Double Murder Mystery Worries Jewish Snowbirds in Florida Condo
Two weeks after a Jewish couple from Toronto was murdered at their Florida condo, the mystery surrounding the slayings is only deepening.
Rochelle Wise, 66, and David (Donny) Pichosky, 71, were found dead on January 10 at their winter home in Hallandale Beach, Fla., near Ft. Lauderdale. Police call the incident a double homicide, but have yet to identify a suspect — or even reveal a cause of death.
At Venetian Park, the sunny Florida condominium community where the two were killed, neighbors are left to wonder what happened, and whether any danger remains.
“Nobody heard anything. Nobody saw anything,” said Gertrude Baron, who lives around the corner from the Pichosky and Wise home. “The people were dead when they were found. It’s just a mystery.”
A neighbor discovered the slain couple on January 10, according to local reports.
The rabbi at Chabad of South Broward, Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus, told the Forward that the couple attended a class at his facility on January 8, two days before their bodies were found.
“They were wonderful people,” Tennenhaus said.
Since the killings, police officials have suggested that Venetian Park residents call 911 if they see anything out of the ordinary. Some residents find that advice unhelpful.
“I guess they’re saying [to call] if you see people who you think don’t belong here, but we don’t know everybody who belongs here,” said Esther Kolber, a realtor and Venetian Park resident. “A lot of different people live here.”
Nearly a dozen police officials addressed scores of Venetian Park community members at a meeting Tuesday night in an effort to reassure the neighbors. Police declined to reveal anything about the slayings.
“I came away from the meeting a little bit upset because we really learned nothing,” said Kolber.
Baron said that the police told residents not to expect answers any time soon. “They think it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of hard work,” Baron told the Forward.
Wise and Pichosky were buried in Toronto, where they lived half the year, on January 14. 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.
On January 15, Hallandale Beach police officials told the Forward that the medical examiner had not yet determined a cause of death. Hallandale Beach police officials did not respond to inquiries about the cause of death on January 23.
Broward County District 17 chief medical examiner Craig Mallak told the Forward in an email that information about the cases was “under a Police hold” and that his office could release no information about them.
Even in active investigations, authorities rarely withhold the cause of death from the public, especially for such a lengthy period of time.
“We’re being very tight-lipped on this case,” Hallandale Beach Chief of Police Dwayne Flournoy told the Sun Sentinel, a South Florida paper, on January 22. “We just believe that providing details that relate to this case will severely hamper our ability to solve this case.”
Police told Venetian Park residents at the January 22 community meeting that they did not believe that race or gender motivated the killing, according to Kolber. Kolber did not recall whether they had mentioned religion.
Police also said they were sending investigators to Toronto to look into the couple’s background, without elaborating.
Venetian Park is a development of two-story condominiums on a small island in the Intracoastal Waterway just south of Ft. Lauderdale. Roads leading on to the island are guarded with security checkpoints, but the checkpoints are situated on public roads and allow all traffic through.
Homes in the neighborhood sell for roughly $400,000, according to one real estate website. Though the development was once largely made up of retirees, it’s diversified over the past decade, according to Baron. Now retirees and so-called “snowbirds,” who return north in the summer, live alongside young families.
Residents said that the murders had raised new concerns about plans to build a basketball court on a park in the middle of the development.
“The park seems like a good idea, but you don’t want strange people walking around your community when you don’t have security here,” Kolber said.