Tri-Willow murders left children, community in grief, fear

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By CHIP HALEY

Rome Through Our Past

TOWN OF LEE — The murders of four people on Friday, Nov. 16, 1979, marked the end of an era of innocence for the Rome area.

Before that time, residents rarely worried about crime. Serious crimes just did not happen very often in the city, or in its surrounding towns and villages.

But on that day, some extremely evil men stole rare and valuable coins from a dealer inside the Tri-Willow Nursery, 8563 Turin Road. Then, they made the four innocent people working there lie face-down on the floor, tied up three of them by their hands and feet, and mercilessly shot all four in the head, execution style.  

It was among the most notorious crimes in the area in recent memory. It frightened residents, prompted parents to keep their children inside, and shook up children and adults for many months afterward.  

What became known as the Tri-Willow murders occurred just around lunchtime that day. Plans for the robbery of the coin business, which resulted in the murders, started weeks earlier, in St. Petersburg, Fla., where two of the criminals lived.

Those plans cost the lives of Carl Bachmann, age 50; his wife Gloria, 48; his mother-in-law Rose Dunn, 66, of Bachmann Road in Lee; and a family friend, Bruce Barber, 25, of 704 Broadway, Rome. Among those left to grieve them were the Bachmann’s daughter Kristy Bachmann Pickett, 18, of Lee Center; and their son, Edward, 14, a Strough Junior High School student. The Bachmann family lived on the second floor of their business.

The day of the murders started out normally at the combined nursery/coin shop. Customers came and went, some inquiring about unusual coins or bills they had found. Around 11 a.m., two of the criminals entered the shop, posing as customers but with much more evil intentions. One of the men pulled a gun on the victims. Either the safe was already open, or they demanded that it be opened. The robbers helped themselves to “$127,500 worth of loot,” including coins and precious metals, according to a Rome Sentinel story. Then they shot and killed the owners and their friend, in cold blood. Later, a witness testified that the crooks had sold the loot for only $15,000.

The murderers escaped in a gold-colored Volkswagon, and drove to St. Petersburg, Fla. Along the way, one of them dropped Carl Bachmann’s wallet on the muddy banks of the Potomac River in Maryland. Later, when the wallet was found by passers-by, it helped authorities track the killers.  

Meanwhile, someone notified the
Oneida County Sheriff’s Department that something was wrong at the Turin Road nursery business. Deputy Jess Roullier — a friend of Carl Bachmann’s — arrived to check, and was horrified to find the four bodies on the floor. Word reached the Rome Sentinel, and the presses were halted until a news story could be hastily assembled. Other law enforcement authorities swarmed to the scene, and yellow crime tape went up. Word of the tragedy spread quickly. The Bachmann’s daughter, Kristy Bachmann Pickett, learned about her parents’ and grandmother’s deaths about 3 that afternoon. She had gone to pick up her husband at Revere “and several people were saying police were at my parents’ house,” she recalled in a recent interview via e-mail. “When we pulled up, the house was roped off with yellow police tape. A reporter approached me and said four people were dead. Even in my wildest nightmares, I couldn’t imagine who was murdered.”

Pickett, now 57, lives in southern Oregon and works as a caregiver, but still keeps in touch with her brother, Edward, and other relatives and friends in Rome.

“I used to think it was just Eddy and I (who) hurt so badly” after the horrendous crime, Pickett said. Later, after sharing her memories on Facebook, on the “People and Places of Rome, N.Y.” page, “I realized our whole town cared and also felt the loss. Rome is a wonderful place.” Her posting prompted similar kind memories from others, about those who were killed.

The school bus that Edward Bachmann took home from Strough that day was met by The Rev. Daniel Murphy, pastor of Grace Baptist Church. The church is located next to the business, and Murphy was a family friend. Murphy took Bachmann to the church, and broke the devastating news to him. They were joined by Pickett and others.

