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Shirley Coleman was at home on New Year’s Eve 1964. She had five children between the ages of two and eleven and theirs was a busy household. Her husband had left their rural home to get some supplies from a nearby store. They were expecting guests for a visit and there was a tinge of excitement in the air.
When Shirley heard a knock at the front door, she was surprised to find two strangers on her porch. Bill and Beverly Jay, a well-dressed thirty-something couple seemed distraught and asked if they could use her phone to call the police.
Shirley was usually careful about whom she let into her home. But nothing about the couple made her suspicious and she showed them where the phone was. Bill made the call while Beverly sat in the lounge with the Coleman children. She was so upset, when one of the girls came to sit on her lap, she clung to her for forty-five minutes.
Meanwhile, Shirley’s husband Joseph had arrived home and the Coleman’s tried to calm the Jay’s down. Before they left again, Bill told the couple what they had witnessed… They had stumbled across a brutal triple murder scene. In the North Country chill, a Mercury Station wagon was parked, with its lights off. Two men in the front were slumped over and a woman lay face-down in the snow outside the vehicle.
This infamous case became known as the Jefferson County Egan Murders, and to this day, no one has been brought to justice for the cold-hearted killing.
Leona and Peter Egan of Watertown, New York, had two sons. Peter was born on May 15th 1937 and Gerald on July 22nd 1945. Peter Sr was the town drunk, and his wife was not far behind in reputation. They frequented bars and stayed out late, and most of their meagre income was spent on booze.
It was no surprise that the boys grew up to be troublemakers. In 1964, 27-year-old Peter was the menace of Watertown, with a long list of criminal charges behind his name: larceny, drink driving, stealing livestock… His first arrest was at the age of 13, for stealing a car.
His brother Gerald had been following him around since his early teens, so by the time he was 19, the younger Egan already knew all the tricks of the trade. He was more sociable than Peter and friends remembered him to be the class clown.
Peter was short in stature – only 5ft4 and had lost his left leg in a motor vehicle accident in 1957. He was making his way back to New York from the West Coast, when he was in a serious motor vehicle accident. Thrown clear of the car, he was lucky to have survived. After three weeks in hospital, the bruised and battered Peter took a train back home to Watertown. As time went on, his leg would not recover, and when he had it checked out, it was riddled with gangrene. The 19-year-old’s leg was amputated and Peter was on crutches, with a wooden stump where his leg used to be. But this did not hold him back. Peter was fearless and aggressive never shied away from a fight. It was said that, even with his artificial leg, he could outrun any thug in town.
Barbara Ann Vout from South Jefferson was popular at school. She was a bright and promising student and a well-liked cheerleader. She played saxophone in the school band and was a member of the library club. As a part-time job, young Barbara worked as a store clerk at WT Grant department store. Testimonies from the time say that she was known as one of the ‘prettiest girls’ in the county. She had a steady boyfriend named Gerry and gearing up to settle down and get married after graduation.
However, the trajectory of Barbara’s cookie-cutter life would change when she met Peter Egan at a YMCA dance in Watertown. He was three years older than her, and the stereotypical ‘bad-boy’. This appealed to Barbara’s dark side, as she too was inclined to step outside of the lines on occasion. Her friends became aware of Barbara’s nasty streak when she made a habit of stealing other girls’ boyfriends. It was usually younger boys, and she only did it for the conquest, to infuriate the younger girlfriend. It was a power-game, nothing else. As soon as she had proved that she could seduce a boy to leave his girlfriend, she would dump him. But she was also displaying more concerning behaviour. For thrills, Barbara shoplifted from local stores. Bad boy Peter Egan brought out the bad girl in Barbara Vout, and before long, she broke things off with Gerry and started dating Peter.
Authors David Shampine and Daniel T Boyer, quote one of her classmates in their book The Jefferson County Egan Murders:
“She totally changed after she got in with Pete. It was like night and day. Nobody could believe it when she started dating Pete. He was terrible looking with no personality. Pete was a horrible person, anti-social… and he looked dangerous.”
With her parents’ reluctant blessing, Barbara became Mrs Peter Egan in July 1958. Her school friends couldn’t understand why a nice girl like Barbara would marry a troublemaker like Peter, and she lost quite a few friends by doing so. Barb didn’t seem to care; she was reckless for the first time in her life and loved the excitement of it all. Married to Pete, her life of crime began, and her own rap sheet came into existence. At the age of 22, she was charged with forgery. Another time she was arrested with Pete, after a 25-mile highspeed police chase. On this occasion, Barb was the one driving the car, and Pete was in the passenger seat, egging her on.
