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2018 Special Commendation: For the solution to a 51-year-old murder mystery

01/09/2019 6:00 AM |

In October 2017, we published a 10,000-word story called “Gone” that was accompanied by a nearly hour-long documentary. The story and the documentary concerned the October 1966 disappearance of a Cutchogue woman named Louise Pietrewicz.

Louise, as we called her in the story, was 38 years old on the day she disappeared in the company of former Southold Town cop Bill Boken. She was the mother of a 10-year-old daughter named Sandy. 

Sandy said goodbye to her mother on the morning of Oct. 6, 1966. When she returned home from school, her mother was not there. Nor was she there the next day, or the day after that, or the month after that. 

Louise was gone. Never to be heard from again.

We began our reporting hoping to tell our readers about Louise. Who was she? What was her life like? She was born on a farm in Sagaponack, the daughter of Polish immigrants. She married a Cutchogue farmer named Al Pietrewicz, who was known about the hamlet as Al Patrick. 

He was a player, a big shot in the community. A prominent farmer and member of the cauliflower association. A member of the Cutchogue Fire Department with a flawless attendance record. A former chief of the department. He was also a hothead with a foul temper who treated his wife and daughter with a large measure of physical and emotional abuse. He was the sort of man who had to have his work shirts ironed a certain way and his meals served to him at the same time every day.

When his wife went missing, people wondered what had happened to her. There were whispers that Al must have had something to do with her disappearance. But in spite of the oddity of having a missing wife — in a hamlet of less than 2,000 people — he never paid a social price for it. For him, life went on as usual, as if Louise had never existed at all. 

If investigators ever knocked on his door, or greeted him at his Cox Lane farm to ask about Louise — Had he heard from her? Had his daughter heard from her? — there is no record of it. Nor is there a record of any official ever sitting down with Sandy to see how she was faring in her mother’s absence.

Al Pietrewicz simply went about his life. He even married again.

In May 2012, at a birthday party, a Cutchogue woman named Beanie Zuhoski met a retired New York State police investigator named Bud Griffiths. Beanie’s mother and Louise were sisters. Beanie had not forgotten her aunt. She asked Bud if, perhaps, somehow, he could nose around.

Bud reached out to Dick Fairchild, a retired state investigator who, in 1966, had worked on the case and had wanted to arrest Boken for Louise’s disappearance and presumed murder. Our reporting showed that the state police’s effort to arrest Boken was intentionally ruined by the actions of Southold Town officials at that time.

But, with that initial conversation, a spark was struck. Finally. 

In Southold, town police detective Joe Conway Jr. began his own effort to see what, if anything, he could learn about Louise’s disappearance. He spoke to Bud and connected with Fairchild. 

Joe also spoke to Boken’s ex-wife, Judy Terry, the former Southold Town clerk. Joe brought in a celebrated Suffolk homicide cop, Ed Fandry, to help him. They poked around the basement of the former Boken home in Southold. They found nothing. Joe, after a long career in Southold, retired.

But, like many a good cop, this one story stuck in his mind. He didn’t want to let it go. He owed that to Sandy.

Then our story came out. Joe came back from his retirement home in North Carolina and teamed up with Southold Det. Sgt. John Sinning. Both are top investigators; both see police work as more than just talking to people and writing up reports. It’s about more than just the rule of law, as sacred as that is. It’s also about people, about helping them, about being a social worker, about closing doors when doors can be closed and about trying to solve a mystery if it can be solved.

In March 2018, after Joe and John had gone back to speak again with Ms. Terry — this time bringing proof that her ex-husband Boken was dead — investigators began digging in the basement. But this time, they went deeper than previous digs.

And there, more than seven feet down, they found Louise’s remains. And three .38-caliber bullets. She had been buried in the basement right after her murder by Boken — a murder he got away with. He lived out his life as a recluse in New York City, where he died in 1982, and was buried in a pauper’s grave on Hart Island.

When we began our story, we aspired to tell you about Louise and, in a sense, to bring her back to life as best we could. But we couldn’t dig in people’s basements, or get search warrants, or call on the Suffolk County Police Department for forensic help. We needed other parties to pick up the story and take it to a satisfactory conclusion, to something approaching justice.

For their devotion to helping Sandy, who was finally able to have a wake for her mother, and for finding the truth about Louise’s fate after 51 years, we award our Special Commendation to Bud Griffiths, Joe Conway Jr. and John Sinning. 

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