Community Comes Together To Help Brothers Through Murder Investigation
Jul. 15, 1990
MUNNSVILLE, N.Y. (AP) _ For decades, the Ward ''boys'' tended to the dairy cows on their farm at the end of a dirt road and, neighbors say, pretty much minded their own business.
''They live off by themselves, but they're not hermits or recluses,'' said Emilie Stilwell. ''They're a throwback to the pioneer days. They stick to themselves but if you were raising a barn, they'd be the first to arrive and the last to leave.''
Four brothers, four bachelors. That all changed forever June 6 when William Ward died - of suffocation, authorities said - and Delbert Ward was arrested on a second-degree murder charge.
The tiny rural communities of Munnsville, population 400, and Stockbridge, population 140, have rallied around Delbert Ward. Local folks say he could not possibly have killed his brother.
Supporters collected nearly 900 signatures on petitions calling on the county prosecutor to review the autopsy results. When a judge set bail at $10,000 June 25, supporters raised the entire amount outside the courtroom in a few minutes.
Delbert, 59, has been advised by his attorney not to discuss the case. But at a July 8 banquet that raised almost $1,500 for his defense, he told about 1,000 supporters, ''I have a lot of friends all over this county. I thought I'd be left in jail, but my friends brought me home.''
Said Deborah Wilson of Munnsville, who contributed $500 on the spot toward Delbert's bail: ''You have to act on your beliefs when something like this happens. I just know there's no way he could have killed his brother.''
State police investigators testified at a preliminary hearing that Delbert told them the death of his 64-year-old brother Bill was a mercy killing.
Investigators say Delbert told them he smothered Bill while his brother slept. According to the initial autopsy, a benign tumor the size of a golf ball was found in Bill's neck, and others in his kidney and prostrate could have been cancerous.
''Bill had trouble with his head. He accidentally cut his jaw with a chain saw (years ago) and got blood poisoning,'' said Roscoe Ward, at 70 the oldest of the brothers. ''He was doing farm chores up to the day he died, but he wasn't doing too good. He'd be burning up, and the next time he'd be shaking all over.''
Asked if he thought Delbert was innocent, Roscoe Ward replied, ''I sure do.''
The Wards run a small hilltop dairy farm overlooking the undeveloped Stockbridge Valley, about 30 miles southeast of Syracuse.
A lifetime's collection of odds and ends, old appliances and crumbling farm equipment lie sprinkled about the rickety four-room farmhouse where the four brothers spent their entire lives.
There's running water and electricity, but no telephone and not much else in the way of conveniences in the rough, unpainted house.
''Their parents lived there and they took care of them until they died, and they just stayed,'' Stilwell said.
The Wards, especially Delbert and Bill, whom friends say were inseparable, appeared often at The Shack, the Munnsville coffee shop where Stilwell works. They also made frequent trips to town to shop and buy new parts for their farm machinery. None of the four had driver's licenses; they would ride a tractor the five miles into town.
At the July 8 banquet, Stilwell sold several pictures of Delbert and Bill riding on the tractor for $3 each.
Unvaryingly, the Wards are described as happy and generous neighbors, self- educated and hard-working. Delbert is the youngest, Bill was called the leader, Roscoe never stops talking once he starts, and Lyman is bashful.
It wasn't difficult to get townsfolk in Munnsville to rally around the Wards after Delbert's arrest, said Grant Kroneck, a local insurance agent.
''I've lived in Munnsville since 1947 and I've never seen a community come so solidly together on one side of an issue that like this,'' he said.
Within hours after the arrest, Stilwell and Kroneck were collecting signatures challenging a medical examiner's autopsy that ruled Bill was killed, and asking for a second autopsy.
''I knew we had some friends,'' said Roscoe Ward. ''I just didn't know we had friends like that.''
Madison County District Attorney Donald Cerio Jr. agreed to a review of the original autopsy and has said he will not seek a grand jury indictment before that review is completed.
''This particular case is quite unique in the intensity of emotions stirred by those persons acquainted with the Ward family,'' said Cerio. He said he doesn't believe Delbert is dangerous, but he is confident he is being justly prosecuted.
Jars and plastic containers were set out at businesses in town and within days, supporters contributed $1,800, said Stilwell. The money was used to hire two private investigators to bolster Delbert's case. The total raised since has climbed to almost $3,500.
''We have such a great love for them. We can't believe Delbert would kill Bill, who he loved so much,'' said Judi Colclough, the village clerk.
''The Wards are simple, honest people,'' said Kroneck. ''We feel he is being taken advantage of by the system. All we want is justice. We don't think the police are terrible people. But I can imagine the shock, confusion and terror Delbert was experiencing when police were asking him if he killed his brother.''
Moses Frank quit his job on another farm to take care of his uncles' spread during this crisis. He could remember them helping with his father's farm, he said.
''I've known Bill and Delbert all my life. They never even had one argument. This is nuts,'' he said. ''Delbert couldn't even give the cows shots of medicine. How could he kill his brother?''