many of whom lay low here in bad times working for the rum runners. If arrested elsewhere they invariably give Lyndonville as their address and thus the town, which has a police force consisting entirely of Chief Butterfield and one uniformed night police officer, has come to be known far and wide as "soft pickings." If the smuggling and hijacking situation got to a state of warfare it would be easy for rival gangs to import gorillas enough to set northeastern Vermont in a state of real terror.
The Hijackers at work
This section of Vermont is a wild country. It is criss-crossed with a multitude of back roads. These the rum caravan pilots know inch by inch; they know, too, whose barn can be used for a cache for their loads, and there are hundreds of such barns on the American side of the border. After crossing the line much of the booze is stored in such hideouts by the local runners to await gangs from Greenfield and Springfield and Turner's Falls who come up here to replenish the supply demanded by the thirsty of the western part of Massachusetts. Some of the booze finds its way to Providence, and some to Boston and New York.
The most dangerous part of the rum trip is across the border. The runners load up from barns over the line and sneak across in high-powered cars, often protected by smoke screens. Pilots clear the way for them in the early morning hours, driving everyone off the road when necessary, especially if they are being chased. After one recent hijacking instance an innocent farmer, moping along in his dusty ford, was forcefully driven into a ditch.
After the runner has got thirty miles into the states he feels safe. He knows that occasionally the sheriff may get him, that sometimes the enforcement officers may be out, and that sometimes a local police officer may grab him. But as a rule he knows he is safe, as he is smarter. There aren't enough sheriffs or other officers in all Vermont, nor enough customs men, to dry the border flow of liquor.
Knowing this he (2 words.) Not content to break only one law, he swaggers and swanks and defies them all, as the local newspaper puts it. Lyndonville now thinks he has gone too far. It thinks so for the first time since the eighteenth amendment was passed. Apathetic towards boos running as it may have been, just at present it is righteously indignant. Thus the vigilance committee has secretly been formed to gather evidence. Sheriff Flint has shined up his badge. Wills C. Connor, manager in the biggest dairy in these parts, and other trustees of the village, as well as W. Arthur Simpson, taciturn unsuccessful candidate for governor at the last election, have all openly come out and served warning on the rum runner. They declare they will clean the town up and drive the bootleggers out. Whether they will or not remains to be seen. The bootleggers have a great deal of power here, and while Lyndon and Lyndonville have been sleeping, they have been building their machine. They may be able to drive out, temporarily, some of the toughs who hang around with no, "visible means of support." They may get a few loads of good liquor. But the informed are doubtful if they will or can go much further than that.
A Phoenix Town
Lyndonville is a Phoenix town. Beautifully situated, its broad streets are flanked by parks and fine houses. Its business section burned down six years ago only to be rebuilt immediately and well. Its business blocks are modern, its hotel, named for the proprietor of the old Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York, the late Colonel Darling who had done much for the town, is up to date and attractive, and the town has many other things to be proud of. Secretly it is a little proud of its rough reputation, so unusual for a Vermont village. But just now, with conditions the way they are, it is afraid of the future. And so it is going to clean house, if it can.
Some other town can have the reputation for being the toughest town in Vermont from now on. The bootleggers have overused the hospitality of the town and must go, says the township. The Cat Skills in New York may have its Legs Diamonds and its gang killings. Lyndonville, in Vermont, wants none of that.