The Journal Register (Medina, NY)

Local News

November 21, 2012

Historic effort

Student's interest in overturned wrongful conviction could make its mark in Shelby

Medina Journal-Register — SHELBY — The story of Charles Stielow gripped Orleans County and the nation nearly a century ago for good reason.

It included a shocking double homicide, a sensational trial and a series of close calls on death row before an unjust conviction was overturned by a pardon. The case is well-known within academic circles as a groundbreaking advancement in the use of forensics.

But it’s a tale that is unknown by many despite it’s importance and “Slaughter on a Snowy Morn,” a 2010 book on the subject. Nick Culver, a 12-year-old Shelby resident and DeSales Catholic School student, is looking to add a public reminder of events that he was enthralled by when he read the book and conducted additional research into the case.

Nick said he was drawn in by the number of interest characters in the story — most of all Stielow, an illiterate German immigrant who lived a simple life before being caught up in the case.

“He was a soft, nice teddy bear,” Nick said.

Stielow and Nelson Green were tried and convicted for the deaths of Charles Phelps and his housekeeper Marjorie Wilcott on the strength of confessions said to be given by the men and the testimony of a ballistics expert who wrongly connected the fatal bullets with a pistol found in Stielow’s home.

Daniel Culver, Nick’s father and a former Orleans County Sheriff’s Department member, said the poor testimony was typical of an earlier era of unreliable use of ballistics.

“People used forensics at the time, but it was mostly quackery,” said Culver, who is now a criminal justice instructor at Bryant & Stratton College. “With this case and others, it became more scientific.”

Stielow ended up in the notorious Sing Sing Prison, where he faced the death penalty.

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