UPPER WEST SIDE — The Salvation Army senior home maintenance worker accused of killing an elderly tenant who walked in on him burglarizing his apartment is believed to be responsible for a string of unsolved break-ins in the building, law enforcement sources said.
Wilfred Matthews, 43, who worked at Williams Memorial Senior Home at West End Avenue and 95th Street, may have burglarized up to seven other units before he was arrested for allegedly robbing and murdering 95-year-old Peter Lisi, a source said.
One of the victims was Lisi's next-door neighbor, Harry Beeferman, 98, who died on Dec. 6, 2011, less than a month before Lisi was found collapsed in his room, law enforcement sources said.
Beeferman's grandson, Richard, said detectives approached him in January and told him that Matthews allegedly pawned a 1930s-era gold and diamond ring the day his grandfather died.
Richard Beeferman is nearly certain the ring was his grandmother's, matching the photo detectives showed him to a picture of his grandmother wearing what appeared to be an identical ring.
"I know that my grandfather would not have pawned the ring or any jewelry or other mementos of my grandmother’s," Richard Beeferman wrote in an email. "He cherished them."
Law enforcement sources said they believe Matthews likely stole the ring, but that there isn't enough evidence to charge him with that or any of the other robberies.
However, sources said they "hope the jury will be allowed to hear about a pattern of thefts" by Matthews.
Matthews' lawyer, Joseph Zablocki, said he knew "of no information related to other robberies" and did not provide any additional response at this time.
Police initially only charged Matthews with using Lisi's MetroCard, but in July authorities bumped up Matthews' charges to include murder. Authorities believe Matthews killed Lisi after he interrupted him while burglarizing his apartment.
Police have DNA evidence connecting Matthews to the murder, including some of Lisi's blood on a coat Matthews was seen in a video wearing, law enforcement sources said.
"It looked like [Matthews] used some sort of rope to choke him," a law enforcement source said.
Sources said police also investigated whether foul play was involved in Harry Beeferman's death, but ruled that option out.
Beeferman "was conscious and alert when EMTs arrived," sources said, "and he was not telling anyone that anyone did anything to him."
Richard Beeferman said the family was told that his grandfather — who was blind — collapsed in his room and was taken to the hospital, where he was declared dead the next day. He said they did not opt for an autopsy before his burial because doctors told him the death was due to natural causes.
Richard Beeferman said he was shocked when detectives approached him about his grandfather's death.
He said the suggestion "that my grandfather was robbed and attacked by the same individual... kind of blew me away."
Although his grandfather's case is closed, Richard Beeferman said he now looks back at what initially seemed like incidental wounds as potential red flags of assault. There was a cut on his grandfather's head at the time of his collapse, for example.
"The truth is, I'm always going to wonder whether foul play was involved," Richard Beeferman said.
An NYPD spokesman said there is no open case file on Harry Beeferman.
Law enforcement sources said Matthews, who immigrated from Guyana in 2007, had no criminal record before beginning work for Sodesko, a company contracted by the Salvation Army to do maintenance work.
But Matthews' circumstances took a bad turn in October of last year, after he had an altercation with his wife at their home in Brooklyn and she threw him out, sources said.
Sources noted a police report said Matthews "tried to strangle" his wife, who later dropped the charges.
Law enforcement officials said Matthews was addicted to crack and that he took to stealing from residents to feed the habit.
"His coworkers always thought he did drugs, but they thought the drug thing got worse" after October, the source said.
"Some coworkers thought he was sleeping in vacant rooms" at the senior home, the source said, adding that Matthews was not scheduled to work on the day of Lisi's murder.
Richard Beeferman said he knows security at the facility was lax, adding that when he went to the home to collect photographs of his grandfather, the manager pried open his door using only a fingernail.
"[Williams Memorial] was kind of loosey-goosey," he said. "There should have been cameras in the hallways and there should have been a check-out system for the master key."
The Salvation Army District Headquarters did not return a request for comment.
One resident who did not want to give his name said those who remain in the building are "uneasy" with the security protocols at the residence.
The resident and others called for a formal meeting with Salvation Army higher-ups about the security cameras, which they noted were repeatedly promised to them.
In February, Williams Memorial administrator Major Bill Townsend promised to install surveillance cameras on every floor.
More than six months later, residents said they are frustrated that the cameras are nowhere to be found.
"The building management was unresponsive," one resident said. "They said the best thing we can do is pray."