Technology could beat crime even long ago

Even as early as 1929, electronic technology beat bungling thievery. (Photo courtesy of Peter Betz)

It was Thursday, Dec. 5, 1929, a dark and snowy night roughly two months after the great stock market crash. But whether that disastrous financial event influenced three Amsterdam men to burglarize Samuel ‘Sammy’ Betor’s Broadalbin furniture store is anybody’s guess.

But burglarize it they did, or at least they tried.

In today’s world of electronic security devices, we tend to forget that in the early 20th Century more primitive versions of these deterrents already existed and also worked, as the three unlucky ‘Betor burglars’ discovered to their chagrin.

The Dec. 6 Morning Herald headlined their failed caper, “Old Offenders Caught in Betor’s Store.”

Few of today’s Leader Herald readers will remember ‘Sammy’ Betor, the colorful proprietor of Betor’s Furniture Store. Betor served his community as co-founder and frequent president of the old Broadalbin Chamber of Commerce, and as a general purpose ‘Broadalbin-booster’ whose store served area furniture buyers for decades and was located in the large business building presently serving as a multi-store location, wedged between the Jankowski Insurance Agency to the left and the popular Cafe In The Village on the right. Many older Fulton and Montgomery county homeowners probably still possess at least some quality furniture purchased at Betor’s by their recent ancestors.

My parents, for example, bought their entire complement of furniture — living, dining, bedroom and kitchen — at Betor’s including the still-chiming grandfather’s clock. Contemporary newspaper references suggest Betor was both a well-known and well-liked merchant who sold quality furniture, didn’t try to rob customers, and as the unlucky burglars discovered, didn’t intend on letting anyone rob him.

The 1929 Morning Herald related, “An attempted burglary was discovered at 1:30 yesterday morning when the burglar alarm attached to Betor’s store gave the alarm to the telephone operator and she notified State Police Sergeant Avery, who resided at the Sawyer residence in the village. Avery immediately notified Betor, who had just returned from Johnstown and was still awake. Avery, Betor and Mr. Sawyer started for the store at once, meeting on the way, and took positions at the front and back of the store.”

Sawyer and Betor stood outside the rear door, according to the Herald’s account, while Sergeant Avery, with Betor’s key, quietly opened the front door and entered, flashlight in one hand, revolver in the other, although one wonders why he didn’t just turn the lights on.

“The sergeant flashed his light behind the counter and quickly located two men hiding. They were later identified as Steve Dulczewski and Charles Yatch, both of Amsterdam. Avery ordered the men from their hiding place and searched their pockets. Both had rings on their fingers belonging to Betor. Piled up near the back door was a quantity of clothing they apparently intended carrying away. Investigation showed they’d broken into a large cash register and taken approximately forty dollars.”

By this time, Fulton County Sheriff Brewer and Undersheriff Jones, notified by Avery, had also arrived. Suspecting the un-dynamic duo had a car parked somewhere nearby, these officers began backtracking their foot prints. Dulczewski and Yatch apparently hadn’t pondered the potential for negative consequences arising from committing burglaries during winter, when snow allows footprints to be tracked.

“Their footprints led one street west, directly to where a new Hudson coach was found parked. In it was Frank Meinente, owner of the car. He was corralled and admitted he was waiting for the other two men. All three were arraigned in the morning before Broadalbin Town Justice George Farley and sent to the county jail.”

A follow-up Schenectady Gazette account suggested the trio had been up to more than just this Broadalbin caper.

“The burglary has the appearance of having been committed by the same men who burglarized scores of Amsterdam places in the last few weeks, and authorities believe the three are directly responsible.”

If you scan the walls of older commercial buildings, you’ll sometimes notice old-fashioned large, round burglar alarms attached, and if Sam Betor had employed this more common type of system, the gong would have erupted, the burglars would realize they’d been detected, and would have run away quickly, but due to using the newest silent-type alarm connected to the local telephone switchboard, they weren’t aware they’d been detected until too late. Such systems, simpler versions of city fire alarms, were advertised, for example, by the Bradford Alarm Company of Fort Plain, which boasted they could install one, “for as little as $150, wired to your location of choice.”

What became of Betor’s burglars? Justice was faster then. Two months later, the Feb. 1, 1930 Morning Herald reported that Yatch plead down to a charge of unlawful entry, paid a $350 fine, and was sentenced to one year in Onondaga Penitentiary.

Frank Meinente, supposedly a first offender, received a suspended sentence. Steve Dulczewski, although only 21, received the harshest sentence, life, because he was now a four-time offender, a stiff price to pay for a $40 haul.

State Police Sergeant George Avery, one of the original mounted state troopers, retired in 1930 due to an increasingly painful disability originating when his horse rolled on him 11 years earlier, thereafter working as a private detective and spending summers keeping order at Sherman’s dance hall.

Samuel Betor died in mid-October 1946, after a year of failing health.

Today, most people prefer buying furniture on time to doing time for stealing it.

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