Courtesy Boston Latin High Schoo  /  AP
The yearbook photo provided by Boston Latin High School shows Imette St. Guillen, a graduate honors student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who was found strangled Saturday, Feb. 25, 2006, in Brooklyn.
By Rob Stafford Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/6/2006 11:22:40 AM ET 2006-03-06T16:22:40

This report aired Dateline Saturday, March 4. Since the story aired, a man was questioned by police about the crime. Police called the man, who worked as a bouncer at The Falls bar where St. Guillen was last seen, a potential suspect but wouldn't elaborate. Click here for more on this development. Dateline will be bringing you the latest on Sunday, March 12, 7 p.m.

The family and friends of Imette St. Guillen gathered to pay their last respects in Boston Saturday. Just two days ago, she would have celebrated her 25th birthday.

Mourners listened to eulogies coming from loudspeakers outside the packed church, remembering the bright, beautiful graduate student who became the victim of one of the sickest crimes in New York City history.

"You are my heart, my soul, my courage, and, and my life. You are my daughter," said her mother, Maureen, at the eulogy.

"I’ll be saying goodbye to you every day for the rest of my life," said her sister, Alejandra.

Former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt calls it "one of the more grotesque, brutal, and sadistic murders" that he's heard of a long time.

It was exactly one week ago that Imette’s body— a slight 5'2, 115 lbs.— was found in a desolate industrial zone in Brooklyn.

What police discovered told a horrific story: Imette’s captor had jammed a sock down her throat and cut off her hair. He wrapped her head in transparent packing tape, carefully applying the strips from her forehead to her chin. The newspapers would call him the “Mummy Maniac.”

Could he see her terrified face masked in tape, as he beat, cut, tortured, raped, and then strangled her? Could she see his?

What kind of person would have done this? Perhaps the kind of person she had come to New York to study.

24-year-old Imette grew up in Boston, she and her sister raised by her mother, after their dad died when Imette was only nine years old.

"She was very nice and sunshine-y, and just everything you ever would want in a sister and in a friend," recalls her sister Alejandra in an interview with NBC News.

Imette attended the prestigious Boston Latin school and graduated magna cum laude from George Washington University before moving to New York in 2004 to study the mind of psychopaths and social deviants at one of the nation’s top criminology graduate programs. She would have graduated this year, with honors.

Professor Lawrence Kobilinsky, John Jay College of Criminal Justice: Imette was a top student. She was on the Dean’s list. She was an exceptionally good student—very good grades.

Outside of school, she was an avid athlete, strong for her small frame. Amy short met her every week to play in a dodge ball league.

Amy Short, friend: She smiled with her eyes. She just was always upbeat and happy about life. And sort of had this look like, “Here I come.”

After games, the playerswould often go out.

Short: Imette was one of our regulars at the bar. She was there for the social part. No doubt about it. We’d put songs on the jukebox and sing and just goof around.  It was always a good time.

Not unlike how it all started on February 24, a Friday night: Imette left her apartment on the Upper West side of Manhattan, and headed downtown, this time with a good childhood girlfriend.

In an urban jungle that’s long been more “Sex in the City” than “Son of Sam,” they were just two young women enjoying a night on the town in the city’s Soho neighborhood.

Jonathan Dienst, reporter for WNBC: It is one of the hot, social scenes— lots of good bars and restaurants. 

Dienst retraced Imette’s steps that night. Police sources tell him Imette and her friend ended up at the Pioneer Bar. At about 3:20 a.m., they headed outside.

Dienst: There’s a videotape. There’s a surveillance camera that picked up the two of them having a conversation. There's a bit of an argument, we understand, about one wanting to go home, and the other wanting to go out.

Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: So, Imette wants to stay and her friend wants her to go home?

Dienst: Well, that is what police are telling us.

Her friend headed home. Imette was alone on the street she started walking to another bar.

Stafford: So, at 3:30 a.m., she walks all the way to the Falls Bar. And that’s a good distance, right?

Dienst: Yes.  It was cold out.  And it’s a good, long, seven blocks.  It’s a good 10 to 15 minute walk.

Imette made it to the second bar safe and sound. At 3:50, her cell phone rang.

Dienst: She gets a phone call from her friend to check in and to make sure she’s okay.  And she says, “Yes, I’m fine. I’m at a bar. I’m having one last drink.”  And that’s the end of it.  As closing time approaches at 4 a.m., the bartender sees her walk out alone.

