As a judge for three decades, John V. Vaughn presided over some of Suffolk County's biggest cases -- from murder to corruption and organized crime.

The longtime Lindenhurst resident retired to North Palm Beach, Fla., 15 years ago. He died Tuesday of natural causes at 81.

Nine weeks earlier, his wife of 57 years, Mary, died of cancer.

"There was no point in sticking around anymore, without my mother," said a daughter, Ann Huntington, 49. "He wanted to be with her."

Born into an Irish family in the Bronx, Vaughn grew up in the borough's Mott Haven neighborhood. His mother, Delia, cleaned houses; his father, Thomas, was an engineer, Huntington, of Oakdale, said.

Vaughn graduated from Manhattan College and served in the Army during the Korean War, then put himself through law school, working full-time at an insurance company. At night, he took classes at St. John's law school, all the while raising the first four of his seven children in a one-bedroom apartment.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The family later moved from the Bronx to Lindenhurst, where Vaughn decided to leave his job as an attorney and become a judge.

"He wanted security for his family," Huntington said.

After serving as a district court judge, he was elected to the county court in 1978. His major cases included allegations of mob infiltration of Long Island's garbage-hauling industry to a bizarre plot to poison three Suffolk politicians with radium.

In 1992, he freed Leonard Callace, a Sound Beach man wrongly convicted of sexual assault -- the second person in New York to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

A former colleague, Harry Seidell of Dix Hills, had high praise for Vaughn's work on the bench, calling him an "excellent" judge.

Seidell also lauded Vaughn's work in the kitchen. There was a small one next to the courtroom that he used to whip up lunches.

"He would cook hamburgers if we wanted hamburgers, ham, roast beef . . . He enjoyed food, [and] so did we."

Vaughn's friends in the courthouse affectionately called him "Riverhead Red," a nod to the color of his hair, which he shared with his wife and all of their children.

Vaughn had a stroke in 2003 and spent his final years unable to walk or talk, Huntington said. His wife was his caregiver until her death.

Other survivors include six of his seven children -- sons Thomas and John Jr., and daughters Huntington, Maureen Glass, Jean Skaalerud, and Eileen DiMarzo; sister Ann Murphy; 16 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. A daughter, Patricia, died of cancer in 1978, at 19.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Vaughn's funeral was Friday at Lindenhurst Funeral Home. He was buried at Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn.