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The Brockport Murder Dog Trial: An Interview With Author Laurie Fortune Verbridge Part 1
In the summer of 1936, fourteen-year-old Maxwell Breeze was playing in the waters of the Erie Canal in Brockport when a dog jumped into the canal and climbed his back, and the boy drowned. The owner of the dog was served notice to appear at a hearing, at which time a trial was set to determine if the dog should be put down. The unusual case captivated the nation as newspapers from coast to coast covered the story, Paramount Pictures dispatched “The Eyes and Ears of the World” to film the events and a media circus descended on the quiet village. During the trial, more than thirty witnesses were called, including a national expert brought in to evaluate the canine defendant, which journalists referred to as “the most talked-of dog on earth.” Authors Bill Hullfish and Laurie Fortune Verbridge reveal the bizarre incident, trial and spectacle that came to Brockport.
Bill Hullfish, professor emeritus, SUNY College at Brockport, toured under a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Member of the Clarkson Historical Society, the American Canal Society and the Canal Society of New York, bill has written a number of books. His latest, The Erie Canal Sings, was published by The History Press. His articles have been published in American Canals, Bottoming Out, Divisions, American Recorder, The Instrumentalist, New Jersey Outdoors and Bicycling. Laurie Fortune Verbridge is retired from K.M. Davies Company, Williamson, New York. She has held positions as the secretary for the Office of Public Information, Cornell University; postmaster of Pultneyville, New York; and postal service positions including quality first facilitator, secretary human resources and rural letter carrier. She is a member of the Williamson-Pultneyville Historical Society and Save Our Sodus Bay, a past president/trustee of the Williamson Central School Board of Education and past president and state secretary of the Wayne County and State of New York Rural Letter Carriers. Laurie has written letters to the editor of the Williamson Sun and Record and the Times of Wayne County and formatted and wrote articles for “What’s Happening” for Williamson Central School Board.
Laurie, thank you so much for joining us on Chrome Capsule. It is such a pleasure to have you.
[00:00:09.330] - Laurie
Well, it's an honor to be here, and I'm so grateful to be able to tell Bills in my story about my father and his dog.
[00:00:17.970] - Benjamin
It really is a book for the ages. And before we get to what happened on that day, because it was quite a day, I wanted to ask you just a little bit about yourself and Bill. You had such a diverse career before coming to this particular project. You never expected to be a historian, did you?
[00:00:44.070] - Laurie
No. I always thought I'd write a children's book, but then when it came time to dealing with the actual story, I was not able to put it together, but I had all the notes and everything I had taken when my dad was alive, and I had lots of those.
[00:01:40.530] - Benjamin
So you and Bill Hallfish, who is sadly no longer with us, the two of you came to this particular story from very different ends. And I was wondering if you could first of all, just tell us a little bit about Bill and about how he arrived at this particular case and then how the two of you all met.
[00:02:05.490] - Laurie
Bill was just a wonderful individual. And so he was very gifted in the musical talents of the world. He taught at Brockport as a professor, so he had lots of knowledge. He had written a couple of books about the Brockport Canal or the Erie Canal. If you were alive right now, he would be saying, it's not the Brockport Canal, it's the Erie Canal. And you'll see in the book that he definitely tries to make sure that that gets across because so many people called it the barge Canal, the Erie Canal. And I was one of those for years. But now I realize it was the Erie Canal. Bill was extremely gifted. And it was so funny when my cousin called me from Brockport and he said, Lord, there's a guy online you've got to join. Brockport remembered he's looking for information about your dad. So I said, okay, Tim, thanks. I'll get right on that. So I looked up, man, that it was. And it was actually Bill's son. And I sent him a private message because I stalked him on Facebook and I sent him my phone number, and he called me right back. And then he said, you really need to speak with my father.
He's the writer. So Bill called me. And when he called me, I was extremely nervous, thinking he's never going to want to do this with me.
[00:03:53.250] - Benjamin
Oh, come on, come on.
[00:03:56.550] - Laurie
And I was so excited. I thought, well, I'll just tell him the story or we'll figure it out. So I had actually started to write the story, and I was actually getting to the trial part, and I sent him what I had, and it was during Cobin. So it was really a difficult time, but we were able to transfer everything each other had, and that's how we decided to co author. And it was a wonderful partnership. He's really the gifted writer, but I had this story and the parts of it that he didn't have.
