By Peter Sloggatt
With the recent turnover of top police brass at Suffolk County Police Department, the arrest by the feds of its chief, James Burke, on assault and conspiracy charges, and a highly publicized update on efforts to solve the Gilgo Beach murders – including a renewed relationship with FBI investigators – Gary Melius is asking, “What about me?”
It’s been nearly two years since the Oheka owner and political power broker was shot as he sat in his car outside the castle he calls home. Although he survived the botched assassination attempt after the gun jammed, preventing the shooter from getting off any more shots, Melius said he suffers lingering effects from the bullet fired at his head through the window of his Mercedes-Benz.
According to reports, the bullet struck Melius’s temple, but spared him what could have been more critical injuries. Still, vision in his left eye is compromised, and he is grounded by occasional seizures that prevent him from driving.
Melius has been healing since the Feb. 24, 2014 shooting. Gone is the halting speech seen in a video released shortly after he was released from the hospital a month after the incident. Today he walks the rooms of the castle, greeting restaurant customers and hotel guests, always ready with a joke and a laugh. But he remains haunted by the thought that somebody out there will come back to harm him.
“There’s someone out there who wants me dead,” Melius said. “I’ll always be looking over my shoulder.”
Melius said that in nearly two years, police have made little progress on his case, despite worldwide publicity, more than $100,000 in reward money, and what he called some pretty good evidence.
Although the shooting occurred off camera, grainy surveillance video captured images of a light colored, four-door Jeep Grand Cherokee with five-spoke rims leaving the castle grounds after the shooting. When video stills were released by police in June 2014, police said the Jeep had also been seen “driving in a reckless manner” in the area of W. 11th Street in Huntington shortly after the incident.
With no breaks in the case after a year, family and friends of Melius put together a reward fund offering $100,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Now, with the two-year mark approaching, the resignation of Suffolk Chief of Detectives William Madigan on Dec. 9 and the impending retirement of Commissioner Edward Webber on Jan. 1, Melius fears the case will only grow colder.
“Who’s looking at this? It’s been almost two years. Just before Burke was indicted they made a big show of how they’re investigating the Gilgo Beach murders. After years of not cooperating with the FBI under Burke, the police are asking the FBI for help. Why aren’t they doing that with my case?” Melius asked.
Melius said his own efforts to get the investigation reinvigorated have gone unheeded.
“On October 1, I called and spoke with County Executive Steve Bellone and asked for him to call in the FBI. I told him that Burke never wanted to bring in the FBI and that may be an issue. He said he would look into it and get back to me. He never responded. I placed several calls and sent emails and still no response. When he was campaigning and needed support he knew how to call me. Now he does not extend me even the courtesy of a return call or email as you would do for any constituent, let alone a friend and victim of a violent crime. Why is he being callous and outwardly rude? Is he afraid of what will come out if the feds are called into the investigation? Maybe once in they will broaden the scope?”
Melius wants the hunt for his would-be assassin, like the Gilgo murders, to get a fresh look and to be turned over the FBI.
“The only way I can feel safe is to see whoever did this caught and put away. Until that happens, I can never really feel safe,” he said.
County spokesman Justin Meyers would not comment on Melius’ case – or any specific case – as a matter of policy, but said new leadership in the police department will be making a “top-to-bottom review” of open cases. “That includes major investigations,” he said.
A good part of the leadership team’s focus will be on “rebuilding relationships with federal investigators,” Meyers said. In their review of open cases, they will be looking at all murder, attempted murder and shooting investigations, he added.