NEW YORK — A door-to-door clothing salesman was arrested and charged with three counts of murder Wednesday in the slayings of three shopkeepers in Brooklyn, crimes that terrorized merchants and that police said would probably have continued if the suspect had not been caught.
Salvatore Perrone, 63, “made statements implicating himself,” New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a news briefing. Kelly also said detectives had linked a .22-caliber sawed-off rifle found in Perrone’s duffel bag to all three killings. Perrone’s fingerprints were found on the weapon, he said. Also discovered in the duffel bag: ammunition, a 12-inch kitchen knife with dried blood on the blade and two folding knives, Kelly said.
Perrone, who owns a home on Staten Island but who mainly lived with his girlfriend in Brooklyn, apparently was familiar with the victims because he would visit small clothing shops and try to sell them his wares, Kelly said.
Because all three were men of Middle Eastern descent, there had been fears that a serial killer motivated by ethnic bias was on the loose. But Kelly said it appeared Perrone chose targets based on the ease with which he could get inside, commit the crime and escape.
The attacks all took place near closing time, when the merchants were alone in shops that had no security cameras inside. But it was a police surveillance camera on the street near the scene of the last killing, on Friday, that led police to Perrone. Kelly said the camera picked up an image of a man carrying a large duffel bag near the She She Boutique on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, about the same time shopkeeper Rahmatollah Vahidipour was slain.
Police dubbed the man John Doe Duffel Bag and released the video Sunday. On Tuesday, someone recognized him at a pharmacy in Brooklyn and alerted police. Kelly said Perrone willingly went with officers and began answering questions.
The crimes began on July 6, when Mohamed Gebeli, 65, was found shot to death in his clothing store in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. On Aug. 2, Isaac Kadare, 59, was found dead of gunshot and stab wounds at his Amazing 99-cent Deals store in another section of Brooklyn. Vahidipour, 78, was found shot dead in his shop. Like the other victims, his body had been covered with clothing and other items.
“In loving memory of beloved dear husband, father and grandfather,” read the sign on a memorial outside the She She Boutique.
Kelly said that after the video was released, some shopkeepers called police to say the man had visited their stores hoping to sell them merchandise, mostly clothing.
It was during those visits that detectives believe Perrone collected the information on merchants’ hours, security systems and other details that helped him choose targets. “It’s reasonable to assume he was going to keep doing this,” Kelly said.
Some neighbors told local media they found Perrone’s behavior odd.
“He used to sing opera to himself. At very high pitch” about 3 a.m., one man who was not identified told WABC-TV. “He was just irrational. He didn’t make any sense,” said another unidentified man who said he had recently gotten into a heated argument with Perrone.
In addition to three counts of murder, Perrone also was charged with three counts of criminal possession of a weapon.