Police: Murder suspect waited to call 911
SARANAC LAKE – Police say Angela Ball may have killed Ward Wilbur more than an hour before she called 911 to report it.
However, Wilbur’s injuries – from a baseball bat and a knife – were so severe that he likely wouldn’t have survived even if Ball had called for help sooner, Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne said Tuesday.
Ball has been charged with second-degree murder in the Monday morning attack and remains in the Franklin County Jail in Malone on no bail. A preliminary court hearing is set for 1 p.m. Friday.
While authorities still aren’t providing a possible motive for the crime, new details have emerged about the connection between Wilbur, 65, and Ball, 29. Authorities say the two had been in a relationship until about a year ago.
Speaking at a Tuesday afternoon press conference, village police Chief Bruce Nason said Wilbur drove his maroon Toyota sedan to the 19 Morris Way apartment house Monday morning, arriving around 8:30 a.m.
Although authorities had initially reported that neither Wilbur nor Ball was a tenant of the building, Champagne said Tuesday that they’ve since learned that Ball had written her address as 19 Morris Way on a job application she submitted within the last two weeks.
At some point, potentially not long after Wilbur arrived at Ball’s apartment, authorities say she assaulted him with a bat and stabbed him with a knife. Ball called 911, but not immediately, Nason said.
“There was some time that transpired between when we believe it occurred and when we were notified,” the chief said. “(It) could be upwards of an hour or more.”
Essex County Emergency Services Director Don Jaquish said one of his 911 dispatchers received the call at 10:58 a.m. It was forwarded to state police, who dispatched village police to the scene.
Nason said he hasn’t listened to the recording of the 911 call so he didn’t know what Ball told dispatchers. Jaquish said he couldn’t provide the Enterprise with a copy of the recording because that would violate state law.
Could Wilbur have survived if his condition had been reported sooner?
“I think the injuries were catastrophic at or around the time they were inflicted,” Champagne said. “I don’t want to give any more details than that, but I think you can surmise what that means.”
Nason and two of his officers were the first to respond, but the chief declined to describe the scene inside the apartment or say where Wilbur’s body was found.
Ball was detained when police arrived, Nason said, describing her as cooperative. Asked if she had any blood on her clothing, Nason said he didn’t get close enough to observe anything himself. Champagne also said he didn’t see Ball’s clothing before it was secured as evidence and hasn’t seen it since.
An autopsy was conducted Tuesday morning by Dr. C. Francis Varga at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake. The results hadn’t been released as of press time.
Police initially wouldn’t describe the connection between Wilbur and Ball, but on Tuesday Champagne revealed that they had known each other for about two years and had been romantically involved.
“The investigation so far has revealed that they, for the last year, had been friends and acquaintances, and that prior to that they were essentially a couple or had a more intimate relationship,” he said.
Asked if police had ever been called to a report of any domestic disturbance involving the couple, Champagne said, “I don’t think that would be appropriate (to answer) at this time,” he said.
Police obtained a trio of search warrants as part of the investigation: one for the apartment, another for Wilbur’s car and a third for a cabin located at the address police initially provided for Ball, 1951 state Route 86, just outside Saranac Lake.
Using the warrants, Nason and Champagne said authorities seized Wilbur’s car and the clothing Ball was wearing at the time. They also recovered the knife and bat they believe were used in the crime from the apartment, where they also found more than 100 small marijuana plants and marijuana growing equipment.
Asked if the incident was in any way drug-related, Champagne said he wouldn’t want to say “anything that would prejudice the defendant or the defendant’s rights.”
The crime scene investigation at the apartment wrapped up on Tuesday. Champagne said investigators were shifting their attention to the cabin, located nearly two miles down a winding dirt road accessed from the parking area for the Bloomingdale Bog trail.
The cabin is on property owned by Dr. Waguih Kirollos, a local obstetrician and gynecologist, and his wife. An employee of Kirollos told the Enterprise that the doctor had just purchased the property within the last three months and believed that the prior owner, whom tax records say was Mark Vandersnow, had rented the small cabin to Wilbur. Vandersnow didn’t return a message left at his listed phone number Tuesday.
Champagne said Wilbur had been at the cabin before he drove to Morris Way Monday morning.
“It’s a logical place to make sure there’s an examination of what, if anything, was going on there,” he said.
Melinda Walton, a neighboring property owner, said she had seen Wilbur and Ball occasionally but not much in the last few months. She said this would have been Wilbur’s second winter living at the cabin. Ball wasn’t there last winter, Walton said.
“They struck me as an unlikely couple,” Walton said. “He was older with a scraggly beard and grey hair. I had a weird vibe about him but couldn’t tell you why. And then when I saw her, she’s really pretty and significantly younger, and I just couldn’t see it.”
After one brief interaction with the couple on the road, Walton said she wondered whether she should ask Ball if she was safe, although she said she couldn’t say why.
Walton said state police had visited her house on Monday, and she gave them directions to the cabin. One of their vehicles was an unmarked van, she said.
“When the guy pulled in in the van that he was in, I knew it was something not good,” she said. I just said, ‘I hope everything’s OK up there,’ and he said, ‘You’ll read about it in the paper.’ And I knew immediately someone was probably dead.”
While Wilbur appears to have been living at the cabin, Champagne said the victim’s home address is 19 Adirondack Loj Road, outside Lake Placid.
Nason said all 12 of his department’s officers are involved in the investigation. He thanked Champagne, state police and Franklin County Coroner Ron Keough for their assistance.
“An agency our size doesn’t have the resources to complete an investigation like this,” the chief said. “Without their help, it would take us quite a bit longer.”
“I have the highest praise for Chief Nason and the Saranac Lake police over the way they’ve handled this,” Champagne said. “They quickly sought out the New York State Police who has a specific team available to all law enforcement throughout five counties for exactly this type of situation. There’s some chiefs and some agencies out there that wouldn’t do that, and it’s to their detriment.”
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.