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Ray Zanta remembered: Schenectady barber, victims' advocate

Ray Zanta remembered: Schenectady barber, victims' advocate

He and his wife became advocates after daughter's 1974 murder
Ray Zanta remembered: Schenectady barber, victims' advocate
Raymond C. Zanta, left, and Rudy Lasak, right, celebrate their 1977 elections. Edward D. Cammarota is center.
Photographer: Gazette File Photo

SCHENECTADY -- Friends and family on Wednesday paid final respects to Raymond C. Zanta, a longtime city barber who became an advocate for crime victims after his daughter's brutal 1974 murder, in a case that sparked headlines for years.

Zanta, 94, of Schenectady, died peacefully at home on Nov. 6 following a long illness. The World War II veteran was buried with military honors on Wednesday. He was married for 71 years to his wife, Isabelle, who survives him.

After growing up in Pennsylvania, Zanta's family moved to Schenectady. He served in the U.S. Army for two years during World War II, then attended the Royal Academy Barber School and operated Ray’s Barber Shop on Chrisler Avenue in Mont Pleasant for 64 years, not retiring until 2013 when he was in his late 80s.  He was affectionately known for decades as “Ray the Barber."

"He was a well-known figure," said his son, Raymond A. Zanta. "He was the Schenectady barber, everybody went there. If you were sick in the hospital he found out, he would take his little barber kit and uniform and he would go the hospital and cut our hair."

He charged $8 per cut long after everyone else's prices went higher, and gave many free cuts. Raymond A. Zanta recalled. He said the family only learned at the funeral that he used to give free cuts to Schenectady Catholic seminary students.

But Zanta was also known well beyond Schenectady for his support of crime victims -- a public advocacy spurred by the family's own disturbing tragedy.

He and his wife became active in Parents of Murdered Children after their daughter Susan, who was then a 16-year-old Schenectady high school student, was raped and beaten to death while visiting a camp at Cossayuna Lake in Washington County in the summer of 1974, in what at the time was one of the Capital Region's most sensational criminal cases.

A man named Kenneth Yarter, whom police considered a serial rapist and possibly serial murderer, was convicted by a jury of her murder, but the conviction was overturned after an appeals court determined police coerced his confession. Yarter later went to prison for numerous other crimes he committed around the country. He confessed again to the Zanta murder in 1996, entered a guilty plea, and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, but was already serving long sentences in other states, and didn't serve any further time in New York. He is currently serving a lengthy prison term for rape in Florida.

After Susan's death, Zanta and Isabelle became fixtures at vigils and other events held by Parents of Murdered Children. Isabelle Zanta was at one time the group's co-chair.

The organization "gave them a lot of support at the time," their son said. "The pain and suffering my parents had, they had to release that energy to help other parents. That got them through, that and their faith."

The advocacy work also got Zanta involved in local politics. From 1986 to 1993, he was also a member of the Schenectady County Board of Representatives, a predecessor to today's County Legislature. There, he supported creation of the sex crimes unit in the District Attorney’s Office and was a member of the county Human Rights Commission.  He chaired the rules and judiciary public safety committees and was involved as the county took action on such issues as criminal justice and arson control. He also was a member of the Glendale Nursing Home and Jail Task Force subcommittees.

Zanta was also active in a number of civic organizations, including VFW Post 357, Crane Street Merchants Association, Knights of Columbus, Sons of Italy, American Legion and Post 1001 Elks Lodge N. 480.

Zanta is survived by his wife, son Raymond, sister Helen Visconti, brother Angelo Zanta, and many nieces and nephews.

A Mass of Christian Burial with full military honors was held Wednesday at St. Luke's Church, 214 State St. Burial was at St. John the Baptist Cemetery on Brandywine Avenue.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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