NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The FBI has officially joined the hunt in Brooklyn for the so-called “Numbers Killer,” who is now wanted in the murders of three shopkeepers since July.
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As CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported, police on Monday night were looking to question a possible witness who was seen in the area of the latest homicide in Prospect Lefferts Gardens.
Police were getting out the word Monday night, desperately seeking clues in the latest incident, and hoping for new leads to catch the killer who’s now struck three times.
“Crazy, unbelievable, unreal, that this guy is still on the loose,” said Moe Gebeli.
“I’m willing to give my life up for this guy to get caught, so it won’t happen again,” Moe Gebeli said. “He’s taken life after life after life, and when is it going to end?”
The killer struck again in Bensonhurst on Aug. 2, murdering Isaac Kadare in his Amazing 99 Cents Deal shop at 1877 86th St., and then last Friday night, gunning down Rahmatollah Vahidipour at his at the She She Boutique, 836 Flatbush Ave.
All three victims are of Middle Eastern descent. Vahidipour and Kadare were Jewish. The first victim, Gebeli, was a Muslim, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.
“There doesn’t appear to have been a robbery motive, because the money was not taken from the last victim,” said Dr. Lawrence Kobilinsky of John Jay College. “The commonality here is they were all killed by a a .22, which is a weapon that professionals use.”
Vahidipour had $171 in his pocket and nothing was taken from the cash register.
“The possibility of a bias motive here is something that can’t be excluded,” Kelly said.
Police say they want to speak a man who was seen on Flatbush Avenue near the time of the Friday shooting that killed Vahidipour.
The man was seen walking with a duffel bag about a block north of the crime scene on Flatbush Avenue just after 6 p.m., police said.
A few minutes later, he was seen on a different camera about two blocks north of the crime scene walking north on Flatbush Avenue between Woodruff and Parkside avenues, police said.
Investigators said the man with a duffel bag is not considered a suspect, but may have seen something that could lead detectives to Vahidipour’s killer.
A police source said he looks similar to a man seen on surveillance video after the August murder.
A police source told CBS 2 the man — dubbed “John Doe Duffel Bag” by authorities — looks very similar to a man spotted on surveillance video after the August murder of shopkeeper Isaac Kadare.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is asking customers of the She-She boutique to contact police and is asking FBI profilers to lend a hand with the investigation, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
“We’re doing, I think, an all-out effort to solve these murders,” Kelly said.
Three others who were sought for questioning after being spotted in the area on surveillance video have been located and are not involved in the case, CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reported.
Investigators said ballistic tests completed Saturday found that the same .22 caliber gun used in Vahidipour’s murder was also used to kill two other shop owners over the summer.
Police said they have ruled nothing out, and are expanding their investigation.
But for Moe Gebeli, it’s too late. His father is gone.
“He took my dad away from me, you know?” Gebeli said. “I was so attached to my father. It wasn’t even a joke. That’s how bad it is.”
All of the murders were within a 5 mile radius and each address has the number “8” in it — something detectives haven’t ruled out as a significant piece of the puzzle.
The three victims were all working alone in stores with no video surveillance.
Commissioner Kelly said in both earlier instances, the victims’ bodies were covered with materials from the businesses — such as boxes, baking dishes and clothing.
Police have activated hate crime units and are stepping up patrols around shops in Brooklyn. They are also urging other shopkeepers to take steps to protect themselves.
Rewards of $22,000 have been offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction in all three homicides. Anyone with information is asked to call the Crime Stoppers hotline at (800) 577-TIPS.
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