Video: New York Murder Mystery

By MSNBC analyst & former FBI profiler
updated 3/8/2006 2:18:47 PM ET 2006-03-08T19:18:47
COMMENTARY

On Saturday, February 25, 2006, sometime after 4 a.m., 24-year-old John Jay College of Criminal Justice graduate student Imette St. Guillen was kidnapped, assaulted, and brutally murdered after leaving The Falls Bar in New York City.  That night at 8:43 p.m. an anonymous male, calling from a free pay phone outside a Brooklyn, New York diner, directed police to her tortured, nude body, which was found some 15 miles from where she was last seen.  Imette had been wrapped and taped in a cheap flowery bedspread, her body dumped along a dead end service road that runs past an industrial site in Brooklyn.  Seasoned homicide detectives and the local medical examiner noted the violence of her murder, this in a city known for violent crimes.

Imette attended high school in Boston, had been an undergraduate at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and was enrolled in graduate school in York City.  She was no stranger to big cities and their accompanying dangers.  Her studies included crime and deviant behavior.  She knew from the academic side what made criminals and killers tick.  But none of her studies could have prepared her for the fate that awaited her that cold morning when she walked out of a neighborhood bar and stepped into the hereafter.

Video: New York Murder Mystery

On Saturday March 4, I retraced Imette’s last know hours, walking where she had walked and wondering who could be so inhuman as to do the things that were done to this young woman.  My first stop, as Imette’s had been, was the Pioneer Bar, at 218 Bowery, a local watering hole.  For years New York’s Bowery, the site of the City’s first tattoo parlor, was known for it seedy bars, criminals, and derelicts, and as one of Manhattan’s poorest sections of town.  Many marginalized individuals lived in that section of town, perhaps because it was one of the few areas where they could find a flophouse in which to live.  With Chinatown and little Italy on one side and New York’s lower east side on the other, the Bowery has attempted to pull itself up by its bootstraps, but many challenged individuals remain in the area.  The Pioneer Bar is something like the Bowery’s “Cheers,” but without the polish.  Locals hang out here at night and “outsiders,” as one patron described them, come from other parts of the city on weekends to enjoy the DJ, the music, and to have a drink or two, or more.  Posted on either side of the front door of the bar are the well-known pictures of Imette, the poster stating that a substantial reward will be paid for information concerning her murderer.  Directly across the street is a homeless shelter and a Salvation Army feeding kitchen, evidence of the city and these organizations attempting to meet the needs of the many “down and outers” that still call the Bowery home.

It was sometime after 3:00 a.m. that Imette and her best friend walked out of the Pioneer and discussed, under the eye of a local surveillance camera, where they’d go next.  “Home,” said Imette’s friend, but Imette wanted to move on to another bar.  Her friend caught a cab home.  Imette went to another neighborhood bar, The Falls, at 218 Lafayette Street.  It is believed that she walked.  The Falls Bar is similar to the Pioneer – again not new or polished, but a bar with tables along the wall where late night patrons can come to sit and have a drink.  A waitress told me that last call comes shortly after 3:30 a.m., “and at 4 a.m. we throw everyone out.”  One witness allegedly saw Imette sitting alone, drinking one of perhaps two rum and Cokes.  She was seen looking at a piece of paper, which she returned to her purse.  Imette’s friend, who had caught a cab home from the Pioneer, dialed Imette’s cell phone.  Imette said she was at another bar, but planned to go home shortly.  Imette was next seen to leave the bar, and the question is with whom?  To date no one has reported seeing her alive after that time.  The next time Imette St. Guillen was seen was by the first responding police officer who found her body where it had been dumped along that dirt service road in Brooklyn.

As I got out of the car on this same service road, I was impressed with how close life was.  Cars were passing on the nearby overpass and a strip mall was within a few blocks.  But this road to nowhere offered no purpose to travel along its short length, not for any good reason that is.  The crime scene tape was blowing in the wind, but still marked the location next to a bent metal guardrail where Imette’s traumatized and defiled body was found.  What also impressed me was how dark the area would be at night, with no business or houses nearby, and few streetlights.  In fact, the only nearby street light happened to be directly above the location where Imette’s body was found.  About a mile from here is the diner where the anonymous call to police was made, tipping police to her location.  As far as we know Imette’s clothing (hooded sweatshirt, jeans, and coat), plus her purse, IDs, cell phone, etc. were not recovered with her body. 

Many questions remain to be answered.  Why would her murderer intentionally dispose of clothing and personal items, seemingly to frustrate efforts to identify her body, yet leave her by the side of a road and under the only street light?  Only a few feet beyond where she was found was a slight but weeded incline, leading to an estuary below, and nearby, was tall grass.  This would have been an obvious way to conceal her body, something like, for example the disposal of the body of former Washington, D.C. intern Chandra Levy.  Had the killer taken another minute or two he could have denied police the ability to quickly initiate their investigation, one that now has the benefit of all the physical evidence that remained with the victim and an autopsy that has determined her cause of death. 

