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Patti BrooksWe all admire the creativity of people who think outside the box. But what would you think of a person who literally Jumped out of a box? And the icing on the cake is that Patti Brooks jumped her horse out of a horse-sized birthday cake while the surrounding crowd of hundreds cheered her on with raised champagne glasses.

A writer who spins a good yarn with characters that stay with you long after the last chapter has to jump right in the middle of everything life has to offer and not be a bystander. The paths Brooks has chosen often placed her in situations that led to uncommon incidents.

Patti BrooksOne Halloween night, when Patti was a teen, she was flying with her dad in a single engine plane over Adirondack High Peaks. A vicious lightning storm disabled the radio and the plane crashed on a mountain side. In sub-freezing temperatures, they spent the night in the plane and the next day walked ten miles out to civilization. (more on this crash at the bottom)

Then there was the hot, sticky summer day when Brooks supervised some young people at an outdoor equine competition. They worked out of a large six-horse van that was parked at the top of an open field. Clouds rolled in and the wind picked up. Brooks set about getting the horses and equipment up the ramp and into the van. With one horse left to go, the skies opened up and thunder crashed. Brooks leaned into the van to retrieve a raincoat and in the next second lightning struck the van. She was thrown to the ground and rolled down the hill. Stunned and light headed, she got to her feet and hurried back to the horse. Taking a minute to time the lightning strikes and resulting thunder, she quickly released the horse from the van and hurried up the ramp to safety.

Author 2Crossing the Farmington, ME river

Although Brooks loves distance riding and has logged several thousand miles of competition, she also is a major advocate of horse showing, and the high-stepping “Park Horse” division for Morgan horses is her favorite. The prestigious New England Morgan Horse Show is held for a week in Northampton, MA. Brooks had entered in a Park Harness Championship competing, against twenty-six other horses, all harnessed to four-wheel buggies. Half way through the class, a horse across the ring bolted and took off on a path of destruction, ramming into another horse and buggy, setting that horse free who panicked and, literally jumped into the back of Brooks’ buggy tossing it on top of Brooks with the horse landing at her side. Brooks’ horse leapt in the air and took off. Friends quickly found a new buggy and within the seven minute time allowed for “repairs” got her horse hooked to the borrowed buggy and the class resumed. It’s interesting to note that she was Reserve Champion.

Patti BrooksThat experience illustrates how Patti goes the extra mile to get the job done. She’ll keep at it till it’s done and done right! Brooks brings this never-say-die trait to her stories that don’t tend to fit nicely into the rules of genre. The sole purpose of her stories is to entertain readers.

Patti BrooksFrom a very early age she learned the satisfaction of offering folks pleasant respites to the tediousness of everyday life. Patti worked for Santa Claus! Mr. Claus hired ten-year old Patti to give pony rides to the guests visiting his village on Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks. Santa’s Workshop, the country’s first theme park, brought to life in 1949 by Brooks’ father, Julian Reiss. A biography of Julian Reiss can be bought here: The Man Who Dared to Dream.

With a childhood like this, it was inevitable that Patti would become a storyteller. At sixteen years of age, she sold her first article to a national magazine for $4.00. Since then she sold five 500+ articles, mostly to equine trade journals and several national magazines like Goodhousekeeping. Her first novel, Mountain Shadows, came out in 2003 and was required reading in a number of Adirondack high schools.

Patti Brooks with SantaPatti Brooks with John Santa Smith at the launch party for The Man Who Dared to Dream.
Since then the mystery trilogy has been completed with the publication of Ransoming Victory. In addition, there is a short story collection, Five Minute Escapes and Brooks was invited to write a short story of Adirondack Mysteries II.

You can count on Patti Brooks to spin a good yarn with characters that stay with you long after the last chapter. Her novels don't tend to fit neatly into the rules of genre. But they are guaranteed to entertain.

"Missing Airplane Engine" by RE Tucker

Julian Reiss’s plane crash on the evening of Halloween 1958 is one of the more unusual in the Adirondacks. While it is normal for plane crashes in the Forest Preserve to involve Forest Ranges and many civilian volunteers, this one was different. The search was over almost before it got started when the ‘victims’ walked out of the woods. Shortly thereafter, the Lake Placid village police, the NY State Police and its investigation division, the BCI became involved. The case perplexed them for quite some time.

Earlier that day Reiss had picked up his plane from getting a new engine and a thorough checkout at a repair shop in Norwood, MA. Then he flew to Immaculata College, Malvern, PA, where he landed on the front lawn to pick up his daughter, Patti.1 before heading north. After stopping for fuel at Glens Falls, he continued northward. On the way, he flew into a violent cold front with squally winds, rain, sleet and snow flurries.

He was flying level at 11,000 feet, well above the highest peaks, when ice began forming on the wings and propeller. The plane was getting heavier and heavier. Suddenly, one of his propeller blades threw off its coating of ice. The engine began shaking violently due to the imbalance. He is lucky he had three blades and not two or it would have been far worse.

