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Couple charged with forging gov't checks

Gazette Reporter

JOHNSTOWN - Neighbors said they had been suspicious for some time that 82-year-old Helen Travis was dead and her son was cashing her Social Security checks.

She had not been seen sitting outside the dilapidated two-story house in the hamlet of Meco for almost two years, and neighbors said the family's dysfunctional behavior had long been a problem.

Authorities believe they confirmed the neighbors' suspicions late Tuesday night when they raided the house on County Highway 101 and found the remains of a woman stuffed in a plastic garbage container that was kept on the first floor.

Helen Travis' 10-year-old grandson pointed out the container to investigators, Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

"It was a terrible secret to be living with," Sira said, referring to the boy and his half-brother, who is 18.

The children's parents, Richard A. Travis Jr., 45, and his girlfriend, Randy Masten, 41, were arrested Tuesday night on charges of third-degree grand larceny and second-degree forgery.

Travis and Masten were arraigned early Wednesday and are being held without bail to await the results of an autopsy on the body which authorities believe is that of Helen Travis.

Officials said Richard Travis admitted striking his mother the night she died.

Sira said while the identity of the dead woman has not been confirmed, Richard Travis and Masten acknowledged the body is that of Helen Travis. Sira said autopsy results may be released sometime today. Depending on the findings, additional charges may be filed against the couple, she said.

Sira said the couple has been cashing the elderly woman's Social Security checks since February 2001. From then to the present, the checks issued by the Social Security Administration to Helen Travis total approximately $9,000.

When state police and others arrived to search the house in the town of Johnstown hamlet west of Gloversville, there was an unexpected surprise and obstacle, Sira said.

Investigators discovered 67 dogs and nine cats living in the house.

The floors were encrusted with animal feces and urine, creating what Sira described as "deplorable" living conditions. The animals were kept confined indoors, she said. A next-door neighbor said he never thought the couple had more than a few dogs.


Travis was charged with second-degree assault in 1999, after allegedly attacking Masten's son and threatening to kill himself and family members. Travis pleaded to a misdemeanor and served probation in that incident. Sira said the case against Travis was weakened when Masten refused to testify.

Masten subdued Travis by hitting him over the head with the butt of a shotgun, authorities said, and both Travis and the stepson were treated at Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville.

In 1984, records show, when Travis was a resident of North Perry Street in Johnstown, he was arrested on a charge of third-degree rape, accused of having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Travis pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct and served three years' probation.

Masten told investigators she and Travis used his mother's Social Security money to pay child support he owed from another relationship.



Submitted by: Werner Hetzner 

Source: Schenectady Gazette




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