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County History

Allegany County Cold Cases

Transcribed by Crist Middaugh

Wellsville Daily Reporter, April 8, 2010

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Angelica: Deadly Camping Trip

Shickler was found shot on sleeping bag

By Kathryn Ross

Daily Reporter

Belmont - There’s never a cold case for Troop A of the New York State Troopers according to officers who still take note of three cases in Allegany County, one of which has left locals and police scratching their heads for nearly 40 years.

Headquartered in Batavia, Troop A includes the counties of Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming and is divided into four zones — Zone 4 taking in Allegany County. There are 11 troops dividing the state including contingents for the New York State Thruway and New York City.

Capt. George B. Brown and Senior Investigator Kenneth Dubrinski from Troop A, out of Batavia, sat down with the Daily Reporter to discuss “old cases.”

“We don’t call them cold cases,” explained Brown, “we refer to them instead as ‘old cases’ and they are always under review and investigation. They are active cases to varying degrees depending on leads we receive and whatever else is going on. They are periodically reviewed by someone.”

Old Case #3

AWEL 84-288

June 1984

Deadly Camping TripAllegany County Cold Cases Photo 1 of 2

On a late Friday afternoon on June 8, 1984 two teenagers were riding all-terrain vehicles near Snyder Pond between Common and Dowd Roads in the northeast corner of the town of Angelica when they came upon the body of a young-man laying on a sleeping bag at a camp site. He had a fatal gunshot wound to his head.

In the ‘old case’ of Robert A. Shickler, the dead man, while state police did have a body with a fatal gunshot wound they had neither a motive, a small amount of money was found on the body, nor a murder weapon. However cases like this, according to Brown and Dubrinski of the state police are open until they are closed by arrest.

Today, 26-years after the fact, the case is still under investigation.

A day and a half after the body was found it was reported in local newspapers by the state police that “A 21-year-old Tonawanda man named Robert A. Shickler of 1080 Sherman Drive was the victim of an apparent homicide in the Town of Angelica.”

Shickler’s body was found at a popular camp near a tract of Allegany County reforestation land located about two-tenths of a mile off Common Road around 5:30 p.m. on June 8. An autopsy placed the time of death about 9 a.m. earlier that day. There was however no sign of a vehicle or evidence as to how Shickler got to the site.

Contacting Shickler’s mother in Tonawanda police learned he had told her he was going camping, but did not tell her where or with who he was going. He left his car at home.

A day later state police divers checked out Snyder Pond but found only broken clay pigeons, one child’s sneaker and some tin cans; “nothing relating to the homicide,” they said.

The fact that Shickler was not from Allegany County and had little, if any connection to the county hampered the investigation.

“We lost the investigation because he was from Tonawanda and that created a gap in the facts,” Brown said.

“We know Shickler was familiar with the area. He may have camped at the same site earlier that year in May and he may have had friends in this area, but there is nothing of substance,” Brown said.

Working with state police out of the Clarence substation investigators learned that Shickler had “been arrested several times for minor offenses involving rowdiness, fighting, or disorderly conduct.”

As with the disappearance of Flossie Wilbur, the case was updated in 2009 Brown said. “The information has been fed into the Violent Investigation rime Assistance Program (VICAP).”

VICAP is a nationwide data base which looks for “communalities” between cases, Brown said. “It looks at the method of death and the manner of death and other specifics that might link cases,” he said.

As with any open case, the state police welcome any leads or any information. If anyone has any information regarding Robert Shickler, contact Dubrinski, at (585) 268-7085.

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Transcribed by Crist Middaugh

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Epilogue to the old cases….

By Kathryn Ross

Daily Reporter

Wellsville - Up until the time a headless and handless man was found in the town of Andover in 1970, another murder case on the books, according to information dug up by Jane Pinney, president of the Thelma Rogers Genealogical and Historical Society and Nathaniel Dyke Museum in Wellsville.Allegany County Cold Cases Photo 2 of 2

Because of the age of the case, 1933, it would not be routinely reviewed based on new technological break-throughs, according to New York State Senior Investigator Kenneth Dubrinski and Capt. George Brown.

“Anything prior to 1970 is 50 or 60 years old now. Sources of new information no longer exist. You get to a point where there is not followup, no action to take,” Brown said.

But back when the case was last reviewed by the state police in 1963, the murder of Trapping Brook Road farmer John Ahern wasn’t so old.

During the peak of the Great Depression it is a well-known fact that men from across the nation hit the road looking for work, and with the railroad running through it, Allegany County was not stranger to hobos and vigrants. That may or may not have been that status of town men who knocked on the door of a farm house 3.5 miles south of the village of Wellsville on a summer evening in 1933. It was around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. August 11, 1933, when two strangers appeared at the home Ahern, 73, and his sister, Julia Maroney, 79, shared.

At the time Maroney told investigating officer Sheriff Edson A. Brigham, her brother had retired (gone to bed) when two strangers appeared at the door and demanded they be allowed to buy wine which they had been told could be purchased there.

To quote the movies, “At a time when you really needed a drink, you couldn’t get one in the U.S.,” Due to the Volstead Act and the 18th Amendment, it would be another four months before alcohol could once again be legally purchased in the U.S.

Refused any liquor the men forced the screen door open and entered the house. Upon hearing the commotion Ahern appeared at the door of his bedroom clutching a shot gun.

One of the intruders, fired a .38 caliber revolver at him.

The bullet struck Ahern in the chest a few inches above his heart. As he crumpled to the floor dead, the two men made their escape, disappearing into the landscape and Allegany County history.

At the time investigators believed wine was not the motive for the men appearing at the door. It was widely known that Ahern was expecting a hefty insurance settlement for a barn which had burned down.

An hour after the shooting, an all out search was launched for the culprits described only as “big and stocky” by Maroney.

As per police work at the time, “a fine set of fingerprints were found on the screen door.”

Two petty criminals were arrested and held on vagrancy charges, but the printed story states, Sheriff Brigham, “could make nothing of the (meager clues) and the chase faded as time passed and no case could be assembled.”

In 1963, when state police Investigator Robert Jackson reviewed the case he concluded, “since many of the people involved in the 1933 killing are themselves dead, there is little hope of ever charging anyone in the murder.”

According to the facts of the story, when Ahern responded to the commotion with a shotgun, his weapon was not loaded.

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