Russell Brook Falls is a scenic, relatively out-of-the-way, two-tiered waterfall located in the southwestern corner of the Catskill Park in the Delaware Wild Forest. The Russell Brook, the name of both the brook and falls, flows downstream for approximately 3.7 miles, joining the Beaverkill River at Butter Nut Grove. The trailhead used for accessing Russell Brook Falls is popular with fishermen hiking to the appropriately named Trout Pond and the not-as-attractively named Mud Pond.
Despite its idyllic surroundings Russell Brook Falls became the site of a tragic murder in the spring of 1992. On May 3, 1992 Rosemary Denis, a child support investigator for the Schenectady County Department of Social Services, and her husband Marvin Denis, a General Electric engineer, were on an outing to the falls. During the picnicking and photography trip 49-year-old Rosemary fell off a 35-foot cliff ledge at the top of the falls, landing in a pool of water at the base.
The cause of death was originally filed as accidental, being the result of the fall. However, a subsequent autopsy revealed that the cause of the victim's death was drowning, and not the injuries she sustained as a result of the fall.
Although police thought the death to be suspicious there was originally not enough evidence to file charges against Denis. Continuously building the case over the years, the police expanded the investigation, including re-interviewing witnesses, while looking for motive, opportunity and intent.
On the day of the murder Anthony Gooler and Robert Nevelle, two key witnesses who were fishing near the falls, claimed to have heard Rosemary’s high-pitched scream during the fall. Soon thereafter Denis rushed past them, but did not ask for help. Then, upon approaching the scene, both Gooler and Nevelle testified that they witnessed Denis straddling his wife while attempting to hold her head underwater. Denis, upon seeing the fisherman, rolled her over, pulled her to his chest and then yelled for help. It was never determined what caused the victim's fall.
Prosecutors claimed the Denis killed his wife so that he could have an affair with Rhodel Green, a co-worker, a woman he later married in 1996. Prosecutors also claimed that Denis did not want a divorce because he did not want to split up their assets, including his pension. More than six years later, in September 1998, Denis was charged with a single count of intentional murder in the second degree.
In his defense Denis claimed that his wife had slipped off the ledge while taking photographs. He said he had started walking to the bottom of the falls so that she could take a picture of him. He thought he heard her call his name, and therefore started making his way back up the hillside. When he got to the top, he saw her body in the water below. He then claimed to have rushed down to the base where he attempted to revive her using cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He said he tried to get her out of the water but that she was too heavy. Denis testified that he was not having an affair with Rhodel Green at the time of his wife’s death.
After a highly publicized 2 1/2-week trial in 1999, the 12-person jury deliberated for three days before finding Denis guilty as charged of felony second-degree murder. Delaware County District Attorney stated that “this was not a spontaneous act committed on the spur of the moment out of anger, fear or rage. This was premeditated, cold-blooded murder.” (Jump, Linda. “Denis get 25 to life for wife’s death.” Press and Sun-Bulletin. August 24, 1999.) Denis was sentenced to a prison term of 25 years to life, and began serving his life sentence at a maximum-security prison in Clinton County.
(Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department, New York. The People of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Marvin L. Denis, Appellant. Decided: November 22, 2000.)