It would be a shocking murder even today — and was a stunning crime for rural Charlton when it occurred 20 years ago.
Monday marked the 20th anniversary of the murder of Betty Conley of Providence, who was shot in the head in the middle of the night while working alone as a clerk at the Xtra Mart along a desolate stretch of Route 67 between Ballston Spa and Amsterdam.
The community, in some ways, has never been the same — and the crime someone committed on July 8, 1993, has remained unsolved.
“It was kind of a loss of innocence out here in Charlton, that something like this could happen,” said town Supervisor Alan R. Grattidge, who was not yet involved in politics but lived a couple of miles away and had frequented the store over the years.
“It upset a lot of people that something so coldblooded could happen in Charlton,” he recalled.
Conley, 37, the mother of two teenage children, was working alone on the overnight shift at the convenience store located next to the Harmony Corners Fire Department, in an area surrounded by farmland. She was shot in the back of the head with a 9 mm handgun, and reportedly less than $100 was taken during a robbery police believe occurred about 2:10 a.m.
Conley was not found until new customers came in nearly 90 minutes later, making a discovery that launched an intense investigation by the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department.
Conley’s murder remains one that bothers Sheriff James D. Bowen, who is retiring this year after 41 years as sheriff.
“There’s nothing new with the case. We have no additional information, but we do review it from time to time. It remains an open case,” he said Tuesday.
This past weekend also marked the 25th anniversary of another high-profile unsolved murder case that Bowen said remains on his mind: the death of Pamela DeVizzio.
DeVizzio, 28, of Saratoga Springs, was last seen leaving a Caroline Street bar early on the morning of July 5, 1988. Her beaten body was found four days later by town highway workers in a ditch on Putnam Road in Northumberland, about 10 miles from the bar. Bowen said the case was reviewed just three months ago, but there is no new information on it.
Saratoga County in general has a low crime rate, and the Conley and DeVizzio cases are the Sheriff’s Department’s only unsolved murders in recent history.
“They’re the ones that stick in your mind. You keep working on them, but you’ve got to have some leads,” Bowen said.
Betty Conley’s husband, Bruce, was critical of the police handling of the case in the months after the murder and he remains disturbed that the case was never solved.
“It’s basically the same old thing keeps going through your mind all the time,” said Conley, a self-employed furniture-maker who has never remarried. “Even after all these years, you still miss the wife. It’s a cold case.”
Conley, 59, said he’s calmed as he’s gotten older, and he has more understanding now of why he was initially treated as a suspect. “They’re doing their job,” he said. “If they have solved it I wouldn’t care, but they didn’t solve it.”
There’s been public speculation over the years that a transient motorist or a truck driver was involved, though Bowen said police have never drawn that conclusion.
“I still think it was someone she knew,” Conley said.
The couple’s daughter, Linda, is now a photographer in Albany, while their son, Jeremiah, is a child-abuse investigator for the Fulton County Social Services Department, Conley said.
“We were married for 19 years. You don’t want it to be forgotten,” he said.
Bowen said various leads involving a white car and a tractor-trailer were checked out at the time, but none led to a suspect.
Before the murder, the Harmony Corners store was a popular community meeting place, where people gathered over coffee and cigarettes and bought beer, baked goods and sandwiches. It was owned by the local Mills family, and called Mills’ Country Store.
“It was one of the centers of town. It was open early when the farmers came in and it was open late at night,” Grattidge recalled.
Owner Dick Mills in the early 1990s leased it to the XTra Mart convenience store chain, which decided to expand it to a 24-hour operation.
“That was unsettling to us because a lot of people knew how deserted Route 67 was at night,” Grattidge said.
Conley had been working the overnight shift for only a few weeks when she was killed.
XTra Mart cut the store’s overnight hours almost immediately and didn’t renew its lease. A Stewart’s Shop opened four miles down Route 67 in West Charlton, siphoning business away.
Since 1993, the former XTra Mart has changed owners several times and been closed for long periods of time. It currently operates as the Route 67 Country Store and Cafe, a business that focuses more on lunch sales and craft beer offerings than on convenience store items.
The security standards in the convenience store industry have also changed since then, with fewer places open all night and fewer periods when someone is working the cash register alone. Security cameras have also become much more prevalent than they were 20 years ago, when the Xtra Mart had only one non-film camera, which the murderer knocked down.
“It’s one of those mysteries that happened in Charlton,” Grattidge said. “Out there, somebody knows something.”