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Trailer Fire kills recluse

April 03, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

CLEAR SPRING - An 83-year-old man who lived alone in a travel trailer behind a deserted house died early Thursday when the camper burned to the ground, the state fire marshal's office said.

Jesse Lester Shoemaker Sr. died of smoke inhalation shortly after the fire broke out at about 5 a.m., said Tom Wetzel, Washington County forensic investigator. The camper was located behind 12304 Indian Springs Road, several miles west of Clear Spring.

The state fire marshal's office is investigating the cause of the fire, which took firefighters from Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Co. about 10 minutes to douse.

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Maryland State Police last week investigated a theft from the camper, but Trooper 1st Class Richard Poffenberger said he did not think the theft and the fire were related.

Shoemaker lived a solitary life and rarely spoke to his seven children. His wife, who lives in Clear Spring, left him years ago but never divorced him, his sons said.

Although he lived minutes away, Jesse Shoemaker Jr. said he was not emotionally close to his father.

"He wasn't close to anyone. You'd talk to him and he'd turn around and cuss at you," he said.

Surveying the charred rubble that remained of the travel trailer-style camper Thursday afternoon, Jesse Shoemaker said he could not understand why his father chose to live as he did.

"There's no sense in a man living like this," Shoemaker said. "But there was nothing you could do to help him."

While gruff and sometimes unpleasant, Shoemaker occasionally wanted a little conversation, said neighbor Ron Amos.

"It's hard to explain Jess Shoemaker. He's just one of a kind," he said. "Nasty at times, crotchety. But he never asked for a quarter."

Amos said Shoemaker, with his trim frame and scraggly white beard, was a familiar sight at Breeden's, a country store about a quarter-mile down the road from his home.

Shoemaker would sit for hours on the porch of the store, located on the corner of Indian Springs Road and U.S. 40, whether it was open or not, Amos said.

The last few months of Shoemaker's life were trying ones. In addition to the cash that was stolen from his camper, Amos said Shoemaker gave up his most prized possessions: about 30 goats.

Shoemaker sold the goats after the Washington County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals investigated their living conditions.

Shelly Moore, executive director of the SPCA, said Shoemaker had been ordered within the past few months to improve conditions for the goats. There was no running water, and the animals were not fenced in, she said.

Amos said the goats were not in danger, and that while sometimes annoying, posed no threat to anyone.

"He had goats running around, mostly on his property," he said. "Sometimes they'd get on other people's properties, but it was no big deal. They'd get in the street, but they were car conscious."

Amos said Shoemaker's house on Indian Springs Road gradually deteriorated to the point that it became uninhabitable. About two years ago, he moved into a travel trailer in the back yard. Authorities Thursday estimated the trailer's value at $1,000. His land was strewn with wood, car parts and other debris.

Partly because of his austere lifestyle, Amos said, Shoemaker always had money when he needed to buy something.

When his money was stolen last week, Shoemaker, who did not use a bank, did not know how much had been taken, Amos said.

"He didn't know how much, but he said: `I have a lot of hundred dollar bills,'" Amos said.

Shoemaker's son said that at one time his father worked at what was then W.D. Byron and Sons tannery in Williamsport and before that for C. William Hetzer Inc. He said he recalled his father saying he once had worked on the railroad in West Virginia.

He said he knew little of his father's early life. Shoemaker's wife declined to comment.

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