In 1959, Pete and Barb had their first son together. The second and third ones followed in the next two years. Because they never paid rent, they were often evicted and moved around a lot. Theirs was a chaotic home and Barb’s friends recalled how disgusted they were at the state of the place. The kids were filthy and were always walking around in dirty diapers. The Egans had a dog and a pet monkey who defecated wherever they pleased and it stank up the entire house.
Local businesses banned the Egan kids from coming into their stores, seeing as they were known to wreak havoc. Shop owners realised that Barb was using the kids to distract them, while she shoplifted. The once beautiful and sparkly Barbara had become a washed-out and sloppy Barb, who loved causing a bit of a stir in town.
Pete, suffering from chronic pain after the accident that left him with only one leg, was a habitual drug user. He shared his prescriptions of pain killers, like morphine, with his wife, and gradually they began using other narcotics too. This was before the time that taking recreational drugs was a thing. And the more they doped themselves up, the more erratic their behaviour became.
Pete was often in jail, and knowing where his usual cell was, Barb would talk to him from the street, shouting through the fence. He often spent a couple of weeks behind bars, for anything from drunk driving to assault. During these prison stints Barb was left alone with the kids and had to answer to the landlord. She realised that this was not the life she had always dreamed of and confided in a friend that she wanted to get out of the marriage. However, Peter Egan was not going to be left by his wife. He kept her high or drunk most of the time and beat her into submission if she didn’t comply with his demands.
In the time leading up to New Year’s Eve of 1964, homes and businesses around Watertown were burglarised like never before. The town where everyone knew each other, no longer felt safe, and people were forced to lock their doors for the first time. Word on the street was that Peter and Gerald Egan were responsible for the crimes, but there was not enough evidence for police to charge them.
In actual fact, they were not working alone. The Egans were part of a profitable burglary ring, consisting of a bunch of misfit individuals. They were all criminals and often did jobs together. Their friend, James Pickett, always had some or other scheme going and was always keen on a score. He was married with children and his charismatic personality put people at ease – he did not come across as a common criminal.
49-year-old Willard Belcher sometimes worked as a truck-driver but found robbery more lucrative. He had spent some time in the boxing ring when he was younger, fighting as ‘Kid Kelly’. Willard’s wife, Bertha, who was 20 years older than him, was a force to be reckoned with. The couple married in October 1948 and they were an odd match by all accounts. Bertha had had some run-ins with the law in the past: suspicion of bootlegging, operating a ‘disorderly house’ – a term used for running a brothel.
In Watertown Bertha had her own cleaning business and used her day job to find the best homes to rob. She informed the crew about where certain valuables were located inside her clients’ homes. Then they broke in, following her instructions, and left after a swift burglary. For the most part, they all divided the loot. Sometimes they hired young hoodlums to help them out and paid them in cash.
Then there was Joe Leone, who was a childhood friend of Peter Egan’s. They grew up a couple of houses apart on Duffy Street. Unlike the awkward Pete, Joe was very popular, and thrived on his family’s legacy. His dad, Anthony, was a boxing champion, better known as ‘Kid Sullivan’. Everyone in Watertown knew the Leone’s and all the kids wanted to be friends with Joe.
The smooth and clean-cut Joe Leone knew how to charm his way out of any situation. He worked as a truck driver for Wonder Bread and was known to give kids free donuts and treats. At 39, Joe was a divorcee who lived a townhouse with his girlfriend of several years, Beth Johnson, and seemed to have a quiet life. But this outwardly polite and refined gentleman, was not who he appeared to be. Joe Leone was as big of a player in the burglary ring as Pete and Gerald Egan.
The burglars made good money from their jobs, but Pete spent it as quickly as he got their hands on it. He was very generous and would buy rounds of drinks at bars, and loaning money to friends. Peter was a big spender, and even spent more than $200 in one transaction at Century Wholesale Supply Company. What he bought, remains a mystery. On paper, both Pete and Barb Egan were unemployed and received social welfare cheques. Despite money coming in, the Egans continued their habit of NOT paying rent.
Always wanting more, Pete realised the potential in pimping out his own wife. He set up meetings with Johns, and only gave the green light if he deemed the situation safe. When Barb flirted with a man, Pete would lose it and start a fight. And that was Pete: always fighting, always stealing and high on pain killers most of the time.
