After years on the job together, two former Jamaica Hospital paramedics have found themselves on the same “team” again—this time however, it’s behind bars.
The pair has been charged in the death of the ex-wife of one of the men.
Paul Novak, 45, of Palm Coast, in Flagler County, Fla., and Scott Sherwood, 40, of Lindenhurst, NY were arrested last Thursday on charges of second-degree murder in the death of Novak’s wife, Catherine, in December of 2008.
The twisted tale of Catherine Novak’s murder began nearly four years ago. Novak, 41, had served on the Sullivan County School board from 2005 to 2007, where she was remembered as a well-liked and respected member of the board. She left the position to take a job as a data entry specialist. At the time of her death, Catherine was going through a divorce from husband Paul and lived with her two children and the family dog in their Catskill home.
On Friday, December 12, Paul Novak arrived at the home of his estranged wife to pick up their children. The three travelled back to Novack’s Long Island home together for the weekend. Catherine was home alone with the dog when a raging fire broke out in the house around 6:30 in the morning. It spread quickly and firefighters were unable to extinguish the flames.
Catherine Novack’s body was found lying face-up in the basement—– investigators at the time were puzzled as to how it had gotten there.
She was burned badly, but able to be positively identified.
Police had originally extended their search of the house fearing that the Novak children were home, but then learned that their father had taken them the night before.
A medical examiner’s autopsy report listed the cause of her death as traumatic asphyxia. It also detailed that she was unable to breathe because debris from the burning house was piling up on her chest. The levels of carbon monoxide found in her body however, were declared as insufficient to have caused death.
These facts left investigators unsure as to whether the woman had died before the fire had started. Despite the questions surrounding the event, neither medical nor criminal investigations could support that death occurred before the blaze broke out.
Authorities remained frustrated with their inability to pinpoint a cause in the fire because of the lack of physical evidence. A state police investigation into the matter concluded that accidental causes had been ruled out, but they found no physical evidence of an accelerant or any conclusive evidence of arson. Sullivan County officials, unable to substantiate any criminality, decided to close the case.
Although Catherine Novack’s death was a shock to her community, there were those near her home and at her husband’s job who voiced suspicions about Paul Novack’s possible involvement in her death. The persistence of those in doubt led to reconsideration of the case and a determination by Sullivan County DA Jim Farrell to re-open it.
One of the groups most vocal about Paul Novack’s involvement was fellow congregants at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of which Catherine was a member. Pastor of the church, Phyllis Haynes, told the NY Post earlier in the week that “…members of the community… thought Paul was involved in the beginning,” but when asked by The Forum on Wednesday why people might have thought Catherine’s husband was involved in her murder and if there were any specific instances known of conflict or altercation the pastor said she knew of none. “I can absolutely say I don’t have any idea as to why those people were of that feeling,” said Haynes, declining to make further comment.
But the upstate community was not alone in their thinking. Back at Jamaica Hospital, several employees who could not go on the record because of their jobs told The Forum that when the incident happened, people thought that Paul was involved immediately, but that no one ever thought that his co-worker Scott Sherwood would ever have been involved.
One EMT, who asked that his name not be released, said, “Paul was the kind of guy that it would not surprise you at all that he would do this. But Scott? ,” questioned the same worker, “that’s a complete shock.” Yet another speculated that the couple’s problems were fueled by a bitter custody suit for their two children. “He wanted those kids,” said a former female co-worker. “I guess he’s do anything to get them—now they have no mom or no dad.”
It remains unclear as to exactly what details in the investigation led to the arrest of the two men. Calls to the Sullivan County District Attorney’s office were unanswered as of press time.
Both men are awaiting their next court date.
By Patricia Adams and Ryan Lavis