Weekly Feature

2018-11-08 / Front Page

The end of the line

McMaster retires after 25 years with OPPD

Detective Bureau colleagues since 2006, former Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster and Detective John Payne worked on a number of high-profile cases, including the 2009 murder of Angela Moss. In June 2016, Police Chief Mark Pacholec presented a distinction to Payne for his work on the case. McMaster, his supervisor, looks on with approval. Photo by Chuck Skipper Detective Bureau colleagues since 2006, former Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster and Detective John Payne worked on a number of high-profile cases, including the 2009 murder of Angela Moss. In June 2016, Police Chief Mark Pacholec presented a distinction to Payne for his work on the case. McMaster, his supervisor, looks on with approval. Photo by Chuck Skipper The anchor. The professor. A savant. A genius. A rock. Irreplaceable.

These were just a few of the thoughts that came to mind for officers, detectives and high-ranking police officials in Orchard Park when describing outgoing Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster.

Following 25 years in the department, McMaster retired from his post two months ago, ending a career that made him one of the most indispensable members of the force.

An unlikely start A career in law enforcement wasn’t always in the cards for McMaster, and the opportunity for it to occur was an unusual circumstance.

Former Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster stops for a photo with one of his sons, Ryan, and his wife, Becky, during his retirement party from the Orchard Park Police Department. Former Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster stops for a photo with one of his sons, Ryan, and his wife, Becky, during his retirement party from the Orchard Park Police Department. A friend of McMaster’s told him he was going to take the civil service exam to become a police officer. In between jobs at the time, McMaster decided it was a good idea for him to take the exam, too.

“He ends up in a car accident,” said McMaster of the friend before the test. “His application is stuck in his car in a garage over the weekend when it becomes due. I end up taking the test and did well enough to finish in the top three, and Orchard Park happened to be hiring at that time.”

McMaster had no strong desire to become a police officer. It hadn’t been a dream of his since being a child. He describes the entire situation of taking the test, performing well and ending up in the department as happenstance. Happenstance or not, the life of a police officer grew on McMaster quickly.

“Once I started into it, I enjoyed it tremendously,” he said. “When I got hired I was working at the Ford Stamping Plant in Hamburg … and didn’t really care for the work I was doing at the stamping plant. This was a step towards something that I wanted to do more so than what I was doing.”

During the summer of 1993 — July to be exact — McMaster joined the department and immediately favored the change of pace police work provided compared to working in a factory.

“Every day was different; it wasn’t the same old thing,” he said. “You never knew what you were going to deal with until you were dealing with it. It was a constant change of things, which I totally enjoyed.”

Beginning his career as a patrol officer, McMaster started interacting with senior officers to get a better grasp of the department. He added that he picked the brains of Bob Ziehm, Chuck Sherry Sr., Joe Kadi, Robert Henning and Samuel McCune.

“Those were some of the first guys that had any kind of an impact on me,” he said.

Working midnight shifts throughout his eight-year tenure as a patrol officer, Mc- Master said his early years dealt with a number of calls involving problematic bars in the area.

“Quite often, working the overnight shifts there were just three officers working, including the lieutenant, so we would be responding to bar fights where there were a lot of people and three of us, unless we were able to get another agency to back us up,” he said.

McMaster would operate as a midnight shift patrol officer from 1993 until 2001 when he was promoted to the position of patrol lieutenant following Mary Ann Hobar’s retirement. He served as a midnight patrol lieutenant from 2001 to 2006. From there he would move on to the portion of the career that made him an invaluable asset to the department — being reassigned to detective lieutenant.

Leading the bureau

When he joined the department, McMaster said he always had a desire to be a detective. While that position never came to fruition, he would end up leading the Detective Bureau in 2006.

The switch allowed him to move to day shifts and spend more time with his family, but with heading the bureau, Mc- Master would soon be spending an immense amount of time investigating some of the department’s most noteworthy cases.

One of the first major cases he dealt with was the burglary of a home on Ellicott Road next to Hillcrest Fire Hall in the winter of 2006. The case involved noted criminal Robert Henchen.

McMaster worked closely with Joseph Wehrfritz, who was a detective at the time. Wehrfritz found a tire track in the driveway at the scene and did a plaster cast, getting a print that tied to Henchen.

Henchen, who was living in Colden with his mother in-law and wife, had been on police radar for some time due to past incidents. Around the time of the burglary, there had been a couple of fires in the Colden area.

The Orchard Park Police Department obtained a search warrant that ultimately led to solving two outstanding homicide cases being investigated by the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and State Police.

“That was the murder of Robert Henchen’s neighbor, where the house was set on fire, and the murder of Robert’s wife’s aunt in Marilla, that he was ultimately arrested for,” McMaster said.

The diligent police work by Wehrfritz and McMaster paid off.

“Our burglary ended up leading us to get some of the information … to assist the State Police and Sheriff’s Department with their investigation and ultimately leading to the arrest of Robert Henchen.”

While waiting for trial, Henchen died in the Erie County Holding Center in 2007.