Bachmann, now 53 and a resident of Camden, works for Canastota NC as a quality technician. In a recent online interview, he talked about that horrible day:

“I was coming home on the school bus, and up ahead at my stop were police everywhere -- driveway and both sides of the road — nothing but flashing red lights … An officer met me” and “started guiding me in the direction of his car. I was confused and hesitant, asking ‘Where were we going?’and ‘What was going on?’”

“I knew something was very wrong.” Bachmann thought maybe he was going to be arrested for something. But the officer assured him “I was in no trouble.” He went with the officer into the church, where his sister, other family and close friends “gathered to wait for news, as nobody knew for sure what had happened.” There were rumors “that there may have been a shooting. Our father did own guns,” so people were thinking and hoping “that it was him that may have had to pull the trigger, and not someone in our family had been hurt.”

Pickett said she also thought at first that there had been a robbery, because the family had recently talked about a security system. Nevertheless, “I knew Dad was probably shot. But Mom had been going to Syracuse every day to see her mother in the hospital,” so Pickett thought her mother was safe. “In fact, when I went to the Pie Stand,” a nearby business, to make a “frantic call to my aunt’s house, I was expecting to talk to my mother. When Aunt Elaine said she was home, I almost collapsed. I ran next to Granny’s house” — the nearby home of her grandmother, Rose Dunn. “But when her husband opened the door … I knew.”

Pickett said neighbors and friends were also shocked and upset by the murders, along with people who didn’t even know the victims. “The whole city felt the loss.”

“My parents were well loved in the community,” she recalled. “Carl Bachmann was involved with many things in the town of Lee. He loved politics. Gloria was a hard worker juggling both the business and being a housewife and mother. In the spring the greenhouses were in full swing and my mother put together many of the flower arrangements for the local cemeteries. Many remember going to our pond. We rented it out and several celebrations were held there. My granny, Rose Dunn, was my best friend. Before retiring she owned the Fabric Shop in Delta Plaza for many years and was one of the best seamstresses in the area.”

Pickett had attended Stokes Elementary School, Strough Junior High School, and graduated from Rome Free Academy in 1979 — the summer before the murders took place.

“Before the arrests was a very nerve-wracking time,” Pickett recalled. “Everybody was a suspect. I had nightmares they they would come back for us.”

On the afternoon of the murders, authorities conducted a roadblock on Turin Road, near the Tri-Willow business, around 4 p.m. , stopping all cars and asking if anyone had driven by between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. , and if so if they had seen anything unusual at the business. Some witnesses reported seeing a gold or brown Volkswagon parked there earlier.

The bodies were taken to Rome Hospital, where autopsies were conducted by pathologist Dr. Neville Harper. Carl and Gloria Bachmann’s services were held at St. Joseph’s Church in Lee. They were buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Lee, and later reburied in a cemetery in Cleveland, N.Y. Rose Dunn’s funeral services were held at St. John Lutheran Church, and she was buried in a mausoleum in the town of Kirkland. Bruce Barber was buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery.

One of the first big breaks in the murder investigation came when authorities in Wisconsin called the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department to say that they were holding a bank robbery suspect who admitted participating in a murder and hold-up in upstate New York.

William C. Mooney, 30, of Waukegan, Ill., said he was willing to talk about the murders, because he was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, and did not have long to live, according to a Sentinel story.

Local authorities spent many hours investigating the crime. At one point, they even brought in a psychic. That part of the investigation was later the subject of the TV series “Psychic Detective,” in an episode titled “Blood Money.” That episode can still be viewed on YouTube.

There were reports that the VW used in the robbery and murder had a “custom front,” which looked something like the front of a Mercedes-Benz. Observers noted that it was not very smart of the criminals to use such a memorable vehicle in their escape. The trail soon led to Florida, where authorities found a garage which had recently removed the unusual front from a VW, and repainted the vehicle white. When the car was searched, some coins were found.

That find led to the arrests of Edward H. Perry, 35; and William Hanna, 46, both of St. Petersburg, in early 1980. Hanna was familiar with Carl Bachmann, because he had met him at coin shows, and he had once lived in Albany. Hanna was the mastermind behind the crimes, but Parry and Mooney pulled off the actual killing.