Police are still attempting to identify the anonymous caller who somehow had a reason to go down this lonely road and see a bedspread rolled up, lying alongside the road.  Was the caller Imette’s killer, and if so, why did he want her body to be found?  No matter what the caller’s reason for placing his call, if a suspect is not identified it will only be a short time before police release the 911 tape of his voice to the public.  With a reward totaling almost $50,000, hopefully someone will recognize the caller’s voice, much like writings of Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber, were recognized by his brother, David.

Police were out over the weekend in the Bowery area, this for protection of those around and to show Imette’s picture to any visitor who might only frequent this area on weekends.  Dozens of interviews have been conducted and a number of searches related to the case have also been done.  Local women I spoke to indicated they were frightened and concerned, as they believe that any one of them could have been victimized in the same way Imette was.  Although the Bowery is on its way up as a trendy area to hang out in, the murder of Imette has chilled the desire of many to return until her killer or killers are caught.


The race is now on.  Was the killer of Imette St. Guillen someone she knew or someone who specifically targeted her?  Was it someone she had just met and perhaps rebuffed that night or just walked with that night?  Or was she an unfortunate victim of opportunity, a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time and alone?  Whatever the answers to these questions, her killer still walks and perhaps stalks the streets of New York.  As I stood outside the last bar she was in, The Falls, I wanted to yell, “Stand up, stand up you bastard.  Stop hiding among humans.”  The person or persons who kidnapped, tortured, assaulted, and murdered Imette has to peg high on the “psychopathic Richter scale.”  The emotional and physical trauma that she was put through was done to degrade and dehumanize her.  When her killer chopped off part of her dark hair, it could have been done for some unknown utilitarian purpose, or done to denigrate and deprive her of her femininity.  Who ever did this will probably have a relatively extensive criminal history, perhaps with jail time behind him.  Her killer will not be a first time offender.  Again, many questions and few answers. 

Update:  On Sunday, March 5, the investigation into Imette’s murder intensified as investigators questioned a potential suspect, a bouncer at The Falls Bar.  Police say in addition to four known aliases, he has an extensive criminal record and has been uncooperative so far. Witnesses now have supposedly told police they last saw the bouncer – a 41-year-old male who has been convicted of five different crimes ranging from armed robbery to drug possession but nothing sexual in nature—with St. Guillen as she left the bar at closing time.  Evidently cell phone records have placed the suspect at The Falls at the time St. Guillen disappeared (logical as he was working at the time) and around East New York—where her body was found—two hours later.  The suspect resides with a relative in another part of town, so why was he anywhere near the body disposal site?  Detectives also broadened their search of the building that housed the Falls, and by Sunday evening investigators in crime scene search suits were observed carrying out a large brown bag and black garbage bags with potential evidence, along with smaller envelopes normally used for evidence such as hairs and fibers.  One report says cat hairs were found on the blanket in which St. Guillen was wrapped (a cat lives in the basement of the Falls) and another report suggests constraints similar to those used to bind St. Guillen were also found in this same dark basement, one that the suspect may have had access to.

                                                                                                          

Video: Gruesome murder mystery

The new challenge will be to link this current suspect, and perhaps any potential accomplice, to St. Guillen by physical evidence.  DNA in the form of sweat or skin cells could be on the tube stock that had been shoved in her mouth and the killer’s skin may have been found under her fingernails.  Hairs and fibers from the suspect(s) could be linked to St. Guillen, as could evidence from the basement of the bar where she could have been taken, assaulted and murdered.  Authorities will also compare the suspect’s voice with that of the anonymous 911 caller.  Should the current suspect be St. Guillen’s killer, he may have simply targeted her because she was attractive, alone, and may appeared inebriated at that hour of the morning – perhaps the perfect victim to her killer.  Where her murderer would have taken her, perhaps the basement of the bar, and how he would have transported her body across town has yet to be determined.  Any vehicle he had access to will be identified and searched, with police looking for the tiniest piece of physical evidence that could link St. Guillen to the vehicle and to her potential killer.

Should the former convict and current bouncer be ID’d as the killer of Imette St. Guillen, it would appear that a man her graduate degree training at John Jay College was preparing her to identify may have been the person to end a bright and promising career before it even began.  How will her killer be able to justify his actions towards Imette, even in the darkest folds of his sociopathic mind?  More questions to be answered…

Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Van Zandt Associates Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed LiveSecure.org, a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."


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