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Dec 16, 2016 11:45 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

For 30 Years, Suspect In Southampton Double Murder Case Has Eluded Capture, Justice

Michael Stephens, senior investigator, Troop L, Bureau of Criminal Investigation, based in Riverside with one of the four volumes of paperwork in the case. JOSEPH SHAW
Dec 19, 2016 10:24 AM

He turned 72 in October. He’s tall, nearly 6 feet, and probably stocky, pushing 200 pounds. What hair he has left is probably gray. He has blue eyes. A trendy dresser. Probably a hint of booze on his breath, and unimaginable skeletons in his closet.

Or maybe he is none of this. His penchant for cocaine and heavy drinking might well have put him in the ground years ago.

Either way, he’s a ghost.

William Peter Fischer pulled off the seemingly impossible exactly 30 years ago: He simply disappeared.

He did it after what investigators believe was a horrific night of violence at his Shinnecock Hills home, when he murdered his 19-year-old son, Billy, and also killed his son’s 21-year-old friend, Nancy Hyer, who had merely given him a ride that evening to his father’s house. Their bodies were found more than a week later—on December 21, 1986—in the trunk of Ms. Hyer’s 1981 Pontiac, which was parked at the Southampton Elks Lodge on County Road 39.

Investigators reportedly had a wealth of evidence linking Mr. Fischer to the double murder. But when an indictment on murder charges was handed down by a grand jury two months later, it was too late. The suspected killer of two was gone—seemingly off the face of the earth, without a trace.

Three decades later, it is the oldest cold case being investigated by the State Police on Long Island, and there is almost no trace of William Peter Fischer, no leads to follow, hardly any tips to run down.

Alive or dead, he has gotten away with murder—so far.

An Unsolved Mystery

Michael Stephens sits at a conference room table at the Riverside barracks of the State Police and drops a binder on the table. Over his shoulder is a poster with a gentle reminder: “Every Crime Victim Matters.”

This binder, filled with yellowed sheets a few inches thick, is just one of four such volumes. And Mr. Stephens, a senior investigator with Troop L’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, is just the latest investigator to take up this cold case. It’s been his for the past four and a half years, and at least a half dozen others have handled it before him. The binders are stuffed with supplemental reports and handed down to the next investigator, like the heaviest of batons.

Mr. Stephens makes it clear: He’s not just going through the motions. “We are actually in hopes of finding this guy,” he says. But so far Mr. Fischer has proven to be absolutely elusive—not on the run, seemingly, so much as perfectly camouflaged in a new life. Somewhere.

The facts of the case, as documented in that stack of papers, are mostly clear, and simple, and have been widely disseminated over the years: The case has been featured prominently on television shows like “America’s Most Wanted” and “Unsolved Mysteries.” Today, they live on websites documenting the details of the case, which seems frozen in time.

Here’s what investigators know, and have shared:

In December 1986, William Peter Fischer was 42 years old and a successful car salesman who worked for a luxury dealership in Manhattan. He owned a house fronting Old Fort Pond in Shinnecock Hills, down the dead-end Little Neck Road. Mr. Stephens said investigators found that his neighbors knew little about him. Mr. Stephens said Mr. Fischer had a criminal past, a larceny charge from back in the 1960s, but had never been accused of a violent crime.

Over the years, investigators learned a few more details about his life. In 2002, State Police Senior Investigator Stephen J. Oates, who then had the case, spoke with the television show “Unsolved Mysteries” and revealed that Mr. Fischer’s “very high salary” had allowed a man already known as a heavy drinker to focus on a new vice. “The investigation determined that he began using cocaine extensively to the point that it affected his performance at his place of employment,” Mr. Oates said.

Around that time, Billy Fischer made a fateful decision to reconnect with his father, who had left his mother, Joan, and the family some 15 years earlier. Billy Fischer lived with his mother and brother, Jason, upstate, Mr. Stephens said, and was mostly estranged from his father. But in December 1986, suffering from cystic fibrosis, a chronic respiratory condition, and with mounting medical bills, he apparently decided it was time to approach his father, possibly for financial support.

To get all the way to the South Fork, he called on a new friend, Nancy Hyer. “Unsolved Mysteries” reported that they had met just weeks earlier, on a train in New York City, and Billy Fischer did her a kindness, escorting the lost young woman back to her home in Hicksville. Just three weeks later, she agreed to return the favor by driving him on a stormy night to William Fischer’s house in Shinnecock Hills.

Investigators believe they arrived at the elder Fischer’s house on Wednesday night, December 10, 1986—possibly after an invitation to dinner.

Nobody outside the house can say what transpired over the next 24 hours. But the evidence suggests mayhem.

