Double Murder of Jewish Snowbirds in Florida Condo Unsolved a Year Later

Sister and Neighbors Want Answers From Police

Not Forgotten: A year after their murders, Rochelle Wise and Donny Pichosky are still a constant presence in their old synagogue — and in the thoughts of their condo neighbors.
courtesy of wise family
Not Forgotten: A year after their murders, Rochelle Wise and Donny Pichosky are still a constant presence in their old synagogue — and in the thoughts of their condo neighbors.

By Hody Nemes

Published January 07, 2014.
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The police tape and news trucks have long since left the quiet streets and manicured lawns of the Venetian Park condo complex in Hallandale Beach, Fla., where Jewish retirees Rochelle Wise and David (Donny) Pichosky lived and died.

As the first anniversary of snowbirds’ double-murder looms, neighbors and friends mourned the well-liked couple — and pleaded with police to solve the puzzling crime.

“”It’s a sad situation and it’s even sadder that they haven’t solved it,” said neighbor Ron Serpe. “Why murder (them)? That’s bizarre.”

Jeanie Lowry, an elderly Jewish neighbor, said she was puzzled that police allowed the case of the “gentle” couple’s slaying to go so quiet after the first few weeks.

“They gave it so much play the first few days and I haven’t heard a thing since,” said Lowry as she walked past landscaped yards in the affluent Ft. Lauderdale suburb.

“It’s disastrous to us that it hasn’t been solved,” Wise’s sister, Barbara Kolan, who lives in Israel, told the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida. “I haven’t even reached the stage where I can start mourning. It’s not resolved and the questions are constantly on my mind. It gnaws at your brain all the time. Any little thing sparks the questions.”

Wise, 66, and Pichosky, 71, both from Toronto, were found dead on January 10, 2013 at their winter home. An autopsy revealed they died of asphyxiation.

Wise was a well-known member of the Toronto Jewish community. She was a former director of Crestwood Valley Day Camp and vice-principal of the preschool division at Bialik Hebrew Day School. The couple wed in 2009.

Police have been tight-lipped throughout about a possible motive for the crime, and were at pains to limit worries in the community that the couple were victims of a random home invasion.

Still, robbery seems the most likely explanation for the murders. Police revealed that Wise’s $16,000 wedding ring was taken.

A video of a woman seen leaving the couple’s condo was released in April, but police have not revealed if it led to any clues.

“It was surreal because the house wasn’t ransacked. It was perfect,” Jamie Wise, 38, Rochelle Wise’s son, told the Toronto Star. “It was difficult trying to visualize what happened in there.”

The son, who has only spoken occasionally since the slayings, called in vain for a breakthrough in the case.

“Someone has to be held accountable,” he said. “Justice has to be served for my mom.”

Months later, friends and neighbors say they are as stunned as ever about the murders.

Venetian Park is a quiet, tidy neighborhood of low-slung condos dotted with palm trees, where homes can sell for $400,000. The condo complex sits on a small island located on the Intracoastal Waterway between the mainland and a barrier island, just south of Ft. Lauderdale.

A contractor was doing work at the condo where the couple was killed last week.

Phil Goldstein, the local mailman, said he was on duty the week of the crime and was interviewed by detectives. But he didn’t see anything unusual.

“This is a tough one, this case,” Goldstein said. “I’d like to see people get caught if they do crimes like this. I’d love to see it solved.”

Cam Gambolati lives a few doors down from 926 NE 25th Ave. where Wise and Pichowsky lived.

“You ask anybody around here and nobody really knows any answers,” he said. “The police haven’t been saying anything.”

Neighbors had nothing but praise for the couple, but some doubted that the double-murder was a random slaying or break-in. “Everyone just thinks it was something personal,” said Kelly Faige.

Pichowsky attended the Chabad of South Broward synagogue for several years before marrying Wise. The couple attended together since then.

“They were very fine – and refined – people. It’s just a horrific, horrific tragedy,” said Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus. “So much [is] unknown. So very, very painful.”

Rabbi Mordy Feiner, head of adult education at the shul, said the couple would always sit holding hands during a weekly class discussing the Torah portion.

“They were there always together. That’s something that I saw that was very beautiful,” Feiner said. “That’s something that is kind of their legacy.”

Even a year after their death, the couple remain in the thoughts and prayers of their fellow congregants.

“We definitely still feel their presence – that beauty that they brought to the class,” he said. “That caring, kindness and warmth is still there. We feel that.”

Contact Hody Nemes at nemes@forward.com.


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