Tag Archive | "jessie burke"

On the Loose

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As we mark the one year anniversary of the murder of 100-year-old Jessie Burke, we are left with as many questions now as we had on the day of the murder. That’s because this is a case that remains unsolved.

The story goes that Burke was shot in her home in a quiet North Haven neighborhood during the middle of the day while her daughter was out running errands. But in the 12 months since Burke’s death, Suffolk County Homicide, which is handling the case, has offered up precious little new information about the crime. They appear to be doing even less to solve it.

But the facts remain — an elderly woman was murdered in her home with a handgun. There has been no information offered by police as to whether or not that weapon was ever found. As far as we know, both the gun as well as the individual who pulled the trigger, remain at large to this day.

Shortly after the murder, the nervous citizens of North Haven were reassured by police and told there was no reason to worry and to go about their business. And that’s where the investigation and the story stops. A year later, the members of the community remain confused, unsettled and, in fact, uneasy about their neighborhood. And who can blame them?

The homicide detectives have done nothing to make the people of North Haven feel any more secure than they did a year ago. No updates, no reassurances and, most importantly, no arrests.

Until someone is in custody the facts remain — a murderer is indeed on the loose.

Don’t Tell Me, Show Me

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By Robbie Vorhaus

When I trained in karate, I once told my shihan – teacher — that I was going to earn my black belt.

“Don’t tell me,” he said sternly, “show me.”

I soon learned the true meaning of the New Testament verse, “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak,” because try as I might, I only rose to the level of green belt, a far cry from the coveted black belt.

I thought of this recently watching the excellent Pierson Middle School performance of The Wizard of Oz.

Both my children were involved in the play; Molly as a crow and Ozian; Connor in the orchestra pit playing violin. Still, what made this play so spectacular is the incredibly high level of performance these students achieved. Thanks to director, Paula Brannon, the Pierson Middle School students performed a miracle.

Why was The Wizard of Oz production such a marvel?

Because the Pierson auditorium facility is a health hazard, embarrassingly worn out, shabby, and falling to pieces. Everything a meeting and performance space should be, the Pierson auditorium is not. On a cold winter night, the temperature soon rises to an uncomfortable level, on a warm day, the heat is unbearable, and during every performance kids continue getting sick, possibly because of poor ventilation and inadequate HVAC. I’m told in over thirty years the stage curtain has never been cleaned, and because of fire retardants used when the curtain was hung, there may be asbestos concerns.

The children still have to dangerously step over heavy chains to get on and off the stage, yet without complaint (that I’ve ever heard), Paula Brannon and producer, Melissa Luppi, along with Austin Remson, Doug Alnwick, Jayne Freedman, Zach Fischman and Eric Reynolds, as the musical conductor, produce a first-rate production. The sets were original and appealing, the costumes fun and inventive, backstage the crew operates like a well-oiled machine, and most of all, our performing students, leads, supporting characters and chorus members, are truly talented, energetic and engaged. In fact, for this show, Mr. Reynolds conducted the largest orchestra in the history of Pierson’s productions, and they sounded magnificent.

We owe the Pierson students, the district and our community more than this run down theater. By anyone’s yardstick, the Pierson auditorium is sub-standard. A school’s meeting and performance space is a symbol, a metaphor, for how we present ourselves, and our children, to the world.

Dr. John Gratto, Sag Harbor School’s superintendent, informs me that $40,000 is budgeted in the 2009-2010 budget for replacement of the auditorium curtain, and it can’t come too soon. In an email, Dr. Gratto also said a new lighting panel has already been purchased, and that a new sound system will be purchased within the next couple of weeks. Dr. Gratto also said an analysis is currently underway to replace the auditorium, and that the HVAC needs are being addressed, although nothing will be done until the summer. Can we afford to wait when our students still use the space daily?

If we agree that the myriad events and other activities that take place in this space are important, then show us, and create a 21st century auditorium worthy of the talent and commitment we’re consistently shown by our teachers and performing students.


It’s time to find common ground and agree on the Sag Harbor teacher’s contract. Over the past several months I’ve come to know and like our new school superintendent, Dr. John Gratto, and I believe his intentions are in our district’s best interest. I am also privileged to call Eileen Kochanasz, the president of TASH, a friend and an incredibly compassionate and professional guidance counselor, and, I believe, she and TASH also want what is best for our district. Yet these two leaders, and the constituencies they represent, are still negotiating an impasse.

I wish I had a magic wand I could wave over the teachers and the school board to make everyone happy. I know from experience if we brought in two objective, non-emotional and detached parties to iron this out, the contract would be negotiated over night. Or, if we let my wife, Candace, handle it, neither side would be allowed to sleep, watch TV, play on the computer, or have dessert until the issue was settled. Trust me, this works, and not just for kids.

My suggestion, which is far too naïve, is to choose kindness over being 100% right, remember why we’re doing this – hey, it’s the children, remember! – and let’s start being creative versus competitive. If you guys really believe in what you’re saying, stop telling us and show us: ratify a teacher’s agreement and let’s spend the saved time on having some fun and building a world-class school district together.

And while I’m on the “don’t tell us, show us” soapbox: will some police organization please solve the Labor Day murder in North Haven.

If the person everyone believes committed the murder is guilty, then there’s still a murderer on the loose. And if it’s not that person, there’s still a murderer on the loose. Which means, at the end of the day, whoever committed the murder was incredibly smart and professional, or the police department in charge of the inquiry somehow bumbled their own investigation, or they are not equipped, experienced or committed enough to solving this murder. And why aren’t any county and local leaders weighing in on this unsolved, heinous murder of a 100-year-old women who clearly did not commit suicide?

Please stop telling us we’re safe and that we have nothing to worry about, and show us by solving this murder and charging someone with the crime.

Spring is almost here. We are a unique village committed to goodness, the grace of nature, the future of our children, deep and abiding friendships, and enduring common values we hold dear. I’m confident we’ll build an exceptional Pierson auditorium, approve an acceptable teacher’s contract, and as a huge fan of our local and regional police, believe they’ll solve the crime of Jesse Burke’s untimely demise.

In our town, Sag Harbor, we won’t tell you how special we are, although we’re always happy to show you.

 North Haven resident, Robbie Vorhaus, is a writer and crisis communications consultant.

Cops Still Mum on Burke Murder

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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 — 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 — 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.

 “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’.”


Investigation of the death of 100-year old Jessie Burke

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