|Fla. Officials Probe Possible Serial Attacks|
|By THOMAS BERMAN||Sep 10, 2008, 12:11 PM|
Thousands of people swarm to the vast and luxurious Town Center Mall every day. But one man who went to the Boca Raton, Fla., shopping center last August was shopping only for a victim.
The man abducted a woman and her 2-year-old son in their black SUV from the mall parking lot. Although the woman and son survived uninjured, she remains terrorized to this day. The woman, who asks to be identified as Jane Doe, worries that the man will hunt her down and kill her to protect his identity.
She's convinced that the same man later murdered another woman and her 7-year-old daughter. That woman, Nancy Bochicchio, was also driving a black sport utility vehicle, shopping at the same mall and was bound in a similar fashion, according to police. The only difference was that Jane Doe and her son survived, and Nancy and her daughter, Joey, did not.
And the worry does not end there. A few months before Jane Doe's abduction, a woman named Randi Gorenberg who, once again, was driving a black SUV and shopping at the same mall, was found killed a few miles away.
Jane Doe's lawyer, Skip Cummings, believes that the same man is responsible for the attack, and that he's on the loose in the area of Florida known as the Gold Coast.
"I believe that this gentleman is a serial killer," he said. "I believe very strongly that he is involved in at least three of these murders -- and who knows how many other ones?"
But the Boca Raton Police Department and Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office detective, who are working the cases, lack the evidence to know for sure, and they haven't ruled out anything.
"I think these are unique cases," Palm Beach sheriff's office Capt. Jack Strenges said. "As far as calling it a serial killer, by definition, I can't commit to that."
Boca Raton Police Capt. Matt Duggan said that calling the man a serial killer is irresponsible.
"We have no direct forensic links at this point actually linking all three cases," he said. "But we are confident that the August [Jane Doe] and December [Nancy Bochicchio] case occurred by the same individual."
But even that possible link has raised questions. Some wonder why the general public didn't hear about the Jane Doe case until after the Bochicchio killings.
Jane Doe believes it is because the police doubted her story.
"I just couldn't believe that it was taken so lightly," she said. "It's kind of sad, but I said, 'Did I have to be murdered to be taken seriously?'"
Jane Doe said it all began as a normal shopping trip. She drove to the mall with her young son and parked her black Lincoln Navigator in a parking lot near Nordstrom department store.
After about two hours of shopping, she walked back to the vehicle and placed her son in his car seat in the rear passenger side. Then, she said, after putting some shopping bags in the front passenger seat and the stroller in the back, she walked around the SUV to the driver's seat.
Only then, she said, did she hear her son cry out for her. That's when, she said, she looked back into the car and was shocked to see a man seated there next to her boy holding a gun to his head.
"I was shaking, and I was just in disbelief that this was happening," she said. "He said 'Get in the car now.'"
She described the man as about 6 feet tall, white or Hispanic, with a medium build. He had a ponytail and was wearing a floppy hat and sunglasses. She said she begged him not to hurt them and just take what he wanted, but what he wanted was for her to start driving.
"He just said drive to the bank,' she said. "He didn't raise his voice, he wasn't angry, wasn't yelling, wasn't frantic."
She said he seemed to know what he was doing. She didn't want to try to yell for help because her son was strapped in the car seat and the man was pointing his gun at him.
After being ordered to an ATM, Jane Doe withdrew all the money she could -- $600 -- and hoped the man would let them go, she said. Instead, he told her to drive to a remote spot where he ordered her out of the car. He then handcuffed her wrists and used plastic zip ties to bind her feet and her neck to the headrest in the rear seat next to her child, she said.
He then pulled out onto the highway, in what Jane Doe said was the worst part of the ordeal.
"I remember seeing people in cars passing me and just wondering how no one knows, you know, that this is happening to us," she said. "No one knows that there is this horror going on inside this car. No one knows that I'm going to die today."
But in the hour or so they were together, driving and briefly conversing, Jane Doe said she somehow sensed a change in her abductor. Once cold and calculating, he slowly warmed to her. Eventually, she said, he turned the SUV around and returned to the parking lot. Leaving the engine running, he got out and took her driver's license.
But before he left, she said, he gave her a warning: He'd come back for her if she described him to the police.
Jane Doe said she was able to slip her feet through her handcuffed wrists, pop the headrest to free her neck and maneuver into the driver's seat. Feet still bound, she drove to a nearby valet stand where the police were called, she said.
But, she said, police didn't seem to believe her story. She said they made insinuations that her account didn't make sense, and that she might have been seeking attention.
"Why would I do this for attention?" she asked. "I'm with my child. I'm like, 'I didn't zip tie myself and handcuff myself.' I'm like 'I had marks up and down my neck with blood ... and I did that to myself?'"
The police said it's not that they weren't sympathetic, but that it's their job to be skeptical.
"Unfortunately, I wish it weren't this way, but not everything we are told is the truth," Duggan said. "We had some concerns about her story. ... Some of it didn't add up."
The detectives wondered how Jane Doe could have gotten out of the restraints in the way she described. They also initially found no proof she went through the highway toll booths, as she'd claimed. Finally, she failed a lie detector test.
But now, after investigating the case, police say they believe Jane Doe.
Still, during the investigation, the police issued a news release that contained only the details they'd been able to confirm. The release described Jane Doe's case as "an alleged armed robbery" and said nothing about the abduction or holding a gun to a child's head.
"They blew it," said Randy Schultz, editorial page editor of the Palm Beach Post.
His paper treated the story based on the merit of the news release -- a small item buried deep within the paper's police blotter. Not knowing the full extent of the story, no other media outlet even mentioned the case.
On the other hand, Randi Gorenberg's case had received extensive publicity. The 53-year-old mother of two had been shot and killed nearly five months earlier by someone who dumped her body in a park slightly north of Boca in broad daylight.
The crime was shocking, but police initially suspected Gorenberg was killed by someone she knew. Even though she had been driving a black SUV and had last been seen shopping at the same mall, detectives suspected no link to the Jane Doe case.
John Rulli, president of the Simon Property Group, said mall management provided ample security but had relied on police to advise them. Police gave management no cause for alarm, Rulli said.
That's why Nancy Bochicchio had no reservations about taking her daughter Joey to go Christmas shopping at the mall, Bochicchio's sister Joann Bruno said. If there had been more publicity about the Jane Doe case, Bruno is certain her sister would never have taken the child that day, she said.
She said Bochicchio had been extremely protective of Joey ever since the child was born because doctors had warned Bochicchio that her child was likely to be born with severe physical ailments.
The two were found shot dead inside the family's Chrysler Aspen SUV, bound in a manner similarly described by Jane Doe. Bruno said she is furious that the Jane Doe case was never publicized.
Duggan defended his department's actions, saying there's no way to know if releasing additional information about the Jane Doe case would have stopped the mother and daughter from going to the mall at the height of the Christmas shopping season.
"The public needs to know that we didn't immediately look at this [Jane Doe] case and say, 'You know what, we've got some concerns about this story; we are done with it'," he said.
Although the investigation continues, there is no viable suspect. And the blame game has begun. All three families are suing the mall, which denies responsibility and says it provided ample security.
Police are asking anyone with information about the cases to come forward.