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Murder, he wrote: Longtime police reporter Dave Shampine ends a chapter at the Times


When David C. Shampine applied to work at the Watertown Daily Times in 1971, he was hoping to be hired as a sports reporter.

He didn't get that job, but the 23-year-old who had recently graduated from SUNY Brockport was offered a job at the newspaper's Carthage bureau. It was a good fit for Mr. Shampine, who had graduated from Carthage Augustinian Academy in 1966 and knew his way around town.

He approached reporter Charles Haeffner, who was working in the Carthage office, which Mr. Haeffner said “amounted to a large closet in a stately home in the village's residential section.”

Mr. Haeffner, now the editor of the online publication the Odessa File in Schuyler County, wanted to transfer to the Watertown office, so he began lobbying news editor Frank P. Augustine to hire Mr. Shampine as his replacement in Carthage.

“Frank dodged the suggestion. He probably didn't like me meddling in the paper's hiring procedure, but assured me that a main office slot awaited me in the not-too-distant future,” Mr. Haeffner said. “I didn't let it go at that. That was too vague. I kept lobbying over the coming weeks, and pushing the candidacy of David Shampine for the Carthage bureau.”

After completing a year in the Carthage bureau, Mr. Haeffner transferred to Watertown, and Mr. Shampine was hired for the Carthage position.

That started a career that ended Friday, when Mr. Shampine retired from the Times.

Mr. Shampine “has maintained the job for (more than) 40 years, a feat which must be in contention for some sort of durability or dedication record,” Mr. Haeffner said. “It has been, in any event, a career to admire.”

Less than six months after being hired, Mr. Shampine himself was transferred to the Watertown office, where he joined a staff of veteran reporters and editors. These included Mr. Augustine, brothers John and Dominic Pepp, sports editor John “Jack” Case, city editor Frederick H. Kimball and G. Robert Farmer, who would become city editor and editorial page editor. All of them would have Times careers of more than 40 years.

“I was joining a staff of reporters who had been at the paper for many years,” Mr. Shampine said. “These were local people who had lifetime careers there.”

Police beat

Mr. Shampine's primary job throughout his career was as “cop reporter,” although there were stints when he covered Fort Drum and the court systems as well.

He was a fixture at crime scenes, writing about the victims, the perpetrators, the motives and the law enforcement officials handling the cases.

Robert D. Gorman, the Times' managing editor, said when he moved to Watertown in 1994 the newspaper was often referred to by the public as “The Watertown Daily Crimes.”

“To a large degree, that was because of Dave's work,” said Mr. Gorman. “He visited or called every police department to find out what had happened the day before. The only place to get that news was the Watertown Times.

“Now that police departments send out reports via email, television and websites are all saturated with crime news because it has become low-hanging fruit,” said Mr. Gorman. “But there is no comparison between minimalist 'press-release journalism' and what Dave has done in providing our readers detail and context, while pressing public officials to give the public the information it deserves.”

During his years covering crime, Mr. Shampine built relationships with numerous police officials, but they weren't always harmonious, Mr. Shampine said.

“Every time there was a murder, the police were trying to protect evidence,” he said. “I was trying to get a story.”

James L. Lafferty, retired state police sergeant and Jefferson County sheriff, said, “In my contacts with Dave, I found him to be reasonable, fair and always probing for information, which was his job.”

“Although we did not always agree, we both knew our limitations — his to report the news and mine to release it to him without endangering the investigation,” Mr. Lafferty said.

“His first duty was to establish a trust with those he wished to glean information from,” Mr. Lafferty said. “The second was to meet the demands of his boss and the public. Needless to say, a very tight rope to walk.”

Mr. Lafferty said, “My gut feeling is that he might have taken some heat from all fronts at times. Some would have liked to have seen him fired, at the very least, if not hung by the heels in Public Square overnight in early winter.”

Mr. Lafferty said that “for him to speak and report it fairly, honestly and to the best of his ability, speaks volumes of his character. As a police reporter, one has to have a thick skin, and Dave developed one.”

murder and mayhem

The first murder story Mr. Shampine wrote was about a man who would later become infamous in New York — Arthur Shawcross, convicted of killing two children in Watertown during the early 1970s.

“I'll never understand why, but he was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter, and he served 15 years in prison,” Mr. Shampine said. “Of course, I would have no idea how big of a monster this man would become.”

About a year after Shawcross was released from prison, Mr. Shampine received a phone call at home from a reporter in Rochester looking for information on the ex-convict. Shawcross had just been arrested for the murder of several prostitutes in Monroe County.

Although he has written about “thousands of people during my 41-year career,” Mr. Shampine said, he would never forget the Shawcross murders.

There was only one time when Mr. Shampine actually saw the body of a victim.

It was in 1973, and the police were investigating the murder of a Chaumont man, Vincent Eleuterio, who had been shot in the head while he slept on the floor. Mr. Shampine was taken into the room by police to get a look at the crime scene.

