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Potsdam man accused of identify theft and misleading police in Phillips murder investigation

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POTSDAM — A Potsdam man was charged with sending emails to police under a false identity to accuse three men in the murder of 12-year-old Garrett J. Phillips.

Potsdam Police arrested Richard J. O’Hanlon, 65, of 18 Sisson St., and charged him with two counts of falsely reporting an incident, two counts of third-degree identity theft and two counts of second-degree obstruction of governmental administration, all misdemeanors.

He was arraigned without counsel Thursday by Potsdam Village Justice Nicholas J. Pignone and released under probation supervision. he will be re-arraigned with counsel Dec. 13.

Police received two emails, one on Dec. 5, 2011, and a second on Aug. 8, 2013, falsely naming William R. Beebe, Norman Gardiner and Craig Foley as those responsible for Garrett’s death on Oct. 24, 2011. Mr. Gardner’s name was spelled incorrectly in the letters sent to police.

O’Hanlon said he acted out of revenge against the men, with whom he said he had “trivial” disagreements.

“I didn’t really think about the way it would affect the family of Garrett,” O’Hanlon said. “I was just that upset with the individuals.”

The emails, sent from public libraries in Potsdam and Woodgate, were done on a fake account created by O’Hanlon under the name of James Blair, the brother of his ex-girlfriend Nancy Matthews, without his knowledge or permission. O’Hanlon posed as Mr. Blair and later as Mr. Gardiner, falsely confessing to involvement in the murder with Mr. Beebe and Mr. Foley.

Mr. O’Hanlon told police that he was distressed with personal problems. The bizzare messages referring to the boy’s murder included references to Elvis and the antichrist.

“I didn’t know what the ramifications would be,” said O’Hanlon, sitting at his dining room table in an interview Friday. “I didn’t think it was going to come to this. I thought they were going to talk to these three individuals and put them on edge. I thought this would put their credibility into question by my getting even.”

Potsdam Police Lt. Mark R. Murray said police tracked down O’Hanlon with the help of multiple law enforcement agencies and subpoenaed interviews including those named in the emails.

“You can imagine the resources that were used in this diversion, but the message here is, if you send an email we are going to trace it,” Lt. Murray said.

Tandy Cyrus-Collins, Garrett’s mother, said the incident is troubling to her family after a two-year “emotional roller coaster.”

“It’s upsetting to the family since we have been waiting for two years for results,” Mrs. Cyrus-Collins said. “That someone would do this, creating false hope that something surfaced, obviously this is someone who has severe issues.”

The purported “official letter of confession” emailed to police in August warned officers they would be in danger if they attempted to apprehend any of the three men falsely accused of being responsible for the murder.

“That we will shoot to kill any officers who approach the Midtown Apartments before running up on the roof of the building to be lifted up into heaven by Jesus Christ and Elvis Presley,” the letter concluded.

O’Hanlon, according to a statement from Lt. Murray included in court documents, said he was hoping that threat of violence would lead to a police response that would scare the three men.

“I was just trying to get revenge on the people I named in the letter and was taking it out on them. I was hoping they (all the people I named in the letter) would all get told off by the police. I fabricated this letter to get even with these guys. None of the details were facts I knew about the case other than what I heard in the news reports,” he said in the statement he signed for police on Oct. 31.

Mr. Murray, according to the court document, questioned O’Hanlon about his decision to send a secone email in August after the previous correspondence sent in late 2011.”Well I just ... I just wanted to see if it would really help with the investigation. I was just angry at this person because of what he did and for what he they said to me and my mother a few times,” he responded.

Answering a question from Special Investigator Daniel Manor from the District Attorney’s Office, O’Hanlon admitted he had made everything up in the letters he sent to police. “Except the only thing I didn’t make up was that he (Mr. Gardner) was ... really an Elvis Presley ... he was crazy over Elvis Presley.”

O’Hanlon, in the August 2013 letter that he wrote under the name of Norman Gardiner, said Garrett’s murder has taken place several months after he had been warned by his lifelong singing idol, the late Elvis Presley, in a vivid dream that the 12 year old was the antichrist.

O’Hanlon is a well known weather observer in the Potsdam area and has frequently appeared in local media sharing details of weather events in the region. The fake email address the letters were sent from was jimmyrainsnowsleet74@outlook.com.

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