The bartender would later remember Imette drank one, maybe two rum-and-Cokes, and sat alone. Though various witnesses say she had as many as six drinks throughout the night, they say she did not appear drunk as she left. 

What happened next is a black hole. Was Imette snatched or lured to her death? Was she targeted by someone she knew or picked at random by a stranger? Did footsteps creep behind her or was she tricked by someone offering her a ride?

MSNBC TV

The next thing we know about Imette’s whereabouts came in a phone call.  About 17 hours after she was last seen, at 8:23 Saturday night, a man used a payphone outside a Brooklyn diner to call 911. He reported what looked like a body in a nearby industrial dump, and hung up.

20 minutes later, on a desolate service road leading to a Brooklyn landfill, police found Imette’s body wrapped in a cheap colorful blanket, 11 miles and across a river from where she was last seen.

Swallowed by the darkness, so far from the bright city lights, a promising life ended, and a mystery began.

Imette St. Guillen came to New York to study the science of criminal deviants and psychopaths.  She ended up the victim of one: raped, mutilated, her face wrapped in transparent packing tape. 

Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent :  Do you think that she was killed soon after 4 a.m. when she was last seen?

Former FBI profiler and NBC News analyst Clint van Zandt:  I don’t think so.

Stafford: How long do you think he took?

Van Zandt: I think he may have spent hours with her, unfortunately.

Stafford: Do you think this person has killed before?

Van Zandt: Whoever did this didn’t just fall off the psychopathic wagon.  This is someone who has committed crimes against people in the past.

The profiler says the evidence shows the killer was organized and may have prepared for his attack well in advance.

Van Zandt: He’ll have what’s called a “kidnap kit” or a “rape kit.” It may be a blanket. It may be a sheet.  It can be restraints.  It can be masks. It can be ties. It can be a lot of different things that this type of assailant could carry with him.

For the profiler, the most telling detail in this gruesome crime scene is the fact that the attacker cut off Imette’s hair— and may have taken some with him.

Van Zandt: This is one of the things that bothers me the most: It could be a serial killer in-the-making who’s taking trophies. 

Stafford: What is the biggest challenge for police right now?

Van Zandt: To find this person before he kills again.

But could the first clue be that 911 call from the diner near the scene reporting the body? Was the anonymous male voice the killer bragging?

Stafford: Do the police believe that the 911 caller had something to do with the murder?

Jonathan Dienst, WNBC reporter: We just got a briefing on that.  And at this point in time, there is nothing to suggest the caller was in fact, the killer.

Police are combing the crime scene for any scrap of evidence. Samples from the blanket Imette’s body was wrapped in are still being tested for DNA but so far sources say no luck.

Professor Lawrence Kobilinsky, John Jay College: We know she fought like hell, and we know her nails were broken and there may perhaps be DNA from the perpetrator under her nails.

At Imette’s school, classmates and faculty who usually dissect murders in textbooks are now pouring over a case too close to home.   

Kobilinsky: There is a saying that the deceased, they cry out for justice. And there is evidence in and on their bodies that are informative to law enforcement.

Police have come to believe Imette didn’t know her killer. But is he known to authorities? Police are hoping that if DNA evidence is found, they will be able to match it to a known offender in the system, and do it before he strikes again.

Jen Chung is the editor of Gothamist.com, a popular blog about life in the big city that never sleeps, and now, perhaps, cannot.

Jen Chung, editor of Gothamist.com: People are definitely worried. They do wonder if it is a serial killer.

Stafford: To the young women you’re hearing from, is their a feeling, “Hey, if it happens to Imette, it could happen to me?”

Chung: Definitely. Everyone is very concern for their own safety and wondering, “That could’ve been me.”

Amy Short, Imette's friend: I think that everyone has questions about what happened. And none of us can even begin to understand how these events played out. I think it probably strikes everyone as a little strange that she would go to a second bar alone. But who knows, maybe she had something on her mind? I wish I had some answers. I think all of us wish we had some answers.

A week after the murder, answers are still hard to come by. This is still a crime with seemingly no motive, no eye witnesses, and no suspects. The one hard fact known to detectives is that the killer is still out there. And, the fear is, maybe, so is his next victim.

A substantial reward is being offered for information leading to the capture of Imette St. Guillen's killer.  Her school, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has also established a scholarship in her honor.

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