Chester Hornowski's friends 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.
"I was heartbroken and shocked," said Bob Sargus, who served with Hornowski in the Chicago Police Department. "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.
"We worked together on the street. Real nice guy," Sargus said. "I don't know how he got into that confrontation with the guy who killed him."
Robert Dean Penny, 59, pleaded innocent Thursday to first-degree murder in Baxter County Circuit Court.
After the Dec. 5 shooting, Penny told police that he fired 22 rounds from a 9mm pistol after he and Hornowski argued about noise in the boardinghouse 4 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.
Hornowski, 71, was identified as the homicide victim in a Dec. 5 news release from the Baxter County sheriff's office.
Hornowski was a perennial political candidate in Chicago, losing races for mayor, state Senate and alderman during the 1980s, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. Hornowski was 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.
"He always told me about his place," Sargus said. "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.
"He had a house here in Chicago where he would take in boarders," Sargus said. "Chester had a heart."
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.
"Our parents all lived from hand-to-mouth back then," Rapa said. "It was a very, very poor area of Chicago."
As a result, Hornowski was always kind to the less fortunate, Rapa said.
"Chester had a thing where he was trying to help people all the time," Rapa said. "Sadly, this one came back to bite him."
Rapa said Mountain Home is a popular place for retirees from Chicago, particularly police officers.
"That's the big joke," he said, "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; Hornowski served for at least 20 years, Mocodeanu said.
"He would come around in a squad car making sure everything was good to go," Mocodeanu said.
Hornowski would let Mocodeanu's son sit in the police car and would occasionally give him a ride around the block.
"It was a big deal," said Mocodeanu, referring to the impact it had on the boy.
Hornowski spoke fluent Polish and got along with many people on his police beat for that reason, Sargus said. 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.
"He was a character for sure, but a really nice guy," Nolan said. "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."
After the Dec. 5 shooting, Penny attempted to flee, authorities said.
When police arrived at the boardinghouse, Penny came roaring from the back of the residence in a 2004 Ford pickup, according to the Dec. 5 news release. Deputies fired their weapons at the vehicle as Penny accelerated toward one of them, the release said.
The pickup hit a ditch, became airborne twice and struck Sheriff John Montgomery's 2017 Chevy Tahoe, which was parked on the side of the road, before finally coming to a stop, according to the release.
Montgomery wasn't in his vehicle at the time. His vehicle is believed to be a total loss.
Penny was taken by ambulance to Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home, where he was treated for minor injuries and released to the sheriff's office, according to reports.
Hornowski was found dead in the home with gunshot wounds in his hands, chest and face, according to the news release. A Smith and Wesson 9mm semiautomatic pistol was found inside the residence.
Penny has been charged with first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault and criminal mischief. He pleaded innocent to all charges in the case. He is being held in the Baxter County jail with bond set at $1 million.
Metro on 12/15/2017
Print Headline: Pals see irony in retiree's demise; Ex-Chicago cop slain in the sticks