[00:04:32.850] - Benjamin
Yeah, that's what I found so remarkable is that both of you had different pieces of the puzzle, and each of you had gained material or were in possession of research material that the other never could have had.
[00:04:48.150] - Laurie
Right. And so it was almost like a spiritual awakening for both of us. We were so excited when we talked to each other on the phone the first time. And like I said, I thought he was going to be interviewing me. Actually, he was trying to tell me, please let me do it.
[00:05:09.570] - Benjamin
[00:05:10.830] - Laurie
And it was just a fantastic family he had. Everybody was involved. And I think probably kept everything going while he was doing this. Just wonderful people, very community minded, and his love of history goes down in the book.
[00:05:33.390] - Benjamin
Now, the two of you had some painstaking Detective work to do in order to tell this particular story. Why was reconstructing the narrative of Idaho the dog and Max Breeze and Victor Fortune, your father? Why was that so difficult to reconstruct?
[00:05:58.390] - Laurie
Well, for 50 years, basically, when I was in high school. Well, if I start out with just the first learning of the story, it was when we had a new principal that came to the school in Marion, New York, and the principal challenged me. He brought me into the office, and I remember sitting in the green chair. I was only in fourth grade, so I'd never been to the principal's office before. And I remember being really a little nervous about being there. And the man came out and he said, his name was Mr. Greene, and he was the new principal. And I went into his office with him and he said to me, Is your father Victor Fortune? And I said, yes, he is. Is he from Brockport, New York? I said, well, his parents live in Brockport, but he was born in Medina. And he said, did you know he had a dog named Idaho? And I said, no, I didn't. And he said, you need to go home and ask your dad about that dog, because that dog murdered my best friend. And now you can go back to your classroom. And I remember, I don't even think I knew what murder was.
[00:07:23.870] - Benjamin
And you're nine years old, and this is what you've just been told?
[00:07:28.130] - Laurie
Yes. Anyways, when I got home that night, I remember asking, dad, you have a dog named Idaho that murdered somebody.
[00:07:42.150] - Benjamin
Hi, dad. Hope you had a good day, too.
[00:07:47.070] - Laurie
Wow. And he was livid. He was very upset, but he kept his cool and he said, but he told me a later years, he couldn't believe it. Well, when I think about it now, Mr. Green was, I'm sure, traumatized. And back then, we're all the kids that were involved. Anyways, we stayed home from school the next day, the three of us. I have two sisters, and we were told the story.
[00:08:19.830] - Benjamin
Why do you think that even though Idaho was your father's dog, your family's dog, why do you think this story had been cut out of your family lore?
[00:08:42.370] - Laurie
I was afraid it was going to be lost. I think my father was very sensitive to the family that lost Maxwell Breeze. Maxwell Breeze was a wonderful kid. It was a huge tragedy. But my father sincerely believed the dog was innocent. Also, it was a very painful time for both families. The village of Brockworth became divided, and they could hardly go anywhere without someone either saying murder dog or chastising. My grandmother especially took it hard, and that would have been my dad's mother. I think that the only reason that was passed down was because of Mr. Green, in some ways, because it gave me the passion to really want to know what happened. And for years, I wrote the different things. So in a sense, he did me a favor.
[00:10:24.550] - Benjamin
Let'S talk about what happened. Because there's this sort of interesting paradox here in its day, this trial was one of the most sensational trials, not just in the region, not just in New York, but across the country. But I would like you to take us to the day before it all happened. And I would like you to talk about what life was like in Brockport, the most all American town that you could possibly imagine. It was so sort of I hate to use the word quaint, but the first people we meet in your book, Laurie, are like nine members of a sandwich baseball team. You can't get more American than that in July 1936. Help us to understand what life was like so that we can understand what actually happened on July 4, 1936?
[00:11:23.950] - Laurie
Well, it was the Depression, so there wasn't a lot to do. Money was extremely tight. People were hungry. But children always got together. And there was a baseball field that started out as just a field. Next it was called Oil. It was next door to the Webaco Oil Company. And so it's called Wabaco Field. And the Buckle and Nine were out playing baseball and did it regularly there. Kids played in the park. And that back up pretty close to where my grandparents house was. My dad was trying to get a job. He had been working, and then he was in the CCC. So he had gone into Isika, New York, and worked and learned a trade, which was truck driving. And then he got transferred out to the Salmon River in Idaho. And so he was working on forestry. He had returned home at this time with the dog Idaho.
[00:12:40.230] - Benjamin
He had gotten her as a little puppy from a litter out there, hadn't he?
[00:12:45.210] - Laurie
Yeah. And the puppies were born almost under his bed, he said, under his bed. I've always wondered about that, but that was in my notes. But they stayed under the bed. How that happened. I've always been trying to picture that, read that in my notes. But anyways and he had befriended two dogs while he was in the CCC, and one was the captain's dog, and his name was Captain the dog. And the other one was Queenie. And she was a stray that had come there. And he noticed when he got there she was pretty wide, very pregnant, very pregnant. And he said he befriended the dogs because he really had missed his dogs from home. And so the dog Queenie became really attached to him. And when it was time for her puppies, like I say, they were born under his bed. And he wrapped a string around the dog, the puppy's neck and called in Idaho. And that's where Idaho came from.
[00:13:59.770] - Benjamin
There you go.
[00:14:02.010] - Laurie
And he brought him back to New York from Idaho, where things were still pretty hard coming in to back home to Brockport to live with your parents. My dad was about 25 years old, and so it would have been really difficult to move back in and get started again. But the CCC had been very good to him and he was pleased.
[00:14:31.230] - Benjamin
So July 4, 1936, was a day that changed the entire city, changed your family's life. It changed really kind of the entire temperament of the area where he had grown up and was trying to make a home for himself. What happened that day?
[00:14:53.010] - Laurie
Well, in the morning my dad got up and it was a regular day. He had taken Idaho for a swim down on the back bank of the canal and came back, and there were lots of fireworks going off early in the morning. They had started and he noticed that Idaho was really not liking them. And he kept going under his bed there, too. And so my father was scheduled to go to a picnic at Hamilton Beach State Park, and he decided that he shouldn't take Idaho. So his parents kept Idaho at home with his 13 year old brother Jack. And the dog was sleeping on the porch with them, or he was under the bed most of that day. The day was a hot, humid day. They had had really hot weather that whole season. And the Muckle and Nine were playing baseball and having a great morning. Midafternoon. They completed their game and went off to swim on the Brockport Canal, which was often there weren't any pools or anything like that. So that's where they swam.
[00:16:11.070] - Benjamin
[00:16:14.170] - Laurie
You work with what you got. And while there, they all got in and started swimming and playing around, splashing around. A black dog came along and was on top of Maxwell Breeze. And Paul Hamlin was trying to bring Maxwell up, but couldn't do it. And Maxwell drowned. And it was a horrific day.
[00:16:43.090] - Benjamin
What struck me in your account, Laurie, was that the account of what happened out of a 200 page book is one paragraph because it happened so fast. It happened just like that?
[00:17:08.050] - Laurie
Yes, it was very quick, but I can't even imagine the young boys that were there, and they screamed for help. They got the local Constable and he came and they had to drag. I'm sorry. They had to drag Max out of the canal and he was gone.
[00:17:33.730] - Benjamin
Was there any you said that one boy jumped in to try to help Max. What were the other seven doing?
[00:17:42.650] - Laurie
They were all swimming. And Paul Hamlin tried to get to him because he could see that Maxwell was struggling. And Maxwell went down and it was Mucky polluted water at the time. The dog had run off, and that was pretty much what happened. They pulled the body out. The kids were all there. And I can't even fathom that in this day and age, having that happen to all of those children. Maxwell's parents were. His mom was an Invalid. She had had polio. And the saddest part about this, too, is she died two years later after she lost her son. And Mr. Breeze was working at the WPA at that time. And when they went to tell him it was their only son in Maxwell had been so committed to his mother. It was a rarity for him to get out and do things. But he was a talented kid. He had been in Boy Scouts. He sang in the choir. There are accounts of him in a play. So he was just an all around good boy, and they were good people.
[00:19:07.210] - Benjamin
So the Constable has to do the very sad work of retrieving Max's body. And then in those first few hours after this has taken place, is it called a coroner? How is this sort of officially written up?
[00:19:27.790] - Laurie
The coroner came and pronounced Tim dead, and I don't know the intricacies of that, but the parents had to identify them. And in the meantime, then the boys had been interviewed and they said it was Idaho that had done this. Idaho was about nine months old at that time. And my grandparents, the Constable, went to their house and said they had to tie him up immediately. He had to be confined, not off the leash until further notice. And my dad had been at a picnic in Hamlin Beach, and my Uncle Norm went and got him and brought got him home. And my grandfather swore to dying day that that dog never left the house or the porch.
[00:20:28.910] - Benjamin
Which becomes extremely important in the hearing and in the trial.
[00:20:34.430] - Laurie
[00:20:34.930] - Benjamin
That we'll talk about in a little bit. There is this sort of lingering question of was it this dog? Which dog was it? Where did the dog come from? And those questions were never fully and satisfactorily resolved, were they?
[00:20:51.470] - Laurie
No, they weren't. And my Uncle Jack always said that the dog's fur was never wet that day except after my dad had left home when they were taking care of him. He said he was always dry. And he also said that to his dying day. That's what I know.
[00:21:16.960] - Benjamin
Yeah. And Idaho was a mutt, but he was a mutt with kind of a recognized ancestry. There was some eredale in him. Is that right?
[00:21:29.930] - Laurie
Eredale and police dog. It was what my dad called the German Shepherd. And he was smart. He was a good dog. He was a playful puppy. And my dad certainly loved him. And my father always loved creatures. My grandmother, she instilled that in all of us to this day.
[00:22:22.990] - Benjamin
The impact on your father's family, your grandparents and your father and your uncle was almost immediate, wasn't it?
[00:22:36.970] - Laurie
Yes, it was. Well, Uncle Jack had been friends with Maxwell Breeze, so there was grief. And then at first they just said, tie the dog up. And then within a short time, he received a notice that he was to appear in regard to dangerous dogs in front of Homer Benedict, the judge for Rockport, New York. At that time, people were starting to say, why do you still have that dog? That dog needs to be put to sleep. That needs to be shot back. Then they shot them as well as anything. And they became very fearful that someone was going to try to take Idaho and destroy them. And my father maintained his innocence through all of that.
[00:23:42.350] - Benjamin
So the legal aspects, as the initial hearing is set, this begin to form very quickly. One of the things that your father had to do or the court needed to have some sort of account of was is this a dangerous animal? Has it been established that there's a history of violence attached to this particular dog?
[00:24:15.650] - Laurie
No, he was not a dangerous dog. He was just a fun loving dog. My dad knew that he needed to get some help with it, but he had no idea where to start financially. Getting a lawyer or doing anything like that was out of the question. They just didn't have the means for it. And this is where the notes were a little bit off when my dad said that he met with Mary Fauvester. And we think it was before the trial or before the notice to appear in court with Judge Benedict, but we're not positive of that. It may have been the day of the hearing.
[00:25:10.810] - Benjamin
And who is Mary? Tell us who Mary was.
[00:25:13.450] - Laurie
Mary Fobaster was from the Rochester Animal Protection Agency, and she was a tremendous friend of my father, and she knew what to do. And my dad said that she came to the house, and I believe that it was before the hearing with the way the notes are written, but we didn't have any reference to it. But she told my father that he needed to protect the dog because she was afraid someone would hurt him. So she took Idaho to Scottsville, where the Animal Protection agency had a humane society and kept him there. And they actually ended up after the hearing hiring a guard who turned out to have been President Taff's Guard.
[00:26:23.210] - Benjamin
[00:26:24.830] - Laurie
So that was a pretty exciting thing. My father said once they hired him, he wasn't worried at all.
[00:26:32.990] - Benjamin
I can imagine. So, yeah, let me ask you this. One of the other aspects of discovery in the legal process here, which is so important as we're kind of heading into the pretrial phase of all of this, is not only do you have to establish whether the animal is violent, but you also have to establish whether there was any behavior on the part of the humans present in order to goad reaction out of the dog or to upset the dog. Or what did these young men possibly contribute as far as their demeanor or behavior that day? The law has to know this, doesn't it?
[00:27:16.550] - Laurie
Yes. And they were questioned on it quite heavily. And every one of the children that were there said that no one had done anything. Maxwell was not taunting the dog. He was flashing around because he wasn't a very good swimmer, but he was not taunting the dog. And the dog had just gotten in the water. I don't know exactly how that went down, but I know that the dog got in the water, and that's when he allegedly attacked Maxwell Breeze and drowned him.
[00:27:57.510] - Benjamin
So there's this through line from that day to the moment at which Mary comes on board to advocate for Idaho and for your father as sort of a recognized member of the animal caretaking or animal sort of protective community. Okay.
[00:28:17.640] - Laurie
[00:28:18.930] - Benjamin
And they elect Mary and your father's family. You write that there's this kind of interesting calculated move by the defense. Harry Sessions, the lawyer has come on board thanks to some of Mary's efforts as well. There's a sort of calculated move for Idaho to not be present at the initial hearing on July 21. This is about two weeks after Maxwell had died. Why do you not bring the dog in that first moment? Can you help us understand why that might be the case?
[00:28:57.660] - Laurie
Yes. Mary was really an intelligent woman. The way the egg and markets law read was that the dog could be confiscated at that time. And it also said that it had to be observed. So by leaving him at the Humane Society, by leaving him at the Humane Society, he would be protected and the judge would have the right to confiscate the dog had he been brought in there. And so that would have given them time to do something different if they had to. So she was really intelligent about leaving that dog behind so that he couldn't be taken.
[00:29:58.500] - Benjamin
Can be seized. Right?
[00:30:00.100] - Laurie
Couldn't be seized.
[00:30:02.210] - Benjamin
So Harry Sessions is quite a guy. And as I was reading your account, I thought if every human being in the world had a defense attorney as passionate as this dog had, I think there would be a lot more acquittals out there.
[00:30:24.890] - Laurie
[00:30:26.000] - Benjamin
How did he come on board?
[00:30:57.650] - Laurie
Well, after the hearing, and the veterinarian and Mary were at the hearing, and they actually got them selves in so that they could testify. And that extended the trial date until August 5. So that was where Mary really came into Idaho's favor and gave her the opportunity to recommend and hire Harry Sessions during that period, too. They also did a lot of fundraising. Okay. In fact, my mother was still in high school when this happened, and she was one of the ones collecting pennies for the dog. And she didn't ever know my father.
[00:31:46.470] - Benjamin
[00:31:48.390] - Laurie
No. She told that story. She said I collected Penny sprito.
[00:31:53.310] - Benjamin
Wow. And then years later, they would meet. Oh, my goodness.
[00:31:56.230] - Laurie
Yes. But going back to your question, Mary recommended Harry Sessions. And Harry Sessions was a big personality. He was an amazing guy. I'm not sure if he really saw opportunity with this case or what, but he definitely I mean, he called over 30 witnesses. He wrote to Mr. Turhewe, who had written he was a dog expert. They went to various places to find out about other trials, and he had a playbook by the time they went to trial.
[00:32:40.300] - Benjamin
You've got this passage, Laurie. It's on page 35 where you describe what Harry did. Would you just read for us beginning at the bottom of 35, where he says he began preparing his case just as if and then just sort of take it through that next paragraph?
[00:32:58.890] - Laurie
Sure. He began preparing his case just as if you were defending a person facing the death penalty. Sessions sought out and subpoenas more than 30 witnesses, contacted local and national authorities on dog behavior, located a lookalike dog to produce in court to test eyewitness identification, develop strategies for cross examination of the witnesses, raised objections to a local newspaper poll, and even demanded that the dog be able to defend himself. I don't see how, in fairness, the court can turn down my request section said I have to ask.
[00:33:44.410] - Benjamin
According to all of your research, how is the dog expected to be able to defend itself?
[00:33:53.810] - Laurie
I'm not sure, except through people they certainly couldn't do.
[00:33:59.700] - Benjamin
They put him on the stand and he wags his tail.
[00:34:03.110] - Laurie
No. But I think he had character witnesses, that's for sure. I mean, when he walked into the courtroom the day of the trial, everybody was petting him.
[00:34:23.230] - Benjamin
Yeah. There's no jury tampering there at all, is there?
[00:34:28.910] - Laurie
And he was sleeping on Session's desk at one point. Yeah.
[00:34:34.260] - Benjamin
You have this photograph of him asleep on the boots of the officer Tuttle, who is the deputy, who is there to sort of keep him restrained, and he's just taking a nap on his feet. Oh, goodness. This really is almost too good to be true. But let me ask you let me ask you, Harry gets into this sort of whirlwind of activity, and it really is remarkable how much effort he applies to this particular case. As you write in the book, however, the publicity surrounding this case has begun to snowball. It has really begun to almost get out of hand. And so you have people sort of writing in to the judge. You have people writing into the court. You have the children saving their pennies for the dog's Legal Defense Fund. You have experts weighing in. Well, we talk a lot on crime capsule about the cranks and the lookyloo's who want to get involved in a case even though they have nothing whatsoever to do with it. Everybody wants a piece of the action, right?
