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Bill Van Haintze dies at 94; Newsday reporter covered Nassau County crime for decades

Newsday reporter Bill Van Haintze outside Nassau County

Newsday reporter Bill Van Haintze outside Nassau County police headquarters in Mineola in 1981. Photo Credit: Newsday/Jim Peppler

Bill Van Haintze, an old-fashioned, quintessential crime reporter, drank with cops, wore a trench coat and carried rolls of quarters in his pockets for pay phone calls to Newsday's editors.

His first story in 1952 told of a teenage sailor who fell overboard on his first voyage and his last in 1990 was about a $175,000 theft of video equipment.

But whatever broke, Van Haintze was solid. 

"He never seemed rattled no matter how dramatic the story and how tight the deadline," said Howard Schneider, who  was later to become Newsday's top editor. "When you think about it, in terms of making the paper successful, there are a lot of people who get a lot of attention. Bill did not. But day in and day out for almost four decades, he made a contribution. He helped build Newsday into a great paper."

Van Haintze died at age 94 on June 10 in a hospice  near his home in Clearwater, Florida, where he and his older brother, George, had bought nearby condos about 10 years ago so they could grow old together. He had lived in Westbury and Holbrook and summered in his homes on Fire Island and Montauk.

For decades, he covered Nassau County crime, stationed at the Mineola police headquarters' tiny press room. He had a reputation for being a gentleman and a thorough reporter who wanted to get the story right, said two retired  spokesmen for Nassau County police.  

"He didn't ask a lot of questions," said one of them, Ken Cynar, who had been assistant Nassau police commissioner. "He just asked really, really good ones."

 His family said he was naturally curious and an avid reader. Just before he was hired by Newsday, he was a photographer in the Marines, hanging out of plane doors to snap photos with a big, heavy camera.

"He used to read every newspaper, every book," said ex-wife Ida Deckman, of East Moriches. "He missed nothing. He was intrigued by all the stuff. When I first met him, I was like, what is in your pocket? He had rolls and rolls of quarters to make all his phone calls because he didn't miss a thing. He had his pad and his pen out before you could say — you know what I mean?"

When Van Haintze went into a room, she said, he could take a "panoramic" view of it and later repeat who was standing where and what they wore. He had no end of sources, could talk to anyone and was able to sit in a bar with the mob one moment and with police the next, his family said.

He covered more than his share of tragedies — the Avianca plane crash in Cove Neck, the woman who died in a fire in the same room where she had been burned in a blaze years before, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Heroin Trail series — but the stories that got to him were about children, Deckman said.

His own childhood was unhappy, he told his family, but the despair led to unbreakable bonds between him, his older brother, George, and younger brother Jimmy.

A child of the Great Depression, he was about 5 when his mother died and his father abandoned the boys with an aunt in Buffalo. They never saw their father again, although years later Van Haintze went to Europe to search for him and his father's parents.

The aunt couldn't financially care for three boys at one time, his ex-wife said, so she would send one or two boys away, rotating them through the years between her home and an orphanage. She said Van Haintze told her stories of defending his younger brother from the  nuns' beatings when the stress of their childhood made him wet the bed.

He told the nuns: "Please don't do that. It's my baby brother," she recalled.

Years later, when the brothers were grown, a mugger beat up Jimmy, leaving him with permanent injuries. Van Haintze put him in a nursing facility and took care of his younger brother until his death 20 years later, making sure he got whatever he wanted, Deckman said.

She was a 19-year-old nanny from Liverpool, England, and he a "debonair" handsome man of 40 when they met in 1968 at a Christmas party hosted by his friend. For the next year or so, she said, he frequently showered her with surprise gifts in her car, left her favorite cake in her refrigerator and bought her items she admired just walking past a store. 

They were at Jones Beach when he popped the question. " 'I want to do this when I'm old and gray' — sit on the beach and hold my hand," Deckman recalled.

Besides his ex-wife, Van Haintze is survived by his daughter, Lisa Jacquet of Madisonville, Louisiana, and two grandchildren. 

At Van Haintze's request, there were no services because, as his daughter wrote, "he did not want to miss a party honoring him that he cannot attend." He was cremated and, as he wished, some of his ashes will be left at his brother George's Buffalo grave when the family toasts the departed newsman with martinis on his 100th birthday in 2024. 

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