Friends of Chester Hornowski can't believe that he survived 34 years as a Chicago police officer only to be gunned down in retirement at his Baxter County boardinghouse.
Fellow Chicago Police Department officer Bob Sargus told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette he was heartbroken and shocked. Sargus says, "Through the Marine Corps in Vietnam and a cop for 34 years, and it ended like that."
Sargus said Hornowski was a mild-mannered lawman who had a talent for defusing tense situations in a city known for its high crime rate. He was a Chicago police officer from 1970-2004.
Sargus says, "We worked together on the street. Real nice guy. I don't know how he got into that confrontation with the guy who killed him."
On Thursday, 59-year-old Robert Dean Penny pleaded innocent to first-degree murder in Baxter County Circuit Court.
After the December 5th shooting, Penny told police he fired 22 rounds from a 9mm pistol after he and Hornowski argued about noise in the boardinghouse four miles south of Mountain Home, according to authorities.
Penny ran out of bullets after firing 18 shots, went back to his room, reloaded and returned to fire four more rounds at the victim lying on the hallway floor, according to the affidavit for an arrest warrant. It wasn't clear from the document who had made the noise that was the focus of the complaint.
The 71-year-old Hornowski was identified as the homicide victim in a December 5th news release from the Baxter County sheriff's office.
According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette from Chicago Tribune articles, Hornowski was a perennial political candidate in Chicago, losing races for mayor, state Senate and alderman during the 1980s elected as a Republican ward committeeman in 1984 and 1988.
In 1987, Hornowski ran for Chicago mayor in the Republican primary, losing to Northwestern University professor Donald Haider, who got 10,310 votes. Hornowski finished a distant third behind Kenneth Hurst, who worked in a floor-covering business, and ahead of local entertainer Ray Wardingley, professionally known as Spanky the Clown, according to the Tribune.
Harold Washington, a Democrat, was re-elected mayor that year.
Sargus said Hornowski moved to Arkansas five to seven years ago and would call him occasionally. Hornowski had good things to say about retirement in Baxter County.
Sargus said, "He always told me about his place. He had a mule. He had animals."
Sargus said Hornowski told him he was running a boardinghouse in Arkansas. He had also run one in Chicago.
According to court filings, Penny is 100 percent disabled and indigent. He received $1,010 a month in Supplemental Security Income from the federal government and was paying $380 a month in rent at the group home where the shooting occurred.
Penny told police that he got his gun and began firing after he was threatened with eviction, according to the affidavit. Penny also told police that he had been hit three times in the chest, but police found no evidence of injury, according to authorities.
Bruce Rapa, a Chicago police officer from 1982 to 2010, said he grew up near Hornowski in the Noble Square neighborhood in northwest Chicago.
Rapa said, "Our parents all lived from hand-to-mouth back then. It was a very, very poor area of Chicago."
As a result, Hornowski was always kind to the less fortunate, Rapa said.
Rapa said, "Chester had a thing where he was trying to help people all the time. Sadly, this one came back to bite him."
Rapa said Mountain Home is a popular place for retirees from Chicago, particularly police officers.
He said, "That's the big joke. Half the population of Mountain Home is probably retired Chicago coppers."
George Mocodeanu, a machinist, said Hornowski lived down the street from him when he was a police officer in Chicago. They served in the National Guard together. Mocodeanu said Hornowski served for at least 20 years.
Mocodeanu said, "He would come around in a squad car making sure everything was good to go."
Hornowski would let Mocodeanu's son sit in the police car and would occasionally give him a ride around the block.
Mocodeanu said, "It was a big deal," referring to the impact it had on the boy.
Sargus said Hornowski spoke fluent Polish and got along with many people on his police beat for that reason. Hornowski also was involved with the Polish American Police Association in Chicago.
Bruce Nolan, a Chicago police officer from 1959 to 2001, also remembers Hornowski.
Nolan said, "He was a character for sure, but a really nice guy. I never saw him get ticked off at anybody. Always a jovial sort of guy. After all the years he put in the Police Department, he goes down there and gets killed."
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