About 25 firefighters, friends and members of law enforcement gathered Monday evening for a candlelight vigil around the 25-year-old maple tree planted at Graham Hills Park in memory of a slain Pleasantville firefighter.
Tom Dorr, who was killed on Jan. 7, 1996, was later found buried in a snowbank. To date, no one has been held accountable for his murder.
“These vigils are so important,” said Westchester County Police Capt. Mark Busche, said of the annual event, which included prayers and remembrances as a light snow started to fall. “There just might be people out there who have known something about the case but were reluctant to share what they know and who now have a twinge of guilt and could come through with information we don’t have.”
Busche said the department has searched for innovative ideas to move the case forward. In the last six months, investigators have been working with the true-crime television show “Cold Justice.”
“There have been discussions that focus on the show covering some of the costs for forensic tests but there are evidentiary issues that still have to be worked out,” said Westchester County Police Detective Steve Smith.
That the case hasn’t been solved and no one has been charged with the murder was mentioned at the vigil.
“We hope and pray for justice in Tom’s case,” Fr. Luke Hoyt of Holy Innocents Church in Pleasantville said at the vigil. “Let us pray for truth, a settlement and resolve for this case.”
Firefighter John Thys said he was only one of about five firefighters still around who had worked with Dorr.
“Every year there are less and less of us who knew Tom,” said Thys, who joined the Pleasantville Fire Department a year before Dorr’s death.
“He took me under his wing, which was a big help for someone like me just starting out.”
Dorr’s murder occurred during a blizzard. The fire chief had called all firefighters to the Washington Avenue firehouse to be on “stand by,” meaning everyone had to be at the station in case there was a call.
“Tom walked through these woods to get to the firehouse,” Thys said pointing to the woods behind him. “He never made it.”
Dorr’s body was found in the park just over the hill from where the vigil takes place every January.
Many remembered Dorr as a friendly, good-natured man who would go out of his way to help anyone. He stood 6-foot-7 and was frequently referred to as a “gentle giant.” Dorr had served the Pleasantville Fire Department since 1979.
“Tom was very well-liked and a hardworking man,” said Bud Nicoletti, a retired White Plains public works commissioner who worked with Dorr. “The fact that we are all here is a fitting tribute to him.”
Jane Lockett, Dorr’s sister-in-law, said she and her husband, Steve, are glad the vigils are still being held.
“I think Steve’s mom and dad would very much have liked the vigils to continue knowing that Tom is not forgotten as time goes forward,” Lockett said. “When you have a violent crime like this, it’s so easy for people to forget the person that was murdered. We would like the murder to be solved.”
Dorr and his wife, Jane Sawyer Dorr, had one son, Thomas, who was a teenager when Dorr died. Jane Dorr had two sons from a previous marriage, Jeffrey and Ricky. Shortly after the murder, Jane Dorr and Jeffrey were being investigated. Then she and her son moved to Connecticut and changed her last name back to Sawyer. Dorr’s son, Thomas, lives with his wife in Duluth, Minn., Lockett said.
Busche said that the files for the Dorr case remain off-limits to the public.
“Some of the facts of the case can be sensitive and may jeopardize any outcome so we can’t release anything at this point,” he said.
At the end of the vigil, Smith said the case was still active.
“Beyond the ‘Cold Justice’ TV show, we are still actively working on this investigation,” Smith said.
Abby is a local journalist who has reported on breaking news for more than 20 years. She currently covers community issues in The Examiner as a full-time reporter and has written for the paper since its inception in 2007. Read more from Abby’s editor-author bio here. Read Abbys’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/ab-lub2019/