A retired police officer has been charged with killing four men, whose bodies were dug up on Tuesday after neighbours reported a horrific stench.

Nick Tartaglione, who was a New York State police officer, is accused of the 'gangland-style' killings of Hector Gutierrez, Martin Luna, Miguel Luna and Urbano Santiago.

The murders were part of a conspiracy to sell more than five kilograms of cocaine, federal authorities state.

Tartaglione was arrested on Monday on murder charges, and for his role in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, said in a press release.

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"While all murders tear at the fabric of our communities, when the alleged perpetrator of a gangland-style, quadruple homicide is a former police officer, that strikes at the heart of civilised society," the statement read.

"As alleged, Nicholas Tartaglione, a former Briarcliff Manor police officer, participated in the senseless murder of four people in a bar in Chester, New York.

"These four men had not been seen or heard from since the day of their alleged murder. We hope that today's arrest brings some measure of comfort to the victims' families and loved ones."

Police said at the time of their disappearance the men worked in construction or farming and that the murders took place at the Likquid Lounge, which is owned by a Michael Tartaglione, who is related to Tartaglione.

The bodies were excavated from a farm owned by Tartaglione.

"It really smelled of death, but then it disappeared after a couple of days," a neighbour, who did not want to be identified, told the New York Daily News.

Tartaglione, who has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody, could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted.