It was 74 years ago this week that Schroon Lake played a role in a sensational courtroom drama that featured a famous Hollywood golfer accused of stealing $700 in a roadhouse robbery in the Adirondacks.
On trial was John Montague, a.k.a Laverne Moore, before he changed his name and became part of the Hollywood set by impressing movie stars with some pretty cool golf moves. How cool were his moves? He could chip a ball across a room into a highball glass, and knock a bird off a wire from 170 yards—and when the big man arrived in Hollywood in the early 1930s, he quickly became a celebrity among celebrities.
But his arrival in Tinsel Town followed what prosecutors say was his role in a violent road house heist. It took 7 years to bring him to trial. Prosecutors in Elizabeth Town say Montague was one of four men who robbed the Kin Hana Road House and severely beat two people during the shakedown. One of those beaten testified he couldn’t be certain that Montigue was one of the men who attacked him.
The four alleged robbers escaped in two cars. Montague was in a car driven by Roger Norton when Trooper Harry Durand stopped the car in Schroon Lake, 50 miles from the scene of the crime. Norton later confessed to his role in the heist. By then Montague was in California with his new identity – having fled New York the very next day after the robbery.
Two key pieces of evidence presented at trial were a driver’s license in the name of Montague’s/Moore’s father that police found in the other vehicle used in the heist, along with a set of golf clubs. One of the occupants of the car where the license and clubs were recovered died from injuries in a crash after the robbery. The survivor was convicted for his role in the robbery. From the beginning the case was circumstantial – just being seen with robbers after a crime doesn’t mean you were involved. In the end Montague was found not guilty. The judge told the jury they got it wrong:
"I am sorry to say that your verdict is not in accordance with what I think you should have rendered but that is up to you, not me.”
According to a report on the case in the Milwaukee Journal, folks in the Adirondacks were rooting for the depression era robber turned golf pro to the stars.
"A wave of sympathy for Montague had been worked up for some reason among the Adirondack people. They wanted to see him aquitted; they wanted to see the defense win its case. The outburst in the court at the verdict, the hero applause for Montague, is proof of that.”
And that act of making a hero out of an alleged felon, got the writer for the Journal very worked up about what he saw as a trend. Here is an excerpt:
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