Mr. Reiss, a pilot since 1944, throttled the engine down and went into a slow descending glide. He attempted to alert the authorities of his problem on the radio, but he received no response. He suspected his air speed indicator was giving false readings, perhaps it too was covered with ice. Then, down at 6 or 7 thousand feet, his radio-compass suddenly picked up the beacon from Lake Clear airport. He was following it in when around 6:30 pm, the needle swung back around 180 degrees, indicating he was directly over the airport. Maybe he could make it after all.

He lowered his air flaps to slow his air speed and told Patti to tighten her seat belt and shoulder harness and he spiraled the plane slowly down with the needle telling him that he was still over the airport.

Unfortunately, he was fifteen or sixteen miles south of the airport. Somehow his radio compass was giving false readings. Increasing accumulations of ice made the plane too heavy for his air speed. He could not speed up—the propeller was already shaking the entire plane dangerously. They were going down no matter what he did.

The plane narrowly missed two tall trees, snapped a branch off one and sheared the tops off two more about sixty feet up. The right wing struck a tree spinning the plane 90 degrees to the right and flipped it on its back. The tail assembly broke off as the plane settled down in a relatively open space between the trees.

If one had to crash-land in the woods, the Helio Courier was the plane to do it in. It was an uncommonly robust bush plane, which, in normal conditions, would stay airborne at only 28 mph. It also had a rugged welded steel tube fuselage with aluminum skin. It was extremely crashworthy.

So far, they had been lucky. Reiss and his daughter found themselves hanging upside down suspended on their harnesses. By some miracle, they were not hurt, just shaken up. It was dark, and initially they did not know how high in the air they were. But they soon realized they were very close to the ground, and after freeing themselves, they plugged up as many holes in the cabin as they could and put on all the warm clothes they had and prepared to spend the night in the plane’s cabin.

They knew that no one would be looking for them till morning, it was already pitch dark. They also realized that no one knew where they were. Indeed, they did not know where they were.

Julian Reiss was a large figure in the Tri-Lakes area. He was well-known as the owner of Northland Motors, a car dealership with showrooms in Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake. He was the founder and owner of Santa’s Workshop at the ‘North Pole’ (North Pole Toys), the first theme park in the United States. He had just founded Camp Monserrate, a summer camp for disadvantaged city kids, later named St. Ignatius Summer Camp. He was the driving force behind ‘Old MacDonald’s Farm’ in Lake Placid, a summer ‘rendezvous’ for needy children. He had established Operation Toy Lift to benefit disadvantaged children at Christmas in a wide area around the Tri Lakes. In 1947, Governor Dewey had appointed him to the State Commission on Discrimination. Pope Pius XII himself had appointed him Knight of Saint Gregory only six months earlier. Needless to say, nearly everyone knew him and respected him. Now, he was missing and they worried . . .

On Saturday morning, while a wide air search ensued across the Adirondacks, the Reisses climbed two hills to get their bearings, but it was not until they climbed a third hill, that they saw Whiteface Mountain to the north and set off toward it through very heavy blowdown. They crossed the Northville-Placid Trail without noticing it, but then picked it up later and easily followed it out. On the way, they encountered two hunters who took them by jeep to the home of Mrs. Eleanor Westcott in Averyville. She fed them and telephoned the nearby Reiss residence to say that Julian and Patti were safe and unhurt. The massive air-search was called off.

Yet, the mystery of this airplane crash was only just beginning. The next day, Sunday, Julian Reiss’s son, Peter, a lieutenant in the US Air Force, following his father’s directions, hiked in to the crash site situated in a triangle comprised of Wanika Falls, Moose Pond and Moose Mountain. Once he found it, he recovered their personal belongings and inspected the wreckage. It was quite clear that the plane itself could not be salvaged, yet it seemed to him the engine and the instrumentation could be saved.

When he returned several days later, on Wednesday (5 Nov), he was stunned to discover that not only had the propeller been removed, but the engine, its radio gear and all of the instrumentation were missing. The thieves had even put the engine cowling back on so that the missing engine would not be noticed from the air. He could not believe it. How could this be? He hiked out and reported it to the police.

NY State Police and BCI investigators hiked in to inspect the wreckage. It was obvious to them that a gang of thieves “acquainted with airplanes” had been involved. They suspected that this gang could have dismantled the engine and “carried it out on their backs”, but they just as well realized that it might still be cached in the woods where it would remain until the heat was off. They systematically searched the area for the missing parts. They found nothing.

Initially the police thought the case would be easy to solve. The brand-new engine, a 6- cylinder, 260-hp, aluminum, geared-Lycoming model GO-435-C2B61, had only 5 or 6 hours of run- time on it; it would be easy to sell and the thieves would get a good price for it. They sent out bulletins with the model and serial numbers to all patrols in the Troop B area. Julian Reiss offered a $500 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the thieves. They would catch them at the point-of-sale.

