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John Nolan, revered former commander of Nassau police homicide squad, dies at 76

Former Nassau Homicide Squad commanding officer John Nolan

Former Nassau Homicide Squad commanding officer John Nolan speaks at the Bayport-Blue Point Library. Credit: John Nolan Jr.

Justice for the tragically lost was John F. Nolan's number one objective as commander of the Nassau police Homicide Squad. It was a trait that brought comfort to the families left behind and attracted detectives who shared that desire and sought his leadership.

Nolan, a former marine, spent 24 years in the department, including nine years on the homicide squad, where he achieved the rank of detective lieutenant and served as commanding officer from 1987-1991. He was revered for his work ethic and talent and solved some of Nassau’s most high-profile crimes.

"John was a magician with cases," said friend and former Nassau Assistant Police Commissioner Denis Monette, 72, of Massapequa. "He would put his nose to the grindstone and had the utmost respect of everybody who worked with him. People wanted to go work wherever he was working. Detectives would ask, ‘I want to work for Nolan in the (homicide) squad.' "

Nolan, who retired from the department in 1991, died Sept. 18 at his home in Oakdale after a prolonged battle with various illnesses, his family said. He was 76.

"He just loved being a police officer," said son, John F. Nolan Jr., 53, of Bayport. "He found it very exciting. He took a lot of interest in helping the people that were victims and wanted to see that they did receive some kind of comfort."

Nolan was involved, directly or indirectly, with 400 murder cases throughout his tenure, according to a Newsday article written two weeks before his 1991 retirement. Among those included some high-profile killing were the 1986 stabbing of Yeshiva student Chaim Weiss, the arrest of 21-year-old Robert Golub for the 1989 killing of his 13-year-old neighbor Kelly Tinyes, the 1983 stabbing of 14-year-old Newsday paperboy Christopher Gruhn, and the 1982 armed robbery of the Sea Crest Diner in Old Westbury.

Nassau Commissioner of Police Patrick Ryder said in a statement Wednesday that Nolan served "with dignity and professionalism" and was "well respected among the ranks."

Many of the murder cases Nolan's team handled were front-page news. Nolan took pride in his ability to work with the media to inform the public without hurting the integrity of the investigation.

"He was on Channel 12 news all the time," said Nolan Jr. "He’d be on the major news networks as well, whether it was ABC, NBC, CBS. He had a great relationship with the media. He would always say he would be able to give the reporters enough for a story, but not too much that it would ruin the case or give out key information."

Added Monette: "Probably the best voice ever for the Nassau County police department. He was an articulate speaker."

Nolan was not only known for his clear and concise nature, but also his trustworthiness and credibility.

"John was like the Walter Cronkite of the police department," said former Nassau first deputy police commissioner Jack Costello, 72, of Fort Salonga. "He came across as honest, straightforward, and he was excellent at his job. For many years, he was the face of the department. I used to kid around with him that he used to get more airtime than Regis Philbin because he was always on TV."

Born Feb. 9, 1944, Nolan grew up in Elmhurst, Queens — the third of four children born to Irish immigrants Edward and Alice Nolan. He served in the Marines for four years in the early to mid-1960s before being honorably discharged, his son said.

After graduating from the police academy and joining the Nassau County Police Department in 1967, he earned a bachelor’s degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and added a master’s degree from Dowling College, his son said.

Nolan, who lived in Brentwood for 25 years before moving to Oakdale in late 1990s, was also a member of the Nassau County Police Department Emerald Society pipe band for 20 years, playing bag pipes, snare drum, and leading the band as a drum major, Nolan Jr. said.

After leaving the police department, Nolan Sr. became an assistant vice president for National Westminster Bank in Melville and, later, a general manager at Summit Security Service, Inc. — a security guard company that arranged security at high-profile locations, such as the World Trade Center, Fordham and Columbia universities, and NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center.

In retirement, Nolan self-published five fiction books, drawing from his experiences on the homicide squad. In conjunction with the books, he gave talks at the Bayport-Blue Point and Connetquot Public Libraries, Nolan Jr. said.

"He always wanted to write," said daughter-in-law Mary Nolan, 58, of Bayport. "That was his dream when he retired, to write books. He started almost immediately."

In addition to his son and daughter-in-law, Nolan is survived by his wife of 54 years, Burgunde Nolan of Oakdale, daughters Deborah Brennan of Holtsville and Jacqueline Nolan of Island Park, sisters Marie Esposito of Florida and Alice Capella of Staten Island, and four grandchildren. A wake/funeral will be held 4-8 p.m. Thursday at Robertaccio Funeral Home in Patchogue. He will be cremated, Nolan Jr. said.

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