POTSDAM — Members of a north country family were shocked to learn Wednesday that authorities are investigating whether an elderly cousin they lost contact with two years ago might be buried with her husband in the backyard of a trailer home.
“She's still my first cousin and I love her dearly,” said William A. Lamica of Malone, referring to Betty Babcock, 82. “I never knew what happened to her, and I still don't know.”
St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain said that what began as a welfare fraud investigation led authorities to 733 May Road in Stockholm. State police have executed a search warrant at the property, where investigators, a forensics team and a backhoe were brought in. Tents with heaters were being used to thaw the ground so digging can begin today.
“This isn't even a crime scene yet. ... We don't know if anybody's buried there,” Ms. Rain said. “Right now, everything's presumptive.”
State police Capt. Robert S. LaFountain said investigators are expected to remain there through Friday, with a trooper guarding the property through the night.
Trooper Jennifer V. Fleishman, state police Troop B spokeswoman, would not say what police are digging to find.
“We have a lead, but we won't know if it's true or not unless we find something,” she said.
The property is owned by Larry and Margaret Charleson of Potsdam, but, according to Times archives, is occupied by Robert Bartlett. The online directory whitepages.com indicates that a Betty Babcock was living there.
WWNY-TV, citing unidentified sources, reported that police are looking for the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Babcock at the site.
Media reports of Wednesday's developments unnerved Mr. Lamica and his sisters, who lost track of their cousin and her 83-year-old husband, Alvin Babcock, two years ago. The couple had no children.
“I prayed for Betty every day, hoping that wherever she was, that she was OK,” said Mr. Lamica, who has called area nursing homes inquiring of her whereabouts. “I was so worried because I could never get a hold of her.”
Mr. Lamica's sister Mary J. Proper of Cadyville said Mrs. Babcock had told her that the couple was paying Mr. Bartlett to drive them to stores and doctor appointments.
“She told me that he was always asking her for her prescription pain medications, and she sometimes gave them to him,” Mrs. Proper said. “They were people who trusted everybody.”
Mrs. Proper said her cousin also told her two years ago that someone had broken into the Bombay trailer where they were living and stole her medication, but that the incident was never reported to the police.
Mrs. Proper said that the last time she heard from her cousin, she was being forced out of the Bombay trailer by Franklin County officials because she had 21 cats living in it.
Alvin Babcock was employed by the Tupper Lake village Department of Public Works from 1969 to 1989 and was receiving a retirement pension, Mayor Paul Maroun said.
“The last health insurance claim he made was April 12, 2012,” he said.
Mr. Lamica said the last time he saw or spoke with his cousin was two years ago, when Mrs. Babcock stopped at his house before taking her husband to a Plattsburgh hospital to get his leg amputated.
“She gave me a kiss, and I hugged her, and I haven't heard from her since,” he said.
After the procedure, Mr. Babcock stayed in a Plattsburgh nursing home for two months of rehab, according to Rose M. Burnett of Tupper Lake, another sister of Mr. Lamica's.
She didn't know the Babcocks were living in Stockholm, either.
“I was shocked, because I thought he was put in a nursing home because she couldn't take care of him after he lost his leg, but I haven't really talked to them in years,” she said. “I also thought the state forced her to leave the Bombay residence because it was in such bad shape and not fit to live in.”
Mr. Lamica said that he is waiting for authorities to notify him if they find his cousin's body because he wants to make proper funeral arrangements.
Staff writer W.T. Eckert contributed to this report.