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Sharing passion for history as law enforcer

LOCKPORT -- Christopher J. Carlin's passion for history and law enforcement is obvious from the look of his office, which is filled with a collection of helmets, old photos and other displays.

It's also evident outdoors when he makes the rounds in local parades in a restored 1950 Pontiac sheriff's car.

Carlin, chief deputy of the Sheriff's Office, shares his passion in a new book, "Protecting Niagara -- A History of the Niagara County Sheriff's Office," a self-published history of the force.

The 319-page book chronicles nearly 200 years of law enforcement in Niagara County and the 53 sheriffs who have led the oldest department in the state -- going back to this county's first sheriff, Asa Ransom, who in 1808 was the first to hold the post.

Once he started digging for information, he said, it became infectious, and one question led to another.

Carlin, 48, started working in the Sheriff's Department in 1982 and established the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, becoming the first DARE officer. In 2000, he was appointed City of Niagara Falls police superintendent. He returned to the Sheriff's Office in 2004.

He has lived in Niagara County all of his life, growing up in Ransomville in the Town of Porter.

Carlin first published "Protecting Niagara" in 1992 and returned to the subject recently with a revised edition.

> Why did you update this?

I started the update in 2001 because so much had happened since its original publication, including the attack on our nation on Sept. 11 and the Oklahoma City bombing.

>There are also references to Detective Capt. Larry Eggert and Officer Steve Ritchie, who were shot in Lockport in 2003, and Deputy Jeffrey Incardona, who was killed in a car accident in 1993 on the way to a call.

These guys are heroes, and, 100 years from now, hopefully people will read this.

>How has law enforcement changed in the last 200 years?

It certainly has become more worldwide. Things are looked at on an international basis.

>You've been part of this worldwide effort, fighting in Iraq.

I've been in the service for the past 30 years. I was in Iraq for the past 18 months as part of the Air Force Reserve. I have been in the Air Force Reserve for the past 10 years. Before that, I was in the Army, after graduating from high school in 1976, and had been in the Army Reserve as a special agent.

>It must feel good to come home.

It really makes you appreciate what you have here.

>You were able to include a lot of pictures in the book.

It's a lot easier now [in the updated version]. With a scanner, we can easily scan pictures and documents. But in some cases, things were lost. They had stored collections at the old jail [in the City of Lockport], but in 1961, when they moved, everything was lost. They did keep old booking logs, which go back to the 19th century. It tells what a prisoner was in jail for and what the sentence was, in some cases executions.

>So the research was tough?

Well, they had a unique way of writing in the past, and it could be very slanted for Republican or Democrat. I tried to stay balanced and paint a mental picture that was vivid and detailed. In some cases, like the Morgan Affair [an infamous case involving the powerful Masonic organization and Capt. William Morgan, who dared to take it on and then disappeared in Niagara County], it was difficult to tell the difference between folklore and reality.

>It's a great book with stories that are really interesting.

There are lots of stories in there. I tried to keep it short so someone could just pick it up and read a passage. One of the most heinous is the triple murder in Bergholz.

An excerpt from "Protecting Niagara" reads:

October 5, 1856, was like any other Sunday morning in the tiny hamlet. Members of the local congregation prepared themselves for Sabbath services. On this crisp autumn morning, many walked the short distance to the hamlet's small church. The churchgoers came upon a gruesome sight that they would not soon forget.

Traveling by the doctor's house, members of the congregation discovered Dr. Stang's body alongside the road, his faithful little dog remained nearby. Blows from an axe had horribly mangled the doctor's head. The tall grass near the body had been trampled, indicating this is where the struggle had taken place.

One of the bystanders went to the house for help and found the front door wide open. Inside, he was met with a more repulsive situation. The body of the housekeeper lay in the front sitting room, dressed in her nightclothes. A candle was near her hand. It appeared the murderer had awakened her. Mrs. Ottman's head had been split open by the same type of murder weapon.

In an adjoining bedroom they found ten-year-old Dorothea. As the young girl lay sleeping, the fiend crept into her room and struck her twice in the head with the axe. Apparently, she had not been disturbed by the murderous acts that had taken the life of her mother and the doctor. As senseless as the first two murders were, this last one was beyond comprehension. Speculation spread as to the identity of the murder or murderers. . . .

>What was surprising was how little information was written about the murders.

This book even discusses early forensics, way before 'CSI.'

They actually exhumed the body and did scientific tests [in 1868]. It took a lot of time and effort, but they actually proved a case of poisoning. Although some looked at this as almost voodoo medicine.

>Were there some things that surprised you?

I was surprised at the level of [Ku Klux] Klan activity. You never think of this area, but the Klan had a real foothold. It was a major organization.

According to your book, this area was also a hot spot for booze smuggling during prohibition.

They had their share of drive-by shootings. Route 18 and Ridge Road were major . . . smuggling routes because alcohol was legal in Canada.

>Why is history so important?

It's good to get a sense of history. I appreciate history and the way things used to be. The Sheriff's Department was the first law enforcement agency. A lot of city departments were started in later years. The Sheriff's Office has a long tradition.

>Did you always want to be in law enforcement?

It's something I always wanted to do. I had an uncle in law enforcement.

>Did you ever plan to be an author?

No, not at all, but I had fun doing it.

>Are there any other books coming?

Actually, yes, but I won't say what it's about.

"Protecting Niagara" is available at the Niagara County Historical Society and other local history museums and the Book Corner in Niagara Falls. Information is also online at www.protectingniagara.com.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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