SUFFOLK COUNTY — The three, adult children of a Suffolk County detective who was killed in a car bombing in 1990—right outside their family home in North Patchogue—warned a long-time person of interest that justice may be right around the corner.
Their father, undercover narcotics Detective Dennis Wustenhoff, was 41 years old when he died on Feb. 15, 1990—a pipe bomb detonated under his seat as he started the Cadillac Eldorado that he used in his police work.
“The walls are closing in,” said Melissa Wustenhoff-Scelsi, who was just ten years old when her father was murdered the day after Valentine’s Day 30 years ago. “It’s only a matter of time.”
The suspect that the family focused on was a Nassau County police officer, apparently angry that his wife had an affair with Detective Wustenhoff.
Wustenhoff had worked with the woman at the Drug Enforcement Administration office on Long Island.
The detective’s children told PIX11 during an appearance on Facebook Live Monday night that although this personal revelation is painful, it doesn’t reflect on the man their father was.
“That’s not what defined him,” said Kevin Wustenhoff, who followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Suffolk County Police Department. “He was a great husband and father.”
“My mother and father had gotten past that and were moving forward,” he said.
The Suffolk Police Commissioner on the day of the bombing, Daniel Guido, had speculated an angry drug dealer had targeted Detective Wustenhoff.
Kevin Wustenhoff was 12 years old when his father was killed and speaks glowingly of his dad’s legacy.
“Constant mentoring” of young people, Wustenhoff said.
The son said his father participated in groundbreaking investigations as an undercover narcotics detective.
As a younger man, Dennis Wustenhoff served in the Vietnam War and earned a Bronze Star.
His son said Wustenhoff’s exposure to Agent Orange led to a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis later on, an illness the father recovered from. He never took a sick day.
Kevin Wustenhoff, his mother, Francine, and his sisters, Melissa and Jennifer, met with the Suffolk County Police Commissioner last week.
Commissioner Geraldine Hart asked the FBI to take another look at the case, which initially involved agents from the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
Within a week of the bombing, the New York Times reported a Nassau County police officer was questioned while he was upstate on vacation.
A search warrant was also issued for that officer’s house, but no arrests were ever made.
Detective Wustenhoff’s children now say they think political influences prevented the case from being solved over the last 30 years.
“We’re aware of his connections,” Jennifer Wustenhoff-Lees said of the suspect the family blames for the bombing. “If they were civilians, the outcome would be much different.”
The Suffolk County Police Commissioner released a statement last week that the department’s offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the cold case.
During their appearance on the ‘Mary Murphy Files’ Monday night, the adult children of Detective Wustenhoff shared the difficult memories of the day their father was critically injured, while they were at school.
“The bomb went off, and he lived for three more hours,” Melissa Wustenhoff-Scelsi told PIX11. “He knew he was dying.”
Kevin Wustenhoff described the injuries.
“It obliterated his insides,” Kevin Wustenhoff added. “Every major organ was affected.”
“This person wanted him to suffer,” said Jennifer Wustenhoff-Lees. “Wanted him to know, ‘I got you.’”
The family thinks the bomb inside the undercover car was intended to detonate on Valentine’s Day, with the suspect not realizing Detective Wustenhoff had taken the day off.
“That person wanted him to suffer, and we’re the ones who suffered,” Melissa Wustenhoff-Scelsi said. “ And we carry this pain on our backs for 30 years.”
The brother and sisters said their father’s police colleagues filled his shoes over the years, helping them learn to drive and being present for important occasions.
Melissa Wustenhoff-Scelsi noted that the night before the bombing—on Valentine’s Day 1990—her dad was off from work to attend a father-daughter dance with her.
“He didn’t get to dance with me at my wedding, but I’m grateful we had that last night together,” she said.
Now, she is spearheading a Facebook page, seeking new information on the case.
It’s called Justice for Dennis J. Wustenhoff.