Murder on Jackson Street

Daniel T. Weaver

Shortly before 8:00 p.m. on the evening of June 28, 1937, Mrs. Fred B. Benjamin of 12 Jackson Street in the City of Amsterdam, NY heard screams coming from 16 Jackson Street where sisters Mary B. Enders, 81, and Jennie V. Enders, 84, lived. Their nephew, William G. Serviss, 45, lived there as well.

Mrs. Benjamin phoned Mrs. James Burke of 17 Jackson Street telling her she was afraid there was something wrong next door. She asked Mrs. Burke to accompany her to the Enders’ house. Mrs. Burke agreed. The two women went to the house and rang the doorbell. William Serviss came to the door, and one of the women asked, “How are the folks?” “All right,” he answered, so they left.

16 Jackson Street

A few minutes later, Mrs. Benjamin saw Serviss walking down Jackson Street. She noticed the first floor lights at the Enders’ house had been turned off and this aroused her suspicions. She phoned Mrs. Burke again and Mrs. Burke called another neighbor, Simon Golden of 19 Jackson Street. Golden, along with Mr. Burke, entered the Enders’ home. They found the body of Mary Enders lying on the kitchen floor, her skull fractured, apparently by a short handled hatchet lying nearby. A smaller hatchet hammer lay on a sitting room chair.

The neighbors called the coroner, James B. Conant, and after searching the house further, they found Jennie Enders in an upstairs room, her head beaten in a similar manner as her sister’s. She died about two hours later at the Amsterdam City Hospital.

Serviss, who had lived most of his life at 16 Jackson Street, was immediately a person of interest. Assistant District Attorney, Charles S. Tracy, joined the Amsterdam police and coroner in a search for Serviss. He was apprehended on Division Street about two hours later, with blood on his hands and clothes.

After several hours of questioning, Serviss confessed to the murders. He had argued with his aunt Mary about money and killed her in a fit of rage. He then killed Jennie because she knew what he had done. Later he would say he “wanted to kill his Aunt Mary, and not his Aunt Jennie.” Serviss was an alcoholic who had been institutionalized twice in the Utica State Hospital. Later, he would blame alcohol and drugs, whether legal or illegal he didn’t say, for the murders.

Serviss was sent to the Montgomery County Jail and brought back to Amsterdam a few days later and arraigned on two charges of first degree murder. Dr. Richard Hutchings, Director of the Utica State Hospital, examined Serviss and declared he was sane at the time of the murders.

The two Enders’ sisters had apparently married two brothers. A double funeral was held for the two murdered widows with Rev. M. C. T. Andrea of the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church, where the women were members, officiating. They were buried in the Chuctanunda Cemetery in Minaville.

The trial of William Serviss, son of prominent Amsterdam attorney Lawrence A. Serviss, was scheduled for October 9, 1937, with former mayor, Carl Salmon, serving as defense attorney. In spite of his confession and incriminating evidence, Serviss had pleaded not guilty. Just before jury selection in his trial for the murder of Mary Enders, Serviss withdrew his plea and entered a guilty plea to second degree murder. Both the district attorney and judge accepted the plea. Judge Ellsworth C. Lawrence sentenced Serviss to 20 years to life in prison. The District Attorney decided not to try Serviss for the murder of Jennie Enders but said if he ever thought there was a possibility that Serviss would be released from prison, his office would bring Serviss to trial for the murder of his other aunt.

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