Widow of man slain in initiation prank struggles with loss
"I don't understand these games," says Susan James, whose husband was shot and killed in Patchogue.
Masonic Temple in Patchogue; inset, Albert Eid, left, and William James (Temple Photo by Patrick Oehler)
Site of initiation shooting (Photo by Patrick Oehler)
By Samuel Bruchey and Indrani Sen
March 11, 2004
On Monday night, Susan James watched a news broadcast about a shooting inside the Mason's Temple in Patchogue and hurried to the phone.
Her husband, William James, was due to be inducted into a Mason social club that night. So, with only sketchy details about who may have been injured, she called at least two women whose husbands were there as well.
Both told James they knew nothing, had not seen the story, but would reach out to their husbands, and find out what they could for her.
Hours passed, and the only news that came was delivered late Monday night by Suffolk homicide detectives, who told James that her 47-year-old husband had been shot and killed in a bizarre accident.
In the days since, not a single member of the Fellowcraft Club her husband was hoping to join, or the Southside Masonic Temple, has said anything to her.
"Where is the human in them?" she asked Wednesday. "They can tell me 'I can't talk about it,' and I would understand. But they can at least tell me 'I'm sorry.' They were supposed to be Bill's brothers. Well, brothers don't treat brothers that way."
One member of the lodge who was interviewed outside the building Wednesday afternoon suggested that no one had reached out to James' family because they are probably "so embarrassed that they haven't been able to call."
Another member who said he witnessed the shooting but declined to give his name said the Grand Master of Masons, who oversees all Masons throughout New York, had issued a gag order forbidding members from discussing the incident.
However, Robert Leonard, a spokesman for the Grand Lodge, said no such directive has been issued.
Suffolk police said William James was shot through the nose by Albert Eid, 76, a trustee who was leading the initiation ceremony.
Police gave this account: James was seated on a chair in the basement of the building. Tin cans were placed on a platform beside his head. Eid had planned to point a gun loaded only with blanks at the cans and fire while one of about 10 other members present knocked the cans down with a stick. To make James think he was really in danger, Eid had shown him a second handgun loaded with live ammunition. But as he stood 20 feet away, Eid pulled out the wrong gun, and fired a live round, killing James. Police have called the shooting an accident, although the investigation is continuing.
Eid has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. His family declined to comment Wednesday.
"What are they doing with a gun in a building?" Susan James asked in a telephone interview Wednesday. "Trying to scare people? Why? You don't have to do that to get them to trust you. These are grown men," she said. "Their secret little handshakes and wiggles and whatever. I don't understand these games."
Another part of the ceremony required inductees to insert an arm inside a depiction of a horse's rear-end, where gobs of mayonnaise and other gooey substances had been placed, a source familiar with the ceremony said.
The basement of the lodge was adorned with a large replica guillotine for show, rat traps, and a mock plank that inductees were forced to walk blindfolded.
One member of the club, who identified himself only as Joseph, 63, said Wednesday that similar props had been used when he was inducted years ago, including shooting cans that were placed beside his head. The ceremony, however, was lighthearted and not meant to be seriously menacing.
"They used a cap gun," he said. "The guillotine is a joke. When I looked at those things, I knew they weren't going to hurt me."
Outside the shuttered lodge Wednesday, James' step-daughter, Tiffany O'Reilly, 26, of Medford, placed two bunches of red and white roses and a sign reading "In memory of our beloved husband and father. We love you and miss you."
"We don't know anything," O'Reilly said. "We don't know what happened, we don't know what he was doing here ... we want to know."
Coming to the lodge after the shooting offered bitter irony to Susan James. She knew how much he enjoyed the organization. But had she known of its practices, she never would have wanted him to join.
"My husband and I were one person," she said. "We did everything together. They took that away from me."
Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.