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Investigators recall gruesome Tri-Willow murders 40 years later

Sean I. Mills
Staff writer
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Posted 11/16/19

TOWN OF LEE — It has been 40 years since the four bodies were found bound and executed at the Tri-Willow Nursery on Turin Road, but former investigator Enrico L. D’Alessandro remembers it like …

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Investigators recall gruesome Tri-Willow murders 40 years later

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TOWN OF LEE — It has been 40 years since the four bodies were found bound and executed at the Tri-Willow Nursery on Turin Road, but former investigator Enrico L. D’Alessandro remembers it like it was yesterday.

“It was a horrific, horrific murder scene. That’s the only way you can describe it,” D’Alessandro recalled.

That gruesome discovery on Nov. 16, 1979 kicked off 15 months of far-reaching investigations, frustrating dead ends and the eventual capture and conviction of three dangerous criminals. The brutal slayings of Carl and Gloria Bachmann, Rose Dunn and Bruce Barber are still vividly remembered today by the law enforcement officers who investigated the case.

“This was huge,” D’Alessandro said. “This sliced across the fabric of what we thought was peaceful Upstate New York.”

For the 40th anniversary of the Tri-Willow murders, D’Alessandro and several of his colleagues still in the area sat down for a round table interview with The Daily Sentinel. Along with D’Alessandro, there was former forensics Sgt. Lynton Clark, also with the Sheriff’s Office; former Inv. Lawrence Moylan, of the New York State Police; and former Oneida County Assistant District Attorney Kurt Hameline.

“This investigation, from start to stop, was 15 months before there were convictions,” recalled Clark. “A lot of feet on the ground, and a lot of collecting of various dates from different people, tied Lee, NY with a Florida connection.”

Reunited again, the four old gumshoes could still remember the Tri-Willow Nursery and the horrors inside. They reminisced about the intricate, hands-on nature of police work before the age of computers and the internet. They laughed and swapped old anecdotes about what it was like to work so closely and for so long with such good people.

But mostly they remembered what it was like to be law enforcement on one of the biggest, most intricate and most expansive investigations in the history of Oneida County.

The scene

“The dispatcher said to me that we had a quadruple homicide at Tri-Willow,” remembered D’Alessandro.

He was working a sexual assault investigation about two miles away from the Turin Road nursery, and he can still remember having to apologize to his victim because suddenly a much bigger case had fallen into his lap. D’Alessandro said he raced to the scene and was met by Deputy Jess Roullier, who had been flagged down by the people who had discovered the bodies inside.

“He grabs me and we go inside and we go to the back room and there were the victims, all lined up, face down, in the back room — all dead,” D’Alessandro said.

According to police, killers Edward H. Perry and William C. Mooney had entered the coin shop that morning in a plan cooked up by William Hanna. They killed the Bachmanns, Gloria’s mother Dunn, and family friend Barber; then stole more than $100,000 worth of coins and precious metals.

“The motivation for all of this was the fact that gold, at that time in 1979, was at an all-time high,” D’Alessandro explained.

“And what they knew was that Carl Bachmann was sitting on African gold Krugerrands, and that’s what they were after.”

Sgt. Clark arrived shortly after D’Alessandro, and he can remember the unknown fear that the killers might still be inside the building.

“We still weren’t sure if the perpetrator or perpetrators had left the house, if they had gotten trapped inside. And we had to do a basement search,” Clark stated.

“We went down the stairs not knowing if we were going to confront the shooters or not.”

Luckily for the officers, Perry and Mooney were long gone. Now they needed to secure the scene, collect evidence and figure out what had happened and why four people were dead.

“It became readily apparent that this was huge, as far as law enforcement investigations go,” D’Alessandro stated.

“In 1979, there were no computers. This was all done by scratch, by hand. This is truly old-time law enforcement police work, street work.”

Starting in the house itself, the investigators said they had to search and secure every floor. They found a terrified dog upstairs, where the family lived. They also found a roast thawing in the kitchen. Clark recalled measuring the temperature of the roast, refreezing it, and then counting the hours until it was the original temperature again. This gave them a rough time frame for when the Bachmanns were still alive.

The autopsies were conducted within 12 hours and they recovered seven bullets, which were sent out to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for more advanced testing than local agencies were capable of. All efforts to find fingerprints were unsuccessful, they said, but they still had to check everything.

“I think the problem for the I.D. guys is, early in the investigation, you don’t have any idea where it’s going so everything is a potential lead,” said Hameline.

