Born: c. 1876

Died: October 16, 1934



Will F. Straight was a grocer. On October 16, 1934, he killed his stepson, Dr. Nelson Johnson and Mrs. James W. Moody before taking his own life.

At 43 Broadway sold his groceries the "straight way" and claimed his customers were always satisfied. 1

Adirondack Daily Enterprise, August 22, 1986

When a man's anger rocked an entire community

Saranac Lake's Triple Tragedy



In the year of 1934, Will Straight was a retired grocer after operating his store on Broadway, across from Dorsey Street, for some 30 years. He was well-known in the community and, according to all reports, he was also well liked.

At the same time, George Downing owned a three-story commercial building just down the street at the corner of Broadway and Woodruff streets. The two men were not only business neighbors, but were frequent hunting partners as well. The pair hunted together on that fateful day of Oct. 16th, 1934.

Dr. Nelson Johnson lived in a fine combination home and dental office at the River Street end of St. Bernard Street, just a stone's throw from where Brown had shot Berkeley. He was Will Straight's stepson. Johnson was prominent in the village; he had a lucrative practice, a beautiful wife, the very latest automobile, and was an ardent golfer. He had everything to live for!

Mrs. James Moody lived with her husband at 103 River Street next to the old State Armory. She owned several parcels of real estate in the village and held mortgages on other properties. It was alleged that one such mortgage was on Straight's home. She had an invalid sister and had employed Mrs. Straight to care for her. She also displayed a strong dislike for Mr. Straight for some unknown reason.

On that afternoon of October 16th, Dr. and Mrs. Johnson were entertaining with a cocktail party at their home. Among the guests were: Henry Haines, owner of the Whiteface Inn in Lake Placid; Mrs. George Townsend, of Upper St. Regis Lake; and Aaron Carpenter, of the Hotel Saranac. At precisely 6:20 p.m. the conviviality was shattered by a shotgun blast through the glass of a window. Dr. Johnson, who had been talking to Haines, fell to the floor. Dr. Welles was summoned immediately but Johnson had expired.

After firing the shot, Will Straight placed the shotgun in his car and drove to 103 River Street. As fate would have it, Mrs. Moody was also next to a window. She was seated in her rocking chair reading the newspaper when the shotgun roared again and Mrs. Moody fell dead. Straight then went to his car which was parked in a driveway at the rear of the house. He climbed into the rear seat where he traded the 12 gauge shotgun for a .35-caliber rifle. Placing the muzzle of the gun in his mouth, he pulled the trigger.

Naturally this double murder and suicide shocked the entire village and the burning question in everyone's mind was, of course, what brought it on. At the investigation George Downing testified that Will Straight seemed perfectly normal during the hunt earlier in the day and gave no indication of any sinister intentions. He did state that for some time there had existed bad feelings between Straight and his stepson. Straight had loaned money to Johnson to finance his education and now that the dentist was well off, he expected to be repaid. He currently was in need of cash and was dunning Dr. Johnson for repayment of the loan. Johnson flatly refused. In fact, during the cocktail party, he had mentioned to Henry Haines that Straight asked to see him that very afternoon but was told to stay away. Mrs. Straight apparently sided with her son which caused a certain amount of marital strife and added to Straight's hostility. Mrs. Moody was evidently encouraging Mrs. Straight to evict her husband from their Terrace Street home since the house was in Mrs. Straight's name: This intervention added fuel to the fire and no doubt triggered the fatal visit to the Moody residence on that evening.

The final analysis which resulted from the investigation showed that Straight was in need of money and that he felt very strongly that Johnson could well afford to repay the loan. When his stepson shunned him completely, a strong resentment had built up-which undoubtedly culminated in the violent events of that Tuesday afternoon. Although Downing's statement at the hearing claimed that Straight's manner was completely normal during their hunt, it can be assumed that he probably harbored deeply troubled thoughts. It could very well be that as he sat on his watchground in the woods his mind concentrated on an entirely different quarry.

A sad sequel to the tragedy appeared in the Enterprise on the anniversary of the unhappy date:


STRAIGHT, W. F—IN LOVING memory of my father who passed away one year ago, October 16, 1934.

While you, dear Father, rest and sleep, your loving memory, I'll always keep. Your loving Daughter

Adirondack Daily Enterprise, March 24, 1969

The Year 1907, "Sank Out of Sight- A horse drawing the delivery wagon of W. F. Straight, the Broadway grocer, was being driven along Broadway just north of the bridge on Thursday afternoon when both horse and wagon suddenly dropped almost out of sight. The roadway caved in directly under the rig. The driver and a young woman who was riding with him sprang out of the wagon in great fright. The driver got his horse and wagon out of the hole.

"The cave-in was caused by a leak in the water main which had undermined the ground beneath the roadway until nothing but a thin crust covered the hole. The water company got busy immediately, shut off the water at the nearest gate, which was within a few feet of the leak, and then proceeded to repair the leak. This was caused by an inadequate connection which was made during the cold weather early last spring .

"In shutting off the water the water company's men broke the gate and this also had to be repaired before the water could again be let into the shutoff section."



1. Adirondack Daily Enterprise, December 26, 1987