Slain Larchmont Officer Honored: Arthur Dematte
What Happened 30 Years Ago? What Happened Since?
by Judy Silberstein
(October 18, 2006) After Larchmont Patrolman Arthur Dematte, 46, was fatally shot on Tuesday, October 12, 1976, over 2000 officials, family, friends and fellow officers came from as far as London for his funeral. The only Larchmont officer ever killed in the line of duty, he left a widow, Alice Dematte, and four children, Joyce,19, Jane, 17, Jill, 15, and William,12. When Patrolman Dematte’s sacrifice was honored 30 years later on Sunday, October 15, 2006, officers who served with him over his 19-year career and others who knew of him again joined officials, family and friends, this time filling the traffic circle near the tiny park at the intersection of Palmer Avenue and Parkway dedicated to his memory.
Retired police officers hugged each other; current officers and firefighters stood at attention; and Patrolman Dematte's widow, now Alice Connell, and her family sat in the carefully landscaped park for the brief ceremony led by Police Chief Steve Rubeo.
“For those of us who grew up here, October 12, 1976 is a date we’ll never forget,” said Larchmont Mayor Liz Feld. She was only a teenager then, and her father, Maurice Noyer, was Larchmont's mayor. What happened “we thought was something that could never, never happen,” she said. “We were all rocked from the comfort” of a more innocent time, and “we recognized what police do every day for our safety,” she added.
According to contemporary news reports, Patrolman Dematte was shot in the chest and arm with his own service revolver, apparently snatched from him by Anthony Curtis Blanks, a 23-year-old Missouri man who had been spotted walking erratically along the train tracks in back of the Daitch-Shopwell grocery store that stood at 2141 Palmer Avenue in 1976. The engineer of a New Haven bound train, concerned about the man’s safety, had alerted the New Rochelle police, who forwarded the information to Larchmont. Lieutenant William “Billy” Keresey, who later became chief, was on duty and dispatched Patrolman Dematte to investigate at around 5:45 pm.
Minutes later, when Patrolman Kenneth Kahn appeared as back up, Patrolman Dematte was already lying mortally wounded on one side of the store as the suspect fled in his cruiser. The car was abandoned around 350 feet away down a steep woody bank between the railroad and the thruway as the suspect ran off. Patrolman Kahn along with Detectives Robert Fuller and Peter Gerardi from the Mamaroneck Town police pursued. Anthony Blanks was stopped, with one bullet to his leg, and later arraigned before Village Judge Joseph P. Clifford. In February of 1978, he was convicted of Arthur Dematte’s murder and sentenced to a prison term of 25 years to life.
For historical updates, see: Where Are They Now?
Thirty years later, one Larchmont couple in the crowd at Dematte Park was remembering the slain officer for a life saved, rather than a life ended. Louis and Paula Del Guercio’s daughter, Michelle, was only 20 months old in May of 1967 when her 10-year-old brother, Gino, found her floating face down in the family fish pond at 14 Pryer Lane. Officer Dematte was at the end of the road and “when he got the call, he was over here in a flash,” recalled Paula Del Guercio. Gino had begun resuscitation and Officer Dematte took over.
“Of course, we always thought he was just wonderful and were very, very thankful to him,” said Mrs. Del Guercio. Michelle’s Grandmère, Hortense Del Guercio, showed her appreciation later by donating a piece of her property at Parkway and Palmer to develop the park in Arthur Dematte’s honor.
"He was loved by so many people," said Alice Connell. "He never had a mean bone in his body."
“What comes out of Arthur’s legacy is a great father and husband,” said Police Chief Rubeo, in his remarks. “As police officers we accept that we may have to give up our lives,” he continued. “I’m sure the only thoughts on his mind as his life was ebbing away” were of his wife and children. “Honoring Alice is a way to honor Artie,” he stressed.
“He was a very good policeman and a real family man,” concurred Albert Lowman, police chief in 1976, who commented after the ceremony.
“He touched many people in many ways, all of them positive,” said Officer Matthew Irvine, the current head of the Police Benevolent Association, who summed up the sentiments of everyone who were there to remember Arthur Dematte.
Where Are They Now?
Many of the names appearing in the old news accounts of the Arthur Dematte slaying will be familiar to residents of Larchmont today. For those who have lost touch, below are brief updates.
Michelle Del Guercio (now Michelle Ferri), rescued by Arthur Dematte in 1967, recently celebrated her 40th birthday. She is a photographer and lives in New York City.
Alice Dematte (in photo at right) still lives in Mamaroneck and is married now to Thomas Connell (at right), a long-term member and former chief of the Larchmont Fire Department.
The Dematte Children: Joyce, a former accountant, is married to Peter Scala; they are raising 5 daughters in Southville, Massachusetts. Jane is a physician, married to Kevin D'Amico, living in Hinsdale, Illinois with a daughter and son. Jill is married to Michael D'Alessandro, living in Newtown, Connecticut with two daughters. William, a geologist, lives with wife Debby and 2 daughters in Wilton, New Hampshire.
Anthony Curtis Blanks was convicted of Arthur Dematte's murder. Incarcerated since 1978, he first became eligible for parole in 2001. Requests for parole were denied in 2001, 2003 and 2005. He remains incarcerated at Shawangunk State Prison in Wallkill, NY. His next parole hearing is August, 2007.
Patrolman Kenneth Kahn shot and apprehended Anthony Blanks. Retired from the Larchmont Police Department in 1979 as a sergeant, he returned to the ceremony from his current home in Florida.
Lt. William Keresy (at left with Police Chief Rubeo) was 33 and on duty at the police desk when Patrolman Dematte was shot. A few months later, he became police chief, a post held by his grandfather from 1934 until his death in 1974. He retired in 2001 and now lives in North Carolina, but returned this week for the ceremony.
Police Chief Albert V. Lowman retired in 1976. Now 82, he lives in the Town of Mamaroneck.
Carl A. Vergari, Westchester District Attorney when Anthony Blanks was convicted, served from 1968 to 1993, and died recently, on October 15, 2006, at the age of 84.
Daitch-Shopwell grocery store at 2141 Palmer Avenue, was one of a number of grocery chains in Larchmont in the 1970’s. The store later became an A&P, but is now The Guitar Center.
The Daily Times of Mamaroneck, NY, which published daily reports on the killing of Arthur Dematte and the aftermath, was already a member of the Gannett Group in 1976, though it maintained a local office at 126 Library Lane. In 1998, Gannett combined all its various mastheads under one name, The Journal News.
Historical accounts come from The Mamaroneck Times and the New York Times. The Gazette is grateful to the Mamaroneck Public Library for its preservation of local newspaper back issues and its help in locating the correct editions.