“As I think back to that day, I wonder if the Jefferson County sheriff's personnel simply wanted to see how this 25-year-old reporter, having been on the job just shy of two years, might stomach the scene,” he said. “I did OK.”

There were several times during his career, however, when he found himself at odds with law enforcement officials.

In 1979, a retired state police investigator whom Mr. Shampine highly respected, Frederick G. “Fritz” Wanerka, was shot to death when responding to an early-morning fire in Antwerp. It was discovered that the alarm had been intentionally set and the police officer ambushed.

“I was very upset,” Mr. Shampine said.

During the course of the investigation, Mr. Shampine was given a tip by a source that one of the people involved in the ambush was a soldier who had gone missing from Fort Bragg, N.C. Mr. Shampine was given the name of that suspect, and took that information to the police.

The Sheriff's Department refused to confirm or deny the information, Mr. Shampine said. He was directed by editors to track down and interview the soldier and write a story naming the soldier, who had denied any involvement in the case.

Later that evening, Mr. Shampine was accused by the Sheriff's Department in a television interview of putting the lives of two of its investigators in danger. They were at Fort Bragg monitoring the suspect.

The soldier Mr. Shampine interviewed, along with another soldier and the wife of the murder victim, were all charged in the murder conspiracy.

“We at the Times would have cooperated if we were told by the police that something was developing and it needed to be kept quiet,” Mr. Shampine said. “But instead we were stonewalled.”

in the thick of it

Joseph P. Rich, retired director of the Disabled Persons Action Organization and a former Watertown radio and TV reporter himself, said, “Dave's search for the truth was never ending.”

“His inquisitive mind, whether he was stubbornly digging out the facts concerning a police investigation or writing about a piece of north country history, always managed to unveil little-known, interesting facts in getting to the heart of the story.”

Mr. Shampine covered several other murders, including one in which he was called to testify before a special grand jury investigating allegations of misconduct by two police detectives handling the case.

It was 1984, and Mr. Shampine had written about the murder of Edward Goulding in Cape Vincent. Mr. Shampine covered accused killer William F. “Billy” Oakes's two trials — the first resulting in a hung jury and the second resulting in a conviction that was later overturned by the appellate division.

Mr. Oakes had claimed that two detectives, one from the state police and one from the county sheriff's office, had coerced him in an attempt to get a confession, with one discharging a handgun near his head.

Two other members of the Sheriff's Department came forward and stated Mr. Oakes's allegations about the “gunplay” were true. Mr. Shampine was asked to testify about a conversation he had with one of the police detectives outside the courthouse.

“I disappointed the special prosecutor because I had no recollection about the conversation,” Mr. Shampine said.

The two detectives were later cleared of the charges, and the two “whistle-blowers” who had made the accusations were fired after being charged with perjury.

Despite the expertise he developed in covering murder cases, it was something that Mr. Shampine said he never enjoyed doing.

“It was an issue of morality — taking someone's life,” he said. “It disturbed me.”

another pastime

After many years of covering crime, Mr. Shampine decided he needed to pursue another outlet for his writing and focused on his interest in north country history.

“I guess that I had the police beat syndrome,” Mr. Shampine said. “I needed to write about something else.”

While continuing to cover the police beat, Mr. Shampine started writing a column in 1998 called “Times Gone By” that appeared every month or so in the Sunday paper.

He had made one self-imposed rule: “I wanted to avoid writing about murder cases, so I have shunned most of those ideas over the years.”

In an earlier newspaper interview, Mr. Shampine said this about his column, “It's local incidents and local history in which I have tried to personalize the stories to make them interesting reading and not just boring historical facts.”

“I don't deviate from historical fact at all, but I try to play up the personalities. If somebody asks me to write about the history of a building, I'm going to find a person to build that story around,” he said.

In 2009, Mr. Shampine was asked by an assignment editor at History Press in Charleston, S.C., if he would be interested in having a book published featuring some of his columns.

The result was “Remembering New York's North Country: Tales of 'Times Gone By,'” a book that features 17 columns by Mr. Shampine.

A year later, Mr. Shampine was asked to have a second installment of his history columns published in a book called “Northern Lights — Colorful Characters of Northern New York.”

That was followed by a third book published last year, titled “New York's North Country and the Civil War,” featuring a collection of Mr. Shampine's columns with a Civil War theme.

But one of his proudest moments was when History Press agreed to publish a book he'd had in the works for many years.

It was about the unsolved murder of a young teacher in 1968 on Wellesley Island.

“The North Country Murder of Irene Izak — Stained By Her Blood” was published in 2010. It is the story of Miss Izak, a French teacher from Scranton, Pa., whose body was found in a ditch near DeWolf Point State Park on Wellesley Island. She had been bludgeoned on the head and had died from a sharp blow to her neck.

Her murder was reported by David N. Hennigan, a state trooper who had stopped her car earlier on Interstate 81. Although suspicion centered on Mr. Hennigan, he was never charged with the crime.

The title of Mr. Shampine's book refers to the bloodstains found on the trooper's uniform the night of the murder. Mr. Hennigan claimed they were from checking Ms. Izak's body for signs of life.

