Murder-Suicide Spotlights Woes Of Immigrants

By Miriam Colton

Published February 06, 2004, issue of February 06, 2004.
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It reads like a warped novel of murder and betrayal: A Jewish man in a French jail awaiting extradition to the United States. A wife held on $1 million bail. Parents committing double-suicide over a family disgrace.

But for the Goldman, Sapiro and Zonis families, the story is all too real.

Paul Goldman, a 39-year-old immigrant from Uzbekistan, is accused of murdering his friend Fay Zonis, 42, whose body was found December 29 near her office in Southampton, Pa., where she worked as a mortgage processor. Zonis was married with two grown sons.

Goldman, who had no previous criminal record, immediately became a suspect in the Zonis murder when the police discovered that the two had exchanged 15 phone calls the day of the murder, and were rumored to be having an affair. The Goldman and Zonis families, all Jewish immigrants from countries in the former Soviet Union, had been friends for more than a decade.

Police claim that during an interview with Goldman in the days after the murder, the police observed scratches and injuries on one of his hands. Blood samples from the crime scene were recently found to match Goldman’s DNA.

A week after the murder, Goldman boarded a plane from New York to France with his father. Once there, Goldman’s father, Edward, gave his son a bag stuffed with $100 bills and a relative’s address and then returned home, while his son fled, according to the Bucks County District Attorney’s office.

The next day, upon his return to the United States, Edward admitted to the police that his son had confessed to him. At that point, what had been a murder case turned into a story about the dreams and expectations of immigrant parents who sacrifice everything for their children.

Goldman’s parents allegedly also told their daughter-in-law that they could not handle their son’s disgrace, gave her $20,000 in cash and their wedding rings, and asked her to translate their suicide note into English — which she did.

On January 13, the police discovered the bodies of Edward Goldman, 66, and Inessa Lemashova, 63, in their apartment, with a note saying that they could not live with what their son had done.

Like many immigrants who sacrifice much of their own lives for a better life for their children, Goldman’s parents were devoted to their only child’s future; helping him flee the United States may have been a last-ditch attempt to ensure that.

“If someone immigrates to a new society they are sacrificing everything for their children,” said Kevin M.F. Platt, chair of the Slavic Language and Literature Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Immigrants give up an entire culture, often accepting menial jobs in their new country. “When their only son becomes a murderer, he also murders their dreams for their future.”

Platt noted that family structure for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, particularly Jewish ones, is often very tight-knit, functioning as a large multi-generational unit engrossed in each others’ lives.

Yet according to David Zellis, a top lawyer in the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office, which is handling Goldman’s murder case, the suicides had less to do with immigrant psychology and more to do with deep-rooted values. “The suicides might have to do with some type of cultural background, a culture that values honor,” Zellis said. “That is not something we’re particularly used to in this country.”

Goldman, who was captured on January 20 in the French Alps, can contest the extradition and lengthen the process, but probably will not do so, Zellis said. “Rumor is that he’s agreeing to it,” he said.

Goldman’s wife, Irina Sapiro, is being held in jail on counts of hindering justice, and will have a preliminary hearing in Bucks County next week. She is accused of obstructing the police investigation by granting her husband an alibi for the night of the murder, helping him escape the country and withholding information on the suicides of her in-laws.

Two days after her husband fled the United States, Sapiro admitted to the police that Goldman had confessed to the murder. Her husband allegedly told her, “I got rid of someone who wouldn’t let me live…. I killed Fay.”

Sapiro, who is not a U.S. citizen, faces deportation if convicted. She has worked in Philadelphia as an English language teacher for Russian immigrants.

Married for nine years, Sapiro and Goldman have a 22-month-old son, who has been hospitalized repeatedly after being born premature. According to the D.A.’s office, he is being cared for by Sapiro’s sister.

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