In this tailspin, he had no regard for others. Even his friends fell victim to his insatiable greed, and he even robbed Joe Leone’s parents’ house on Duffy Street. This was a shameless display of disrespect. The Leone family knew him since he was just a kid, living down the road. But this did not bother Pete and Gerald. They broke into the Leone residence on the 20th of December and stole more than $700 in cash as well as Joe’s mother’s diamond ring, a treasured family heirloom.
Joe’s father knew the Egan boys were behind the burglary and was furious. He met with Joe and told him to set his friends straight. Joe told all their close associates about Pete’s error in judgement and vowed to put him in his place before the year was out.
Pete felt the heat within his circle of bandits but was more concerned about the FBI keeping an eye on him and Gerald. Gerald had exchanged an old Jeep for a 62 Chevy convertible, stolen by some other thugs in Miami. And if a stolen car crosses state lines, it becomes a federal crime. Gerald took the car to a local farmer, who sometimes did auto repairs. He asked the farmer to fix the fuel pump and told him to take his time. The farmer realised Gerald was in no hurry to get the car back and suspected that he was hiding it because it was hot. That is when the farmer alerted authorities, and the FBI commenced their surveillance of the Egans.
After Christmas of 1964, Pete and Gerald were seen at their regular hangout – a diner called Red Moon Diner on Lower Court Street. It was located next to Rotary gas station, and across the road from the Windmill Café bar where they spent most of their time. But things weren’t as festive as usual… Besides the Leone-burglary, the Egans also stole from another associate, Joseph Gonoski, taking a thousand dollars from his pool hall. Gonoski reportedly said:
“Peter is a dead man if he doesn’t return the money.”
As rumours that a hit had been taken out on Peter’s life did the rounds in Watertown, Pete became increasingly anxious. On December 31st, Pete spent most of the day at the Red Moon Diner, while Barbara was home with the kids. He moved around between the Rotary gas station and the diner, catching up with associates like Joe Leone and James Pickett.
At the Windmill Café bar, Pete was described to have been ‘extremely nervous and excited’ and asked around if anyone had a shotgun he could borrow. When people asked why he was in trouble, he said that he had burglarised a home that he shouldn’t have. It was out of character for Pete Egan to admit that he had done something wrong. Clearly, the alleged death threat was playing on his mind. Despite his pleas for a firearm, no one was able to help him and he left the bar unarmed.
At the Rotary gas station, Pete’s friend, James Pickett approached him with a proposal. He told him about a job going down that night and asked if he wanted in. The job was to assist Pickett and Joe Leone in hijacking a truck transporting 16,000 dollars’ worth of liquor to Canada. Pete was to take Pickett there, help with the hijacking. Pete would return to Watertown before the ball dropped at midnight and Pickett would drive the truck to a safe location. It was a simple job, and at $1000 – it was quick and easy money. Perhaps a heaven-sent, so he could repay the person who was hunting him down.
Gerald was playing pinball at the gas station when Pete asked him to drive with them. Pete always pulled Gerald into his jobs, some people joked and said Pete came up with the jobs and Gerald was his legs – meaning Gerald had a better chance of running away if there was trouble, than Pete had. Although it wasn’t easy to say no to Pete, Gerald didn’t want to go that night, because he had a date. Leone said Gerald could stay, but Pete insisted his little brother came along.
Pete mentioned that he and Barb were planning on ushering in the new year at Watertown Bowl, so Gerald felt optimistic that the job would not take too long. Pete also invited Leone and Pickett to join him and Barb at the Watertown Bowl for the New Year’s party, but Leone didn’t want to go, as he said he never really enjoyed New Year’s Eve celebrations. Pickett said his mother-in-law was visiting and he was expected to be home.
They left the Red Moon Diner around 7pm, and headed out of town, on the Interstate 81, northbound. Barbara tagged along too, still with her curlers in her hair, halfway ready for a night out. She had dropped the kids off at various friends to stay the night, because she was planning to party big. She took the family dog, a Pekingese named Queenie along for the ride too. They stopped for gas at Green’s Gas on Bradley Street and bought beers and coke and work gloves for Pete and Gerald.
And so the three Egans headed to a pre-determined rest stop, hoping to meet James Pickett and Joe Leone to help them hijack the liquor truck. But the truck never came. And before the year was out, they were ambushed. None of them would live to see 1965.