In his book, Mr. Shampine wrote about the circumstantial evidence surrounding the trooper and included interviews conducted with members of the Izak family.

Mr. Shampine was not working at the newspaper at the time of the murder. He had just graduated from Jefferson Community College and was on his way to study at SUNY Brockport.

“She was actually killed the day after I graduated from JCC,” Mr. Shampine said.

But he was asked to follow up on the story after becoming the paper's crime reporter.

“I had retired cops who kept coming up to me and saying, 'You know who did it,'” Mr. Shampine said. “I contacted the Izak family, and they wanted the story pursued.”

In fact, it was Irene Izak's sister, Helen Ewasko, who asked Mr. Shampine if he was going to write a book about the murder, and that's what got him started with the project, he said.

His wife, Lucille A. Shampine, encouraged him to “stay on top of the Izak case” and to work toward publishing the book, Mr. Shampine said.

Life outside work

Mrs. Shampine died April 11 at age 62, just months before the couple would have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

“Everyone loved her,” Mr. Shampine said. “The day she died was the darkest day of my life.”

Mrs. Shampine, a 1967 graduate of Harrisville Central School, attended Morrisville Technical College for training in phlebotomy. She worked as a phlebotomist in Johnson City, Carthage and Watertown.

The couple had two sons, Steven A., who lives in Watertown with his wife, Julie, and Scott D., LaFargeville, and two grandchildren, Jennifer, 14, and Lindsey, 13.

Mr. Shampine also has a sister, Bette A. Shampine, a retired teacher living in Carthage.

Mr. Shampine has won numerous awards for his reporting and contributions to the community, but of those, he said, “I am proudest of the honor presented me by the JCC Alumni Association — professional achievement award.”

During his early years of reporting, he was active in raising funds throughout Jefferson County for the St. Lawrence Valley Chapter of the National Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation.

He and his wife spent several years helping to raise funds for St. Patrick's Church by organizing the sales of “tricky trays,” a silent auction.

St. Patrick's deacon pastoral associate Kevin Mastellon, himself a former Watertown TV reporter, recalled working in the news business at the same time as Mr. Shampine.

“In spite of the competitiveness of the organizations, the individual reporters had a great camaraderie,” Mr. Mastellon said. “I always found Dave to be friendly and open.”

“I also knew if he was on a story, the inside track of a story, his professionalism would drive him. Dave let very little get in his way to a story. A 'no comment' was not acceptable to Dave,” he said.

Mr. Shampine's most recent fundraising effort was Jefferson County's “We Remember” campaign, which raised more than $3,000 for the Nassau County Hurricane Recovery Fund, set up to help hundreds of families left homeless after Hurricane Sandy in October.

The “We Remember” campaign recognized the more than 20 fire departments in Long Island's Nassau County that sent personnel and equipment to Jefferson County following the ice storm of January 1998.

Mr. Shampine is “deeply concerned about people in need,” said Mr. Rich, who worked with the campaign, along with Rande S. Richardson, executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation, and Watertown residents Douglas Anderson and Paul Jantzi.

Julie Cupernall, director of Fort Drum public affairs, shared her thoughts on Mr. Shampine's career.

“Being a local news reporter is very similar to being the loudest singer in the choir,” she said. “There will always be a voice that rises above the rest, but it comes with a great personal responsibility and more than its share of expectations.”

And “just like that singer who almost always hits the right notes, a local news reporter must deal with the fact that they'll likely be remembered for the missed notes more than beautiful medleys,” Ms. Cupernall said.

She also said that “his features spotlighting local history make me proud to be from Northern New York. He tells of times past in a way that make me think I've just missed them and that if I stop at a certain house, or island, or grave marker and listen closely, I just might capture more of the tale where he left off.”

sports fan

Although Mr. Shampine never did end up covering sports for the Times, he found other outlets for his passion, particularly his interest in professional baseball.

He kept statistics for Jefferson Community College's baseball team while attending school there, and later was a part-time official scorer for the former Watertown Pirates and Watertown Indians minor-league baseball teams.

Mr. Shampine has visited nearly every major league ballpark east of the Mississippi River. His favorite team is the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In 1993, he won the opportunity to work for a day in the press box at Dodger Stadium. It was part of a contest in which the team had invited fans to submit in writing what their fantasy position at the ballpark would be. Mr. Shampine wrote about his dream to be a sports reporter in the press box for the day.

He recounted his experience in a first-person article written for the newspaper:

“There I am, standing on the first base line, being applauded by the fans at Dodger Stadium,” Mr. Shampine wrote. “Behind me, my smiling and waving image appears in living color on the giant screen of the Diamond Vision beyond the left field fence.”

Mr. Shampine continued, “Dodger public address announcer Pete Arbogast introduces me as a small-city newspaper police and history writer from Watertown, N.Y., and recites my 'career record' of 40 Dodger games attended in eight stadiums since 1970.”

“'Here I am, people of L.A.,' I think. 'I'm from New York, but I am a Dodger fan.'”

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