Last Saturday night, one thing would have caught an investigator’s eye. The “No Dumping” sign. Because quite near it, police found the battered body of 24-year-old graduate student Imette St. Guillen.
She had been brutally murdered, her nude body crudely wrapped in a cheap flowered bed spread, and dumped in a lonely, desolate, and neglected local park just off the Beltway in Brooklyn, New York. The area has long been known to homicide investigators as a “body disposal site” for those who crossed the mob or a local drug dealer. Police and the media have determined that St. Guillen spent part of last Friday night and Saturday morning with a friend at a local bar, the Pioneer, located in New York City’s Bowery section. At about 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning St. Guillen’s friend wanted to go home and asked St. Guillen to leave with her. But St. Guillen declined, indicating that she wanted to stay out longer. Thirty minutes later her friend called to check on St. Guillen. Imette had now left the Pioneer and traveled a few blocks, method of travel unknown, to The Falls, another local bar. It was here that she was reported to have had another rum and Coke while she sat alone. St. Guillen was seen leaving the bar alone shortly after it closed at 4:00 a.m. After that, her whereabouts are unknown until her body was found some 16.5 hours later. An anonymous male called 911 from a Brooklyn diner at 8:43 p.m. on Saturday, to report seeing a body along the roadside in Spring Creek Park, directing police to the body. Notable about the placement of Ms. Guillen’s body was that it was found very close to the road. Yet 15 or 20 feet further into the park was a small pooling of water and a vegetated overgrown area, where the body would have been hard to find. Did the killer have to dump her body quickly because he dumped it in daylight? Or did he leave it roadside so that it would be discovered sooner?
Some speculate St. Guillen’s tormentor and killer, or someone connected with her murder, may have made the call, either out of guilt or perhaps to taunt police. Others believe the caller to be someone who wanted to report what he saw, but otherwise did not want to be involved. Whatever the caller’s reason, once her body was found and identified the race against time was on for the police. It is this critical two-thirds of a day that currently challenges police in their efforts to identify St. Guillen’s killer. As most know, she was not simply murdered, but was made to suffer horribly at the hands of her tormentor and murderer. Some of her injuries may have been post mortem. But no matter when inflected, it is evident that her killer or killers spent some time with her and acted out their anger, rage, and sadistic sexual fantasies on someone unable to protest her killer’s actions. St. Guillen’s hands and feet were bound, but new reports conflict as to whether clear packaging tape, wire, shoe strings, or plastic constraints were used to tie her up. We do know that clear packaging tape was placed across her face. This may have been done to hold in the sock stuffed in her mouth. Or it may have been done so that the killer could see her face -- and she could see his -- as she suffered and the killer(s) had their way with her, before finally choking her to death. Injuries to the victim’s body suggest that she was sexually assaulted, perhaps by more than one assailant and/or with foreign objects. Part of the victim’s hair was chopped off by the time her body was recovered, done perhaps to further debase her as a woman and a human being. Her hair may have been taken by the killer, along with other personal possessions, as a trophy – an action sometimes associated with a serial killer. By definition, serial killers, like Dennis Rader, the “BTK” serial killer who terrorized the Wichita, Kansas, area from the 1970s to the 1990s, kill four or more people with an emotional cooling off period between their crimes. To date, no information has been developed to link St. Guillen’s grisly murder to any other local homicide. But it’s not the definition that is important. It is the loss of a young, talented person with so much to live for and so much to offer. The killer or killers of St. Guillen did far more than take a life. Her killer made a statement against women and society – a terrible, hate-filled statement that suggests that whoever killed St. Guillen is fully capable of killing again.
