Police in Brooklyn are questioning a man in connection with a series of deadly shootings of Brooklyn business owners of Middle Eastern descent dating back to July, and a law enforcement official says authorities recovered a gun that may be tied to the case.
Authorities had said they were looking to question a person they called “John Doe Duffel Bag,” the balding man with a mustache who was seen on surveillance video near the scene of the latest slaying and who was linked to a video in an earlier incident.
The 63-year-old man, described as a person of interest, was picked up in Bay Ridge on Tuesday afternoon and is talking to police, sources tell NBC 4 New York.
A law enforcement official said a Ruger rifle with a sawed-off stock and an improvised combination laser/light attached to its barrel was found early Wednesday in a duffel bag, which authorities say is the same duffel bag seen in the surveillance video at the scene of two slayings. The weapon uses .22 ammunition consistent with ballistics found at each of the three crime scenes connected to the case.
Authorities also found .22 caliber ammunition, three knives, one of which appeared to have blood on it, black gloves and women’s pantyhouse with the legs cut off in the duffel bag, a law enforcement official said. It wasn’t immediately clear where the duffel bag was located, but detectives had been attempting to secure search warrants for the man’s Staten Island home and his girlfriend’s Brooklyn home.
Sources say he is a fabric and garment salesman, and has several prior arrests, including for stalking and burglary, in Pennsylvania.
The latest development comes as authorities are searching for a possible serial killer who has gunned down three Brooklyn business owners since the summer. Detectives who specialize in hate crimes and FBI analysts who specialize in behavioral analysis joined the case this week, authorities said.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Monday that police were working to identify “John Doe Duffel Bag,” who was seen on surveillance video wearing an overcoat and carrying a black duffel bag near the scene of the latest shooting. NBC 4 New York has learned that the same man was also seen on video near the second shooting in August.
Authorities say two other possible witnesses seen on video have been questioned and released.
The latest victim, 78-year-old Rahmatollah Vahidipour, a Jewish man from Iran, was killed in his women’s clothing boutique on Flatbush Avenue Friday.
“The possibility of a bias motive here is something that can’t be excluded,” Kelly said.
After the latest killing, detectives discovered the same gun was used in the fatal shootings of two other shopkeepers when ballistics matched the .22-caliber gun shell casings on all three. On July 6, Mohamed Gebeli, 65, an Egyptian immigrant and a Muslim, was found shot in the back of his shop, Valentino Fashion Inc. On Aug. 6, Isaac Kadare, 59, also Egyptian but Jewish, was shot in the head in his store, Amazing 99 Cent Deal.
There were other similarities, authorities said: The bodies were all partially obscured by clothing or, in one case, a box. The shops all lacked surveillance cameras, and the owners were alone in the store. The locations of the shops are each about 4 miles apart, with addresses that contain the number eight. Money was taken from everyone but Vahidipour, who had $171 in his pocket.
“We’re trying to put it together. We’re talking to the FBI; we’re doing an all-out effort to solve these murders,” Kelly said.