The year 2009 brought two homicide investigations for the department, both of which took a toll on McMaster and the bureau.

On Feb. 12, 2009, the same day most people were focused on Flight 3407 crashing in Clarence Center, Orchard Park police officers were sent to Bridges TV on Thorn Avenue for a report that Muzzammil “Mo” Hassan had beheaded his wife, Aasiya.

McMaster received a call around 6 p.m., as he was sitting down for dinner with his family, to investigate the call. According to McMaster, Hassan had come to the window of the Orchard Park Police Department saying something to the extent that he just killed his wife.

A detective and lieutenant headed to the Muslim television station the Hassans had co-founded, opened the door and saw Aasiya dead.

“We spent the next two or three days there processing that scene,” McMaster said. “We don’t get a lot of homicides. There hadn’t been a homicide in Orchard Park in many, many years.”

Taking over the scene, Mc- Master enlisted the help of several police agencies and the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. He said the game plan involved getting search warrants, interviewing Hassan and family members, looking for video and processing the scene.

“It was hundreds of hours dealing with that for the three of us just in the first few days,” McMaster said. “But then as it went on, it took months to make sure we interviewed everyone we could, got any evidence — getting video from Walmart where he purchased the knives that he ultimately used to kill her, doing a search warrant of the house and looking for evidence. Basically, you put your life on hold at that point.”

Hassan was charged on Feb. 12 with murder in the second degree.

It wasn’t until a few days after the case that McMaster and some of the other officers began to comprehend what occurred to the north of their jurisdiction.

“We were stuck there for three days with little time away from there, so it wasn’t until after about Feb. 14 or 15 where we started to talk a little bit more about everything that was going on with Flight 3407,” McMaster said. “We were so engrossed and engaged with what we were doing that we pretty much blocked out everything else that was happening.” None of us [McMaster, Wehrfritz, Detective John Payne] saw our families for several days.”

McMaster described the three-day stretch working on the case as the most grueling experience of his career.

Hassan received the maximum sentence of 25 years to life for murder in the second degree in March 2011.

The second homicide was Aug. 27, 2009, when police began investigating the death of Angela Moss, who was shot in the back of the head and found on the side of California Road.

McMaster, who was on vacation and then dealing with the death of his father, didn’t join the case until the second week. Wehrfritz, Payne and Officer, then Detective, Joe Kadi took the lead on the case, along with numerous other agencies assisting.

“Ultimately, I was involved with a lot of the interviews of witnesses,” McMaster said. “Unlike the first one [Hassan murder case], it was a ‘Who done it?’”

The case involved significant legwork and surveillance, trying to tie Moss’ fiance, Ronald Epps, to the murder.

“We spent more hours on that case than the Mo Hassan case,” said McMaster, noting that it featured a much larger crime scene and involved interviewing neighbors of Epps in Amherst and other key individuals in Buffalo.

McMaster said the department was quite certain through the investigation that Epps was guilty of the murder. He added that Epps’ story didn’t add up in regard to telephone records of the night in question.

“From what I’m told, he wasn’t believable at the scene, McMaster said. “His grief was not believable.”

Epps has still not been charged with the murder.

“We had every reason to believe based on our investigation that he was responsible,” McMaster said. “The information was presented to the District Attorney’s Office, and at the time they didn’t feel there was enough to take it to trial, so he never was convicted, never charged with the murder.

McMaster said Epps is in federal custody on numerous charges of insurance fraud, wire fraud, felony possession of a weapon, drug charges and other infractions. He added that the time for those crimes is more than he would have received had he been convicted of the murder.

“He never testified, but he still maintains his innocence on that,” McMaster said.

McMaster would deal with a lengthy homicide investigation once more on July 7, 2014, forming a case against Sean Keenan for the murder of his father, John.

“We got a call from Canadian officials at the border regarding an individual who had just tried crossing the Rainbow Bridge using identification of an individual that ends up being his deceased father,” McMaster said.

The border patrol asked if the department could do a secondary check of the home on Hillsboro Drive to see if something had occurred. Police held the home as the murder scene for two to three days, collecting evidence.

“That was by far the most horrific scene,” said McMaster of the Keenan homicide compared to the other murder investigations during his career.

Conducting interviews and processing the scene, Mc- Master said a motive was never discovered as to why Keenan killed his father.

Keenan was arrested and charged with murder in the second degree. McMaster was the first officer to interview him. He questioned him for several hours about the case.

“We did get some admissions but no confessions,” McMaster said.

Keenan was sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years of supervised probation in 2015.

Managing a game day

Sundays in the fall and winter have always brought about one thought for Mc- Master: working a home game for the Buffalo Bills.

During his time in the department, McMaster said he’s had a variety of different duties on game day, but he adds that the workload is much easier on officers than it used to be.

“When I first started out, all of the arrests — whether inside or outside the stadium — were processed here,” Mc- Master said.

McMaster recalled one game against the division rival New York Jets where there was almost a line of 50 people waiting to be processed.

“We didn’t have the facility to handle that many people,” McMaster said.

