Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Men and Supermen: The Nietzsche Syndrome

Partners in Crime

At 2:00 A.M. on July 13, 1994, the police in Bellevue, Washington received a panicked phone call from a young man named Sebastian Burns. He and his high school friend, Atif Rafay, had found his parents murdered in their home. The police arrived to investigate.

Sultana and Tariq Rafay
Sultana and Tariq Rafay

The first body they saw was that of Sultana Rafay, a former nutritionist. She lay on the floor, seemingly bludgeoned to death. In another room, her husband, Tariq, lay dead, also bludgeoned and covered in blood. One officer estimated that the structural engineer had been hit forty to fifty times. A third person in the home, Basma, their autistic daughter, had been attacked in her room but was still alive. She was rushed to the hospital, where she died from her wounds without being able to tell investigators what had happened.

Basma Rafay
Basma Rafay

The police quickly identified the two young men as "persons of interest," and detectives thought the crime scene had the appearance of being staged. Atif had reported that his Discman and a VCR had been taken, but nothing else. That made little sense to the police; nor did Burns' insistence that it had been a break-in, because the door was unlocked. In addition, Rafay had done nothing to help his dying sister, although he had to have heard her moaning in pain, as the responding officers did. He had no explanation for it. And while there was no trace of blood on either young man when they were searched at the station, the police discovered that the killer had used the shower. Even so, they had no real evidence with which to hold the young men.

Atif Rafay & Sebastian Burns
Atif Rafay & Sebastian Burns

Yet on the day of the funeral services for Atif's family, he and Burns boarded a bus and headed to Canada. Other relatives could not understand why Atif hadn't attended. The young men were both Canadian citizens, so once they were in Canada, the investigation and legal issues were more complicated. A few days later, the police received a tip that someone had recently offered $20,000 to kill a family that fit the Rafays' description, but they did not follow up. It took six months for the police to actually name them as suspects. They remained in Canada. The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter published the details, and 48 Hours Investigates on CBS ran the entire story in 2004. Web sites have also recorded the controversial story. Did these two believe they were superior beings who could do as they liked?

The boys, known to be intelligent, apparently enjoyed philosophical literature. Rafay had just finished his freshman year at Cornell University, an Ivy League school, when the murders occurred. What caught the attention of investigators, and what became part of their theory of the crime, was the fact that Burns had been in a high school play, Rope, about two young men who commit what they think is the perfect murder. "The only crime we can commit," says the character that Burns was playing, "is to make a mistake." And in fact, Rafay did inherit a good deal of money.

They may have gone to Canada, but they were not forgotten...on either side of the border.

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