Neighbor Held in Death of Elderly Man Bound for Days Without Food
A 19-year-old college student was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of murder in the death of an 85-year-old neighbor who, along with his 75-year-old wife, was tied up in the couple’s home for four days without food and water by a robber.
Farid Nassab, and his wife, Jennie, were discovered bound to overturned chairs in their gas-filled home Tuesday morning. She was still alive, but her husband had died.
Police said their captor had turned on the gas jets on the kitchen stove before finally abandoning them early Tuesday. Investigators did not know whether that was an attempt to asphyxiate the Nassabs or to destroy evidence with an explosion.
Also, it was not known whether Nassab died of asphyxiation or dehydration. The San Bernardino County sheriff’s office conducted an autopsy Wednesday but said the cause of death could not be determined pending toxicological reports.
Sgt. Bob Evans said San Bernardino police arrested Derek Ward, a San Bernardino Valley College student who lived with his parents across the street from the Nassab home, at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday and booked him for investigation of murder.
Evans said the home was ransacked by the armed intruder when he first broke in on the couple last Friday. Other belongings apparently were taken as the suspect made repeated visits over the next four days.
All the while, Evans said, the Nassabs remained bound and gagged without anything to eat or drink.
Clarence Kruse, a neighbor, discovered the victims Tuesday when he went to their door to give them their mail, only to hear Jennie Nassab crying feebly, “Help me! Please, help me!”
He said he looked in through a broken window pane and saw the Nassabs on the floor, still tied to dining room chairs they had managed to tip over in their desperate attempts to reach the door. Both, Kruse said, had been gagged with adhesive tape and were bound with neckties, but Mrs. Nassab had worked the tape free from her mouth.
Kruse said the house, in the 2800 block of North E Street, was filled with gas, and “I think it was only a matter of hours before something would have happened.”
Police said the gas jets had been on about three hours. Neighbors said a kitchen window had been left open.
At St. Bernardine Hospital, where Jennie Nassab was reported to be in fair condition Wednesday afternoon, she told Kruse, who was visiting, that the intruder pushed his way into their home with a knife, telling them, “Just keep your mouth shut and I’ll do all the talking.”
Kruse said she told him that the intruder never untied them, fed them or gave them anything to drink. She said he returned every night “and carried some more stuff out.”
Police said the Nassabs’ automobile was taken but was recovered on a nearby street.
It was the disappearance of the couple’s car from in front of their home that apparently convinced relatives and friends that the Nassabs were out of town and that there was no need to worry about them.
Relatives reportedly drove by the white, clapboard corner house over the weekend, but saw no car and did not go in.
Kruse said Mrs. Nassab hung clothes out to dry last Thursday and that they were still there on Sunday, leading him to believe that they were on a weekend trip. On Tuesday, when he noticed that their drapes had been closed, he concluded that they were home and knocked on their door to hand them their mail and newspapers.
He had already given up and was walking away when he heard Mrs. Nassab’s faint cry for help, he said.
At the hospital on Wednesday, he said Mrs. Nassab’s arms were heavily bandaged because “she rubbed the skin off her arms trying to get free.”
She had not yet been told of Ward’s arrest, Kruse said, but she told him that she would not be surprised if it was the young man across the street “because I have seen him standing along the street watching my house.”
Other neighbors described Jennie Nassab as a pleasant woman who loved to garden and was generous with the fruit she grew in her yard.
A hospital spokeswoman said Mrs. Nassab was thoroughly shaken by her experience, but was talkative and “very spunky.”