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April 22, 2013

Area saw its own armed standoffs 30 years ago

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The Daily Star

---- — This past Friday, we watched how the Boston area went into a lockdown during a tense search for the last suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. Had I still been living and working in that area, as I was in the early 1990s, I would have had a day off from work Friday, as police scoured the city of Waltham.

Back in 1983, two of our local communities, Norwich and Stamford, similarly held their collective breaths for some short but tense periods of time. Each endured hostage situations at local government buildings.

On Monday, April 25, a heavily armed Preston couple surrendered to police after holding 17 hostages at gunpoint for nearly eight hours on the second floor of the Chenango County Office Building in Norwich.

Lawrence B. Gladstone, then 49, and his wife, Christine, then 31, entered the building around 9:30 a.m., demanding the return of 43 dogs taken from them about two years earlier. The couple had been charged with cruelty to animals in December 1981.

After the Gladstones took over the office, they released one couple, instructing them to take a list of 15 demands to the nearby Chenango County Sheriff’s office. The county office building was surrounded by police, and a state police negotiating team set up a phone contact with the Gladstones.

As the day went on, a few more of the hostages were released. While the loss of the dogs appeared to be the cause of the Gladstones action, dogs were also the key to the release of the remainder of the hostages and ending the standoff. One of their former dogs, a copper-colored husky, was brought into the building around 3 p.m., and four hostages were released. Another dog was brought in about a half hour later, and the last five hostages were let go. There were some gunshots fired before the surrender, but no one was hit.

The Gladstones eventually went to court. In the meantime Lawrence Gladstone refused food until he was reunited with his wife, or died. The fast lasted for 11 days. On June 13, Lawrence Gladstone pleaded “not guilty” to all 21 counts against him. Judge Irad S. Ingraham granted individual trials to the couple.

The Gladstones were sent to state prison in 1984. Christine was discharged in June 1991. Lawrence was paroled in April 1993 but died in October of that year.

Only a few months later, on Thursday, July 14, “A Stamford man armed with a rifle took a woman clerk hostage and held her in the clock tower of the village hall for more than three hours before a police sharpshooter wounded him,” The Daily Star reported the next day.

Philip W. Constable, then 28, taunted police and fired numerous random shots from two open windows of the clock tower, as he held village clerk Harriet Shipman hostage.

“Where are the cops,” he shouted. “Let’s get it on.” He dared police to kill him throughout the afternoon, repeatedly offering himself as an easy target.

Local residents said Constable was despondent about being jobless for three years, breaking up with his girlfriend, and being evicted from his apartment.

Constable began his standoff shortly after 1 p.m., after walking out of a local store with a rifle and three boxes of ammunition, telling the propriete   r to “charge it.” Several people watched as he loaded the rifle, fired it skyward, and then told the local residents to “clear out” before entering the village hall.

After some time in the clock tower, Constable appeared at the front doorway, telling police that if they didn’t shoot him, he would harm Shipman. A state police sergeant fired, hitting Constable in the wrist. He staggered back into the village hall, and police closed in and seized him. Shipman was unharmed.

Constable was arraigned on kidnapping charges on Tuesday, July 19 while in a hospital bed at Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown. He was indicted on six felony counts related to the kidnapping on Aug. 29 at the Delaware County courthouse, entering pleas of not guilty for all charges. 

In early March 1984, Philip Constable was sentenced to two concurrent six-month terms in county jail. On March 15 it was reported that Constable was released from county jail, having served eight months of his terms.

This weekend: Chamberlin Day was celebrated in Oneonta in 1928.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.

 

* Story was changed at 2:50 p.m. Monday, April 22, to correct headline.