Storyteller William Otto, formerly of Sands Point, dies at 91

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Author William Otto, formerly of Sands Point, died Sept. 11. at 91. (Photo courtesy of Ballard Durand Funeral Home)

William L. “Bill” Otto, a former Sands Point resident, Army veteran, businessman, and author, died Sept. 11.

Otto, whose family said he “enjoyed good health until the end,” died at his home in White Plains, Westchester County, and was 91.

A native of the Bronx, Otto was born July 5, 1929 to William Sr. and Jeanette Otto, and by the age of 8 had his first job as a car polisher. After moving to Long Island City, Queens with his parents and siblings Jeannette, Alice and Lawrence and working multiple jobs, Otto first found permanent employment at British food production company Crosse & Blackwell.

Positions at the Tyler Roofing Company, as an Electrolux salesman and at Sheffield Farms followed before Otto was drafted to serve in the Army in 1953, during the Korean War. In his autobiography “The Last of the Dinosaurs,” Otto says he was made an assistant platoon sergeant due to his 6’5″ stature, and later became a tank commander.

Later in his term, he was one of numerous servicemen brought to Nevada to “be guinea pigs for the nuclear testing of the atomic bombs,” writing that he witnessed three such bomb drops before his discharge in 1955.

After being dismissed from the Army, Otto worked in sales with the Quaker State Oil Company before leaving to go into the building maintenance business at New York Floor Finishing Company. Among his accounts were Manhattan College and New York Law School.

While starting his own business, Otto first became acquainted with a man he calls Jim Earley, who he wrote was “the Irish godfather” and an associate of Luciano crime family figure Frank Costello.

Earley would give him a position as a building superintendent shortly before Otto married his wife Pauline. They would later move out to Syosset after the birth of their first child, Tina, and Otto would found and serve as president of the U.S. Building Maintenance Company.

He also recalled being a friend to future author William Keating, writer of the book that would inspire the noir film “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” and Bill Bonanno Sr., consigliere of the Bonanno crime family. Otto’s company would also serve as the only outside contractor for the Spain Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing.

An entire chapter of “The Last of the Dinosaurs” discusses Otto’s experiences building a home on 2.5 acres of property in Sands Point, where he says he mentioned the name of Costello, already a resident, in order to purchase the beachfront property.

Parties at the Otto mansion, which its owner had furnished with a 42-foot long kidney-shaped pool, three boats and a volleyball court, among other things, were frequented by the likes of senators and congressman, as well as local officials. He also mentions being friendly with former Port Washington Police Commissioner Frank Scobbo, Sr.

Otto was also a judo enthusiast, practicing the martial art for 14 years, earning a black belt and welcoming Olympians in the sport to his Sands Point home.

After leaving the Port Washington Area, the Ottos would move to Garden City, and then to Greenbriar, New Jersey. Following a divorce from his wife in 2002, Otto would move to Monroe, also in New Jersey, and later to White Plains.

Otto is survived by his daughter, Tina, of upstate Warrensburg, his two grandsons, Warren and Wesley; and his “dear friend Catherine,” of White Plains. He mentions a son, Billy Jr., in his autobiography, but the son’s status, as well as that of his mother Pauline, is not yet known.

A service commemorating his life was held Sept. 19 at Ballard-Durand Funeral Home in White Plains, with a veteran’s honor guard. The family says that no flowers are necessary, and asks “anyone feeling flush who would like to contribute to their local church, is asked to speak to the pastor and donate something to a needy family.”

“Do this in his honor, because Bill Otto knew what it was to be hungry,” the Otto family said in a statement.

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