Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mystery at Boca mall: Cops seek killer of woman, child

The entrance sign to the Town Center Mall in Boca Raton, where two strikingly similar abductions occurred in 2007.


The two cases are strikingly similar.

The victims were abducted in their own vehicles from the parking lot of Boca Raton's Town Center Mall, near Nordstrom.

Both were women who drove black SUVs. Both were forced to drive to ATMs and withdraw money.

And they were bound in a peculiar way: handcuffed, their feet and neck bound with plastic zip ties.

Each had swim goggles, blacked out with duct tape, placed over her eyes.

The similarities end there.

In the first case, a 30-year-old woman and her 2-year-old son were left bound and gagged in her SUV about 4 p.m. Aug. 7, 2007. The woman managed to free herself and call for help.

Four months later, on Dec. 12, Nancy Bochicchio, 47, and her daughter Joey, 7, were shot in the head at point-blank range. Mall security personnel found their bound bodies in the SUV with the motor running about midnight.

Since then, a team of investigators has been sifting through hundreds of leads, in a makeshift war room at the Boca Raton Police Department.

The city of Boca Raton is offering a reward of up to $350,000.

And investigators have marshaled the power of the Internet, launching a MySpace page. At one point, they posted a video on YouTube in the hope that someone will give them the clue they need to catch a killer.

They have a composite sketch of a possible suspect.

No one has been arrested.


In the first incident, the assailant was waiting.

The woman, who has since asked not to be identified, was strapping her 2-year-old son into his car seat that August afternoon when the man appeared and fixed a gun to her child's head.

''Get in,'' he said.

He turned the gun at her, and told her to drive her black Lincoln Navigator from the Nordstrom parking lot to an ATM machine, where $600 was withdrawn from her account.

He was about five feet six inches tall. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and he wore dark sunglasses and gloves. His face was covered with a floppy hat.

''Please don't kill us,'' the woman begged as they drove around. ``Take whatever you want.''

At one point, he forced her to pull over in a deserted parking lot of a Boca Raton restaurant.

He bound her ankles with zip ties, handcuffed her and fastened her neck to the headrest. He drove back to the mall, near the Sears entrance, and placed swim goggles on her, blacked out with duct tape.

Before leaving, he reminded her of what he took: ``I have your license. I know where you live. I'll come after the both of you.''

He disappeared. She wriggled free of her restraints and went to the Neiman Marcus valet, where someone called the police.

The memories of that terrifying afternoon are never far from her mind.

'There were times I thought to myself, `I'm going to die. He is going to kill us,' '' the woman said. ``As soon as I started to cry, I knew I had to hold it in for the sake of my son.''


In the second incident, on Dec. 12, a surveillance video captured Nancy Bochicchio and her 7-year-old daughter entering the mall at 2:19 p.m. They were shopping for Christmas presents. They left less than an hour later, at 3:11 p.m.

Eight hours later, a security guard on patrol found Bochicchio and her daughter, Joey Bochicchio-Hauser, dead in their black 2007 Chrysler Aspen. It was parked near Nordstrom and Sears with its engine running.

Mother and daughter were shot in the head. The killer had handcuffed them, bound their ankles and neck with plastic ties, and covered their eyes with goggles blacked out with duct tape.

Bochicchio's purse with wallet and cellphone were gone.

Police are not sure what happened after Bochicchio left the mall. They did say she made a 911 call from her cellphone, but it was quickly disconnected. An operator called back, but no one answered.

Investigators say $500 was withdrawn from her account at a Bank of America ATM machine, but they won't say where or when those events occurred.

Days after the murders, two homeless men found Bochicchio's purse with her wallet, credit card and cellphone in downtown Miami.

The bindings on Bochicchio's wrists were broken. Police are unsure whether the killer broke them or Bochicchio resisted.

Friends and family members say they believe she put up a fight to protect her daughter.

''She had New York in her blood,'' her sister JoAnn Bruno said. ``She always did whatever she could to protect her little girl.''


At the Boca Raton Police Department's training facility, the walls of a converted meeting room are covered with pictures of the victims and aerial snapshots of the crime scene at the mall.

Nine full-time members of a task force -- six from the Palm Beach County sheriff's office and three from Boca Raton police -- spend every workday combing through evidence.

They are also looking at a third unsolved case -- a murder -- as a possible link to the abductions and Bochicchio killings, even though the circumstances are different.

On March 23, 2007, Randi Gorenberg, 52, was abducted from the Town Center Mall in her black Mercedes SUV.

Surveillance tape shows her leaving the mall. An hour later, according to police, she was shot in the head and her body was pushed out of her car in a county park.

''We're told in the police academy not to take this stuff personal, to leave it behind . . . when you go home at the end of the shift,'' said investigator Matt Duggan. ``There is no way you work a case like this and not take it personal.''


Nancy Bochicchio was a financial analyst on Wall Street, living with her family in the Bronx. She later moved to Long Island, where she met her future husband, Philip Hauser.

In 1999, the couple moved to a two-story home in Boca Raton. They liked the area, and family members were already there.

Bochicchio had wanted to have a child, but was devastated when doctors told her that she couldn't conceive.

But she learned she was pregnant as they were moving south. She insisted on having the baby despite doctors' warnings that she might have complications.

''Being a mother changed her life,'' said Bruno, her sister. ``That's all she lived for.''

Joey Noel, named after her grandfather, was born Dec. 20, 1999.

''She was a perfect Christmas angel,'' Bruno said. ``Nine pounds six ounces.''

Joey called Bruno Aunt Mame.

''I can still hear her calling me,'' she said. ``Aunt Mame.''

Bochicchio and Hauser divorced in 2006. He now lives in New York.


In Boca Raton, the white and beige house on the corner lot is dark and empty. Neighbors say they miss the way it was elaborately decorated depending on the season.

Joey played golf, acted in school plays and loved dancing. ''She could play dolls with a 2-year-old and then talk about politics with an adult,'' Bruno said.

Joey was looking forward to celebrating her eighth birthday and seeing her father, who was planning to visit for the Christmas holidays. The father and daughter spoke a few times, but had not seen each other in several years because of the divorce.

Bruno and other family members sent balloons to heaven to say goodbye to the inseparable mother and daughter.

''Mostly, I feel like I'm in a cloud,'' Bruno said. ``I can't close my eyes without dreaming about them.''

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