- Exactly one year ago, 100-year-old Jessie Burke was found dead in her North Haven home from the result of a gunshot wound to the head. Today, as her murder remains unsolved, police, members of the community, and residents of her quiet Payne Avenue neighborhood continue to wonder who could have committed such a crime, and why they have not been brought to justice.
Payne Avenue has been called a "quiet" road, just one mile from the village of Sag Harbor.
"It's a cloud that hangs over the neighborhood," offered Burke neighbor Robbie Vorhaus from his Payne Avenue residence just a few houses down from where Burke lived with her daughter, Margaret "Jean" Burke. "For those who don't know any different, things look the same."
The Cold-Blooded Crime
On Sunday, Aug. 31, 2008, just one day before Labor Day
, Jean Burke returned home from running errands at approximately 12:46 p.m. to find her mother slumped in her reading chair, a fatal gun shot wound to the head. As the hours unfolded that day, Jean, once a candidate for mayor of North Haven and also a former New York City
corrections officer, was taken in for police questioning, her car was seized, and her home was canvassed for evidence. Though she became the top suspect in the murder in the court of public opinion, Jean Burke was never charged with the crime, and has been free of police scrutiny for the past year.
"There's been a lot of speculation, but that's terribly unfair to their family," Vorhaus posed in a conversation on Aug. 27. "It's led us to speculate because we want to have some control. But they probably didn't have enough evidence to pin it on somebody, and they probably won't."
In The Days That Followed
Shortly after the shooting of Jessie Burke - who friends say was in command of her faculties and liked to do crossword puzzles, and who has been characterized by police as a healthy centurion - Jean Burke sought the services of Southampton lawyer Colin Astarita to help represent her under intense police scrutiny. Though Astarita could not be reached for comment on the anniversary of the tragic event, he has asserted on numerous occasions during the past year that his client was fully cooperative with police and handed over everything that the authorities asked for.
In the days following the murder, Astarita said Burke consented to many police demands, including a gunpowder test of her hands, which came back in her favor. When asked who the Burke's think may have killed their family's matriarch, Astarita has pointed to the possibility of a passing interloper looking to burglarize the home, which sits back from the road and is abutted by a densely-wooded area.
Jean Burke sought the services of Southampton attorney Colin Astartia after her mother's death. Astarita has pointed to a passing burglar as the possible murderer.
However, police reported that there were no signs of a break in at the home and nothing was ever found to be missing from the residence. In addition, investigators have never made mention of any signs of a struggle between Jessie Burke and some kind of intruder. "Is it Martians? Is it a neighbor? Is it a family member? Or is it totally random?" Vorhaus mused on the eve of the one-year anniversary, adding, "Where is that person?"
Vorhaus maintains that police, coming to his home to question his family about the case shortly after Jessie Burke's death, assured him that he had "nothing to worry about." Similarly, former Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris, whose village sits just about a mile from North Haven's Payne Avenue, said last year that police assured him that the murder was "an isolated incident."
"What does that mean?" Vorhaus questioned.
Though Suffolk County Homicide Unit Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick could not be reached for comment last week, Southampton Town Police Det. Sgt. Randy Hintze confirmed that the investigation into the murder of Jessie Burke is still an active one, despite the lack of reports on new leads or more evidence. Other than that, police have kept any news on this case extremely close to the vest.
"It's their [Suffolk County's] case, and we will assist them," Det. Sgt. Hintze asserted. "Any one with additional information should contact us or the Suffolk County Homicide Unit."
Last year, Vorhaus questioned the lack of police presence in his neighborhood in the months following Jessie Burke's murder, and he maintains that police surveillance in the area is still low. For his own family, Vorhaus mentioned that they have "stepped up" their security. "I wish police would give some information to allow us to know what to expect," he offered. "It's unsettling having this haze."
Case Gone Cold?
The Burke home on Payne Avenue sits back from the road, and is surrounded by trees.
Generally, a case is considered cold when there are no longer any leads or evidence to explore. Some municipalities even put a time frame on when a case should be classified as such - most often one year. Even if there were new evidence or more leads in the case of the murder of Jessie Burke, a year has now gone by, and the threat looms that this murder could join the dusty shelf of other unsolved crimes. While those in the community may still keep hope that this mysterious violent crime will be solved, it's obvious that this hope is met with an unsettling reality.
"When you stop and think, the fact remains that, on Labor Day Weekend, a 100-year-old woman was shot in the head," said Vorhaus. "It's an easy thing to forget, and yet when the realization hits you, it can send a chill. It will always be the North Haven Labor Day murder. 'Who done it?'"