Pleasantville Firefighters Remember Slain Comrade 25 Years Later

By Kristen McNerney

Pleasantville firefighters gathered at Graham Hills Park Monday night to remember Thomas Dorr, who was found in a snowbank stabbed to death in January 1996. No one has ever been arrested in connection with the murder.

Pleasantville firefighters, police and friends honored the memory of volunteer firefighter Thomas Dorr at a vigil in Graham Hills Park Monday night not far from where he was murdered 25 years ago last week.

Dorr, a Pleasantville resident who worked for the White Plains Water Department at the time of his death, didn’t report to the firehouse ahead of a winter storm on Jan. 6, 1996.

Dorr’s brother, Steve, said fellow firefighters found Dorr’s body with stab wounds beneath two feet of snow the following day.

To this day, no one has been arrested in Dorr’s murder.

“If there’s anyone out there who has information, please come forward,” said Capt. Mark Busche who heads the cold case unit of the Westchester County police.

Steve Dorr said the county parkway police’s jurisdiction over the case contributed to its mishandling. Dorr and his wife, Jane Lockett, who live in Florida, said they haven’t been contacted regarding the case in years and conduct a quick Google search at about the time of Dorr’s death every year to see if any new details have surfaced.

“We appreciate the community continuing to keep Tom’s memory alive,” Lockett of the annual vigil.

Candles were lit and placed alongside a cross in front of a maple tree planted after Dorr’s murder. Those who knew Dorr spoke kindly of his life and legacy. Fellow firefighter John Perino said Dorr was one to always go the extra mile and help out with anything that needed to be done.

“Tom was a good friend, a hard worker and very conscientious of everything he did,” said Perino, who has served the Pleasantville Fire Department for 52 years.

The maple tree that was planted in Dorr’s memory at Graham Hills Park.
Kristen McNerney photos

Fr. Luke Hoyt of Holy Innocents Church in Pleasantville led the group in a prayer of the Our Father. Although he did not know Dorr, he said he was honored to have led the vigil.

Hoyt spoke of the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 10 and brought comfort to the crowd.

“The water of the river Jordan where Jesus was baptized represents not so much, life, but death,” he said. “Jesus entered into the waters of death to show us that he is with us in any darkness.”

Steve Dorr said he holds little hope that anyone will be punished for the crime after all these years, but keeping his brother’s memory alive is crucial. Lockett added that her mother-in-law tried to guard against getting upset by the lack of justice, since her husband, Dorr’s father, died of a broken heart. She did not want to reach the same fate herself.

“I think a lot of people know what happened, we just don’t have the proof,” said firefighter John Thys, who helped organize the vigil. “He was a good person who deserves justice.”

At the time of Dorr’s death, his wife, Jane Sawyer, and stepson, Jeffrey Sawyer, were suspects. Dorr also had one biological son, Thomas, who was a young teenager when his father was killed. Steve Dorr and Lockett said they believe their nephew suppresses the tragedy, but that he embodies his father’s best qualities.

“Thomas has always been a quiet, gentle, smart young man,” Lockett said of Dorr’s son.

The couple shared personal details of Dorr’s life, including his fascination with cars and motorcycles and his height of almost 6-foot-8, which excused him from the draft during the Vietnam War. Dorr was also known to love animals and nature, and was called the “gentle giant.”

Perino said Dorr used to feed wild turkeys in the woods and wasn’t surprised when Dorr’s wife called and said her husband had stopped to feed the turkeys on the way to the firehouse. Perino said he never expected what he and other firefighters would discover the next day.

“I think one day this will come to a resolution,” said Thys. “Someone will have a conscience and come forward.”

He added that only about 10 people at the vigil had known Dorr. The rest had come in support of someone they had heard to be a great man.

“What can I say, he was my brother,” Steve Dorr said about the emotional impact of talking about Tom.

Busche asked anyone with information related to the killing should contact Westchester County police at 914-864-7701 and ask for him.