Bill and Beverly Jay were heading to Norwood from Rochester, to bring in the new year with their family. They were taking the new route, Interstate 81, and were excited to return to their hometown for the festivities. Bill pulled over at the rest stop just past the Bradley Street offramp, to answer nature’s call. As he got out, he walked passed the Egan’s Mercury Station Wagon and noticed the windows were fogged up. At first, he averted his gaze, assuming it was a lover’ lane encounter. But then he saw Barbara lying on the ground, next to the car. He went closer, thinking she was sick, or had tripped. But when he saw all the blood, he realised she was no longer alive. On the backseat of the car was little Queenie, barking and distressed after having witnessed the heinous murder of her owners.
Bill wisely did not touch anything, and chased back to his car and sped off, to the nearest farmhouse, where Shirley Coleman let them in. When Bill called police, they asked him and his wife to meet them at state police headquarters, from where they went to the scene together.
Many police officers were at a house party in Watertown, enjoying New Year’s festivities when news of the shooting came in. As soon as they could get organised, some officers were sent to the rest stop, while others put up roadblocks on all roads leading away from the area.
News of the murders made the headlines that very same night and aired on WCNY Channel 7. The Egan’s mother, Leona, was in a bar when she heard that her sons had been done in, and her wails of sorrow were imprinted in the memories of everyone present.
The crime scene was eerily quiet. At the time, the I-81 was still brand new, parts of it still under construction. Also, few cars would have used the route that New Year’s Eve., as most celebrations were already underway There were no discernible footprints leading away from the car and no tyre marks in the snow. Nor were there fingerprints at the scene. No witnesses saw the shooting and it seemed like the killers disappeared into thin air.
The fogged-up windows implied that the people inside the vehicle had been a live a short while earlier. Police found Peter and Gerald in the front seat, both of them with gunshot wounds to the head. The trajectory of the bullets, and the bullet holes in the windshield supported this theory. Also, they found to .25 calibre bullet casings behind the front seats. Gerald was shot in the left temple and in the neck. Peter received two gunshots into his ear. One of the bullets went through his head, and out of his right ear. The pathologist surmised that he had turned his head to look at his killer.
Barbara’s body was found outside of the car, she was also shot in the head. It appeared that she tried to outrun the assailant, but he caught up with her and dragged her back to the car by her hair. Curlers were on the ground as she lay face down on the snow-covered gravel, perpendicular to the car, on the passenger seat’s side. She was wearing a green coat and only one boot. The other boot was found a short distance away, in front of the car.
Barbara’s autopsy showed bruising on her right foot and left knee, as well as her back. She may have kicked her attacker in an attempt to fend him off. Finger-bruises on her wrist indicated that someone gripped her arm with force. She had a cut above her right ear, and the conclusion was that she had been pistol-whipped. With Barbara, there had been a tremendous struggle and she was clearly NOT planning on going down without a fight. However, she had no chance against a bullet. The killer overpowered her, tackling her to the ground, then, with his foot on her back, fired the shot that killed her. Then he dragged her body back to the car, leaving a trail of blood.
Like Barbara, Peter and Gerald had been shot in the back of the head, twice – execution style. The time of death of all three victims, was estimated to be around 7:30pm. The location was isolated and there were no witnesses.
The use of two weapons strongly suggested that there was more than one killer. The brothers were killed with the same gun – a .25 calibre pistol, and Barbara with a .38. The scene showed that a total of nine gunshots were fired in the course of the attack. Six of which hit the three victims. Three .25 calibre shots were fired and six by the .38, chasing after Barb.
It is a macabre scene to imagine: two men in the front seat of their car, knowing they are about to die and the gunman showing no mercy. The wife arriving to discover her husband and brother-in-law had been shot and killed, fighting to save her own life, but ultimately becoming the third victim. Police told the media that the crime was committed in “Gangland fashion”.
Police retraced the last steps of the Egan’s and discovered that they had stopped at Green’s Gas on their way out of town. Of the two pairs of gloves the brothers purchased from the gas station, only one was in the car with them. Police felt that, if they were to find the gloves, they’d find the killer. This was the strongest clue at the start of the investigation.
There was one witness, however… The Egan’s dog, Queenie. Police worked on the possibility that, should they present a suspect to her, she might act aggressively if he was, in fact, the perpetrator. Sadly, they never got the chance to try out this plan. Queenie was taken in by
the Egan brothers’ aunt. And two weeks after the murders, the little Pekingese was run over by a car in front of the aunt’s house in Watertown.
As for Peter and Barbara’s children… They were taken to a rehabilitation facility as signs of neglect were obvious. They never re-surfaced and it is believed their names were changed and they were moved out of state for their own protection.
A joint funeral was held in Watertown on January 5th. Despite all three victims having died due to gunshot wounds to their heads, the caskets were open. Perhaps this was a statement by the family – to show all of Watertown how brutal the killings were.
