As children, Elizabeth Dugan and Ellen Stark grew up listening to their father tell stories at the dinner table about his days as a justice with the state Supreme Court.
Recently, the sisters helped preserve those stories — and completed a journey back in time — by publishing a book that their late father, Judge Thomas Stark, had written called “Horrific Homicides: A Judge Looks Back at the Amityville Horror Murders and Other Infamous Long Island Crimes.”
A lifelong Riverhead resident, Judge Stark’s career spanned more than three decades, including 29 years on the state Supreme Court. He also served as a town councilman, school board member, historian and more.
“Horrific Homicides,” released Oct. 29 by Archway Publishing, recounts four of the most notorious trials Judge Stark presided over during his career.
The judge completed the manuscript in early 2014, but died in April of that year, at the age of 89, before it could be published. His daughters wanted to publish it shortly after his death, but over the years, there were distractions in their lives that didn’t allow that to happen. When the pandemic came, they took advantage of the extra time at home and completed it as a tribute to their father.
“I think COVID forced this to happen,” Ms. Dugan said. “The world shut down all of a sudden and gave us time to focus.”
Ms. Dugan has written and edited for publications including Psychology Today, Health and Science 80 and Ms. Stark is a former deputy editor at Money magazine. They both used their backgrounds in journalism to rigorously fact check and update the manuscript with details taken from some of Judge Stark’s extremely detailed notes, court filings and news reports.
Ms. Dugan, who now lives in Maryland, said it was a daunting task because there was so much material to go through at their family home in Aquebogue.
“I just remember coming in the den — I hadn’t been there for a while — and there was this hard table with files and the couch had files, the whole room was just piles of files,” she said.
The book opens with Judge Stark’s most notorious case: the1974 murders of the DeFeo family, which prompted the best-seller “The Amityville Horror: A True Story” as well as various film adaptations. He ultimately sentenced Ronald DeFeo Jr. to six consecutive jail terms of 25 years to life for the murder of six family members.
Readers then dive into the story of Frances “Vikki” Ardito of Lloyd Harbor, who hired two gunmen in 1976 to kill her unfaithful lover, Benjamin Mattana Jr.
The third case concerns East Northport deli owner Anthony Cisco, who murdered a mother and three young children in 1980 by persuading his teenage clerk to throw an Army smoke grenade through the front window of his neighbor’s house.
The final case involves New York City police patrolman Daniel Gallagher, who shot and killed a fellow officer, Sgt. Jack Sweeny, in a moving car in Brentwood during an alcohol-fueled 1981 St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
The book allows readers to understand why Judge Stark ruled as he did in each case, and dives into the details of the complex legal issues that were raised in each one.
“The book is sort of a window into how a judge thinks about crimes and the trials that follow,” said Ms. Stark, who lives in Manhattan. “It’s very much sort of straightforward story telling of how he saw these crimes and the trials that followed.”
The book is available in soft cover and e-book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Archway Publishing.