Believe it or not, Fishers Island has attracted more than its fair share of widespread publicity as a result of true yet seemingly fantastical tales dating as far back as the 1700s. Here is the third and final installment of Museum Director Pierce Rafferty’s collection of stories we’re calling Fishers Island—Believe It or Not!
The Museum’s file on Fishers Island-related crimes is not thick, but it does chronicle some unusually brazen heists worthy of mention.
Larceny Below Sea Level
In November 1958, two young men, one from Providence and one from New London, were charged with larceny of 6,000 feet of underwater cable from the ocean floor off Fishers Island. The stolen goods were worth more than $1,000, a considerable sum in 1950s dollars. “The cable was part of a 500-mile connection established by the Army during the war to link Ft. Wright on Fishers Island with other bases. The particular cable stolen linked Ft. Wright with Portland, Maine.” As reported by The Newport Daily News, Newport, R.I., November 8, 1958.
The punishment doled out to the submarine cable thieves remains a mystery as the sentencing didn’t warrant a follow-up in the newspapers. However, military justice within the boundaries of Fort H.G. Wright could be harsh and swift. The Associated Press reported on October 26, 1926, that Private Jamin Dubren, 23, of Chicago, awaiting trial on desertion, was shot and killed by a sentry as he tried to escape the military reservation.
Believe it or not, in 1966 there was an armed siege on Fishers Island that followed a simple house burglary. The story begins on March 20, 1966, when two Connecticut men, both in their early 20s, arrived on Fishers Island aboard a stolen 16-foot motorboat. They were spotted in town around 4 p.m. At 8:30 p.m., the duo broke into the Wyckoff house on the north shore near North Hill (today the Frank’s residence) triggering a burglar alarm at the Utility Co. The lone telephone operator on duty called the island constable, A. John “Jack” Gada, who raced to the scene with three volunteers. Hearing voices within the home, Jack Gada fired a warning shot and called out for more help.
Soon almost every member of the 35-member volunteer fire department arrived on scene carrying an ample supply of weaponry, floodlights and bullhorns. Mr. Gada made the decision to deploy William Huising, a Utility Co. employee and neighbor of the Wyckoffs, to enter the house, accompanied by his 17-year old son, and their German Shepherd, Asia.
Utilizing a caretaker’s key, the Huising pair entered through the front door, but they were immediately met with a single shot fired from an interior room that struck the son on the left forearm, passed through, and instantly killed their dog. Mr. Huising retreated, pulling his son out of the house with him. Jack Gada, in need of more professional reinforcements, made a call for assistance to the County Sheriff’s Office in Riverhead that was relayed to the State Police Barracks at Calverton (on the east end of Long Island). A Grumman helicopter was dispatched to fly in eight troopers. It then returned to the barracks and flew in six more reinforcements. In addition, both the U.S. Coast Guard and the Connecticut State police dispatched small numbers of personnel to the North Hill site.
The assembled troopers, carrying rifles, shotguns and tear gas canisters, surrounded the house. A bullhorn was used to demand that the occupants surrender immediately. When no response was heard from within the house, two tear gas grenades were lobbed in. Within minutes, the two burglars stumbled out and were easily taken into custody by the troopers.
The wounded Huising boy, a freshman at Amherst College, was flown to Lawrence Memorial for treatment. It turned out that both offenders had prior records. In fact, one had been arrested several years before for breaking into a restaurant on Fishers Island. In October 1966, the two pled guilty in Suffolk County Court to charges of attempted assault second degree and unlawful entry. On May 18, 1967, they appeared in Suffolk County Court, for sentencing on multiple counts, including burglary, assault, petit larceny and prohibited use of weapons. They were both sentenced to terms of 15-months to five years in Sing Sing Prison, Ossining, N.Y.
In the wake of this truly disturbing invasion, the Wyckoff family made the decision to sell their summer house on Fishers Island. (Please note that many details for this story were located in The Long Island Traveler and Mattituck Watchman, March 24, 1966 issue.)