Police named three suspects late Friday in connection to the homicides of two men who were drugged, robbed and killed in separate incidents following visits to New York City gay bars last year.
A spokesperson for the New York City Police Department said it is asking for the public’s assistance to find Jayqwan Hamilton, 35, Robert Demaio, 34, and Jacob Barroso, 30, who they believe are connected to the homicides of John Umberger, a 33-year-old political consultant, and Julio Ramirez, a 25-year-old social worker. All of the named suspects are residents of the city, according to police.
Umberger and Ramirez were both found dead after visiting gay bars in the city’s lively Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood last spring. Both had left the bars with at least one unknown person before their bank accounts were drained of thousands of dollars using facial recognition access on their phones, according to their family members.
Last month, the medical examiner’s office ruled their deaths as homicides caused by a “drug-facilitated theft.” Multiple drugs were found in their systems, including fentanyl, lidocaine and cocaine.
A spokesperson for the NYPD also confirmed that Hamilton, Demaio and Barroso are suspects in a broader “citywide robbery pattern” that includes a total of 17 incidents. The incidents — which include Ramirez’s and Umberger’s robberies and deaths — occurred between September 19, 2021, and August 28, 2022, the spokesperson said.
Two law enforcement officials confirmed with NBC News on Wednesday that a Manhattan grand jury has indicted several suspects in connection with the deaths of Umberger and Ramirez. One of the suspects, Shane Hoskins, was arraigned on felony larceny and identity theft charges Thursday, prosecutors said. The indictment does not name the other four suspects.
The indictment alleges a pattern where the group of suspects would approach individuals outside of bars or nightclubs in Manhattan, engage them in conversation and then give or slip them drugs “for the purpose of causing their incapacitation.”
Once the victims were “incapacitated to the extent that their ability to perceive events became diminished,” the five co-conspirators would then steal their victims’ cell phones and credit cards and use the physical cards and information stored on the victims’ phones to transfer money to themselves and make purchases, according to the indictment.
The two officials also told NBC News that the suspects are believed to be targeting victims for financial gain and not because of their sexual orientation. However, they added that the New York City Police Department’s Hate Crime Task Force is assisting in the investigation.
In the months after Umberger’s and Ramirez’s deaths, more gay New Yorkers stepped forward with eerily similar accounts to Ramirez’s and Umberger’s. NBC News has spoken with several gay men who said they survived similar incidents from December 2021 to October 2022.
The NYPD previously confirmed with NBC News that there are multiple groups of criminals committing these types of crimes against men visiting the city’s gay bars. Police also confirmed that comparable crimes were being committed against patrons of bars without any LGBTQ affiliation.
On Wednesday, the New York City medical examiner’s office also confirmed that it is investigating “several additional deaths in similar circumstances” to those of Ramirez and Umberger. It is unclear, however, if they were found dead after visiting gay bars or whether they were connected to the indicted suspects.
A spokesperson for the medical examiner’s office said they “could not comment further due to the ongoing criminal investigations.”
The two law enforcement officials also told NBC News that there is a separate group suspected of committing similar crimes on 26 victims. The officials said that fashion designer Kathryn Marie Gallagher, whose death in July was ruled a drug-facilitated homicide by the medical examiner’s office, was one of the subsequent group’s victims.