[00:35:49.230] - Laurie
[00:35:50.310] - Benjamin
You have a lot of folks who are deciding that they are going to be present for this spectacle, whatever it's going to look like, and they're going to weigh in. What was that like? I mean, what was happening there?
[00:36:08.530] - Laurie
Nobody was really sure. Why would they all of a sudden descend on Brockport, New York? Well, it's a small village at that point. It was a very small village. And why would they do that? We really don't know if it was because of it hadn't been that long before the Lindbergh baby was taken. Was it slow news that summer, and they needed something different to focus on. But this became a National I mean, you could find this in any newspaper. If you go online and look up the dog, Idaho, Brockport, New York, it will come from newspapers all over, which goes from a long way from microfiche to this, because when I started looking, I was doing it in the Cornell libraries and looking it up on microfiche and Xeroxing it, and it was a metal paper that was flaking when I got it out again. But going back to it, I don't know why it became so sensational, but it did. The Paramount films came out and emailed to interview and record the trial. It was called the newspaper Headlines Were Murdered, dog trial, dog on trial for his life. There were a lot of sensational headlines.
And the funniest part about this is the dog was never really on trial. It was my father that was answering an egg and markets charge of whether the dog was dangerous or not.
I was curious, though, regarding the publicity. Even as it hits these national newspapers, you have such a wide spectrum of responses, right. In that you have one group of people who say, let the dog live. The dog didn't do anything wrong. The dog is innocent. Then you have the other end of the spectrum that says put the dog down. A child's life is worth more than any animal. How dare you even consider letting this vicious, rabid beast live one more day? Both of the responses, both ends of the spectrum tend not to really have many of the facts of the case. They're just sort of weighing in. To what extent did this fervor of emotion surrounding the case actually influence the proceedings?
[00:39:16.530] - Laurie
Well, Judge Sessions was getting letters. He actually got one with a skull and crossbones. From my understanding. There were letters that were sent to my father, to Mary, letters to the editor. And it's a heart wrenching story when you think about it. I mean, a child lost his life drowning an only child to boot, with a mom that's sick and a dad that is hardworking and carrying the burden. So that was the first part. But then there's this innocent dog that my father and his family loved dearly, and they don't believe he's guilty. And it all gets kind of lost on both sides. The village actually became very divided and things in the newspaper, there was a poll that was taken to see whether the dog should live or die, and it was almost a draw. They didn't count all the votes and that we can get into that later. But there were arguments in town. You couldn't hardly talk about it. When my father walked into the courtroom, he knew whose side everyone was on. It was a very vocal and painful time.
[00:40:56.110] - Benjamin
There's a third camp of opinion that weighed in, of course, which are the opinions sent in the letters of advocacy sent in the cards and the notes that arrive from other dogs in support of Idaho. Can you tell us what on Earth was happening with these dogs riding in Idaho's defense?
[00:41:29.110] - Laurie
Well, Kentucky Boy sent a dollar, which was a lot.
[00:41:32.840] - Benjamin
[00:41:35.710] - Laurie
There were a couple of famous dogs that came in. Then you had the Alibi dog. There were actually a total of five dogs that were involved in the story. But the letters were very interesting. I actually have a copy of that Kentucky Boys letter that hits me best.
[00:42:02.150] - Benjamin
It is interesting. The age we are well into the age of the celebrity trial by the 1930. So new news right there. But the age of the celebrity trial involving a dog or the age of the celebrity dog getting involved in a trial, I mean, that confluence might be a little new in American history, just a little I'm not an expert. I don't want to say for sure, but I think we might be on to something, a little novel. Tell me, Laurie, this is interesting because as you and Bill write in the book, the tradition, the legal history of putting animals on trial is not new at all. In fact, that is a tradition that goes back hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. And you actually cite a legal historian who had published a book just a few years prior to this particular event by a gentleman named EP Evans, who had done just an enormous amount of work on what it meant in the Middle Ages, say, for instance, or in the French Revolutionary period to try animals for wrongdoing. So this goes way back, doesn't it?