Because of the victims’ reputation of operating in the grey area of the law, the assumption was that the triple murder was related to gambling debt or perhaps it was a drug deal gone wrong. An unnamed witness came forward and told police that he had been involved in at least forty burglaries with the Egan’s. He recalled one house breaking in particular, one he committed with Pete, Barb and Gerald during which they stole a rare 1794 silver half-dollar. He saw Pete selling the coin to Willard Belcher but did not know how much Belcher had paid.
With many witnesses coming forward, police were able to pin most of the burglaries in the preceding months on the Egans. So, even though they had yet to solve the murders, at least some other crimes were being solved. The spike in burglaries in Watertown ended with the killings, and everyone understood that the Egans had been the ones terrorising their city.
This quote from. The Watertown Times:
“One beneficial result of the Egan murders is the abrupt end to the numerous burglaries which have been a thorn in. the side of the authorities for months. The Egans were the mainspring of the burglary wave and they had become expert in carrying out their program successfully until they came up against the wrong person or persons, suspected by the authorities of being identified with small-time rackets.”
Through the young informant who confessed to his part in the crimes, police also came to learn about the planned hijacking of a liquor truck and found out that it was James Pickett who put the Egans onto it. But Pickett wouldn’t talk to them. He claimed not to have known the Egans, and police arrested him for hindering the investigation. Facing serious jail time, Pickett decided to reveal what he knew.
According to Pickett, he unwittingly lured the brothers to their deaths, but he did not go to the location that night, because his mother-in-law was visiting. He claimed that when he learnt about the ambush, he immediately knew that Joe Leone had done it. Joe had threatened to do it before the year was out, but Pickett thought he was just running his mouth.
According to Pickett, Leone was furious about the Egans burglarising his parents’ home. He also felt the brothers knew too much about him, enough to expose him. Because of that, he decided the only way forward was to get rid of them – for good.
One thing that was strange to Pickett, however, was when he told Leone about the murders on January 1st, he seemed genuinely surprised, like it was news to him. Pickett was confused by Joe’s reaction, seeing as everyone in Watertown knew about it at that time. It was on the TV and radio the night before and it was all anyone could talk about. Leone claimed that on New Year’s Eve, he had bought cigarettes and something to drink and spent New Year’s Eve at home with his girlfriend, Beth. They never watched the news. But in the days that followed, Leone allegedly confessed to Pickett, and told him that Willard Belcher was his accomplice.
This story was very compelling, but police needed more evidence if they were hoping to charge Leone with the murders. In the week after the murders, many people in the Egans’ circle of friends said they thought that Joe Leone was the one who had done it. By May of 1965, five months after the event, Leone was the prime suspect, along with Willard and Bertha Belcher, and police informer James Pickett.
When questioned by police, Leone denied any involvement. He agreed to taking a polygraph test, which showed that he was practicing deception. But this was not enough to build a case against him. Suspicion alone would not be enough to convict a man, and police did not charge Leone at the time. They placed a bug in the Belcher home and spent hours waiting for any conversation that would implicate Willard or Bertha in the killings. What they did uncover, however, was hours and hours of X-rated phone conversations between 65-year-old Bertha and her johns.
In the end, it took police three years to gather enough evidence to arrest the then-36-year-old Joe Leone for the Egan murders. State Police Investigator, Ray Pollett, recalled Leone’s demeanour in the interrogation room:
“He was not impressed, to put it mildly. Leone was one of the coolest people I ever met. While I was giving it my best shot, he took a nickel out of his pocket and coolly balanced it on its edge, looked at me and grinned, to show me he wasn’t shook up.”
71-year-old Bertha Belcher was arrested on the same day as Leone. James Pickett later claimed that the Egans were killed on Bertha’s insistence. He said:
“…all her idea; Bertha ran the show.”
He also stated that it was Bertha who had destroyed the evidence: bloody clothing and the murder weapons. Willard Belcher was also charged with murder on the 27th of March 1968. He was already serving time for his part in the theft of the rare silver half-dollar and was informed of the additional charges while he was in his cell. But Willard never got his day in court, as he was declared criminally insane. And with his insanity ruling, the prosecutor could not use any evidence obtained in hours of audio recordings taken inside the Belcher home. This was a strong blow in the case against Bertha Belcher too. In the end she was only charged with accessory to murder.
To give you an idea how intermingled these characters were… Once Bertha was out of jail, she resumed running her cleaning business. She had some financial security and helped people in her circle if she could. She even paid bail when the Egans’ mother, Leona, was arrested for public intoxication. So, once accused of killing Leona’s sons, Bertha stepped in to help her when she was jailed.
Joe Leone’s bail was set at $75,000, an amount he was unable to pay. He remained in the county jail until his trial two years later, in January 1970. District Attorney Bill McClusky was had a tough task to argue this, mainly circumstantial case. The prosecution laid out what happened on New Year’s Eve 1964, mainly based on Pickett’s testimony. On Leone’s insistence, James Pickett lured Pete Egan to the rest area. Gerald did not want to go, but Pete convinced him.
Knowing that the plan was in motion, Joe Leone and Willard Belcher drove out on the I-81 that night, in Joe’s girlfriend’s car. They parked behind the Egans’ Mercury and Joe got into the backseat. Willard Belcher was tasked with removing Barbara from the car and managed to do so. They walked a short distance away, when Barbara heard gunshots and headed back to the car, where she found her husband and brother-in-law had been killed. She tried to run towards the highway, Leone fired three shots from the car, and missed. Then he got out of the car and caught up with her, overpowering her. The she was shot, and her body dragged closer to the car, out of sight of passing motorists.
Prosecutor McClusky’s opening statement:
“The killers ran Barbara off, but she returned… [she] knew death was coming and she tried to run. Leone chased her, caught her and she was thrown to the ground. Barbara Egan put her arms around Leone’s knee and begged for her life. That’s when Leone shot her in the head.”
According to the prosecution, Leone was the only killer, and he used two separate handguns, neither of which was ever located.
Interestingly, 40 years after the murders, shortly before his death Pickett changed his story. He stated that Barb was told to take a drive in Beth’s Mercury Comet. She was gone for about 10 minutes or so and returned to find her husband and brother-in-law murdered.
But back in 1970, Picket testified against his old pal, Leone, and claimed it was Belcher who walked Barbara away from the scene. In court, Pickett avoided eye contact the whole time. Joe Leone stared him down, without flinching.
Leone pleaded not guilty. His defence pushed to suppress the polygraph evidence, and claimed it was not reliable. They pointed out that there was no proof that Leone ever went to the rest stop on Interstate 81 that night. They also asked why no fingerprints were found inside the Egans’ car. Of course, it was winter, and they could have worn gloves without arousing suspicion.
Beth Johnson, Leone’s girlfriend of seven years corroborated his alibi, and said that he came home at 7pm that New Year’s Eve and did not leave again. She had previously told police when he came home there were spots on his jacket. On the stand however, she changed her statement, saying she meant small holes.
Joe Leone was acquitted of all charges on April 5th 1970 and walked out of the courtroom a free man. Rumours went around that Leone’s associates had threatened jury members, but nothing was ever proven. A man in a foreign accent called the homes of four jurors, allegedly saying:
“If Joe Leone is found guilty, you are dead.”
Now, years after the murders, the case is closed. And although he was never sentenced, the general belief is that Joe Leone was guilty. It was a case of ‘street justice’ because the Egans did not adhere to the criminal code.
However, this is solely based on the testimony of James Pickett. Despite police divers searching the black river for the murder weapons for days, they never recovered it. Pickett claimed it was because they were not looking in the right place. Years later a theory emerged that the weapons were hidden at the gang’s hangout – The Rotary Gas Station.
Joe Leone decided to leave the stigma of the case behind him and moved south – first to Tennessee and then to Kentucky and eventually ended up in South Carolina.
To this day, the shoulder of the I-81, about a mile north or the Bradley Street offramp, is referred to by locals as the ‘Egan Rest Area’. The Egan Murders were not the last tragedy that took place there. It was at this location where Irene Izak was last seen alive in 1968. Her bludgeoned body was later found Wellesely Island, near the Canadian border. In 1973, Joe Leone’s own father, Anthony, died while working as a construction flag man on the same route.
James Pickett’s daughter claimed after his death that she believes he was at the crime scene that night, and that he had witnessed Barbara’s murder. She was 12-year-old on the night of the murders and recalled her father only coming home after midnight. From information given to her by her mother (that is Pickett’s wife) the daughter surmised that he accompanied Barb on the drive-around and returned to discover that the Egan brothers had been shot.
Officially, the case is labelled as unsolved. Unofficially, most people believe that a cold-hearted killer was released and nothing was ever done to bring him to justice. And that authorities chose to turn a blind-eye to criminals sorting their differences out, “gangland fashion”.
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