Firefighter’s bloody death unsolved — why his wife, son are still suspects

Posted at 11:14 PM, Jan 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-18 12:28:19-04

PLEASANTVILLE, New York (PIX11) – Volunteers  from the Pleasantville Fire Department in Westchester County gathered again this year—wearing their turnout coats and helmets—at a vigil to remember one of their own.  It’s been 18 years since Thomas Dorr, Senior was found brutally slashed and beaten to death in the snow, during the blizzard of January 1996.  His wife, stepson, and the son’s friend remain suspects in the case, according to Westchester County Police Captain, Christopher Calabrese.

“The story was: they accompanied him into the woods to feed the turkeys and they very quickly left, because of the weather conditions,” Captain Calabrese told PIX 11.  “And they left him up here and he never came back.

Dorr’s wife, Jane Sawyer, claimed back then she thought the 50-year old Dorr  was going to the Pleasantville Fire Department to remain on “stand by” duty, during the blizzard.  But one of the volunteers said he always knew Tom Dorr wasn’t going to the firehouse on January 7, 1996.   That volunteer was in the radio room with Maureen Stapleton the next morning, when Dorr’s wife called.

“She asked for Tom, and we knew right away he wasn’t here.”

A search party was immediately sent out on January 8th,  and it didn’t take long for Tom Dorr’s body to be discovered in close to two feet of snow, in the woods not far from his home.

“We took the snow off his face; we had seen his body,” recalled Leonard Shon at the vigil.  “He had a slit throat.”

Dorr, who stood six feet five or six inches tall, had a nickname in the fire house.  “He was like a gentle giant,” Maureen Stapleton said.  “Very sweet.”

Dorr had a job with the White Plains Water Department and had served with the volunteer fire department in Pleasantville since 1979.


“They did not seem terribly upset,” said Larry Fasnacht, the volunteer who picked the items up. “They were just very anxious to get rid of the uniform. They had it all boxed up, ready to go.”

His fellow volunteers recalled the family didn’t seem concerned in the days after the murder—and even summoned one of them to pick up Tom Dorr’s uniform.

“They did not seem terribly upset,” said Larry Fasnacht, the volunteer who picked the items up.  “They were just very anxious to get rid of the uniform.  They had it all boxed up, ready to go.”

Fellow firefighters—and police investigators—said the Dorr marriage was strained, because Thomas Dorr wanted to move to Florida and his wife did not.   But Captain Calabrese thinks there could have been another factor that contributed to the murder.

“The only thing dark in that house was the use of heroin,” said Captain Calabrese.  “His stepson, Jeff…he’s an admitted heroin addict.  His father would not let him use the car to go score heroin.”

Police did talk to mother and stepson a bit, before the family retained a lawyer.  Jeff Dorr and one of his friends said they’d used Tom Dorr’s car to go into New York City, during the storm, to buy heroin.

When PIX 11 drove to Litchfield County, Connecticut—where Jane Sawyer now lives with her sons—we approached Sawyer as she returned from an outing.  I mentioned the 18th anniversary of her husband’s death and asked Sawyer if she could add any insights into the circumstances surrounding his death.  Sawyer refused to answer my questions and slammed the back door.

Back in 1996, Sawyer had given one interview to a publication called the “Patent Trader”.  She said she couldn’t understand why the community got so mad, when she retained an attorney.

“Most people get lawyers, it is not unusual, you see it on TV all the time,” Sawyer said in 1996.  “ I don’t know why they got angry that I did that.”

Now, on this 18th anniversary, Captain Calabrese responded, “I would make the assumption if anyone’s loved one is killed, you would cooperate fully.  They didn’t do that.”

Jane Sawyer said in 1996 that she gave a full statement and allowed police to check out her home and her things.

At the vigil attended by more than 20 volunteer firefighters, the department chaplain said, “God knows the answer to this, and someday, there will be a day of reckoning of it.”