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Editor’s corner: Grim finds are toll on tranquility

Times Observer Photo The trail off Woleben Road now has an unfortunate and notorious history associated with it.

PORTLAND, N.Y. — There is plenty of peace to be found in the hills that surround Woleben Road. Some of the most majestic views of the grape vineyards and Lake Erie can be found near this location of western Chautauqua County.

This week, however, that site became a dark reminder of fellow residents who have gone missing and the others who callously had their lives taken without any accountability. All these cases have haunted investigators and law enforcement for decades.

But no one hurts or suffers as much heartache as the families. Every milestone or birthday that passes is a reminder that justice has not been served.

On Monday, the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department reported the remains of a female individual had been found. Less than 24 hours later, Sheriff Jim Quattrone said another set of remains for a different person was discovered near the same location.

It is a terrifying coincidence.

During the past four days, there have been plenty of reminders of women who have gone missing in recent decades. Corrie Anderson, who worked a part-time job at the Jamestown Community College library, was last seen Oct. 28, 2008, leaving the former Lake County Dodge car dealership on Washington Street in Jamestown after visiting her boyfriend.

Before her was Lakewood’s Lori Ceci Bova, who has never been seen since June 1997, and Patricia Laemmerhirt, who went missing in April 1976.

Three names. No burials.

It is a disturbing trend that is not just tied to those who have yet to be found. In northern Chautauqua County, at least five homicide cases have gone without arrests since the early 2000s. They include:

¯ William A. Taft Sr. was last seen Nov. 30, 2005, in the city of Dunkirk. He was located Dec. 26 off of Williams Street in the town of Dunkirk near a pond and grape vineyard with a fatal neck injury caused by a sharp instrument.

¯ On Nov. 3, 2006, 38-year-old Jerry Nickerson and 52-year-old Mark Trautman, had their lives taken after someone broke into the roommates’ home on East Lake Road in the town of Dunkirk.

¯ Thomas B. Douglas of Buffalo died from gunshot wounds on July 17, 2011, on Arrowhead Drive, in the town of Dunkirk.

¯ 47-year-old Brian Heyden was found on April 21, 2018, off Route 20 in the town of Portland. An operator traveling on Route 20 located his body in a wooded area near Corell Creek.

¯ Around 2 a.m. July 21, 2018, Billy Hall Jr. suffered a brutal beating in the alley next to 35 Water St. in Fredonia. Family members believe he was dragged across the street where his bloodied body was found on a porch at 36 Water St. He died Aug. 5 in UPMC Hamot in Erie, Pa. Despite some suspects in the case, no one has been charged. In the weeks following Hall’s death, his mother Claudia McEntee emotionally recalled a connection at youth between Heyden and her son in an interview with the OBSERVER. “Billy was in first grade with him,” she said.

A cold case file on the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department website reveals other cases that date back 38 years. Those include:

¯ Jane Doe, a homicide victim discovered in a ditch along Route 17, the Southern Tier Expressway, now Interstate 86, in the eastbound lane, in the town of Ellery on Dec. 6, 1983. The victim had been shot once in the back, twice in the chest, and once inside the mouth. She was believed to be from Canada or a European country.

¯ Judith Lynn McElheney of Buffalo was shot to death at a rest stop on Route 5 in the town of Sheridan. The 27-year-old victim suffered one gunshot to her left ear area. No motive or suspects were ever developed.

¯ Rebecca Nicholson, whose body was discovered in her home in Westfield on Dec. 13, 1990. Nicholson had been shot and killed.

¯ Benjamin Gonzalez-Reyes, whose body was discovered July 1, 1998, on a hiking trail in the town of Pomfret after he had been shot execution style.

¯ John Caylor, who died Oct. 11, 2003, in the town of Harmony. His body was found in the front yard of a residence. He was beaten with a blunt object.

Not on the list is Yolanda Bindics, who went missing in Jamestown in 2004. Her remains were found in the town of Portland some 15 years ago.

Current District Attorney Jason Schmidt offered little comment on the recent find in Portland other than to say he’s “closely watching the situation.” His predecessor Patrick Swanson, during a time of increased violence in the region, expressed worry in 2017. “Our (county’s) homicide rate over the past 20 to 30 years has noticeably increased,” Swanson said, “There are no signs that trend will be changing anytime soon.”

By Thursday morning, the numerous vehicles and investigators had left the dubious scene at Woleben Road that will never again be considered as just a walking trail. There’s a notorious past and an unfortunate link to that path.

Whatever has gone wrong there has stolen the innocence of a natural setting.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the Times Observer, The Post-Journal and OBSERVER in Dunkirk, N.Y. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 723-8200, ext. 253.

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