BROOKLYN — Cops are zeroing in on a "person of interest" in the series of three murders of Brooklyn shopkeepers, focusing on a man who showed up in surveillance footage near the two most recent killings, police sources said.
The man, whom police initially dubbed "John Doe Duffel Bag" because of the bag he was carrying, as spotted in footage taken near the Flatbush shop where 78-year-old Vahidipour Rahmatollah, was killed Friday, and police believe he also appears in footage taken near the murder of a Bensonhurst shopkeeper in August, though that video is grainier, sources said.
In at least in the most recent two cases, the killer did not take any money or merchandise before fleeing the murder scene, sources said.
The latest victim in the murders, Rahmatollah, was killed Friday between 4:30 and 7 p.m. at his store, She-She Boutique at 834 Flatbush Ave., near Linden Boulevard, in Flatbush.
He was found lying on the floor of the store with three gunshot wounds to his head and torso and $181 in his pocket, police sources said. The cash register appeared untouched.
The .22 caliber handgun that was used to kill him is the same used in the murders of Isaac Kadare on Aug. 2 and Mohamed Galebi on July 6 inside their stores in Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge, the NYPD said.
The man with the duffel bag has not been called a suspect but is one of two remaining people police are looking for in the most recent case, because they were near the scene of the murder at the time police believe it occurred.
Two security cameras along Flatbush Avenue recorded footage of the man walking north from the crime scene about 6 p.m. Nov. 16, police said. In the footage the man had a mustache and black hair with a bald spot, was wearing a long black coat and was carrying a black bag.
“If he is found and ID'd and turns out to be a legit guy, then we are back to square one,” a source said Monday, as police still scoured footage for clues.
Sources said the murders may be the work of a serial killer, and in addition to the gun, some of the details in each case are similar.
All three of the victims' faces were covered when police found them, and all were reportedly Middle Eastern.
The addresses of the stores where the murders took place also all contain the number 8, which investigators were initially exploring as a link. But it was unclear if that was still the case.
A police source described the killings as well thought out because the stores didn’t have surveillance, but added that they are the work of "a coward."
"What does it take to find older people, working alone in small stores and executing them?" the source said.
The NYPD has asked the FBI to put together a profile of the killer, using details from the murders to illustrate a type of person the force should be looking for, sources said.
"Earlier this evening, the New York Police Department formally requested the FBI's assistance with a series of homicides in Brooklyn, New York over the last five months," FBI Supervisory Special Agent Martin Feely said in a statement Monday night. "The FBI will be providing assistance, to include expertise from the Behavioral Analysis Unit. The New York Police Department remains the lead investigative agency."
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said Monday that it was unclear whether the murders were committed by a serial killer.
"There's certain things that would indicate that it falls into the category of serial killing," Hynes said in a press conference. "[But there's] nothing about the victims that would suggest anything other than they were just the victims of a random execution.”
The FBI, though, defines a serial killer more broadly, as someone who kills two or more people in "separate events."
On Sunday, police released surveillance footage of four people they wanted to question in the latest killing, including the man with the duffel bag.
Two were cleared of any involvement in the murder: a young woman who was filmed running down Flatbush Avenue after having stolen some perfume from a street cart, and a young man who chased after her, sources said.
Police are still looking to question the man with the duffel bag, along with a woman who was recorded in the area about 6 p.m. wearing glasses, a long black coat and a white scarf. Neither is considered a suspect.
Detectives were also interested in finding a man who was on his phone near the scene of the Isaac Kadare murder and was overheard threatening to "kill someone," but he hasn't emerged in either of the other shopkeeper murders.
Hynes said he is confident investigators will be able to find the killer.
"There’s no one more effective than the NYPD detectives," Hynes said. "Maybe it’s the theater of opportunity you have in New York City, but they’re the very best. They’re like Sherlock Holmes."
The NYPD is offering a reward of $22,000 in each of the homicides for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible. On Monday, City Councilman David G. Greenfield and State Senator Martin Golden increased the reward to $40,000.
Anyone with information may call the Crime Stoppers hotline in confidence at 1-800-577 -TIPS.