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DEC seeks new leads in 1981 drowning case of Mattituck couple

Michelle and William Becker are seen here in

Michelle and William Becker are seen here in an undated photo. Department of Environmental Conservation officers said Tuesday, March 8, 2016, that they are offering $15,000 for new information in the deaths of the couple on the night of March 10, 1981. Credit: Michael Malkush

Thirty-five years after police pulled the bodies of a conservation officer and his wife from Mattituck Inlet, his fellow officers are seeking new leads in a case that has long baffled the couple’s North Fork community.

Department of Environmental Conservation officers said Tuesday that, in advance of the 35th anniversary of the case, they are offering $15,000 for new information in the deaths of William and Michelle Becker of Mattituck on the night of March 10, 1981.

The case has hung for decades over William’s former colleagues at the DEC and the couple’s relatives, who said they could never quite accept police’s explanation that the pair accidentally drowned.

“We’ve always had the case open. We’ve always pondered what happened,” said Maj. Scott Florence, who leads the DEC’s Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation and probed the Beckers’ deaths in the 1990s.

Suffolk County homicide detectives said in a statement Tuesday that they “would be open to receiving any new information anyone had to provide.”

Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The DEC officers’ union and fraternal organization raised money for the reward, the largest in the department’s history.

Michelle, 36, raised three children while running her beauty salon that, despite changes in ownership, is still called Michelle’s, said her brother, Michael Malkush of Cutchogue.

William, 43, he said, was a 15-year veteran of the DEC who took the North Fork assignment after patrolling elsewhere on Long Island.

They were last seen leaving a dinner party at the Mattituck home of Arthur Siemerling, a local heating oil dealer, about 11 p.m. on a brisk Tuesday night, police said.

William’s body was found 12 hours later in what was then called Matt-A-Mar marina, his foot caught on a boat’s swim platform and his arm tangled in electrical cable, in his forest green DEC uniform. He had a lump on his head, police said.

A Suffolk County police diver found Michelle’s body 40 feet from her husband’s about 20 hours later. Her slippers were on the dock near Siemerling’s boat.

Police said at the time that it appeared the couple took a detour to the boat on their way home from the dinner party. Yet relatives say a late-night trip to the dock seemed out of character for William, who was cautious and reserved.

William seemed to have drowned trying to save Michelle, who could not swim, then-Southold Town Police Chief Carl Cataldo told Newsday in 1981.

But Malkush said he felt police came to that conclusion too quickly, just hours after a marina worker found William’s body and before police discovered Michelle’s.

“I’m there in shock saying, ‘Why aren’t you out there looking for my sister?’ ” said Malkush, 64, a retired teacher.

Timothy Becker, the oldest of the couple’s three children, said he and his siblings are “so disenchanted with how the initial investigation took place” and want closure.

“My mother’s body wasn’t even found yet, and Southold Town police detectives already put together exactly what happened and sold it to us as fact,” said Becker, 51, who lives in Southern California.

Malkush has hired two private investigators over the years. After 35 years, he said, police risk losing witnesses to old age.

“It’s going to take somebody to talk,” he said. “Somebody on their deathbed, or somebody who finds religion, or somebody with a guilty conscience.”

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