In a case like this a profiler might draw a line down the center of his page. On one side he’d write the reasons why St. Guillen’s killer(s) could be someone she knew or had just met. On the other side he’d write the reasons why she could be the victim of a random assault. Investigators, meanwhile, will work this case in teams, with one team looking at her graduate school and personal life for possible suspects, while another team looks at the geographic area where she was last seen (two homeless shelters are in the neighborhood, for example). Another team will pursue any link between this horrific crime and other local crimes, while other investigators will attempt to identify the anonymous caller who reported the location of the victim’s body. The forensic investigative team, meanwhile, will consider any and all trace evidence found on the victim or contained on the bedspread, including the origin of the spread itself. If, as suggested, human skin was recovered from underneath her nails, it is likely the skin belongs to her killer, left behind as the victim frantically fought for her life. Should this be the case, her assailant’s DNA will be quantified and authorities will know the sex and race of her offender. Additionally they will have a known standard to compare against any suspect that is developed in her murder.
Some in the local media have indicated the possibility that St. Guillen’s death may be related to the February 12 assault on a woman by a fake livery driver. In that case the assailant climbed into the back seat with the victim, pulled a knife on her, and demanded she perform a sex act on him. After the assault the subject pushed the woman out of the car and into the snow as he drove away. Although this still unidentified man does not appear to meet the MO of the person or persons who brutalized St. Guillen, it is possible that she was the victim of someone she trusted that evening -- perhaps a gypsy cab driver -- to help her get home. Past assailants have included real and fake cab drivers, livery drivers, and even fake police officers. Friends suggest that she would not have gone off with a stranger. Therefore police must consider whether she was forcibly kidnapped or tricked into accompanying her assailant(s).
A week has passed and thousands of New Yorkers will be out and about the city this weekend, including the trendy and friendly bars that were St. Guillen’s last stops before her death. Investigators are working to determine if she was a specifically targeted victim. Had she been stalked or otherwise identified by her assailant as his only target, or was she a random victim of opportunity at 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. If the latter, then her killer(s) may well be out and about this weekend, a predator(s) looking for another victim in a city that would be a target-rich environment. No doubt the police will be out in force, this for the protection of citizens and to identify anyone who may have seen the victim or who recalled anything strange or significant that may have happened exactly one week ago – on the night of St. Guillen’s murder. Serial killers usually operate alone, but there is nothing “usual” about this crime. The killers of Imette St. Guillen didn’t just fall off the wagon and begin killing. He or they must have some prior criminal history. The torture and murder of St. Guillen were beyond criminal, almost beyond human. That any man or woman would have the capacity to inflict such emotional and physical damage and injury to another human being is almost beyond reason – and of course there can be no logical reason for this crime other than the activity of a total sociopath or psychopath. But why now and why Imette? Where was her killer two weeks ago or two months ago? What happened in the life of her murderer(s) that allowed him/her or them to do these terrible things to another human being? And, as important, will her killer(s) do this again before he’s caught? The murder of St. Guillen is a highly solvable crime. The more time an offender spends with his victim, the more bizarre his actions, with more forensic evidence that can be recovered, the greater the chances of solution. Important to the police will be the pre- and post-offense behavior of the killer(s). Pre-offense behavior might include exhibiting extreme anger. Post-offense behavior might include a preoccupation with the murder, taping news stores about it, absence from work, behavior changes, and perhaps nursing wounds to the body.
This murder is something that can’t be changed – it’s already happened. Whether her killer(s) stayed in town or left right after her murder, someone will know something. A reward of almost $50,000 has been offered for information that helps to identify her murderer(s) – an amount that should loosen most tight lips. In this case, anyone with information about the killer should be quick to call the police, as the monster that killed Imette will likely kill anyone who he/she thinks might turn them in. It’s not just for Imette that someone should come forward, and it’s not just for the money or for the good of society – it’s to save yourself. Anyone who thinks they know who did this unthinkable act should quickly dial 911. The city that never sleeps and the city of a million stories has yet another story to tell, and another reason not to sleep. Imette St. Guillen could have been any one of us, and her murderer(s) still walk among us. Her killer(s) may not look as bizarre as Charles Manson, a swastika drawn on his forehead, but his actions are that of a ticking bomb, one that could go off again at any minute. We’ve got to get this killer off the street, and fast.
Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed , 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."