True crime meets true love for the Whitelaws

Frank and Donna Whitelaw (Provided photo)

SARANAC LAKE — Some couples meet over coffee. Others, over drinks at a bar or popcorn at a movie theater. Former Essex County Coroner Frank Whitelaw and his wife, Donna, did things a little differently. In 1999, they met over a dead body.

“They had what suspected to be a homicide on an island at Joe Indian (Pond) in St. Lawrence County, so I got sent over to process the crime scene,” Frank said.

He was a New York State Police investigator; Donna was a St. Lawrence County coroner.

It quickly became clear to authorities that it was not a homicide case and all other law enforcement left the scene except Frank and Donna, who live in Bloomingdale.

“We wrapped everything up and then got (the body) packaged up and on his way. From that point on, we stayed in contact as friends because we were both married at the time to different people. And then as time went on, our marriages both crumbled,” he said. “We got closer and eventually started spending time together and then next thing you know, we’re together and we’re married.”

The Whitelaws got married in 2011, though by that point they had already been together “in sickness and in health” for seven years. One year after they started dating, in 2005, Donna suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of a motorcycle crash, leaving her with a long road to recovery.

“She wanted to be able to remember her wedding and everything else,” Frank said. “We knew we weren’t going anywhere on each other, so we held off until when she felt the time was right. Once we both felt the time was right, we went ahead and (got married) up at my parents’ house with just my parents present, her mom present, and it was all good.”

Both Frank and Donna have moved on from the death industry — Donna left her position as coroner following her brain injury and Frank, after several years as an Essex County coroner, is now the St. Armand town justice and a musician with the local rock band Frankie and the Moonlighters.

They weren’t able to spend Valentine’s Day together this year, as Donna was out of town to see her family, but Frank said she’ll have some surprises waiting for her when she gets home. He said that he loves Donna’s sensitivity, compassion and kindness.

“She’s very giving, she’s extremely kind to everybody and she’s just a sweet person, genuinely. That was the first thing I noticed. She goes out of her way to help just about everybody and I just thought she was so awesome that way,” Frank said. “She’s actually changed me as a person for the better. Having been in law enforcement all those years, you kind of get a little grouchy because you’re exposed to nothing but crap all the time, and it can wear on you and change you a little bit. She’s the one who actually turned that around for me and helped me be a little brighter about everything. … It’s not that that wasn’t there in the first place, she was just able to bring it out of me.”

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