Some aspects of this case perplexed law enforcement from the onset. How could a gang of thieves carry a 450-lb airplane engine, all the instrumentation, plus all the tools needed, some five or six miles through the woods without being discovered? A large group of guys carrying heavy loads could surely attract notice. However, after two weeks, they had no clues, no leads. They didn’t even know if the engine was still in the woods or whether it had been packed out. There was some idle speculation about whether a pontoon plane could have landed on Moose Pond and flown the parts away.

Even so, publicly at least, police expressed confident they could catch the thieves. They saturated the papers with stories about the theft. Yet, after three weeks, confidence in the police investigation seemed to be wavering. The Au Sable Forks newspaper editorialized on the lack of progress:

“The ones who stole it must have had the strength of Sampson and the brains of a boob. How can they possibly dispose of it? If they tried to sell it whole they would surely be suspected of having stolen it and their arrest would follow . . . [on the other hand] . . . maybe the thieves are smarter than one would suppose.”

It seemed the thieves were indeed smarter than anyone supposed. As time went on, the case grew cold: No large group of guys carrying a heavy load or even several smaller, but still heavy, loads out of the woods was reported. No one reported a 260-horsepower Lycoming engine for sale. No one reported used airplane instruments for sale. They had no leads, they were treading water.

It seems that their first real break came around New Year’s when a resident living on Lake Placid brought a fuzzy photograph to the Lake Placid village police. It was of a red, white and blue pontoon plane that had landed on Lake Placid around the time of the Reiss plane crash. Neither he, nor any of his neighbors had recognized it or its pilot, so he had photographed it as a curiosity and forgot about it soon after the plane left and never did come back. He was reminded of it after Christmas when reading an article in the Plattsburgh paper about how police were still ‘working the case’.4 He wondered if the photo might be important?

The plane in the photo was clearly a Stinson and it had a 49-star American flag on the tail. The numbers on the plane were barely discernible, but they were enough to start an investigation. It was their only lead. The 49-star flag directed them to start in Alaska where they found the initial registration for a 1947 Stinson. Subsequent research sent them back to Connecticut. They were getting closer.

What they didn’t know was that very soon after the Reiss crash, a man living in Massachusetts had noticed a small article in the Springfield, MA, newspaper about the crash. He wondered whether the wreckage would have any salvageable items worth his while. It happened he was a pilot and owned his own plane, a 1947 Stinson with pontoons. He decided to fly up to the Adirondacks to check it out. On the way, he located the crash site from the air and photographed it. Then he landed on Lake Placid and took a taxi to Averyville where he headed into the woods on the Northville-Placid Trail.

Using a map and compass and his photographs, he soon found the wreckage, removed the propeller and the engine. The latter, he hid in the woods. He then removed the radio gear and other instruments, packed them out and flew home.

Later, during his weekends off from work, he drove to Averyville in his personal car and returned to the crash site where the Lycoming engine lay hidden. He disassembled it into pieces that would fit in his backpack and hiked back to his car. He did this for some three or four weekends unseen and unnoticed until all the gear was in his basement. The heaviest load, the crankshaft, had been ‘only’ 80 pounds (his estimation). His ultimate plan was to install the Lycoming engine into his Stinson.

Unfortunately for him, the authorities traced the airplane registration number from Alaska to Connecticut and a William John Thomson in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. When they showed up at his job at Pratt & Whitney at Bradley Field, CT, on 8 Jan, and after they convinced him that they knew a lot about his activities in the Lake Placid area and that they had a description of his pontoon plane, he admitted that he had the parts, but said he was not guilty of any crime. Nonetheless, he showed them the boxes in his basement.

He did not realize that they had been bluffing about how much they knew. All they had was a fuzzy photo of his pontoon plane. Mr. Thomson was not a professional thief, he had no experience with the police or the law. He came from a respectable family. He had never been arrested or in any trouble with the law. Nevertheless, he was extradited to Essex County and placed in jail to await the grand jury decision for felony theft.

At his arraignment, he told Justice Harlan (Harley) Branch that it was never his intent to steal anything. It was his understanding that an airplane wreck was ‘abandoned’ property, free-for-the-taking, that he did not know that what he had done was a crime. He said he thought that airplane wrecks in the Adirondacks were the same as ship wrecks on the open sea, that salvage was open to anyone willing to spend the money to recover them.

Justice Branch himself later admitted that he had never heard of such a thing, but he suggested that Mr. Thomson obtain a lawyer, he set bail at $2000 which Mr. Thomson did not have. He went to jail to await grand jury action.

There seems no newspaper record whether Mr. Thomson obtained a lawyer, whether he pled nolo contendere or otherwise, but at his sentencing in early July 1959, it seems the court gave him the benefit-of- the-doubt regarding his misinterpretation of international Maritime Law versus the laws of the State of New York. He was sentenced to a $150 fine, ‘complete’ restitution to Mr. Reiss and three years’ probation, thus ending the case of one of the oddest Adirondack plane crashes.

The police took credit for solid ‘old-fashioned’ police work leading to the apprehension and conviction of Mr. Thomson. Perhaps that is true, but one must also realize that if not for the civic-duty-mindedness of a single resident on Lake Placid with a ‘fuzzy photograph’, this matter would probably remain open today.