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The Potato Hill Killer

Updated on January 27, 2012

Bernard Hatch

Source

A Dark Event Viewed As A Ghoststory

It was late at night, around 11 o'clock, when I finally arrived at my destination with my date. We had just decided to go driving up Starr Hill, a remote area that is more like a mountain in which young kids go partying and adults go star gazing. On a clear day, at least two counties can be seen from the top of this hill, and it's dusty, unpaved roads stretch for miles through thick, beautiful woods.

My date pulled off onto the bumpy road in his truck and I remembered with a sigh the last time I was up on Starr Hill. It was 2 in the morning in a little Mercury Cougar, dodging nearly invisible rocks and potholes and praying that I don't damage my car as I drove up and down the road, driving my sister back from a party. I remarked to myself on this night the joys of being in a truck on these back roads.

The road kept going down and down and we passed several dirt-road junctions and a swamp before reaching an old graveyard at the bottom of the hill and in the middle of the woods. This graveyard featured headstones from the 1700's, and most were difficult to read without tilting the flashlight just right. We stayed there, reading each headstone that we could before getting back into his truck and driving out.

Passing by the swamp, once again, my date told me there was something special about it. I asked for him to go into further detail. "A man murdered and tortured his victims around here, and that swamp is where the bodies were dumped. He actually dragged a woman behind his car up that last paved road we were on. And the ghosts still haunt this place."

My curiosity was piqued. I love real life crime stories and I am certain that I would have gone into profiling or forensics if I could redo college. So I did what I would normally do. I started to research the murders on Starr Hill.

Starr Hill

The swamp really did have pieces of bodies in it.  Police drained it and discovered them.
The swamp really did have pieces of bodies in it. Police drained it and discovered them. | Source

How Close Starr Hill and Potato Hill are Located

No wonder people mistook which hill the car went up.  They are so close to each other!
No wonder people mistook which hill the car went up. They are so close to each other! | Source

What Really Happened

My date was half right. There was a man who was convicted of murdering a woman in 1973 by abducting her and then dragging her body behind his vehicle. What was wrong about his statement was the location. Right next to Starr Hill is Potato Hill. That was where a witness saw the car.

In the early morning hours of a day in April, Mary Rose Turner, a mother of five suffering from insomnia, went out for a walk. She ended up passing by a gas station in which a man named Bernie Hatch worked the graveyard shift. Turner knew Hatch.

Around 9 that morning, a local farmer spotted a green vehicle dragging something in white behind it up Potato Hill Road. When this farmer drove on this road, he noticed a substance. He examined it and then called the cops. He and a police officer followed the trail and soon several horrific finds lead to a shallow grave and a body.

Due to a past history of abduction, rape, and suspected murder, Hatch made the list as a prime suspect. His car matched the witness' description, he knew the victim, lived near the crime scene, and worked close to the victim's home in the middle of the night. This led to the search of Hatch's property and car, and eventually lead to him being arrested and indicted.

During the trial, which is apparently the longest in Oneida County history, witnesses claimed that Hatch looked disheveled after returning to work that morning and that he boasted about the murder. Hatch was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 25 years before he had a possibility of parole.

Hatch is suspected of murdering several other women in the area, but there is no evidence found linking him to the other murderers or disappearances. Before he was taken away, he ended up saying, "You should have seen what I did to the bodies before I buried them".

Currently, he has been denied parole seven times. Hatch maintains his innocence in the crime, but the parole board refuses to grant him his freedom, although he his now in his seventies. According to local forums about Potato and Starr Hill, the murder is still widely known, but is quickly turning into a ghost story in which the chains can still be heard on a quiet night.

The information found in this section primarily came from this website: http://www.ocgov.net/distatty/BernardHatch The forum website in which several local people discuss the "hauntings" and the murder can be found here: http://www.topix.com/forum/city/utica-ny/TRDPMCC474QS3VIAK

Lasting Repercussions

By reading what people are posting in forums about Hatch, you can tell that some people think that this really did not happen. The crime is treated like a joke because something that extreme is hardly ever heard of, especially in a place where cows can outnumber humans. Those forums also have several different people who were friends with someone directly related to the crime. Either way, this crime, although not as famous as some other serial killers (for which he could be if he is linked to other murders), still lives on.

This case is revived every two years when Hatch comes up for parole. People start to worry that this old man, who no one doubts his guilt, will be able to run free and perhaps pick up where he left off. People start to be concerned about the justice that the family deserves and how twenty-five plus years are not enough. But very few people think of his family that is left behind.

