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Chief: Homicide of elderly clergyman is not a cold case

STRINGER NEWS PHOTO Shelter Island Police Department officers on Oak Tree Lane in Silver Beach March 19.
STRINGER NEWS PHOTO Shelter Island Police Department officers on Oak Tree Lane in Silver Beach March 19.

While the Suffolk County Police Department has been tight lipped about the ongoing investigation into the homicide of Reverend Canon Paul Wancura, who died from injuries in April, Shelter Island Police Chief Jim Read told members of the Silver Beach Association recently that this is “not a cold case.”

The report of Chief Read’s comments came from Councilman Jim Colligan at Tuesday’s Town Board work session and was confirmed by Chief Read following the meeting.

The Shelter Island Police Department doesn’t have the personnel to handle major crimes such as homicides, Chief Read said. It’s why Suffolk County receives a fee from local communities to lead an investigation into a major crime, he explained.

The 87-year-old Reverend Wancura, a canon in the Episcopal church, died in Stony Brook University Hospital on April 16, a month after suffering wounds inflicted during a home invasion and burglary at his Oak Tree Lane residence in Silver Beach. He had been left alone, bound by his wrists, for more than two days.

Chief Read said he speaks with Suffolk County detectives investigating the case on a regular basis and believes leads they are following will eventually conclude in an arrest.

From the start, county police believes there is a connection between the home invasion at Reverend Wancura’s residence and another Silver Beach burglary discovered two weeks later, also on Oak Tree Lane, the chief said.

At the beginning of the investigation, Suffolk County Acting Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron said the home invasion was not “a random incident” and Chief Read said nothing has changed in the interim to alter that analysis.

With active leads still being investigated, local and county police believe there will be a resolution, Mr. Colligan said at the work session, adding that someone will talk and reveal information that will lead to an arrest.

Many residents of Silver Beach are frightened, Mr. Colligan said. Some of his neighbors have purchased firearms, he added, and others, who never locked their doors, have had security systems installed.

“Crime doesn’t stop at our borders,” Mr. Colligan said. He praised plans for the town to install cameras at both North and South ferries.

Chief Read said he has never favored residents leaving their houses unlocked. He had no comment about people arming themselves.

While favoring the cameras, the chief said they won’t provide protection in and of themselves. Only when police have reason to believe they have identified a perpetrator of a crime can they expect to look at the tapes and, perhaps, discover evidence that someone who said he or she was off-Island at a particular time was actually here, the chief said.

Otherwise, just looking at a tape of thousands of people in vehicles, on bicycles or motorcycles, or foot passengers boarding a ferry, isn’t likely to have much meaning, the chief said.

On a separate investigation by the Suffolk County Police Environmental Crimes Unit, Mr. Colligan said at the work session that people with possible knowledge of the chopping down of more than 200 trees in January in a wooded area off Menhaden Lane have been interviewed.

He implied that an owner of a property in the area might have responsibility directly or indirectly for the crime, saying that someone who didn’t have a water view because of the trees has property that has increased in value because of a now unobstructed view.

The Shelter Island Police Department initially investigated the scene after hearing about the destruction of the trees. But the wooded area is located on county-owned land and the Environmental Crimes Unit accepted responsibility for the investigation, which is ongoing, Chief Read said.

“I still think it can be solved,” Chief Read said.

He requested that anyone who may have seen something report it to him or call in a tip to the County Environmental Crimes Unit at (631) 852-5800.