UNION SQUARE — Five years after the grisly stabbing death of a beloved youth soccer coach on West 14th Street, the murder still haunts NYPD Det. Joseph Barbara.
"I've been in some bad homicide cases," Barbara, a 24-year NYPD veteran, told DNAinfo recently. "You think about all of them, but this one struck a chord in me I'll never forget. This man walking down a street died for no reason. Wrong place, wrong time."
Michael Jones, a 25-year-old native of England, had left a party in Chelsea around 4:30 a.m. Oct. 7, 2012, when his attacker came up from behind, knifed him in the stomach and cut off his ear near Fifth Avenue.
The cold-blooded killing — which drew headlines around the world and triggered an international manhunt — had no clear motive and mystified investigators from the very beginning. Even the man's family has given up hope that the killer will ever be caught.
“The problem is we didn’t have any witnesses at the scene,” said Barbara, who's assigned to the Manhattan South Homicide squad, noting the difficulty in getting video evidence from surrounding businesses at the time of the attack, when "everything is closed."
“You'd think there'd be a lot of people out. That was frustrating that there wasn't."
By the time investigators identified Orlando Orea as the suspect nearly 60 hours later, he'd already hopped a plane to Mexico, leaving behind a note in his Ridgewood, Queens, apartment apologizing.
Days later, the NYPD dispatched four detectives to the colonial city of Puebla, where Orea was known to have family. The goal was simply to establish contact with local authorities and Interpol, as well as bring attention to the case, since the NYPD is restricted from making arrests in foreign countries, Barbara explained.
Then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the detectives “received excellent cooperation” from authorities in Mexico, even though Orea was never found.
Barbara, who did not travel to Mexico because he doesn't speak Spanish, but was briefed on the trip, declined to cite its specifics of the investigation there.
But a law-enforcement source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described a fruitless mission with hurdles from the start.
“They were told don’t leave the hotel until the intel and local police sniffed around,” the source said.
“In the beginning, something came up where authorities were asking for a reward. Like, no way would we do something like that. We’re not paying some police department.”
'Michael's Murderer Will Never be Brought to Justice'
Many of the detectives who traveled to Mexico have since retired — and Jones' family has given up hope that Orea will ever be captured.
"For the first two years after Michael's death, we felt the authorities in New York did all they could possibly do at that time," said his brother, Philip Jones, 28, adding that recent contact with investigators has been minimal.
"In spite of all of our efforts, sadly, we have come to the conclusion that Michael's murderer will never be brought to justice. It is something we just have had to come to terms with and learn to live with."
The murder and Orea's getaway were particularly difficult for Philip, who said Michael was not just his older brother but also his best friend and a constant source of inspiration for him as he battled health issues and physical disabilities as a child.
"Michael was always by my side, helping me at school, guiding me during sport, thrashing me at computer games," he wrote in an email. "When Nickelodeon started airing their programmes in the U.K., we were glued to the screen. We loved Saved By The Bell, Kenan & Kel and Sister Sister. I think that was when Michael started to be attracted to American life."
When Michael decided take the job as a youth coach with the New York Red Bulls at 21, Philip said he and his mother had mixed emotions.
"I was so pleased for him, also a little envious," he wrote. "Our Mum, on the other hand had her anxieties about him moving to another country at such a young age. Putting her fears aside, she encouraged Michael to follow his dreams. Over the following years, they had many conversations regarding her worries and he would always reassure her what a wonderful and safe place New York City was."
Michael Jones also met Stacey Spiegel-Reinhardt — who Philip called Michael's “American mum” — while she was running a soccer program in Armonk. She described him as a “green” but “charismatic” young man who immediately connected with the kids he coached.
“He was the life of the party and one of the funniest people you could ever meet,” she said. “He spoke super quickly. He had this energy that kids flocked to. He was an awful singer and an awful dancer, but he’d be the guy in the middle of a circle with a huge group around him going crazy.”
'It's in Somebody Else's Hands'
The Manhattan South Homicide squad, which police sources regard as one of the most elite detective units in the city, has a nearly unblemished record in nabbing suspects in recent cases.
In 2015, the unit made arrests in all 15 of its homicide cases, repeating that success again in 2016, when it made arrests in all 10 of its murder cases.
But the Jones killing presents a different sort of challenge, since Barbara is dependent on the work of the U.S. Marshals with Orea believed to be in another country.
"That always hurts, when it's in somebody else's hands right now to find him," the detective said. "You think about it all the time. You want to go there and get your boots on the floor. You want to put closure to the family."
While he declined to get into specifics, citing the ongoing investigation, Barbara said the case isn't as cold as it may appear. He insisted that marshals are getting better tips and narrowing their search for Orea, an avid heavy-metal music fan who loves Ozzy Osbourne and has an Aztec tattoo across his chest. Orea also goes by Orlando Gutierrez and Orlando Estevez and is likely working in construction, the detective said.
Meanwhile, Barbara said he continues to work every angle he can in New York, with the hope that eventually one will lead to the capture of a killer he's pursued for five years.
“I’m not waiting for word from Mexico that they still have him. I’m still actively on this case,” he said.
“Every time I put on my computer screen, it tells me what cases I have active. Michael Jones is an active case every day.”