The suspected serial killer of three Brooklyn shopkeepers has been arrested after he made statements implicating himself and after forensic investigators linked him to the murder scenes, authorities announced Wednesday.
Salvatore Perrone, a 63-year-old fabric and garment salesman originally from Bensonhurst, was charged with three counts of murder Wednesday afternoon, authorities said. He's expected to be arraigned Thursday.
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. A pharmacy worker recognized him in the video and called police. Another shopkeeper came forward and said Perrone had gone into his store and questioned him on whether he worked alone and when he closed, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
"It's reasonable to assume he was going to continue doing this, and by arresting him, we saved lives," 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."
Police devoted scores of detectives to the case, he said.
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.
Investigators are still trying to determine a motive.
Perrone was in custody Wednesday and couldn't be reached for comment. A message left on his cellphone was not returned, and it was unclear if he had an attorney.
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. Perrone was previously arrested in Franconia Township, Pa., in 2001 and charged with stalking, harassment, burglary and public drunkenness, but those charges were dropped when he pleaded guilty to a trespassing charge.
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, though she didn't think he was dangerous.
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.