September 16, 2000
Search uncovers more guns
Dobbs Ferry man's motives, history still unclear, police say
Jonathan Bandler and Richard Liebson
The Journal News
DOBBS FERRY - Investigators found another pipe bomb, four more machine guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition yesterday in the Dobbs Ferry home where a machinist had spent several years amassing an arsenal, authorities said.
It was the second major search of the 85 Myrtle Ave. home of James Neff this week. The bulk of the weapons - more than 150 rifles, handguns, grenades and bomb-making materials - were seized Tuesday after village police became suspicious while investigating a burglary at the house, which the 38-year-old Neff shared with his parents and brother.
"He had enough to do quite a bit of damage," said Joseph Green, a special agent with the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "I don't think any of the bombs would have taken down the house, but they certainly would have killed or maimed anyone in close proximity had they been detonated."
Green said the ATF will trace the history of the seized weapons to determine where they came from and how they ended up in Neff's house. The origin of some of the firearms may never be found because their serial numbers have been removed, he said.
Meanwhile, authorities were still trying to piece together Neff's background to find out why he had the arsenal. Dobbs Ferry police are being assisted by investigators from the Westchester County District Attorney's office, the county bomb squad, the ATF and the FBI.
"We need to get a sense of who this defendant is," said District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, who spent about two hours at the scene yesterday. "We want to find out more about who James Neff is and what organizations he belonged to."
Police do know that Neff was a former president of the Northern Westchester Rifle Association and headed the club's high-powered weapons team. Several members of the association would not comment yesterday, but club president James Burkhardt said Neff was a gun enthusiast who took competitive shooting seriously.
"I've seen him with lots of guns, but I never saw anything illegal," said Burkhardt, of Croton-on-Hudson. "They're drawing a picture of a subversive here, but he's not that. He's a machinist, he reloads his own ammunition and he probably uses thousands of rounds when he practices for competitions."
Burkhardt said he had no idea what Neff was doing with some of the other items that were seized, including grenades and bombs.
"I've never seen him hurt a fly," he said.
In addition to the weapons and explosives, authorities also seized numerous documents related to Neff's guns and said they were looking into trips he took to out-of-state gun ranges and shooting expeditions. Also removed from the house were gun cabinets, computer equipment, lathes and a drill press.
For hours yesterday, the sound of clinking metal could be heard as detectives dumped boxes of live ammunition and bullet shells into large metal garbage cans. In the early afternoon, the bomb squad fanned out over the yard with metal detectors, digging in several locations, but finding nothing.
Neff's parents and brother were evacuated from the house after a pipe bomb was found in a crawlspace off the basement.
Four machine guns and several handguns were also found in a similar area.
Later, a wine cellar beneath a backyard patio was also searched, but produced no additional arms.
Investigators from the Medical Examiner's Office even arrived to check a pile of debris in the wooded area behind the Neff house. The debris appeared to be decomposed diapers. The investigators took no samples and spent only a few minutes in the yard.
Neff's family members were allowed to return to their home yesterday evening.
Neff is being held without bail on felony weapons charges at the Westchester County Jail in Valhalla. His lawyer appeared in county court in White Plains yesterday to ask that bail be set, but state Supreme Court Judge John Perone refused the request.
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