The Potato Hill Killer
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.
How Close Starr Hill and Potato Hill are Located
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
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.