“Everything is fair game. Which makes his job more difficult, because he’s got to cover everything.”

Clark, who headed up the crime scene investigation, said he also had to worry about all of the officers who responded to the scene. Numerous police officers, prosecutors and agents from local, state and federal agencies assisted with the Tri-Willow investigation, and Clark said he needed to keep them from contaminating his crime scene.

“The only way I handled it was to take Polaroid photographs, hand them to the guys and say, ‘that’s what I’ve got inside, I don’t need you there’,” Clark recalled with a chuckle, adding, “And they respected that.”

A nearby church was set up as the command center. A nearby doughnut shop was set up as the go-to restroom. And a designated smoking area was established to keep the officers’ cigarette butts from being found at the scene.

So many available officers also allowed them to branch out as far as they needed to go with their investigation.

“I think we interviewed everybody in every house for a mile in every direction,” said Moylan. “We could have found DNA. We didn’t even know what it was at the time.”

The investigators found eyewitnesses. One woman had interacted with Carl Bachmann, Mooney and Perry inside the store that morning. The investigators said they nicknamed her “Miss Composite” because she was able to provide composite sketches of the killers. They also found a clerk at a nearby convenience store where the killers bought tape to bind the victims.

They had a description of the car the killers had driven to the scene because a Rome Police officer had spotted the suspicious vehicle in the parking lot. Clark can still remember measuring both time and distance to see how long the officer had to look at a car if he drove by at 40 mph.

In an unexpected development, Bachmann’s wallet was found a month later on the shores of the Potomac River in Maryland. D’Alessandro said he had to drive down to photograph the scene and interview the woman who found it.

But as the investigation stretched on, they didn’t have the names of the killers and that meant there were no arrests.

Break in the case

“My recollection is, if Mooney didn’t talk, it was kind of a dead end,” said Hameline.

In early 1980, William C. Mooney was arrested for a bank robbery near Kenosha, Wisconsin and he wanted to make a deal: he had information about a quadruple homicide in Upstate New York. And until he started to squeal, the investigators said the leads in the Tri-Willow murders had started to dry up, no matter how much forensic evidence they’d gathered.

“Everything had started to wind down a little bit, and then, all of a sudden, it took right off again. Everybody kicked back in,” Moylan stated.

Clark agreed, “What do you got? You’ve got a Rome cop who sees a strange Volkswagen. Then you’ve got a wallet that shows up from the Potomac. Where do you go with that? No fingerprints on anything.”

“What do you got, without him singing? And then all of the pieces start to make sense and start to fall into place,” he noted.

Mooney, who was about 30-years-old at the time, suffered from multiple sclerosis and thought he wasn’t long for this world. The investigators said Mooney wanted to both clear his conscience and barter for a cushier prison cell. So Mooney gave up the names of his co-conspirators, as well as the fact that they could be found in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“This guy’s thinking, 40 years ago, he’s dying. So he wants to give this up to clear his conscience, and today, he’s the only one still alive,” Moylan noted the irony.

Moylan, D’Alessandro and Hameline were on the team of investigators that were sent down to Florida to chase Mooney’s new leads. The investigators shared a laugh as they remembered the one officer who volunteered to go to Wisconsin in winter, while they got a trip to sunny St. Petersburg.

“We were down there for one month straight just working the angles we had. We were on the phone constantly back here to the Sheriff’s Office,” D’Alessandro stated.

“As it was later developed, we found out that the killers knew we were there and they were starting to follow us. That kind of wears on you too.”

Early into the Florida trip, the investigators said they decided to check in with the local St. Petersburg police department to see if they had anything. It would turn out the local police had everything, they just didn’t know what they had.

“We went in there and told them what we were working on, and the lieutenant in charge of the unit says, ‘give me the names of your victims’. So we gave him the names of the victims and he says, ‘have a seat, I’ll be back in about 10 minutes’,” D’Alessandro recalled.

“He came back with two bank bags and he says, ‘you guys looking for this stuff?’ He put it down on the table and we looked at each other like we were in shock. He opened it up and there were coin wrappers, the passports; there was all this identification.”

It would turn out that, several months prior, a local beat cop in St. Petersburg stumbled upon not only coin wrappers and bank bags from Tri-Willow, but also the victims’ passports. They were discarded near a Dumpster, and the officer had been called to clear out some Dumpster-diving teenagers when he randomly found the items.

But the St. Petersburg Police Department had no idea what they’d found. The officer just figured it was strange that someone would throw out a passport. So he grabbed everything and logged it into evidence, with no clue that four people had been killed more than a thousand miles away in New York.

