A real-life Mystic River: how a grisly 1970s murder launched the careers of a Long Island detective and his informant–and led to decades of police corruption and brutality.
The 1979 murder of 13-year-old John Pius is a stain on the history of Suffolk County, Long Island. It was national news at the time: a young white kid with his whole life ahead of him, killed and trampled and left in the woods. A young detective named Thomas Spota was under intense pressure to solve the mystery. Then a 14-year-old informant named Jimmy Burke came to him with evidence–questionable evidence–that broke the case open.
The relationship between Spota and Burke bloomed after the Pius case, and both grew powerful in law enforcement. Over the ensuing years, Spota rose through the ranks, eventually becoming District Attorney. And Burke became first a cop, and then, ultimately, the Chief of Police. And their reign, founded on a scandalous murder with a dubious resolution, was one of extravagant corruption: bribes and coerced confessions, side deals, brutality, and graft. Spota and Burke were brought down in 2014, when Newsday exposed their criminal activity to the public and forced them out of office.
The Finest is not only the story of this corruption and its eventual demise, but about the true role of the police department of Suffolk County: to serve the powerful and project strength, while allowing the marginalized to suffer. This powerful and dramatic story is a microcosm of one of the most urgent issues of our times, a book that asks who the law serves, who it protects, and who it leaves out in the cold.