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Investigate 100-Year-Old’s Death in North Haven

Posted on 05 September 2008

As Suffolk County Police continue their investigation into the murder of 100-year-old Jessie Burke of North Haven, the attorney for Mrs. Burke’s daughter, Margaret Jean Burke, who found the elederly woman shot to death, denies the younger woman was in any way responsible for the crime.

“We absolutely, emphatically deny Jean was involved,” said Colin Patrick Astarita, Jean Burke’s attorney.

Jessie Burke was found by her daughter, shot in the head on Sunday afternoon about 12:45 in the house at 36 Payne Avenue shared by the two women.

According to police, Jean Burke, 76, had left the house late on Sunday morning to go shopping and do errands, leaving her mother in a chair in the den. Among the errands was a stop at the town transfer station on the Bridgehampton Turnpike. On Monday morning, police closed off the transfer station to conduct a search. An employee said they had been looking for a gun, but it is unclear if any had been found.

When Jean Burke returned from her errands about an hour later she found the elderly woman in the same place she left her, shot. Police described the elder Mrs. Burke, who celebrated her birthday on August 7, as ambulatory, able to move around and feed herself, and quite lucid.

“She was able to do the New York Times crossword puzzle every week,” said Det. Lieut. Jack Fitzpatrick of Suffolk County Police Homicide.

On Sunday evening about 8 p.m., a handful of reporters waited behind a line of yellow tape while police escorted Jean Burke from the house and into a waiting unmarked car. When the officer left the car momentarily, a stunned-looking Ms. Burke opened the car an approached the reporters.

“I don’t understand what is being said,” said Burke, “I’m just in a daze. I’m dazed.”

Ms. Burke was helped back into the car by the police officer and her sister, Judy Schiavoni, who, according to neighbors, regularly visits with her mother. Jean Burke was then driven to her sister’s house, said Lt. Fitzpatrick. She has remained there since Sunday, said Astarita.

“She can go home, but she wants to stay at her sister’s house,” the lawyer said. “She’s still very upset; she lived in that house for 17 years. She doesn’t know what to do.”

Jean Burke, a former corrections officer, ran unsuccessfully for mayor of North Haven in 1994, running as an independent against Robert Ratcliffe. She was vehemently opposed to a deer hunt the village proposed.

By Monday morning, narrow Payne Avenue was jammed with reporters and television crews from local and metropolitan stations. A large white crime scene van was parked up the driveway, which led to the house tucked in the woods and back off the road.

One neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said she had not seen the elder Mrs. Burke leave the house in the past three years except for the occasional doctor’s visit. She said she was not aware of anything unusual until she looked out the window Sunday afternoon and saw police at her neighbor’s house

“I did not hear any gun shots,”she said.

She added that Jean Burke had come into her yard Sunday afternoon while the investigation was being conducted, and, telling the neighbor she was not allowed back in her house during the course of the investigation, asked to use the neighbor’s bathroom. She was stopped by police who told her she couldn’t go in the neighbor’s house until they wiped the blood from her hands, which they did.

Lt. Fitzpatrick said he had interviewed both sisters for background, and said that Jean Burke appeared “visibly and appropriately upset,” after finding her mother.

He added that there was no evidence the sisters or the mother argued or fought with each other.

“In fact it’s just the opposite,” said the detective. “The picture we’re getting from both sisters is that they all got along.”


On Monday afternoon, Det. Lt. Fitzpatrick said there was no sign of forced entry, nor was there any indication that anything had been taken from the house.

“Clearly the house had not been ransacked,” said Lt. Fitzpatrick in an interview.

Fitzpatrick declined to say how many times Jessie Burke had been shot. He declined to say if they had found the murder weapon, or if guns were kept in the house.

When asked if neighbors should have any concern for their safety, Lt. Fitzpatrick said Southampton Town Police had indicated there was no evidence of criminality in the neighborhood that would lead them to believe neighbors were in danger.

When asked why Jean Burke may have felt it necessary to hire a lawyer, Astarita said, “Well, you have police all over your house…”

Astarita added that he is also working as a liaison between the Burkes and the police.

“We want to be as helpful as possible,” he said, “and we’re cooperating in any way we can.”

Astarita said his client has willingly submitted to all tests and questioning, including having her hands tested for gunpowder residue.

“We’ve released her [1996 Toyota] to them and she’s even given them her clothes,” said Astarita. In addition, Jean has given police a list of all people who have worked at the house in recent months.

The family is hunkering down, he said, and Jessie Burke’s other children, two sons, are coming from out of state for services.

By Tuesday afternoon, the yellow police tape had been taken down around the Burkes’ home on Payne Avenue, but the investigation was continuing.

“We’ll continue to look into [Jessie Burke's] life to see if there is anything that may have led to this,” said Fitzpatrick.

No charges have been filed, and the investigation is continuing.

Police are asking anyone with information about the case to contact the Homicide Squad at 631-852-6392, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential.

 Additional reporting by Melissa Lynch and Kathryn G. Menu

Top: Jean Burke, who discovered her mother’s body on Sunday, in photo above, was helped into a police car by a police officer and her sister, Judy Schiavoni, Sunday night and driven to a relative’s house.(robbie vorhaus photo). 

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