NEW LIGHT: THE LIFE, DEATH AND REOPENED CASE OF KAREN MASON
EDINBURG, New York — The Edinburg Cemetery lies in the southernmost part of the Adirondack Park, tucked between the two forks of the Great Sacandaga Lake.
It’s a small plot of land, just enough for 1,800 headstones and a line of evergreen trees in the shadow of a public school.
On the cemetery’s west side, a two-foot granite stone rises above the nearby markers, a layer of green lichen beginning to threaten the last of the five names listed on the family plot.
Pam Driscoll’s 65 now. She visits here at least once a year to plant flowers.
It’s her way of honoring her best friend, the girl she first met in grade school, the girl whose name is etched in the gravestone:
Karen Ann Rew Mason, 1956-1988
Karen. She’s been dead now for a year longer than she lived. And the air of mystery that circles her unsolved death leaves a shadow of uncertainty, even here.
“We’ve always put geraniums there,” Driscoll said with a sigh. “And I have seen, you know — often there’s nothing there.”
But not always.
Sometimes, she arrives to discover that someone else has placed other flowers there.
“And I don’t know who puts it there,” she said. “I have no idea.”
Karen Mason’s best childhood friend mourns her loss, enough to lay flowers at her grave.
But she isn’t the only one.
In the photos from the yearbooks — first as salutatorian in the class of 1974 at Schuylerville High School, later as a health teacher at Hadley-Luzerne High School 25 miles to the north — Karen appears to grow into herself, appearing vivacious, with a mop of brown hair, a ready smile and twinkling eyes.
Karen died at 32 on May 8, 1988. She was the apparent victim of a car fire at her father’s home in nearby Hope, a small town of 400 that’s a quick 10-minute drive from her final resting place.
New York State Police closed the case within a month. They determined the fire to be a tragic accident, the result of a flash of flames when she fumbled with a small kerosene lamp after unintentionally spilling some fuel.
Karen Mason’s friends and family didn’t accept the official explanation. At the time, the case failed to elicit much public interest, aside from a spare story at the time in a nearby newspaper with the seemingly definitive headline of “Woman is burned/to death by lamp.”
Years passed. Decades. If Karen had lived, the young woman in the early prime of her career as a schoolteacher would be retirement age today. She might have had children, even grandchildren, by now.
Instead, on the night of Dec. 1, 2020, 32 years after her best friend died, Driscoll got a call from her sister-in-law.
She’d been watching the local news, and state police were seeking tips about a cold case, something about a woman from the Glens Falls area, discovered dead by her estranged husband in the 1980s. A 32-year-old woman.
“Oh my God,” Driscoll said. “It just — it floored me.”
After all these years.
Someone was talking about Karen.
The Edinburg Cemetery in Northville, where Karen Mason is buried, photographed Dec. 1, 2021.
Peter Carr/The Journal News
Karen Ann Rew grew up with her mother, Lorena Rew, in a modest three-bedroom home on Ferry Street in the small village of Schuylerville, 10 miles east of Saratoga Springs, along the Hudson River. Her grandmother, Irene Garris, owned the home and lived in an apartment over the two-car garage.
In her younger years, Karen’s mother, Lorena, had an accident that left her with a scar around her neck. Most people knew her by her nickname, a nod to her survival: They called her Lucky.
Pam Driscoll was Pam Squires then. And to her, Lorena, who died in 2008 and is buried beside Karen, was — and still is — “Mrs. Rew.”
Pam and Karen met in fourth grade, when Karen moved to Schuylerville after the divorce of her mother and father, William Rew.
Pam’s mother was the school nurse and encouraged her daughter to meet the new girl. They clicked.
Karen was the kind of student who went right home and finished her homework. Her notebooks were clean and organized, her handwriting pristine.
When Pam went to Karen’s house, they would play in a small attic crawlspace, accessible only from a door in Mrs. Rew’s closet that was too small for adults but just right for kids.
“My attic, never in a million years looked like hers,” Driscoll said. “Everything was so organized and in its place, and little things were in these little containers and they were all labeled. It was just ultra-organized.”
Karen had an extremely close relationship with her mother. Lorena worked with Karen’s grandmother at the Van Raalte textile mill in Saratoga, which made women’s slips, nightgowns and the like.
Her father, William, worked in the education field in Albany. Karen had a good relationship with him, too; she was always trying to please him, according to Edna Rew, Karen’s stepmother.
Karen Mason’s childhood home in Schuylerville is shown Dec. 1, 2021. Her grandmother lived in the top floor of this garage building behind the main house.
PETER CARR/THE JOURNAL NEWS
William Rew died in 2004 from leukemia.
“She adored her father,” Edna Rew said of Karen. “My husband was a perfectionist. Everything had to be just so. So Karen, I think, was always trying to impress her father and not make any mistakes. And if she made a mistake, she’d just fly apart. She was afraid it would get her father upset.”
