It’s been a rough few weeks in New York City: the Killer Nanny, Superstorm Sandy, and now an alleged serial murderer in its midst.
NYPD investigators have linked three separate murders in Brooklyn to the same killer via forensic testing of shell casings at the crime scenes. On July 6, 65-year-old Mohamed Gebeli was killed in his shop Valentino Fashion Inc. at 7718 Fifth Avenue. A month later, on August 2, 59-year-old Isaac Kadare’s corpse was found at his store, Amazing 99 Cent Deal on 1877 86th Street. And last Friday Rahmatollah Vahidipour, 78, was shot dead at his She She Boutique at 834 Flatbush Avenue.
What do the three victims in a 5-mile radius have in common, other than fatal gunshot wounds to the head? Police found nothing to link the three to one another. Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes held a press conference to break that news to reporters: “There is nothing about the victims that would suggest anything other than they were just the victims of a random execution.”
However there are some striking similarities in the three cases: The men were of similar age and of Middle Eastern descent (Kadare and Gebeli hail from Egypt, Vahidipour from Iran — Vahidipour and Kadare were Jewish). The store-owners worked alone, without surveilance cameras. And the stores’ addresses all contained the number 8.
One thing is clear: robbery was not the main motive. The latest victim, Vahidipour, was left with $171 in his pocket. Police found $1500 in Gebeli’s store after the killing.
In the days after the latest killing, detectives admitted they were still “grasping at straws”, but have since been able to scare up some potential leads. Security video taken on Flatbush Avenue around the time of the murder has pointed police toward people of interest. Some of the potential witnesses have been questioned and released already, but authorities are most interested in a white man with a mustache seen on the tape carrying a duffel bag.
“John Doe Duffel Bag” became the focus of the investigation because he was reportedly caught on video near one of the prior shootings.
Local papers identified the man as Salvatore Perrone, a 63-year-old Staten Island resident who makes his living selling clothing and other merchandise to small businesses — and witnesses confirmed to police that Perrone had paid sales calls to Gebeli and Kadare in the weeks before they were murdered.
NYPD found Perrone at a Brooklyn pharmacy Tuesday afternoon, and brought him to the station for questioning. Meanwhile, investigators executed searches of Perrone’s home and the home of his girlfriend.
They recovered the duffel bag in which they found a sawed-off .22 caliber rifle consistent with the fatal gunshot wounds. Ballistics tests will determine whether the casings found at the scenes came from Perrone’s gun. Also in the bag were three knives, one of which appeared to have blood stains. Kadare’s body was found with stab wounds to the neck in addition to the gunshots. A DNA blood match would prove damaging evidence against Perrone.
There’s no word yet how police found Perrone. It had been announced that any information leading to the suspect could earn a tipster $40,000 — $22,000 from the NYPD and $18,000 from two local politicians.
Noting the Middle-Eastern background of the victims, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly announced that he has called on hate crime experts and FBI behavioral analysts to consult on the case — and had roughly 80 detectives working on the three killings. “The possibility of a bias motive here is something that can’t be excluded,” Kelly told reporters.
Kelly went on to say it was “reasonable to assume” the killer had cased the victims’ stores beforehand to make sure the stores themselves had no cameras. Although the killer tried to cover up his crimes by hiding the bodies from passers-by under clothing or other merchandise, the shooter did not retrieve the shell casings thus allowing police to link the crimes.
Police have not released any details from their interrogation of Perrone, so it is unclear at this point whether the motive for the killings was race bias, business-related, or something else entirely.
NYPD had advised Brooklyn shopkeepers not to work on their own and to stay alert to anything out of the ordinary until the killer is apprehended. Now that a person of interest is in custody, the city that never sleeps might just rest a little easier.