October 28, 2021

Dryden’s darker past

"Village of the Damned" Airing Weekly

Photo Illustration by Joe McIntyre

This photo collage represents multiple homicides in a decade of Dryden’s past. The decade of 1989 to 1999 is being revisited by the Investigation Discovery series “Village of the Damned.”

It’s a past in Dryden not often talked about. Who would? At least 10 homicides in a decade. Those events have been brought back into the light with a crime network television series. Some Dryden residents are upset with the show, so much so that a petition started by the group Lion Pride to stop airing the show has 3,443 signatures by this morning.

“Village of the Damned” on the Investigation Discovery network focuses on a period between 1989 and 1999 when multiple killings occurred in Dryden, including an entire family and a pair of cheerleaders. Each of the five episodes focuses on one event, starting with the Harris family killings, the network said in a statement.

At the time, village Mayor Randy Sterling was both a village of Dryden police officer and an Ithaca officer. “You worked with a heightened sense [then],” he said.

Brad Perkins, the director of Perkins Funeral Home in Dryden, has been a resident of Dryden for 67 years. He appears in all five episodes. He was approached by Investigation Discovery in March and told the series would be a show to dispel the myth that Dryden is the village of the damned. Perkins said he interviewed producers as much as they interviewed him, and will reserve his judgment on the show until he sees all five episodes.

The first episode premiered Tuesday, “The ‘Curse’ Begins at Christmas.” In 1989, the entire Harris family — Tony, Dodie, Shelby and Marc — are killed around Christmastime in their home on Ellis Hollow Road. The subsequent episodes continue at 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Dec. 26.

Other events covered in the five part series include:

• On Aug. 14, 1993, Scott Hume, 26, is killed by a single stab to the chest by Paul R. Jackson Jr.

• In September 1996, Robert Bergman, a supervisor at Stafford Chevrolet in Dryden, is shot and killed by employee Ed Bailey Sr.

• In December 1994, J.P. Merchant shot and killed Stephen Starr, a high school coach and the father of Merchant’s ex-girlfriend, during a home invasion. Merchant then shot and killed himself at a cemetery.

To conclude the series, Discovery revisits the deaths of Dryden High School cheerleaders Sarah Hajney and Jennifer Bolduc in October 1996. Hajney had invited Bolduc to spend the night at her home. After not showing up to school the next day, police were called. John B. Andrews was arrested in connection to their murders.

Despite proof the girls were killed in a manner that defies adjectives, police continued a search for three weeks in and around Otselic, in Chenango County, where the strongest evidence was found, and near the Cortland lot where a car Andrews had been driving was discovered. In November 1996, Andrews was found dead in his cell at the Tompkins County Jail.

Together, the killings paint a disturbing picture of the community. But they needn’t be, Perkins said. “These incidents are all isolated and not connected to one another.”

Dryden Mayor Randy Sterling said the events occurred 18 to 28 years ago. “It’s in the past,” he said. People move on. They don’t talk about them, at least not daily.

The name for the series is wrong, Sterling said. Only two of the incidents occurred in the village. “The rest happened in the town,” he said.

In a written statement, the Village Board of Trustees said the village has been a place that prides itself on its community spirit and friendly neighborhoods. When tragedies strike, the village comes together to bind wounds and move forward.

Town Supervisor Jason Leifer said the show just dredges up dark memories. “It was a pretty rough period in the town,” he said. “There are still people hurting from it.”

The petition calling for a halt to the series is available at Change.org. Investigation Discovery did not return phone calls for further information about the series.

To keep from spoiling anything in the show Perkins didn’t go into too much detail about the series. However, Dryden isn’t the village of the damned. If people watch all five episodes they’ll see it does disprove the myth. “It (Dryden) is a pretty good place to live,” he said.