“You know how they talk about boots on the ground? If this team didn’t go down there, all of this corroborating evidence probably would have never been uncovered. It was just taking shots in the dark, running down every possibility,” Hameline stated.

“It’s just basically leg work. Having people there to do, what often times seems like a waste of time, turns out you find a nugget.”

When the investigators returned to the Dumpster with a local police photographer to document the scene, D’Alessandro said they stumbled upon another lead: the car in front of them in the parking lot was being driven by William Hanna’s wife. The Dumpster where the passports were found was also right around the corner from Hanna’s home. They were closing in.

While down in Florida, the investigators said they found the Volkswagen that had been used in the robbery. It belonged to Perry’s girlfriend, and she cooperated. They discovered that the Volkswagen had been repainted and the front of the vehicle altered.

Then, while running surveillance on Hanna’s house, they finally found Edward Perry, the triggerman.

“He was a bad guy. He was a big guy, too,” Moylan warned. “One of the worst people you’ve ever seen.”

He said Perry had already scared off another potential accomplice because Perry considered killing the Bachmanns’ children during the robbery.

Moylan said he and an FBI agent were watching Hanna’s house when Perry stopped by to drop off Hanna’s son. They had spent the day fishing.

“We followed him and we got to a light, and all of a sudden he’s rolling his shoulder and I said, ‘he just took his gun out of a shoulder holster’. This guy, being a criminal to begin with, knew he was being followed,” Moylan recalled.

He said they figured Perry was trying to lead them somewhere. They called in back-up and managed to pin Perry into a cul-de-sac.

“He still sat there for a good couple of minutes just looking around, deciding what he was going to do,” Moylan said. “And then he ended up surrendering, and there was the gun, right in his lap.”

Edward Perry was taken into custody. William Hanna was scooped up that same day.

Behind bars

“Sitting on a house, going to a garage, watching a car; all those little things that you think mean nothing all turned out to mean something,” Moylan stated.

“Those are all the things, when you’re putting a case together, for trial, those are little things that people don’t even think about that you’ve got to have.”

Hanna, Mooney and Perry went to trial before Oneida County Court Judge Arthur A. Darrigrand in February 1981. Ahead of the trial, D’Alessandro and Moylan took one last drive down to Florida to track the route that Perry and Mooney took when they fled the state.

“We drove down. We left right from Tri-Willow trying to show the time period. We hit every rest stop where they had made phone calls to Hanna,” Moylan said. They made the trip in about 20 hours.

“We found every rest stop, every phone that they had called from, to Hanna. We had pictures of all of that, which obviously were introduced into court.”

The trial lasted 15 days and all three men were found guilty of murder and robbery, along with other charges. They were each sentenced to 100 years to life in prison.

Edward Perry died in prison in May 1996 at the age of 51. William Hanna spent time at the Walsh Regional Medical Unit at the Mohawk Correctional Facility in South Rome before his passing in July 2011 at the age of 77.

William C. Mooney is currently serving his time at the Wende Correctional Facility in Erie County. He is 69-years-old. His first parole hearing is scheduled for September 2095, according to state records.

Once the killers were locked up, the investigators said they did not spend too much time thinking about them. Clark went on to teach at Herkimer College and he’d occasionally look them up in prison records whenever his students asked about his big cases. Moylan said a memory would occasionally spark and he’d get curious enough to search for the killers — though it would be a couple decades before state prison records were readily available on the internet.

Mostly, the investigators said they just moved on with their lives. And along with the memories that still remained, they had forged lifelong friendships as well.

“The cohesiveness and the tightness of the relationships came together because of all that we had gone through together,” D’Alessandro stated. He’d often see his fellow officers when their children played sports together.

“You make friends forever. You may not see each other a ton, but it’s always there,” Clark added.

Not everyone involved in the case is still with us. Cancer has claimed a few. Other former officers have retired out of state. Others still soldier on, well into their 80s. The sheriff at the time, William Hasenauer, passed away a year ago. The investigators joked, smiled and commiserated as they swapped stories of ‘where are they now’ for their former colleagues.

And always on their minds will be the fates of those four souls robbed of life in the back room of the Tri-Willow Nursery 40 years ago.

“When you start to think about it, when you think about the fact that these poor people were there; some were tied up, and one by one they had their lives taken from them. That, I think, played on everyone that was at the scene,” said D’Alessandro.

“You just didn’t sleep at night thinking about what was going through their minds. It really, really took it’s toll on everyone.”

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