He added that in that time, not as many officers worked game days, so he would be the only supervisor in the station. He would go from booking and processing to possibly breaking up incidents in the station of those who were intoxicated or disagreed with the charges given to them.

“It was chaos in here on Bills’ games,” said McMaster, who added that the aggravation of working in that environment would start during the preseason.

He added that until around the mid-2000s, the Sheriff’s Office was doing only traffic control and did not prosecute arrests; only Orchard Park police would do that. Since then, Orchard Park has only prosecuted incidents outside the stadium.

Now, with a number of different police agencies working the games, McMaster said the atmosphere is much easier to manage and there are significantly fewer problems.

During the last few years, McMaster has worked outside and inside the stadium in a law enforcement capacity, which he said he’s thoroughly enjoyed.

“I didn’t deal with the problems that the uniform guys dealt with over the years,” McMaster said. “I enjoyed working the Bills games the last few years. They were long days, but I didn’t deal with the arrests.”

The gold standard

Compliments on the type of officer and man McMaster is were plentiful upon the announcement of his retirement. From those who worked with him for decades to those who only knew him for a few years, it was clear he’d made an indelible impression on his law enforcement brethren.

In the Detective Bureau, McMaster spent most of his time working with four officers: Wehrfritz, Payne, Kadi and Detective Larry Brand.

All four applauded McMaster’s ability for diligent detective work and being more than capable of doing the job.

“He’s very particular,” said Wehrfritz, who worked in the bureau for two years. “He pays very close attention to detail, which you need back there. … “You could put people in a job, and they’re never going to do it right. Pat, you could put in probably any job, and he’s going to do it right. That’s how compulsive he is. If he doesn’t know it, he’s going to learn it and do it to the best of his ability, and nobody’s going to do it better than him. That’s just his personality.”

Payne, who went back to the Detective Bureau also in 2006, said McMaster was the ideal supervisor, one who knew the worth of the officers who shared the bureau.

“He knew enough to let his people do their job and was not a micro manager, which is a huge asset to an agency when you’ve got people who know their job and what they’re doing,” Payne said. … “One of the smartest clerical side people I’ve ever met — grammar, punctuation and mathematical skills.”

Kadi, who also spent two years in the Detective Bureau, said McMaster was an excellent leader of the bureau who treated everyone like equals.

“It’s almost an impossible hole to fill because he has so much knowledge,” said Kadi of McMaster’s departure. “Pat was Pat, over-the-top intelligent.

Brand, who joined the bureau in 2010, agreed that Mc- Master allowed people to learn on their own, but he was always there to offer guidance.

“He kept us moving in the right direction. Kept us on track,” Brand said.

Two younger members of the department, Lt. Greg Sheppard and Officer Daniel Honer, said they always looked to McMaster for guidance.

“With the new role I just recently got promoted to, he was a huge influence in that, offering advice and being there for any questions I had,” said Sheppard about his appointment to lieutenant in June. “It’s a huge loss for our department.”

Honer remarked about Mc- Master’s strong work ethic, adding that his knowledge was unmatched.

“He always wanted to be at work,” Honer said. … “If you had a question for him, he knew the answer immediately, or if he didn’t, he knew where to look.”

Police Chief Mark Pacholec, who has known Mc- Master for his entire tenure with the department, said his colleague could notice trends between cases like no other officer. And while he said everyone in the department can be replaced, doing so with McMaster will be an arduous task.

“There’s three or four people, and he’s the first one, that replacing him is going to be very hard,” Pacholec said. “It’s going to take a long time to get somebody the training and get them groomed so that they can start doing a lot of the same things he was doing.”

Councilman Michael Sherry, who last served in the department in 2006 as assistant chief, knew McMaster before he became an officer due to being friends with the family of McMaster’s wife, Becky.

Working with him for a number of years, Sherry said McMaster was a responsible and intelligent officer who he knew would rise through the ranks. He added that people always wanted him by their side.

“There are always people that are go-to people whether you want a question answered, or you’re on a serious call. Pat is always one of those you want with you,” Sherry said.

The next chapter

If you stop by the station, there’s a chance you’ll still see McMaster. He continues to aid the department in the transition since his departure, while also fielding questions and offering advice to other officers.

With more time on his hands, he said he’s spending time with his wife and two sons, traveling, catching up with friends and working on different long-overdue projects at the family’s home.

“It’s rekindling relationships with friends that were secondary or further down the line because I didn’t have the time to do things with them,” McMaster said. “I’ve spent a lot of time with my family, which has been great. Spending more time getting involved with the day-to-day activities at the house to see what my wife goes through on a daily basis. It’s been really nice to feel more relaxed and not have that constant pressure on you that there are cases out there that need to be solved.”

Hearing the glowing words from his police colleagues, McMaster said he’ll miss the officers, the work and the interactions in the community but hopes his time in the department was beneficial for the growth of other officers.

“I know the place is in good hands,” McMaster said. “It’s going to continue on without me long after I’m gone, but I hope I had some kind of an impact over the years and to the younger officers, to the officers that have been here a while, a positive impact.”

email: cgraham@beenews.com

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