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 3/12/2006 8:48:12 PM ET 2006-03-13T01:48:12

This report aired Dateline Sunday, March 12.

On Sunday night, the suspect in the gruesome sex murder of Imette St. Guillen is behind bars, held on a parole violation. But now, police are confident he did something far worse. 

James H. Lawrence, Nassau Co. Police Commissioner: Thank God we got this element off of the street and we believe he is responsible for some horrendous stuff.

About 200 miles away in Boston, Imette’s family is reeling from the loss of a daughter and sister, struggling with unbearable grief, haunted by what she must have endured in the terrible final moments of her life.

Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: I don’t know how the two of you are able to cope with the loss of Imette.  And I can’t imagine how you’re able to cope with the brutality of what happened.

Maureen St. Guillen, Imette’s mother:  I can’t even—and I’d rather not even discuss it. Really can’t.

Imette’s mother Maureen and sister Alejandra talked to “Dateline” about their ordeal. It started two weeks ago with a call from Imette’s best friend.

Maureen St. Guillen: She was very, very upset. When I heard her, I instantly panicked that Imette was missing.

Imette’s sister jumped in a car and raced from Boston to New York, on a frantic mission to find her little sister.

Alejandra St. Guillen, Imette’s sister:  I’m standing in front of Imette’s apartment, banging on the window, thinking maybe she was there, just not answering.  And that’s when we get the call.

Police had found Imette's body.

Alejandra St. Guillen: And I just start screaming I think.

Still, she refused to believe her sister was gone.

Alejandra St. Guillen: And I have to see her. I have to know.

She went straight to police to identify pictures. There was no doubt. The bound and battered body was Imette’s.

Stafford: Do you regret seeing the pictures?

Alejandra St. Guillen:  No. No.

Imette had been tortured, raped, and strangled, a sock stuffed in her mouth, a tape fastened to her face, and her body wrapped in a cheap comforter. 

In search of a killer
Imette was last seen at a trendy bar called The Falls. It was the final stop of a night out.

She arrived alone, and the bartender told police she left alone at about 4 a.m.  Her body was discovered 17 hours later, in a bleak corner of Brooklyn after an anonymous 911 caller alerted police.

As investigators zeroed in on that 17-hour gap, questions gripped the city. Was the killer a passerby?  Or a serial killer on the loose? Did he act alone? And who was that anonymous caller?

It was the kind of case Imette came to New York to study as a graduate student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Veronika Belenkaya, a reporter for New York Daily News, retraced Imette’s final route and struck up a conversation with the bouncer at The Falls bar.

Veronika Belenkaya, Daily News reporter: He said something to the effect of, “How terrible it was what happened to that lady.”

She says he seemed to struggle to remember Imette, but remembered how much she had to drink that night.

Stafford: Does that strike you as strange?

Belenkaya: At the time, it was great to get a witness who actually saw her.

The reporter filed her story and then received an unusual phone call: It was the bouncer. This time upset, complaining police were following him.

Belenkaya: He kept seeing the same people over again.  A child could figure out—he said anybody who’s seen a couple of TV shows could pretty much—

Stafford: Figure out that the police were following him.

Belenkaya: Figure out, right.

In fact, the police were on the verge of a dramatic breakthrough. Sources say a week after the murder, the bartender at The Falls changed his story— and that changed everything.

Lawrence Kobilinsky, professor of forensic science John Jay College: Now what we’re hearing is that the bartender asked the bouncer to escort her out. Soon thereafter muffled screams were heard. 

Professor Lawrence Kobilinsky teaches forensic science at Imette’s college and has been keeping a close eye on the investigation.

Kobilinsky: There seems to have been this association between the bouncer and Imette.

The bouncer is 41-year-old Darryl Littlejohn and police didn’t have to look far to find an extensive rap sheet— everything from robbery to drug possession.

At the time of the murder he was out on parole, with a 9 p.m. curfew his work hours clearly violated.

Stafford: What did the parole board say about Darryl Littlejohn?

The CSI of the case
Police hauled in Littlejohn for questioning, and crime scene investigators moved in— on the bar where he worked, the vehicle police say he drove, the house where he lived.  Inside, there was a curious discovery:  a minivan bench seat.  Investigators say they believe the seat came from a van parked a few blocks away.

Stafford: Do you make anything out of the fact that the seat was taken out of the van?

Kobilinsky: Well it’s suspicious action to remove seats from a van. It looks like there was a suspicion or a fear that there may be evidence there that links Imette to the van.

And when police checked the bouncers cellphone records: a startling detail — those records placed his cellphone  in that remote area of Brooklyn just hours before Imette’s body was found.

Kobilinsky: What would bring him to the site nearby where the body was dumped?  It’s very suspicious.  It’s circumstantial evidence but it’s very suspicious.

And police sources say there’s more: carpet fibers from the bouncer’s home matched fibers found on the tape that bound Imette’s face. Police are now looking closely to see if Littlejohn committed three unsolved rapes— all three bear similarities to Imette’s case.

Stafford:  The similarities are the suspect’s driving a van.

Dienst:  That is correct.

Stafford: In some of the other cases, the attacker used tape and wrapped his victims.

Dienst: There’s one case where there may have been tape used around a victim’s head.  So there’s that similarity.

But Littlejohn’s attorney says his client feels he’s a “scapegoat, “an easy target” for a police department under  “tremendous pressure” to solve one of the more gruesome and highly publicized crimes in recent memory.

And some of the facts pointed away from Littlejohn: Police sources conceded those fibers found on the tape came from a common brand of carpet. And as for the other rapes, none of the women picked Littlejohn out of a line-up.

However, DNA tests continued.

Dienst: Every day in this case investigators are waiting with bated breath to see if the police lab or the medical examiner’s lab is going to come back with that DNA match, with that break, with that key link. 

A break in the case
Late Sunday police announced that break, saying some DNA tests have now tied Littlejohn directly to Imette’s murder.

Raymond Kelly, (at a press conference): Darryl Littlejohn’s blood was found on plastic ties that were used to bind Imette’s hands behind her back and a DNA match to Littlejohn was made.

Authorities will now seek an indictment from a grand jury.

Kelly: When you’re talking about DNA, you’re talking a certainty of one in a trillion so it is a very important piece of evidence for us.

On Friday night, there was a protest outside The Falls bar.  A small group denounced the bartender, who police sources say changed his story.  At the protest, there was anger and fear.

Imette’s family is haunted by what  happened that final night, wondering how and why she found herself alone at a bar at 4  a.m.

Stafford: I think a lot of people were wondering was Imette upset that night?  Was there something wrong?  Was that why she wanted to stay out by herself?

Alejandra St. Guillen: You know, that is the question obviously we wrestle with ourselves.  So, we don’t know.  We won’t—

Maureen St. Guillen: You know, Imette was starting to go through changes.  I mean, she was just graduating and, people change. It’s always difficult. 

And the family is upset by what’s been said on talk radio: that Imette should never have been at a bar alone so late in a big city like New York. 

Maureen St. Guillen: To those people who spoke, were they ever 25?  What did they do at 25?  You know, I mean, you can’t live your life in a  bubble.

But there must be times she wishes she could. Imette's mother is trying desperately to block out the nightmare of this terrible crime, determined to remember the life of the bright, beautiful daughter she misses so much.

Stafford: What has been the hardest part of all this for you?

Maureen St. Guillen: Knowing I’ll never see her again...  never hear her voice.

There is a scholarship created in Imette St. Guillen's memory at John Jay College. Guillen was close to earning a master's degree at the school. Click here for more information.

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