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Shelter Island minister who was burglary victim dies, cops say

Police investigate on March 19, 2018, at a

Police investigate on March 19, 2018, at a Shelter Island home where officials said retired Rev. Paul Wancura was tied up during a robbery. Wancura died on Monday, April 16, 2018. Credit: AJ Ryan / Stringer News

A retired minister found tied up last month in his Shelter Island bedroom after a home invasion died Monday of injuries suffered in the break-in, police said.

The Rev. Paul Wancura, 87, was bound for at least three days in his Oak Tree Lane home before a minister from his local Episcopal church went to check on him March 19 because he hadn’t shown up the previous day to preach at a Central Islip church, police said.

Wancura had a hand amputated due to being tied up, and although he seemed to rebound earlier this month, he died of sepsis from his injuries, said the Rev. Charles McCarron.

His cries of “help me” led McCarron to find Wancura lying between his bed and the wall.

“I feel like I lost a beloved uncle,” said McCarron, who leads St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Shelter Island.

Suffolk and Shelter Island detectives are still searching for whoever broke into the home. Investigators have taken a “broad” approach to solving the crime and are trying to determine if the home invasion is connected to an April 4 residential burglary nearby, town police said.

One of Wancura’s best friends, who visited him Sunday at Stony Brook University Hospital, said the retired cleric was looking forward to plastic surgeries this week to address wounds from being tied up.

“He had an incredible strength of will and passion for life,” said Kevin Lockerbie, a Stony Brook native who lives in Virginia.“He didn’t know the person who did this and was trying to figure it all out.”

The Queens native and former IBM employee with an MBA was a “lovable” minister, an impeccable dresser and an intelligent conversationalist, not just on Shelter Island but throughout the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, where he had been an archdeacon, his friends said.

He preached 26 years at Caroline Church of Brookhaven in Setauket before officially retiring. Wancura had been feted recently for 50 years of leading services on and off at St. Andrew’s Dune Church in Southampton.

Wancura stood out among ministers because he was so well dressed — a blazer with a hankie in the top pocket, khakis, perhaps even stylish tartan pants, his friends said. When teased by his “fashion police” friends, he’d laughingly tell them, “You don’t know anything,” Lockerbie recalled.

Wancura got his religious “calling” while in Europe as an Army counterintelligence officer during the Korean War, his friend said. When he got back to the states, Wancura studied theology and later met his wife Helena Rommel at a Shelter Island church. She died not long after Wancura retired 17 years ago and they moved into her family’s Shelter Island home.

Even in retirement, the octogenarian often filled in, sometimes for months, at several Episcopal churches around the Island. “He would always say ‘I’m alone, but I’m not lonely,’ ” Lockerbie said.

Wancura was a man of ritual, his friend said, going to bed at sundown and getting up at midnight or so to pray, then be the first one in line at the local gym.

“He was so human,” Lockerbie said. “He understood people’s trials. . . . Even though he had no children — his parish was his life — he was very connected to the common man because he had been one.”

A $10,000 Fast Cash reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest. Police ask anyone with tips or surveillance footage to call Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS or town police at 631-749-0600.

With Zachary R. Dowdy

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