February 21 1990
A Nassau County police officer was questioned yesterday as a prime suspect in the death of an off-duty Suffolk County narcotics detective who was killed last week in a car bombing outside his home in North Patchogue, L.I., a law-enforcement official said.
The official, who requested anonymity, would not give details about the questioning. He said that investigators had not completely ruled out their original suspicion that revenge by drug dealers was the motive for the killing of the 41-year-old undercover detective, Dennis Wustenhoff.
But the official said that the officer who was questioned, Robert Horan, knew that Detective Wustenhoff had been having an affair with Officer Horan’s wife, Nancy. She is a part-time secretary in the Long Island office of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, other law-enforcement officials said.
The officials said Officer Horan was in his 40’s and had been on the force for 20 years. They added that he was most recently assigned to the Emergency Services Bureau but has also worked with a hazardous-materials unit. The officials said that would have given him a working knowledge of explosives and how to detonate them.
The disclosures came to light a day after Detective Wustenoff’s funeral, which was attended by more than 5,000 officers from as far away as Utah. They formed a line of blue nearly half a mile long as a silver hearse carried Detective Wustenhoff’s flag-draped coffin from a funeral home in Patchogue. With black bands of mourning over their badges, the officers stood at attention as a 21-gun salute rang out and a bugler played taps.
Yesterday a team of Suffolk detectives went to Cooperstown, N.Y., where Officer Horan was on vacation, and questioned him, the official said.
Officers from Nassau and Suffolk also converged on the Horans’ house in Bethpage, L.I. As Nassau officers sealed off the house, Suffolk officers arrived with a search warrant. Bomb-sniffing dogs from Suffolk County were brought in, apparently to search for evidence of explosives.
Detective Wustenhoff, who won a Bronze Star in the Vietnam War before joining the Suffolk force in 1970, was killed last Thursday after getting into a white Cadillac Eldorado he used for undercover work. The car was parked outside the house where he lived with his wife, Francine, and three children. It was not clear whether the blast was set off by Detective Wustenhoff’s starting the engine or whether the bomb exploded before he turned the key in the ignition.
Initial Suspicions About Drugs
The police had originally described the bombing as a ”probable assassination” related to his job as a narcotics detective. Police Commissioner Daniel P. Guido said then that the bombing appeared to have been aimed at avenging a conviction or thwarting an investigation that Detective Wustenhoff had been pursuing.
The police said the bomb was a sophisticated device placed under the front seat or attached to the car’s undercarriage. The device blew out the windshield, showering the street with shards of blackened car parts and rocking the quiet neighborhood of well-kept homes.
Detective Wustenhoff was conscious when rescuers pulled him from the car. He was taken by a police helicopter to University Hospital in Stony Brook, L.I., where he died.
The police said they did not know where Detective Wustenhoff was going when the bomb exploded. He had been assigned to the narcotics squad since 1984 and was involved in what the police described as major investigations into high-level narcotics trafficking rather than street-level deals.
Complaints to Authorities
Yesterday, law-enforcement officials said that the investigation changed direction over the weekend and that they began focusing on Detective Wustenhoff’s affair with Officer Horan’s wife.
A Suffolk law-enforcement official said Officer Horan had complained to the Suffolk police about Detective Wustenhoff’s involvement with Officer Horan’s wife a year ago. When the detective’s superiors confronted him, the official said, Detective Wustenhoff told them that the affair had ended. But the official added that the affair was apparently continuing at the time of the bombing.
Suffolk investigators last week sent bomb fragments and pieces of the demolished car to the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Washington to determine the type of explosive used, how the device worked and how much the bomber might have known about explosives.
A spokesman for the bureau, Jack Killorin, said yesterday that the agency had discussed its preliminary results with the investigators. But he refused to disclose what they were. Mr. Killorin said that a complete laboratory analysis would take additional time.
Mr. Killorin said that in the last 11 years there had been 219 bombings of police vehicles nationwide, killing three officers and injuring 55 others.
– James Barron