Blood And Fibers

December 1986 was a warm month, with temperatures staying firmly in the 40s and 50s, about 15 degrees above average. After a week or more parked in the Elks lot, there was no mistaking the smell from the 1981 Pontiac. Specifically, the trunk.

The manager of the lodge had noticed the car parked there for several days and shrugged it off, thinking it was simply a member who had left a vehicle in the lot for a few days. But on December 21, the odor was enough to prompt a call to police.

State Police found two bodies in the trunk covered in a blanket. They ran the license plate and it came back to Ms. Hyer, who had been reported missing by her family to Nassau County Police.

Billy Fischer’s body was riddled with 18 bullets, all fired from short range—and most targeting his head. Underneath him was the body of Nancy Hyer; an autopsy later revealed that she had been stabbed twice “with a very long, sharp instrument,” according to investigators.

By the next day, State Police had conducted the first interview with William Fischer. He told police that, yes, his son and his friend had come to dinner on December 10 and left the house the following day. He had not heard from them since.

Today, State Police investigators say they believe Ms. Hyer drove Billy Fischer to Shinnecock Hills on December 10, then received a call from him the next day and went back to pick him up from his father’s house. That is likely when the murders took place.

“Unsolved Mysteries,” which worked with State Police investigators for its presentation, said that Ms. Hyer’s family had actually spoken with William Fischer just a day after her murder. Worried that she had not come home, her mother and sister called police, but it was too early to declare her officially missing. According to “Unsolved Mysteries,” they searched Nancy’s bedroom and found William Fischer’s phone number in Shinnecock Hills.

When they called him, the father “seemed very forthcoming and he was concerned about his own son,” Nancy Hyer’s mother, Joan, told “Unsolved Mysteries.” He told the worried mother that the two had dinner at his house two nights earlier and left in her car.

Days later, having filed a missing person report, Joan Hyer tried one more time to speak to the last person she knew who saw her daughter alive, William Fischer. This time, she told “Unsolved Mysteries,” he had a different tone. “He flew off the handle and told me, ‘Let the police handle this. I have no idea where these kids went.’ And he became very, very hostile over the phone.”

“Unsolved Mysteries” reported that investigators did hear one tip from neighbors: That William Fischer had been observed seeming to remodel his master bedroom in the middle of the night.

Police obtained a search warrant. Investigators today say they found “blood and fibers matching the victims” in a vacuum cleaner. There was evidence of blood that had been cleaned off the house’s walls. Noticing indentations in a wall, police removed it and found a pair of .22-caliber bullets behind it. State Police told “Unsolved Mysteries” that a single strand of hair was fused to one of the bullets, and it was later identified as Billy Fischer’s.

“That established the crime scene,” Mr. Oates told the television program. “Additional testing established that there was a large amount of blood, splattered all about the hallway. This was consistent with Nancy being stabbed in that area immediately outside the master bedroom.”

‘He Disappeared’

Michael Stephens, who is the latest State Police investigator to take over the cold case, is in a bit of a bind: He has many questions, as do others, and very few answers. He is left to defend his fellow investigators and their efforts from three decades earlier, even though he knows only what he reads in the binders.

He said there is plenty of evidence that William Fischer was cooperative with police throughout the investigation, and never changed his story or acted suspicious. “There were no bells and whistles that went off, suggesting that he was going to flee,” he said.

Investigators moved quickly to make their case to a Suffolk County grand jury. An indictment was handed down on February 25, 1987, about two months after the bodies were found—Mr. Stephens noted that it was a speedy turnaround for such a major case, which suggests that investigators did an “awesome job” and had solid evidence.

A warrant was issued for the arrest of William Peter Fischer, on two counts of second-degree murder.

Throughout the investigation, Mr. Fischer stayed in contact with State Police. He obtained an attorney, Laurence Jeffrey Weingard, who State Police said was working with prosecutors to arrange a “legal surrender,” where Mr. Fischer would appear for arraignment on the charges in court.

Instead, as Mr. Stephens notes, “He disappeared.”

His Mercedes-Benz was found by Port Authority Police parked in a lot at JFK Airport in Queens—and there was evidence that it had been there since February 11, more than two weeks before the indictment and warrant.

There were reports that he had taken out a mortgage on his Shinnecock Hills house in the period between the murders and his disappearance, adding $100,000 to what likely was already a sizable amount to fund his flight from justice. “He led a middle- to upper-class lifestyle, so he likely left with enough money to take you anywhere you’d want to go,” Mr. Stephens said. “Our guess is that he might not be in the country. But no one really knows.” A pause. “No one really knows.”

Thirty years later, Laurence Jeffrey Weingard is still an attorney in Garden City, now with 51 years as a member of the bar. On one hand, he recalls the case only broadly: He said the reports that he was to arrange a surrender for his client was “very much my style.”

