A tragic moment in Woodhaven history
by Ed Wendell
May 10, 2016 | 5360 views | 1 1 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The newspapers the day after the double-murder in 1981.
The newspapers the day after the double-murder in 1981.
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Richard Godkin, murdered in Woodhaven in 1981
Richard Godkin, murdered in Woodhaven in 1981
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Thirty-five years ago last month, Woodhaven witnessed the most shocking act of violence in its long history, and we would be remiss if we did not take a moment to acknowledge it.

What made it so very horrifying was the fact that the crime wasn’t perpetrated by one bad guy against another; this wasn’t one gangster going up against another gangster.

This was a vicious attack by some bad men against some very good men who did good work for the community. That incident we refer to was the April 1981 double-murder at the Shamrock Bar on Jamaica Avenue.

The two victims, Richard Godkin and John D'Agnese, served as executive director and deputy director of the South Queens Boys Club on 111th Street and Atlantic Avenue. And in the evenings, they were partners managing a bar in our community, trying to make a little extra money for their families.

Richard Godkin was a Vietnam veteran who took over as executive director of the club in 1971. He was a family man who lived with his wife and daughter in Richmond Hill. A year after he took the post, he and his wife would become the proud parents of twins.

Over the next decade, Mr. Godkin's name and face were regular fixtures in the Leader-Observer, announcing the many good things that the Boys' Club had to offer.

"Our primary aim is to show that the delinquency problem can be solved when youngsters are subjected to positive, productive and responsible pursuits," was the way Mr. Godkin described the Boys Club's role in our community.

One of Mr. Godkin's first projects was to raise the capital to build a swimming pool in their club on 111th Street.

"A pool in the building will attract many more youngsters and in all likelihood, double our present membership," he said in announcing the project.

And over the course of two years, through various fundraising efforts and donations from businesses, Mr. Godkin was shown on the front page of the Leader turning on the tap, filling the pool for the very first time.

Godkin also led an effort to improve the library of the Boys Club to encourage the youngsters that joined to read more. He also initiated a summer program to provide special assistance to students who were held over in their grade at the end of the school year.

He felt that education and the other benefits of the Boys Club were part of an effort to make a better world.

"This program is an excellent example of our club doing its part in the one war that everyone is for; a war for a better world for our next generation," was the way Richard Godkin described it. "Kids don't have a fighting chance without a Club."

Godkin and his partner at the Boys Club took over ownership of the Shamrock Bar to make "a little extra money to make life work," as his wife Catherine described it. They would work long days at the club and nights at the Shamrock.

One night, a dispute occurred between two men over a spilled drink. One of the men was wildly out of control and was asked to leave. "I'll be back," he threatened.

And in about 20 minutes, he returned with two friends carrying guns.

John D'Agnese was shot in the face. Richard Godkin ran to help his friend and partner and was also shot and killed.

The deaths of these two men left big holes not only within their families, but also in our community. Their loss touched the lives of the many young boys they would not be able to help in the years to come. Without Godkin and D'Agnese, who knows how many young boys did not get the help they needed.

The Godkin family never forgot that night or the pursuit for justice in the murders, and two years ago Bartolomeo Vernace (now 65) was sentenced to life for the murders after years on the run.

It's not a happy ending, how could it be? But at least the families of Richard Godkin and John D'Agnese received some measure of justice.

The very least we can do as a community is remember the outstanding contributions to our community that these two good men made and mourn their loss. May they rest in peace.

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JAY VAN DEVEN
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May 29, 2016
I WAS A MEMBER OF THE BOYS CLUB. I REMEMBER RICH.HE WAS GOOD TO ALL THE KIDS. I ALSO REMEMBER WHEN THE TRAGEDY HAPPENED.TO THIS DAY SOMETIMES WHEN DRIVING ON WOODHAVEN BLVD BY THE SHAMROCK I STILL REMEMBER RICH AND HIS SMILE. GLAD THEY GOT THE GUY.

THANKS RICH!

JAY VAN DEVEN