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One year after he was murdered, friends of Lee Pedersen seek answers

In places like Coolspring, Pa., and Dublin, N.H., Lee Pedersen had a recognizable face among antique power enthusiasts.

He knew his way around a gas engine, folks around the hobby will tell you, and for decades he’d participated in trade shows up and down the East Coast imparting his knowledge.

If you bought a machine part from him at places like Pioneer Park or Jacktown Grove, odds are he treated you like an old friend.

“He had some book of knowledge on anything to do with old engines,” said Bruce Young of Riverhead, who knew Mr. Pedersen through the Long Island Antique Power Association. “He was involved with everything and he had an answer for every question.”

Now, a year after Mr. Pedersen’s death, in a violent Aquebogue murder that was overshadowed by an announcement about the arrival of COVID-19 on the North Fork that same day, friends are still searching for an answer to the question that has haunted them for the past 12 months: Who killed Lee Pedersen?

Police investigators at the scene of the murder March 9. (Credit: Stringer News)

Suffolk County police announced Mr. Pedersen’s death on March 9, 2020, saying only that Riverhead Town police, performing a welfare check on the 69-year-old, found him dead of a gunshot wound around 10 p.m. the night before.

In a follow-up interview that week, Det. Lt. Kevin Beyrer, the head of Suffolk’s homicide squad, said no weapon was found inside the Pine Avenue home and there was no sign of forced entry. It was a murder.

For most of the many friends Mr. Pedersen made over the years, that was the last they heard of the investigation and the circumstances surrounding his death. As weeks turned into months and now a year, they continue to puzzle over how a man they knew to be generous and welcoming could have suffered such a brutal ending.

“There’s a whole community out there that’s been waiting to memorialize him,” said Kristina Adams, who grew up in the house next door to Mr. Pedersen on the quiet street between Meeting House and Reeves creeks — a block full of old summer bungalows and renovated homes that leads to the mouth of the Great Peconic Bay. “They want answers, but nobody wants to compromise the investigation.”

In his nearly 70 years on earth, Mr. Pedersen, who split his time between Aquebogue and another home in Lynbrook, made an impact on the lives of countless people from across the country. He had no siblings and his parents were deceased, but Mr. Pedersen had a vast network of friends and business acquaintances near and far. He wasn’t just that guy who sold them a part or talked them through an issue with an engine. To the people we interviewed, he was an unforgettable first love, a generous friend who once helped with the rent and, in one instance, a father figure.

“He’d go out of his way to help someone, and the more they needed help, the more he’d go out of his way.”

Tracy Flack

Tracy Flack was a young girl when her mother, Eileen Flynn, began dating Mr. Pedersen. While they never lived full-time with him, they spent weekends at the Aquebogue cottage his family had owned since the 1930s and traveled to summer trade shows for decades. Able to count on one hand the number of times she’d met her biological father, Ms. Flack said Mr. Pedersen had the bigger hand in raising her.

“He’s really the only father I knew,” said Ms. Flack, who also lost her mom suddenly three years earlier when she suffered heart failure while staying at the cottage. 

“I not only lost my mother and Lee, but also my memories of precious carefree summers by the bay when someone took him so violently,” she added.

Ms. Flack said Mr. Pedersen carried a Monopoly get out of jail free card with him “and even used it once.” He wore short shorts, had long white hair and a beard and lived a sort of hippie existence doing what he loved and assisting those he cared for.

“He’d go out of his way to help someone, and the more they needed help, the more he’d go out of his way,” Ms. Flack said.

Mr. Pedersen and his longtime partner Eileen Flynn. (Courtesy of Tracy Flack)

Deborah Gilfeather was a single mom in Mattituck when she met Mr. Pedersen, who had known her former husband and other friends, and they struck up a friendship of their own. She said she was close to being out on the street one time when Mr. Pedersen was there for her. 

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, don’t get upset. You’re working your butt off. Let me pay this month’s rent,’ ” Ms. Gilfeather recalled.

These kinds of stories come up with anyone you talk to about the man. Ms. Flack said Mr. Pedersen “had a thing for lost causes.” Over the years he’d pick up hitchhikers, give odd jobs to a man who couldn’t find work and let a homeless woman live in a tent in his yard.

“He had compassion all the time in his heart,” Ms. Gilfeather said. “He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.”

Jeffrey Flack, Tracy’s husband, said Mr. Pedersen was the type of person who would rave about a simple detail to make someone feel better. 

Mr. Pedersen had been an enthusiast of antique engines for his entire adult life, ultimately making it his occupation. (Courtesy of Allie Johnson)

Mr. Young, who spoke often with Mr. Pedersen about engines and other antique collectibles, worries that openness led in some way to his friend’s death.

“Maybe the problem was he was too good to everybody,” Mr. Young fears. He imagines maybe a suspect knew about some of the valuables around the cottage or the garage, remarking that the most modern engine his friend owned was nearly a century old. Ms. Gilfeather said her friend was also known to carry cash.

Mr. Pedersen’s body was found after the woman sleeping in the tent on his property phoned police. She hadn’t seen him in a couple of days, friends and neighbors said, and was concerned when his vehicle was still there but he was supposed to be in Lynbrook.

By that point, other friends had already begun to worry. One neighbor called Mr. Young, who hadn’t spoken to him in a week. The Flacks, who now live in Virginia, said they became suspicious a day before his body was discovered. It was his birthday and he hadn’t returned a call.

“Lee always called back,” Mr. Flack said.

Mr. Pedersen with his mother and former girlfriend Allie Johnson in December 1973. Ms. Johnson called Mr. Pedersen her ‘first love.’ (Courtesy of Allie Johnson)

News of his death generated shock waves among those who knew him.

“I was devastated when I heard,” said Allie Johnson of Lynbrook, who dated Mr. Pedersen for seven years, starting when they were teenagers. “It made me feel like somebody scooped my insides out.”

Ms. Johnson said she never forgot about her first love and over the years she’d drive past his home in Lynbrook hoping to catch a glimpse of the man she’d fallen out of touch with. She learned of his death after Googling his name last June.

“It’s just so horrible to think that somebody could do that,” she said. “Especially a gunshot, because it’s gotta be personal.”

The Aquebogue cottage on the day after Mr. Pedersen’s body was found last year. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Suffolk Homicide detectives declined an interview for this story, saying only through a spokesperson that “the investigation is ongoing.” 

“We have no additional information at this time,” police said in a statement.

Ms. Adams, who lived with her parents in the house next door, said friends remain hopeful the case can one day be closed, but know there’s no guarantee they’ll ever get answers.

“It’s a shame they haven’t closed this case,” said Mr. Young. “It’s just strange what happened.”