Since 2002 there have been 17 homicides in the five East End towns, North Haven Mayor Laura Nolan said she learned this week. County police have solved 16 of them, she said. The one remaining is the one and only that has ever taken place in her village.
The mayor’s observation illustrates the hope and confidence, in some quarters, residents in the village have in the police. In other quarters, not so much.
More than a week after a 100-year-old woman was found shot to death in her Payne Avenue home, neighbors, officials and the woman’s family are still in the dark about who committed the crime.
“We’re getting dead silence from the police,” said Colin Patrick Astarita, attorney for Margaret Jean Burke —Â known as Jean— who found her mother, Jessie Burke, shot in the head on Sunday, August 31. The elder Mrs. Burke lived with her daughter at the home owned by Jean Burke at 36 Payne Avenue. According to police, Jean had left her mother sitting in a chair in the home’s den that morning to shop and do errands. When she returned about an hour later, she found her mother in the same chair with a bullet wound in the head.
Police have said there was no sign of forced entry to the house, which sits on a wooded 2.5-acre property at the end of the quiet road, and there is no evidence anything had been stolen. Astarita maintains his client was not involved in any way with her mother’s death.
No charges have been filed in the case, and police returned to the neighborhood late last week.
“There were detectives on the street a couple of days ago,” said Eliza Werner who lives nearby. “They were just checking with the neighbors to see if they had heard anything.”
She expressed a sentiment shared by many in the neighborhood: “It’s not the way it was ten days ago. It makes you feel uneasy.”
Cheryl Merser agreed, calling the feeling “unsettling.”
“It’s just a pall hanging over us, and the neighborhood.”
Merser, who said she was “terribly impressed by the detective” she spoke with, said the troubling thing is that there are so many remaining questions.
Suffolk County Homicide detectives have declined to comment further about evidence or the investigation. They have not named a suspect, and while they have tested Jean Burke’s clothing and car, as well as her hands, for any evidence of gunpowder residue, they have filed no charges.
“They returned the car this week,” said Astarita. The 1996 Toyota had been impounded the day after the murder, taken away by police on a flat-bed truck.
Asked if he had a sense if police were leaning in one direction with their investigation, or considering his client a suspect, Astarita said he didn’t believe there was any evidence to charge his client.
“If they had anything they would have arrested her by now,” said the attorney.
“I worked in the DA’s office,” said Astarita. “[The police] would have put that right in the DA’s hands.”
The attorney said his client has been cooperating fully with the police and has given authorities a list of contractors or vendors who have worked at or had access to the house over the past year. Astarita said there were about six names on the list.
He confirmed that police had taken a rifle out of the house, which has not yet been returned. Although police have not said what type of firearm was used, Astarita speculated it was “small arms.”
He expressed confidence that the department would solve the case saying that the homicide squad was “an elite group of investigators.”
Mayor Nolan, too, said, based on the statistics, she was confident that police would be successful. Neighbor Steven Greenberg said he was not affected by the event.
“I don’t even think about it,” said Greenberg. “I haven’t heard anything and haven’t changed —Â we’re living our lives normally.”
Still, many neighbors remained uneasy this week.
“I’ve found myself locking the door during the day,” said one neighbor who asked that her name not be used. “I haven’t done that in years.”
The neighbor said she had her own theory.
Â “I don’t think it was a random act,” she said. “I feel that somebody could have been hired to do it.”
But like most who live in the area, the neighbor didn’t see or hear anything unusual.
“A detective asked me if I had heard an explosion or power tools,” she said. “I thought immediately of ‘The Sopranos.’ It’s unreal. I kept saying to myself, ‘No. no, that’s not happening.”
She said she had spoken with police during the investigation and was told she had no reason to worry.
“That makes me feel they had someone in mind.”
“I asked him if he thought this case will be solved, and he said ‘I’ll be here until it does’.”