Getting away with murder

If you want to get away with murder, go to Cayuga County.

That’s been a long-held truism for those of us fortunate enough to call this area our home. It must be true; after all, Johnny Carson said so, right?

Legend has it that Carson made the comment on “The Tonight Show.” And the Monson case has been held up as proof that Carson’s assertion was correct. But did Johnny ever say that? And was there evidence to support it?

There are some who claim to have heard it first hand. In one account, it wasn’t Johnny who spoke the words, but an expert on crime from the FBI. Unfortunately, nobody has been able to put their hands on a video tape or transcript to prove the words were ever uttered. And according to this post on Snopes, we aren’t alone in our belief of this urban legend. In fact, folks all over America believe this has been said about their towns…and nobody has proof.

In some cases, the speaker isn’t Johnny Carson, but Paul Harvey, lending more evidence to the theory that this is an urban legend. And to add to that, it was apparently said in the 1970s, before the Monson case and other high-profile murders occurred.

Is there reason to believe more people get away with murder in Cayuga County than anywhere else? According to crime statistics, available at, there have been three murders in Auburn in the past 10 years, and Auburn ranked below the national average for all crime fro 1999 to 2010 — the last year for which statistics are available.

In the past 40 years, there have been four murder cases in which the wrong person was convicted or the case is yet unsolved:

1976: Two black men, Sammy and Willie Gene Thomas, are convicted of murder in the killing of George Sedor, who was gunned down in front of his restaurant, The Sunset. The Thomas brothers were later released from prison after it was determined then-District Attorney Peter Corning withheld evidence from the defense: An eye witness statement from the victim’s brother, stating the killer was white. The real killer has never been charged.

1981: The Julie Monson case. Thomas Bianco is convicted of murder, but his conviction is overturned after a judge determined then-District Attorney Paul Carbonaro withheld 30 lines from original police reports that hint at another suspect, an ex-con named John Grossman. No further arrests have been made in the case.

1991: Roy Brown is convicted of murdering social worker Sabina Kulakowski, but released after DNA evidence incriminated another man, bus driver Barry Bench, who kills himself after Brown writes from prison to accuse him of the crime.

2004: John Beer is shot in the head and upper torso in his Walnut Street home, apparently while his car is warming up in the driveway, just days before Christmas. His killer has never been charged.

Some say the statistics prior to the 1970s back up the claim that you can get away with murder in Cayuga County. But a lot changes in 40 years.

Other places Carson and Harvey said you can go to get away with murder:


Thomas Hargrove mines data from government websites for Scripps-Howard News Service. Among his findings over the years? Police fail to make an arrest in more than one third of all murder cases, and more than half of all murder cases in America go unsolved. Nearly 185,000 killings went unsolved from 1980 to 2008. You can read the report here.