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Year in Review: A homicide in Silver Beach

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

Over the next several days, leading to the New Year, the Reporter will be posting our annual Year In Review series of important stories from 2018.

The most shocking crime ever committed on Shelter Island was the major story the Reporter covered in 2018.

In the aftermath, Supervisor Gary Gerth summed up what was on the minds and lips of many residents, saying it “shattered the innocence of Shelter Island.”

And now, nine months later, there have been no arrests and no word from law enforcement if there is any significant information that would lead to solving the crime.

On Monday March 19, Father Charles McCarron, pastor of the Island’s St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, went to the Oak Tree Lane residence in Silver Beach of his colleague and friend, Episcopal Canon Paul Wancura, after the 87-year-old minister missed a regular appointment to participate in Sunday services in a church in Central Islip.

PETER WALDNER ILLUSTRATION Episcopal Canon Paul Wancura

Father McCarron described a horrific scene to the Reporter when he entered his friend’s house through an unlocked door. Father Wancura was bound by the hands and lying between a bed and a wall. Police later said he had been left in that condition for at least two days. He was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious injuries.

A visitor to the hospital, a veteran of Vietnam, said he had never seen such serious wounds since his service in the war.

The elderly churchman was placed in intensive care, which he never emerged from. A hand was amputated, and he died three weeks later of sepsis, which is a system-wide infection, usually caused by wounds.

There has been only one other reported homicide in Shelter Island’s 350-year history, which was 20 years ago, when an Islander was convicted of second-degree murder and served six years in prison.

The Shelter Island Police and Suffolk County Police departments termed the incident a burglary and a home invasion. Originally, the departments said Reverend Wancura was not the victim of “a random incident” and didn’t believe the attack affected the safety of other residents on Shelter Island.

The Shelter Island Police Department reported another burglary in Silver Beach, directly across the street from Reverend Wancura’s house, two weeks after the home invasion burglary that became a homicide.

Police Chief Jim Read said the burglary in the unoccupied residence was reported the afternoon of March 4 when the owners “returned after being away for an extended period of time. Detectives are exploring the possibility that the burglary and the discovery of a burglary two weeks ago in the same area might be connected.”

Later the Suffolk County Police Department distributed flyers on the Island, asking anyone if they had information that would lead to an arrest, and posting a $10,000 reward.

A former Rector Emeritus of Caroline Church of Brookhaven in Setauket, Reverend Wancura had served in many roles throughout the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, including serving at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Greenport for a decade. He was a graduate of Queens College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Business Administration, and held a Master of Divinity degree from the General Theological Seminary in New York City. He had also served with the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps in Austria and France.

At a memorial service for Reverend Wancura at St. Mary’s, an old friend, Twoey Brayson, told the congregation that his friend had “a keen intellect,” was versed in history and theology, “liked to dance, sing, and liked a good cigar and a wee dram of Scotch. He was still a student,” Mr. Brayson said, “He never acted old.”

He was known, his frend said, as “Padre Pablo,” because of his services to Spanish-speaking congregations.

Mr. Brayson ended his eulogy by speaking of his friend’s “courage and zest for life. That’s why I love Paul Wancura.”

Mr. Gerth noted that since Reverend Wancura was found, the town has had daily check-ups on the 57 elderly Islanders who are living alone. “We are a strong people,” the supervisor said, and he urged residents to “be vigilant.”

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