Hatch's wife committed suicide in 1974. And his granddaughter, who recently spoke to a local news channel, still lives with the horrors of a man who is related to her.

According to the News Channel 2 article, Vanessa (Hatch's granddaughter who I will try to not verbally connect her to her grandfather any further in this article because I believe she is a good woman who should not have to wear her ancestor's sins) opened a briefcase that her late mother left her. In this briefcase was a knife, pictures of Hatch and her mother, and letters.

The article further states that Vanessa's mother knew Hatch's guilt and his guilt for other women that he murdered. She stated that her mother mentioned at least three other girls who are currently still missing and also was forced to go out with Hatch to locate spots for graves.

Now, let's take a moment to remember not to criticize these women for their knowledge. The likelihood that Hatch abused his family is high, but this is not certain. In their position, I would have gone along with Hatch for fear of my own life and then dealt with the guilt of my silence during those times by being extremely self-hating. This is extremely hard for anyone to come out about, regardless of the area that they live in. I have a lot of respect and empathy for Vanessa and am extremely amazed at her courage to speak about these thing.

The actions of Hatch not only destroyed the lives of his victims and the families of his victims, but he also destroyed the lives of those in his own family and made it very difficult for those people to live with the knowledge of his actions.

This also affected the lives of the people in the area who are not directly related. From a story that resurfaces on local news stations every two years to a ghost story of rattling chains, the crime reverberates in the community and will probably continue to do so for many years to come.

This is the website to the article that talks about the black briefcase. http://www.wktv.com/news/local/92523499.html

As a side note, there is a book written by a Utica College professor about this murder and the trial.

Do you feel that Hatch deserves life in prison?

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    • profile image

      ted 4 years ago

      I read the book. He was convicted of one murder but probably committed several more. He never should be released. He has not been punished enough and there is still a slight chance that he would kill again if given the chance.

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      eric 4 years ago

      love itt

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      sara 4 years ago

      he admitted to " you should have seen what he did to the other bodies"...he should have gotten the needle...no one can be rehabilitated after killing and admitting to guilt of murder.....he has no conscious which implies if given the chance he would likely do it again even though he is in his 70's...hopefully the judicial board will keep him locked up to protect society.

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      evan 3 years ago

      That guy is a reel sico I hope they keep him in there to rot

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      Allison 3 years ago

      That is very wrong and it's sad the families on both sides have to suffer from this but I truly believe people that can do things like that such as kill innocent people abuse people even those who harm young children have an illness some call the term "illness" an excuse I call it truth I'm a healthy individual and I could never hit hurt or kill someone the thought of it twists my stomach so you tell me that people who do things like this don't have some form of a illness

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      Weaver 3 years ago

      My uncle Jim was the locale farmer I herd the stories and my uncle Tim was the little boy chopping firewood with Jim the day he passed through with the body. My family never lives it down for what he did was wrong

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      Bugg 2 years ago

      Starr Hill ghost has been around long before Bernie Hatch. People who think the two are related are incorrect.

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      Jay 2 years ago

      He is out and free

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      CAiken 2 years ago

      He should have been relieved of tax payers money years ago by "eye for an eye", our laws are too lenient, he had dated and slit my 3 year old cousin's throat and stabbed my Aunt to death, their bodies were found by accident in the same area as MaryRose Turner, the swampy wooded area at the end of Latteiman Rd. Steuben NY.

    • Al Marshall profile image

      Al Marshall 2 years ago

      He is NOT free! As of 7/31/14 he was denied parole. He will never get out of jail. I have 1st hand knowledge. In that time when he was in county jail, a trooper was put in undercover. They faked newspapers and radio reports (taped) to fool him into telling where the others were. Upon discharge from the Army, (he was in Nam) the Army warned civilian authority's of his ability and liking to torture and kill. He killed this lady OK, but as I said, will never get out. This was promised in 1975.

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      CAiken 2 years ago

      He's there for life, he is safer there, he's a dead man otherwise!

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      susan 2 years ago

      My sister lives minutes from the area. Yes, you can feel an intensity. If you are sensitive at all. And agreed he should rot in jail. However it would be for the families sake of closure if he could be made to give up the whereabouts of his victims. These were very evil acts. And one I believe was a mother and child. I can't imagine how horrible that would be for that mom.