Karen would often ask for help from her father, Edna Rew recalled.
“When she was in college, she’d call Bill up at one or two o’clock in the morning, ‘Come over, I think I’m going to fail my test tomorrow.’ And he would go over and she’d get an A the next day.”
The same attributes she displayed as a young child — organized, responsible — would carry with her throughout the rest of her life, her friends say.
That’s why her untimely death, and the events that led up to it, left them so shocked.
Karen Mason, then known as Karen Rew, pictured in the 1974 Schuylerville High School yearbook. She was class salutatorian.
SCHUYLERVILLE CENTRAL SCHOOL; ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY NIZZI/USA TODAY NETWORK; GETTY IMAGES
Karen Rew was an excellent student in the Schuylerville schools, always among the top of her class, with a reputation for being studious and a hard worker. She was in 4-H, sewed and baked.
“What I remember most about Karen was she always looked for excellence,” Pam said. “She was a really good student. Everything was as neat as a pin. I mean, if you could see her notebooks, everything was neat and in its place.”
In 1974, she graduated as the class salutatorian, finishing just behind the valedictorian, Michael Fay.
“We got along very well,” Fay said. “She was a very good student, worked a lot harder than I did. Unfortunately for her, it came a lot more naturally to me. But we got along well.”
After high school, both Karen and Pam decided to study nursing, but they went their separate ways.
Karen, whose mother was raising her on a single salary, qualified for generous scholarships at Russell Sage College, a private school in Troy, New York. Pam would go to the State University of New York at Albany, just a 20-minute drive from Troy, but a world away for a student without a car.
Both graduated in 1978 with bachelor’s degrees in nursing.
In 1980, a cousin came to Schuylerville for a visit, to see Karen’s grandmother, Irene, who was the cousin’s aunt.
Kearney and Karen Mason married on Oct. 17, 1981, in a small ceremony in Northville, New York, before returning to Arizona, where Karen was working on her master’s degree in nursing at Arizona State University.
KEARNEY MASON; ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY NIZZI/USA TODAY NETWORK; GETTY IMAGES
Karen had met this second cousin before, at a reunion on the family farm in Edinburg when she was just 3 or 4 and the cousin was 13 or 14.
The cousin was Kearney Mason, back for a visit from Arizona, where he had lived since 1971. Before too long, Karen would visit him out west on vacation.
“She came out to Arizona and we had a good time,” Kearney said in a January phone interview. The two apparently hit it off.
Kearney and Karen Mason married on Oct. 17, 1981, in a small ceremony in Northville, New York, before returning to Arizona. Karen would enroll at Arizona State University.
“She liked the weather. And, of course, I was out there. So she came out to ASU where I was going to school and got her master’s,” Kearney said. After Karen got her master’s degree in nursing in 1984, the couple moved back to New York, living for a time with Karen’s mother in Schuylerville.
Pam Driscoll said Karen had talked about getting genetic testing done to make sure the married distant cousins could have children, but those concerns didn’t keep them from getting married.
It was a small wedding in a church near William Rew’s Adirondack home on a 10-acre plot in Hope, the same home where Karen would be found dead less than a decade later. Driscoll stayed at the home with her husband, Joe. William Rew made a fruit platter for the occasion, she recalled, but generally, he seemed nonplussed by the event.
“I’m very friendly, I hug everybody,” Pam said. “That wasn’t Mr. Rew. It was almost like he didn’t care that we were there, or maybe he just didn’t approve of the wedding, I don’t know.”
Karen had a single bridesmaid for the occasion: Pam Driscoll. She bought her wedding dress at a secondhand store, which was both a surprise and, in some ways, typical, Pam said.
“That was not like her at all,” she said. “I would have expected that Karen would have had something extravagant. But Karen was also thrifty with her money, because her mom never had a lot.”
Karen’s family, meanwhile, had their doubts.
“I don’t think they were (compatible) from the time they got married,” said Edna Rew. “He was a good 10 years older than her. When they would come to visit, she and Bill would go and chat and leave him on the porch.
“I don’t think there was any love there.”
Karen and Kearney bought a house in Hadley, just across North Shore Road from the Great Sacandaga Lake, where they would spend time in Kearney’s boat.
Living in a lake community means measuring the year by when the ice comes in and when the ice goes out. There’s ice-fishing in the winter and boats go in as soon as the ice clears. Marinas dot the shoreline and springs, summers and falls are spent on the water.
Kearney, who worked on airplanes when he was in the Navy and was licensed to keep aircraft in flying shape, tinkered with planes and boats and any kind of craft. Asked whether Karen liked to fly, Kearney said flatly: “She never did too much with me.”
He recalls that she waterskied, but couldn’t recall if she got good enough at it to use a single ski. She always wore glasses, he said, which she needed to see distances.
For a while, Karen was employed as a health care worker for Upjohn, a company that provided in-home medical services.
Jack Abbott, Mason’s coworker at Hadley-Luzerne prior to her deathWhen I found out the way she died — burned to death in her car? It was hard to believe it was just an accident.
By 1985, she switched gears to become a health teacher at Hadley-Luzerne High School. Kearney, whose ASU degree was a bachelor’s in education, chuckled at the fact that it was Karen, the nurse, who ended up in the classroom.
Jack Abbott, a now-retired teacher who worked with Karen at Hadley-Luzerne and had a classroom a couple of doors down from hers, called his colleague the “sweetest, nicest person.”
He choked back tears as he recalled learning about her death.
“If anyone didn’t deserve to die, it was her,” he said. “When I found out the way she died — burned to death in her car? It was hard to believe it was just an accident.”
Driscoll said the career change made sense. Neither she nor Karen had ever wanted to be hospital nurses. Driscoll went on to become a school nurse in Schuylerville, just like her mother.
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The marriage began to fall apart.
What led to the split is clouded by more than three decades of distance, but Driscoll and State Police say the final straw was an ongoing disagreement about the home in Hadley, which was great for recreation but was 20 minutes or more from the nearest city.
Samuel Lizzio, a State Police investigator, is helping lead the probe these days. It’s personal for him: He’s a third-generation state trooper.
And Hope is his hometown.
Lizzio said Karen liked living at the home in the summer, but was less thrilled about the potentially treacherous travel in the winter. Kearney wanted to live there year-round.
Driscoll said there was some sort of disagreement over building a garage at the property; Kearney was in favor, but Karen had concerns.
Kearney is 75 now. He addressed those breakup theories in the recent interview.
Asked about the wintry drives, he said: “I don’t know whether she liked it or not, but she hit three guardrails and knocked them down just past Melba Mae’s (Riverview Inn restaurant) one day on the way to work. She stayed out of the river, so that was a good thing.”
Kearney doesn’t think the garage was an issue that drove them apart, either.
“I put a lot of work into it,” he said. “It did what we wanted.”
Whatever the cause for the split, on Sept. 24, 1987, soon after starting what would be her last school year at Hadley-Luzerne High School, Karen Mason filed a separation agreement with the Saratoga County Clerk’s Office; she and Kearney were on the path to divorce.
The next month, she rented a basement unit in the Robert Gardens apartment complex in the town of Queensbury, near Glens Falls.
Kearney said they still saw each other every week or two after the split, mostly on weekends in Hadley, but occasionally at Karen’s place, if her car needed fixing.
He has consistently denied involvement in her death. He said he couldn’t recall the last time he saw Karen alive, but said it was possibly the weekend before she died, as that would have been when he put his boat in the water for the season.
By that time, Karen had already met someone new.
Keith Gaulin, Mason’s boyfriend at the time of her deathShe was a beautiful woman.
His name was Keith Gaulin. He worked at the Sandy Hill Corp., a plant that made parts for paper mills. He, too, was going through a divorce.
They met in January or February at a bar on Bay Road in Queensbury, and they quickly hit it off.
She was slender and attractive, with an effortless smile. Her wavy, shoulder-length dark brown hair had recently been cut short, almost into a bob — a symbol, Keith said, of her new chapter in life.
Keith Gaulin, pictured in the Hudson Falls yearbook.
HUDSON FALLS SCHOOL DISTRICT; ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY NIZZI/USA TODAY NETWORK; GETTY IMAGES
“She looked like a girl I had dated years ago,” Keith recalled in a November phone interview. “So I went over and talked to her.”
It wasn’t long before they were dating, splitting time between her place at Robert Gardens and his house on the Queensbury-Glens Falls line.
“I can’t really tell you why (we hit it off),” Keith said. “She was a teacher. She had two degrees and was working on a third one. She would change her own oil in the car. She was petite, and personally I’ve always been attracted to petite women. She was a beautiful woman.”
According to Keith, who has consistently denied involvement in Karen’s death, he and Karen were starting to talk about their future. She no longer was interested in having children, he said, and that was fine with him.
Karen would confide in him about her frustrations with her impending divorce, about their disagreements over the house in Hadley. He and Karen had shared a divorce attorney, Jennifer Jensen, though that was just coincidence, he said.
A divorce from Kearney Mason was on the horizon, and perhaps a new chance for lasting happiness. But in the days before Karen’s death, there were potential red flags.
A suspicious hit-and-run. A car ditched in the woods. A false police report.
Today, more than 33 years later, police are taking a fresh look at those days and asking: Was it coincidence? Or was there a connection, something linked to Karen’s death that could unlock everything?
Who was Karen Mason?
Meet the woman whose horrific death in a car fie would be re-examined and reopened decades later.
John Meore, Rockland/Westchester Journal News