It was 40 years ago this week that my sister Michelle and her husband, Bill Becker, suspiciously drowned, leaving behind three young children. Bill was found dead at Matt-a-Mar Marina (today Strong’s Water Club). He was wearing his green New York State Department of Environmental Conservation uniform and had bruises on his face and knuckles. Witnesses said Bill was face up between the swim platform of a boat and the dock, an area about the size of the coffin that he would be laid out in a few days later. It was quickly determined that Michelle was missing. Southold Police Chief Carl Cataldo called it an accidental double drowning. I was told when I arrived at the scene that “they expect to find Michelle in the water, too.” Her lifeless body was found by divers the following afternoon.
Cataldo was formerly a cop with the Suffolk County Police Department and should have known how to conduct an investigation. Why didn’t he treat this as a crime scene? The area was never roped off. Cataldo told a Southold cop to drive the Beckers’ car back to their house, instead of impounding it and dusting for fingerprints. About the only thing Southold police did right was to take photos. Unfortunately, we later learned through our own investigator that the photos a Southold detective took did not come out. A few months later Cataldo took an early retirement and moved to Florida, where he died in 2002.
The list of how grossly incompetent the Southold police chief was at that time goes on and on. Our family hired a private investigator before Bill and Michelle were even buried. Carl Cataldo refused to talk to him or even let him in the Southold Police Department, even though the investigator was a former SCPD homicide detective. There was an obvious cover-up: Did something more sinister happen that night? Other Southold police chiefs after Cataldo could have and should have re-investigated this. They didn’t and should be ashamed that they had the power to solve this case and did nothing.
The way we were treated by both the Southold and Suffolk County police departments at that time was inexcusable, considering all we wanted to know was the truth. It seemed the Suffolk County PD followed Cataldo’s narrative and wanted this to just go away. The county’s 7th Squad was later disbanded and this was their last case. A “blue wall of silence” surrounded this case for years. They did not care about our family and what it is like to live with this tragedy all these years.
The New York State DEC was always suspicious and was the only law enforcement agency that was compassionate to our family. Unfortunately, they did not have jurisdiction in this case. In fact, they did not even have an investigative unit at that time.
There was a lot of bad stuff going on in Southold Town for many years. I hope and pray that something like this never happens to another family in Southold Town. Sandy Blampied learned after five decades what happened to her mother, Louise Pietrewicz. She was murdered by a Southold Town police officer.
This has been a tough week for us on the 40th anniversary. Closure for me is publicly sharing my story. I feel I have done all I can to learn the truth and put together the puzzle pieces of this nightmare. Bill and Michelle were two good people, they did not deserve to die. Their deaths were not an accident, they were murdered. Bill and Michelle Becker are “Gone But Not Forgotten.” We miss them!
Mike Malkush is a retired school teacher and lives with his family on the North Fork.