NEW YORK -- A man suspected of killing three Brooklyn shopkeepers has been charged after he made statements implicating himself and after forensic investigators linked him to the murder scenes, authorities announced Wednesday.
Salvatore Perrone, 63, was charged with three counts of murder Wednesday afternoon, authorities said.
Responding to a tip call, authorities picked up Perrone in Bay Ridge Tuesday while looking to question a person they called "John Doe Duffel Bag," the balding man with a mustache who was seen on surveillance video near the scene of the latest slaying and who was linked to a video in an earlier incident.
Police had been investigating the series of deadly shootings of Brooklyn business owners of Middle Eastern descent since the first one occurred in July.
Law enforcement sources say Perrone made statements placing himself near the scene of the shooting at the Valentino Fashion Inc. in Bay Ridge on July 6. Mohamed Gebeli, 65, an Egyptian immigrant and a Muslim, was found shot in the back of his shop. Detectives found .22-caliber gun shell casings at that crime scene and also at the scene where Isaac Kadare, 59, also Egyptian but Jewish, was shot in the head in his Amazing 99 Cent Deal store Aug. 6.
The latest victim, 78-year-old Rahmatollah Vahidipour, a Jewish man from Iran, was killed in his women's clothing boutique on Flatbush Avenue Friday. The same casings were found at that scene.
"It's reasonable to assume he was going to continue doing this," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a news conference Wednesday. "He went to other locations and asked questions that indicated he may have been planning to come back.
A law enforcement official said a Ruger rifle with a sawed-off stock and an improvised combination laser/light attached to its barrel was found early Wednesday in a duffel bag at Perrone's girlfriend's Brooklyn home. Also contained in the bag were 30 copper-coated hollow-point bullets, latex gloves, women's clothing, a 12-inch steak knife with a substance that may be blood, a fabric color chart and black plastic bags with a substance that may be blood on it, the source said.
Authorities say it is the same duffel bag seen in the surveillance video at the scene of two slayings. The weapon uses .22 ammunition consistent with ballistics found at each of the three crime scenes connected to the case, law enforcement sources said.
Authorities also found .22-caliber ammunition, three knives, one of which appeared to have blood on it, black gloves and women's pantyhose with the legs cut off in the duffel bag, a law enforcement official said. The blood on the recovered knife is being tested for DNA evidence.
Law enforcement sources say Perrone's girlfriend and ex-wife are cooperating with detectives. Sources say he is a fabric and garment salesman, and has several prior arrests, including for stalking and burglary, in Pennsylvania.
A woman who lived across the street from Perrone's former home on Staten Island said the divorced father of one was a peculiar neighbor and that he used to sing opera loudly from his front yard at odd hours of the night.
"He was just that crazy neighbor," said Julia Marra, 21, who nevertheless viewed Perrone as harmless.
It appeared Perrone was trying to sell his home on the corner of Clove Road and Beverly Avenue on Staten Island. The structure was visibly in disrepair and in need of rehabilitation Wednesday. A phone number listed on the for sale sign in the yard connected to a voice mailbox belonging to Perrone.
Detectives who specialize in hate crimes and FBI analysts who specialize in behavioral analysis joined the case this week, authorities said.
"The possibility of a bias motive here is something that can't be excluded," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Monday.
The bodies were all partially obscured by clothing or, in one case, a box. The shops all lacked surveillance cameras, and the owners were alone in the store. The locations of the shops are each about 4 miles apart, with addresses that contain the number eight. Money was taken from everyone but Vahidipour, who had $171 in his pocket.
Kelly said it's reasonable to think the shooter had canvassed the area to find locations where no cameras existed. "Here you have three stores where the proprietor is there by himself, no cameras in any of these," he said. "You'd have to speculate that some sort of reconnaissance was going on before the murders took place."
NBCNewYork.com's Shimon Prokupecz, Jonathan Dienst and Chris Glorioso and The Associated Press contributed to this report.