The Capture of Serial Killer Arohn Kee
By the mid-1990s, the tide had turned on crime in New York overall, but in the housing projects of East Harlem, the carnage continued with a series of seemingly unrelated rapes and murders against attractive, light-skinned black or Hispanic teenagers.
In 1994, a 15-year-old girl was accosted at knifepoint. The case established a modus operandi for the attacker, who would repeat it many times over the next four years: He approached the teenager from behind and directed her to a remote spot, where she was blindfolded with a piece of her own clothing, forced to strip, then raped and sodomized. The 15-year-old victim survived to describe her attackera clean-cut young man with muscular build who had a grand opinion of himself. He told the victim she should be grateful to be raped by such a handsome fellow. "He told me I was lucky," the victim said.
A few years later, on Sept. 10, 1997, firefighters were called to a rooftop fire at the George Washington Houses, on East 104th Street. Veteran Firefighter Fred Zvinys later described what he found there. "I came upon what I thought at the time was a piece of rubbish, or furniture, burning," Zvinys said. Then he noticed a bare breast and realized "it was a person, what was left of her."
After calling a supervisor, Zvinys said, "I stepped back and looked at her. I was amazed that somebody could do something like this."
The victim, who had been raped, clubbed and choked, was identified by an ankle braceleta gift from her motheras Johalis Castro, 19, whose family had emigrated to New York from the Dominican Republic. Castro, who had a young daughter, had been studying computer science at a community college in the Bronx. ''We came here looking for a better life for our children,'' her mother, Paula Castro, would later say. Like Paola Illera, the murder of Castro rated little inkjust another dead teen from an East Harlem immigrant family.
Seven months later, in April 1998, a 13-year-old girl was raped and sodomized in the same neighborhood. The young victim, just 4'9", escaped the fate of Illera and Castro. She told police she screamed in pain while being sodomized. "He told me to be quiet and take it like a woman," the child told police.
Two months later, on June 2, Rasheeda Washington was found robbed, raped, sodomized and strangled in a 15th-floor stairwell of an East 112th Street housing project. The body, its naked torso covered by a shirt, had been propped up against a wall in a seated position. Like the earlier victims, Washington, a fashion student who worked at a clothing boutique, was petite, weighing just 100 pounds. She had lived with her father, Gregory, in the same housing project as the first victim, Paola Illera. Washington was murdered three days after her 18th birthday.
That fall, two more adolescents were raped and sodomized in the vicinitya 15-year-old on Sept. 25 and a 14-year-old on Nov. 16. The second victim said her attacker had an odd demand. "He told me to act like I loved him," she told police. Those two teens escaped aliveprobably because they did not get a good look at the attacker before they were blindfolded.