Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

THE CROTON LAKE MURDER

Croton Lake

It was a big house, not the kind he was accustomed to in the old country. In Sicily, the bosses and the aristocrats were the only people wealthy enough to afford such housing. As Cali sat in a meadow eating his lunch of bread and tomato each day during the summer of 1911, he studied the Griffin house. The two-story wooden structure sat on the crest of a hill not far from the sparkling waters of Croton Lake. The Griffin farm consisted of over 100 acres and had four huge, red barns that surrounded the white, wooden shingled home.

 Henry J. Griffin, a local farmer who lived there with his wife and daughter, was the owner. The farm had been in the family for well over 100 years. During the work on the aqueduct project, the Griffins rented rooms to supervisory personnel and their families. In the spring of 1910, Henry rented two rooms on the 2nd floor to Henry Hall, an assistant engineer and his wife Mary. Other rooms in the house were rented to John Rae, a mechanic on the aqueduct, and his wife, Gertrude.

Croton Lake Dam (Photo courtesy of Michele C. Petitt)
Croton Lake Dam
(Photo courtesy of Michele C. Petitt)

In the labor camps, the workmen who lived there carved out a meager and violent existence that sharply contrasted the serene beauty of Croton Lake. Beginning in 1907, over ten thousand men descended upon the Croton area to work on the aqueduct project. These men were drawn from every walk of life. There were gamblers, drug addicts, drunks, thieves, ex-cons and killers. This quiet, unspoiled area of Westchester County was essentially without law enforcement and with the arrival of such a large number of workers, it had a frontier quality to it. When the weekends came, many of these men became involved in drunken brawls in the local taverns. Not only that, these workers committed numerous robberies, stabbings, shootings and dozens of murders. Sometimes, they ran amok through the countryside, victimizing the locals, breaking into their homes and stealing their possessions.

The situation became so grave that a new police department had to be formed just to battle the growing crime wave in Croton. In 1908, over three hundred men were recruited for the new police force, called the Aqueduct Police. In 1910, they set up a small precinct house not far from the Griffin farm.

That same year, Henry J. Griffin passed away, leaving the farmhouse, land, tenants and a $3,000 insurance policy to his wife. In the Bradley Camp, the closest camp to the Griffin home, the men heard about the owner's death. Three thousand dollars was a lot of money back then. It was a great deal of money to Cali and Zanza who were sweating in the reservoir mud for pennies a day. A man might do a lot of things for that kind of money. Maybe even murder.

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