[00:43:26.990] - Laurie
Yeah. It wasn't just dogs that were tried. That was the interesting part. It was also goats and pigs and that sort of thing. I believe there's a mosquito at one point which cuts I think the mosquito in the letter that they sent was kind of they wanted to put a mosquito on trial because they were saying how ridiculous the trial was. But, yes, that was in there, too. Historians believe that Evans list of 191 animal trial is only a fraction of such trials that took place in the Middle Ages. So it goes back that far. And his list is limited by the fact that during the Middle Ages and even later, court records were often poorly kept, lost or completely destroyed, which also happened in this case because Mr. Sessions, when he retired, took those court records with him. And after his death, they were destroyed. And we had heard that. I knew that when I was back in 1970 when I started the quest because I went to the town offices and the village of Sweden and so did Bill. We traveled in shared pathways. So we both had the same information.
[00:44:59.640] - Benjamin
Yeah, that really is remarkable. I mean, it's worth asking to the extent that the law can determine these things, do animals have conceptions, more advanced animals of right doing and wrong doing, or are they responsible for their actions in the same way that humans are? And there have been some cases over the years that have tried to conclude that they are responsible in the same way as persons, and, in fact, they should be tried as persons.
[00:45:35.010] - Laurie
Yeah. There was a place where and Bill had written about this. They asked the dog to raise his paw. And when he didn't raise his paw, was that an admission of guilt? So things have certainly changed then. And I think that was the other thing that drove me to want to see the story told in 1936. We took time within one month to try a dog in less than a month. And right now we can't hardly get a speeding ticket done in that timeline. Yeah, but it's a sign of the times.
[00:46:46.030] - Benjamin
There are two important wrinkles at this point in the story before the actual trial begins in early August. The first wrinkle is that Judge Benedict could have ended this entire affair very succinctly based on New York state law. But he didn't. Why was that?
[00:47:25.370] - Laurie
Well, I think that it was a couple of different things. I think he wanted everyone to feel like they had been justly served, and by involving the people, he would come up with the right decision. I also think he was a dog lover. I think that he believed maybe that the dog didn't do it maliciously or on purpose or whatever. And I think he wanted to make sure that when he made his decision, it satisfied everyone that he had done his job. He could have just according to the law. He could have just said the dog is vicious or the dog is not the dog is not vicious. And a veterinarian, which they had would be able to tell them that and which appeared at the trial. So those things, I think, entered into it all.
[00:48:30.430] - Benjamin
the other wrinkle Which is interesting here in which by this point has been completely lost in the proceedings is that this trial was not about Max Breeze. This trial was not about the murder of a young man by an animal under the strictest definition of the strictest protocol of filings in the court system. This was about an entirely separate incident, wasn't it?
[00:49:08.270] - Laurie
Yes, it was. And the notice that my father received to appear in court for the first hearing, and I don't have the date in front of me. And it wasn't a hearing. It was a notice of attendance or.
[00:49:28.490] - Benjamin
I'm sorry, it was a summons of some sort, right?
[00:49:33.110] - Laurie
Yeah, it was a summons. Thank you. To appear. And so that was actually filed by Paul Hamlin. Paul alleged that he had been attacked two different times in the Brockford Canal while swimming after Maxwell's death by a black dog. And he said it was Idaho, and that was why my father had to appear. My father always felt that there was no way it was his dog because they were on such high watch for that dog and keeping him tied as instructed. But that was what the notice was. But what it did was it resurrected Maxwell's death. But Maxwell's name does not appear on the summons.
[00:50:29.810] - Benjamin
But it was enough that the emotion, the sensationalism, the currents of feeling that are running through this particular community, it was enough to bring your whole family into this swirling drama and to put this dog on trial.
[00:50:47.990] - Laurie
Yes, absolutely. And my father's biggest fears were what would happen following that summons. And my grandmother also, who just loved the dog, she used to hold a Bumblebee in her hands. I mean, she just was in touch with nature. She was a really wonderful lady, the entire family. But Maxwell's family had to endure hearing all about all of these things again in a very short time after losing their son. So it did two things. Both families were affected.
[00:51:33.770] - Benjamin
So the stage is set on the day that the trial begins for a great reckoning, not just of laws and statutes and precepts, but of the hearts of so many people of that community.
[00:51:47.450] - Laurie
Yes, absolutely. And both sides were hurting. It was a passion for both sides. And having been a mother, now I understand the passion of losing a child. I have fortunately not lost any children at this time, but my heart would break for someone that had lost a child. On the same token, I have a dog that if I were to have him accused of and I believed he was not guilty, I would do what my dad did.