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      Sam 23 months ago

      I have lived in the area for more than 15 years. As a teen it was fun to go up to Star Hill and party. However if you go up there on a cloudy night you can hear things like chains rattling, something rushing thru the woods, you feel like someone or something is watching you. I've driven the road and have never seen an animal once besides cows. Something happened in those woods and it haunts the land...

      As for the murder, my great uncle was one of the men that talked to the farmer who informed the police. He also was one of the men that discovered the burning brush that was destroying evidence.

      Growing up in the area gives you an insight that reading the book does not. I've driven the roads, I've partyed in those woods, I've stood on multiple looks out and still you know something is there just watching and waiting.

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      Kevin 23 months ago

      No denying horrific acts were done in the 70's there however I completely disagree with Sam. I have lived in the area myself and shot many deer in those same woods for the better part of 20 years now, which I completely refute the statement of "no animals other than cows". Entering the woods before morning light and numerous time leaving them after dark and never once have I felt uncomfortable in any way nor have I heard chains, seen apparitions, or any other mind tricks that some people are so easily persuaded into believing simply from fear itself and folk lore. Tragedies happen every day in this world, some locals are simply glorifying this one. The same people can go to oriskany battle field or the Erie Canal village if they feel Tragic deaths lead to paranormal activity.

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      Michael Potter-Urbanek 23 months ago

      I do remember this and when it happen. I was only ten years old and remember being so scare. I feel bad for both sides of the families and im sure it still hurts to this day. I too had a family member muder many years ago and its very hard to this day. So if you are a family member ready this may God bless you and remember its not your fault.

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      Anthony Mantelli 22 months ago

      I spent many nights In them same woods, camping hunting, and partying. My Grandmother told me this story and she grew up on Booty hill, and never doubted it for a second, legend nicknamed him hatchet, and If you were not careful while up there on that hill, witch was about 5-6 miles up the narrow, steep, dirt roads. Your mind at that elevation knowing these stories taking in Life being in the moment, was for me the most chilling part of the experiences.Try deer hunting in october, temps on the hill would be zero or below, getting turned around lost feeling so panicked, but Its so quiet around you, then a noise or was there a noise??

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      Alexis 22 months ago

      I live right down the road from the starr hill lookout. The swamp has good fishing and in hs we partied up in the woods every weekend. Its very erry in those woods and you never feel alone. We were star gazing one night and the doors locked and unlocked and the radio channel changed. There is a lot of history here in steuben. Check it out for yourself sometime the least youll experience is a beautiful breathtaking view

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      cassie 22 months ago

      I lived In Remsen my whole life and always thought the stories of Starr Hill being haunted was due to Steubens body being moved from Its original resting place. I also heard of a one room school house on Potato Hill rd burning down with the students and teachers inside.

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      Kid R 10 months ago

      I had just turned 8, I remember kids saying when playing in the woods, "watch out for the man w/ the Hatchet", also talk about it at the Barber Shop in Boonville. A couple years after the conviction I helped the late Jimmy Weaver with haying (cutting grass, bailing, etc.). He was the farmer and star witness, a man about the same age as my Dad. Jimmy Weaver was a big farmer with a gregarious personality and little education; tough life. I got slightly injured while working for him -my fault. Patched me up like my mama would have; gave me some grape drink in one of those old McDonalds (Hamburglar) themed drinking glasses. Tough man w/ compassion- never forget it. He never mentioned nor was I fully aware of the unassuming hero that he was that day in 1973. How may lives were saved? Kind of interesting how people stopped disappearing when Hatch was locked up? I read the book on the case by the late great Military Veteran Thomas Blanchfield who I met when he was the director of the Police academy. Mr. Blanchfield seemed enamored/fascinated with James Weaver's character/personality which surprised me because he was a worldly man; no doubt meeting all sorts of people (Mr. Weaver was something else). Mr. Blanchfield although diminutive in stature, had a personality and character as big as the universe; honored to have known him. As a kid I rode my bike over those blood stained roads many times unaware of the horrors that had taken place. On Potato Hill Rd. in 1973 a good natured soul (Mr. Weaver) took down evil and since then, a dedicated American hero/scholar helped insure that the evil would not return to the free world. Sorry to all the families..

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      Solo 2 months ago

      I've lived on penn mountain my whole life and never saw one ghost or haunting yes it's sad girls died and I would never wish anything upon anyone that horrific but penn mountain isn't haunted and that rocking chair legend is a rocking chair my neighbor and I put out lol oh well let people enjoy a good spook

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