“All I know is: I never got paid, and the guy just disappeared,” he said last week, reached by phone. “There are a lot of people who disappear. I mean, look at the blotter—people run all over the place.”

On the other hand, the former homicide prosecutor said it had been the first time a client had ever disappeared when he had made arrangements for him to surrender. After that, he admits, he assumed Mr. Fischer had been caught and found another attorney. “I didn’t know it’s been cold for 30 years,” he said of the case against his former client.

He maintains that he remembers only “the barest of facts,” and points out that even if he did remember anything, if it was substantive, attorney-client privilege would still be in effect—regardless of the fact that he was never paid.

“It’s a very, very strange case,” Mr. Weingard said, remembering just one detail: Prosecutors, at the time he was arranging Mr. Fischer’s surrender, talked of having “special evidence” and “irrefutable evidence.” It was intriguing to Mr. Weingard, because DNA testing had begun in 1985, and the first conviction based on the new technology in the United States was in 1987. Prosecutors never said “DNA,” he noted—but is it possible that William Peter Fischer might have been one of the first cases where the new tests might have played a role in his conviction?

The Hunt Goes On

Mr. Stephens declined to say if investigators obtained any DNA evidence, explaining that the case is still active. The lack of information about evidence is one of the many lingering, and frustrating questions, about the case today.

Mr. Stephens said he has no record of there being DNA evidence in the case, not even any fingerprints. But it’s one of many lingering questions—frustrating questions, both for anyone looking at the case today, and for the man in charge of the investigation.

How does a man just disappear? After a murder investigation where there was an “awesome job” collecting evidence?

“It’s a lot harder to do today,” Mr. Stephens replied. “I’d say it might have been a lot easier to do back then.”

Was it unusual that one victim was shot, repeatedly, and another was stabbed? Mr. Stephens nodded. “You would think he would use the same weapon on both,” he acknowledged.

His car at JFK? “Lots of people ask the question: Didn’t you try to get the information from the airport?” He nods, but has no answer—the binders offer no clue. Defending his fellow investigators from 1986, he said, “They most likely ran into a brick wall.” He admits that the file never even makes clear if William Peter Fischer had a passport at the time of his disappearance. His Social Security number has never been used in the last three decades.

Today, finding the fugitive, alive or dead, is a long shot—but investigators haven’t given up. An FBI consultant provided an age enhancement of a photograph, showing Mr. Fischer as he might appear as a 72-year-old today. Interpol has all of his information. A warrant remains open with the FBI, the U.S. Marshals were recently briefed again on the occasion of the anniversary and hope to use new technology in the search, and investigators recently sat down again with the Suffolk County district attorney’s office.

“Working a 30-year-old homicide, clearly, it presents challenges,” said Lieutenant Jose Febo of State Police Troop L’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which covers Long Island. “While investigative tools, tactics and techniques have evolved substantially over the last 30 years, there is one factor that has not changed: That factor is the relentless tenacity of our investigators to bring a murderer to justice.”

Mr. Stephens said there have been tips over the years, people with “a lot of similarities” to William Peter Fischer, a strong resemblance to his photos circulated by police. None has panned out; one turned out to be a pastor. There have been a few promising leads, he said, but quickly added, “You hope they’re all promising.”

There are no new leads in the case, which remains active. Mr. Stephens said some old leads, reviewed and dismissed, are being looked at again after 30 years to see if anything was missed. The State Police recently highlighted the cold case, and there is hope that the media reports will stir up something.

Some believe Mr. Stephens truly is chasing a ghost, that a man known to use crack cocaine and to drink heavily, and who is carrying around the memory of a brutal double murder, is unlikely to have reached the age of 72. “They felt if he continued the lifestyle he had back then, he’s probably deceased,” he said.

No matter, he says. “Until I see a body, the case is going to remain open and actively worked.”

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By Pacman (273), East Quogue on Dec 21, 16 12:06 PM
Why does the guy in the photo and the book he is looking at appear to have a blue glow?
By Rich Morey (378), East Hampton on Dec 21, 16 12:16 PM
1 member liked this comment
He is one with The Force and The Force is with him.
By Pacman (273), East Quogue on Dec 21, 16 12:19 PM
2 members liked this comment
Somebody who is "nearly 6 feet" is considered TALL now???
By Michael Wright (25), Southampton on Dec 21, 16 2:29 PM
Joe digs deep for a rare byline--all the way back to The Independent a month ago. STill unsolved!
By fire11 (276), east hampton on Dec 23, 16 12:16 AM
Yes, Rick, your story was very good too.
By Joseph Shaw, Executive Editor (206), Hampton Bays on Dec 23, 16 9:15 PM
Mike, when are you considered elderly??? OLD maybe? Tall / short, large / small, big/ large... Not tall?
What is your point??????????????????
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Dec 23, 16 6:24 PM