Serial Killer Update

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:20

    On Sept. 16 she picked up a man, or several men, who strangled her with electrical wire and dumped her half-naked body on the rooftop of 171 S. 4th St., where she was found the day after a tropical storm pounded the city.

    Now, as the dailies have reported, cops are investigating whether her murder might be connected to three other murders over the past two months in Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant, all involving women with histories of prostitution.

    Like Feliciano, fellow Williamsburg resident Vivian Caraballo, 26, hooked on N. 1st or down by the water and had problems with heroin. On Aug. 26, her body, stripped to the waist, was discovered bound and gagged on the roof of 233 S. 2nd St. She had a brown paper bag over her head and she, too, died from strangulation. And, like Feliciano, several of her fingernails had been removed.

    Both were known in the neighborhood, and on a recent afternoon the half-dozen people reporters spoke to on S. 3rd and S. 4th Sts. remembered how they liked the women, and how their murders have struck fear into this tight-knit community.

    "We're all scared and we all stay inside at night," said one resident, Nancy, who knew both women and their families personally. She often saw the girls working the streets, and knew about their drug habits, but in her 41 years at the corner building at Driggs Ave. and S. 3rd she said she's never seen "murder like this."

    "I knew Joanne and I know Joanne's mother," said Nancy. "Her mother's so scared she won't even look out her window anymore. Joanne was a very strong girl. It took more than one guy to kill her."

    Ruben Garcia, 19, remembered Joanne as living a quiet life in a first-floor apartment at 182 S. 3rd St. "She kept to herself," said Garcia, who sat on the stoop outside her building. "She had a birthday in August. She had an 18-year-old son in Puerto Rico who she never saw."

    "At night, this is a drive-in whorehouse," says Gilbert Ortiz, who lives at 166 N. 1st St., barely a bus-length from one of Williamsburg's premier hooker havens. "You can see them shoot up right on the mattresses in the middle of a sunny day."

    Sometimes he watches six or seven girls lounge on N. 1st. He points down the block to three stained mattresses sprawling like old leaves. Near the mattresses there's a dumpster stinking of piss. A bottle of Aristocrat Vodka sits in a stream of fluid that runs from a brick wall. Dozens of blue crack vials are scattered among smashed glass. And against the wall, oddly enough, are neatly ordered empties of Corona and Heineken in cardboard six-packs.

    Ortiz says he knew Joanne. Handsome cars lined up after sundown to find a girl like her: tall, full lips, full body, blonde hair, green-blue eyes. At 35, she could still work it.

    "She had AIDS," he said. "All of the girls here are sick."

    A mechanic who used to work for him fell "madly in love" with Joanne, he said. The mechanic is now in the hospital with pneumonia, sick with "the Monster," as Ortiz puts it.

    "He went through horror with her," said Ortiz. "They went out for a while. When she wasn't doing drugs she was a good-looking girl.

    "But she was one of the tougher ones," he added, echoing comments throughout the neighborhood. "I'm surprised this happened to her."

    On a purple evening after a long day of rain, a few tough-looking girls are out on N. 4th and they say they're frightened, but not enough to stop working.

    "I'm a little bit scared, yes, but I'm here every night," says Maria Rivera, 50, who's been a prostitute for 11 years, nine in Puerto Rico, the last two in Williamsburg. Rivera has no front teeth and wears a sodden-looking tank top.

    Her friend, India, is better dressed. A once-pretty Hispanic in her early 40s, India has leather pants that bunch up around her thin legs, an umbrella that she swings and a white porkpie hat with "Millennium 2000" printed on the front.

    She says she's also scared about what happened to Vivian and Joanne, both of whom she knew. But she has four kids to support.

    Then she refuses to talk anymore, and runs to fetch a short black Hispanic man on a rickety mountain bike who introduces himself as Indio. He wears a Calvin Klein ski cap low over a skeletal face, and has a ball of keys around his neck.

    Indio grew up in the neighborhood and remembers the late 80s and mid-90s, when the "crack whores" thronged Williamsburg's south side. He's watched many of them die, retire or disappear. Now there are only about 15 left?the "well-kept" ones like India and Maria here on N. 1st, the "run-down" ones on N. 4th?and he knows all of them. He watches over them. He lends them money. He gets high with them. But he says he's not their pimp.

    "Now there's a guy who's killing them," he says, "so I'm out every night right around the corner. Anything goes wrong, they call me, I'm there. They're scared. It's on their minds. But they got to work, to support their habits."

    Indio says Vivian Caraballo went out of control with hers.

    "I first met Vivian in '91," he recalled. "Her husband dealt heroin, and through him she got addicted. She started working the avenue after her husband got arrested. When you live that lifestyle, with all the money and drugs coming in, and then get cut off, you have to come onto the strip."

    "But everything deteriorated fast with Vivian, because she was doing more and more heroin," said Indio. "I went away to jail for awhile, and when I came out, she was skinnier than ever. She didn't weigh 90 pounds soaking wet. She had a dark-brown, almost black, complexion, and she had whitish lips. She wasn't beautiful, but she was pleasant. But the trials and tribulations of drug use took a toll on her. She looked run down. At the end, I don't know what she was doing."

    When news of her murder hit the streets, theories flew as to why she was killed?but there was no talk of a serial killer.

    "At first, the assumption was that Vivian had ripped somebody off and he got revenge," said Indio. "Or maybe he got AIDS from her, maybe gave it to someone in his family, his wife, a child, and then got his vengeance by killing her."

    Then Joanne was murdered three weeks later, and two more prostitutes were strangled in Bedford-Stuyvesant in late September and early October.

    While detectives from Brooklyn North have not released a description of possible suspects, Indio says the girls have circulated one among themselves: a white male in his 30s, with longish thinning blond hair, driving a white car.

    And rumors abound about a white male who told a girl, "Two down, seven to go," as he tried to pick her up about two weeks ago.

    But Indio has different suspicions. He thinks the suspect is probably from the neighborhood, someone the girls know and trust.

    "To go on a roof with you, the girls have to be secure with you," he said. "And you don't just go up on the roof of [233 South 2nd St.], a known drug building, if you don't know the spotters outside, the dealers inside. They won't let you in if they don't know you. Whoever did this had to know the girls and had to know the neighborhood."