Residents were relieved when the suspects were arrested and charged. Bachmann family members praised the police work.

“The police were fantastic,” Pickett said. “Many years later I spoke to two of the officers to hear their side of the story. I am amazed at the excellent police work. Those were the days before Internet and cell phones. The work they did tracking the killers was amazing.”

“I will be forever grateful to the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department, along with State Police and FBI, for tracking the killers and putting them behind bars,” she said. Sheriff’s Capt. Bruno Graziano headed the probe, according to Sentinel files.

The suspects were tried, and found guilty in February 1981, after a 15-day trial presided over by Judge Arthur A. Darrigrand in Utica. Mooney was found guilty of 2nd degree murder, felony robbery and burglary. Hanna and Perry were found guilty of 2nd degree murder, felony robbery, burglary and conspiracy. All three were sentenced to 100 years to life in prison.

Cathy DelGreco, a friend of Pickett’s, said on Facebook that her father, former First Assistant District Attorney Edward Wolff, “investigated and prosecuted that case … He was relentless in pursuit of the killers.” Pickett responded: “I will be forever grateful to your father for all the time and energy he put into prosecuting the killers. Until they were locked up and sentenced to life, there was no peace.”

Bachmann said he “was relieved when I learned of the arrests,” but does not “feel the punishment was just. They took my family, and to know that our money — meaning taxpayers’ dollars — is what pays for them to eat, be housed and stay alive, while still being able to call home to their families, receive letters and get visits from time to time — No,” that was not justice for him. His family, he noted “will never have those moments again,” not for one day “after they took everything that we loved the most away.” Bachmann said he believes the killers should have gotten the death penalty.

“I did not attend the trial,” Pickett reported. “I moved to Florida. I couldn’t bear to be in Rome any longer. My friend sent me every newspaper article that was printed.” Eventually, she did get the more than 2,000 pages of court transcripts “so I could learn all the details.”

Now, “William Mooney is the only killer still alive and still in prison,” she said. “Edward Parry and William Hanna both died in prison.” Parry died in May 1996 at the age of 51. Hanna spent time, at the Walsh Regional Medical Unit at Mohawk Correctional Facility in south Rome, before he died July 19, 2011, at the age of 77.

Bachmann said after the murders, his “Uncle Jack and his wife Grace took me in. Then Uncle Mal and Aunt Elaine came to get me.”  

Bachmann graduated from Paul V. Moore High School in Central Square, and went on to Alfred State University.

And as for Pickett, she is now “the mother of four beautiful children and I have five grandkids. I went through a bout with cancer but am doing well and the cancer is in remission.”

What helped her get through the time of the tragedy? “I had to leave the area. I couldn’t bear to drive past the house I grew up in. After I had children is when my life started to fall back in place.”

Pickett said she does not mind talking about the tragedy. “This is part of Rome’s history,” she said. “The focus should not be on the crime, but on the four wonderful Romans who were loved by so many. My daughter never had the opportunity to meet her grandparents, and she loves to read the comments (on Facebook) from people that knew them.”

“They were special Romans who I never want to be forgotten,” she said of those killed. “My brother and I love hearing” the stories about them … Hearing others’ fond memories after all these years makes me smile … I am proud to say I was raised in Rome, New York.”

NOTE: This column was written for the Rome Historical Society by Chip Twellman Haley, retired Daily Sentinel news editor. Comments, old photos, suggestions for future columns or guest columns may be emailed to: chiphaley@yahoo.com. Copies of the book “Rome Through Our History,” a collection of some of Haley’s columns, may be purchased at the Rome Historical Society.

The Rome Historical Society, 200 Church St., is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Go online at www.romehistoricalsociety.org, visit their Facebook page, or call 315 336-5870 for more information.

CAPTIONS

Carl Bachmann

Gloria Bachmann

Bruce Barber

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