Commish Kelly: 'Everything Is On The Table,' Including Possibility Of Hate Crime

Updated at 12:37 a.m., Nov. 21, 2012

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Police were questioning a man Tuesday night that they said matches the description of a man seen on surveillance video near a recent murder scene in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, WCBS 880 learned.

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Police said the man is not a suspect but they believe he may have some answers in the shooting deaths of three Brooklyn shopkeepers.

Police sources told CBS 2’s Dick Brennan the man being questioned came to the 67th Precinct in Bay Ridge and told police he believes it might be his image on the video.

However, he is not in police custody and has not been arrested, Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne told WCBS 880.

Police told CBS 2’s Brennan the man being questioned is a garment salesman in his 60s who lives on Staten Island. He is said to be well-known by merchants in the area as a kind of door-to-door salesman who has been peddling his clothes for 30 years. And they describe him as a kind and gentle man.

The NYPD was working with an FBI behavior analyst Tuesday as officers worked to determine a motive in the killings.

WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reports

Detectives had been looking for a white middle-aged, balding man with a duffel bag who was caught on surveillance video near the most recent of the three killings.

All three victims were of Middle Eastern descent, but Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that is just one angle that is being investigated.

“Everything is on the table. The question was asked, ‘can it be deemed to be a hate crime?’ Obviously not, we don’t have enough information. But we’re not excluding it,” Kelly told reporters including WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.

The most recent killing happened at She She Boutique at 836 Flatbush Ave., on Sunday evening. Store owner Rahmatollah Vahidipour was found fatally shot, police said.

The man who spoke to police Tuesday was seen 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.

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A police source told CBS 2 the man on the video — 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.

“Clearly, he is someone we’d like to come forward and identify himself,” Kelly said earlier Tuesday. “We want to talk to anybody who was in the area at that time.”

Kadare was gunned down on Aug. 2 at his store, Amazing 99 Cents Deal shop at 1877 86th St.

Police believe the killer eyed his targets and knew that the shopkeepers would be working alone.

Mohamed Gebeli was the killer’s first victim, murdered in his Bay Ridge clothing store Valentino Fashion, at 7718 5th Ave., on July 6.

Police said the same .22-caliber gun was used in the fatal shootings of all three victims. Kelly said that is another avenue that is being explored.

“It may be significant, it may not. In all three cases, the victim’s head was covered either by cardboard or by clothing of some sort,” Kelly said.

Vahidipour and Kadare were Jewish. The first victim, Gebeli, was a Muslim, according to police.

All of the murders were within a five-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, police said.

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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