WASHINGTON — Police and federal agents were searching in New York City Thursday for a welder suspected in the slayings of his former employer, his wife, their 10-year-old son and a housekeeper inside a Washington mansion that was set on fire.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said “just about every law enforcement officer across the country” is on the lookout for Daron Dylon Wint, 34, a native of Guyana and former Marine now wanted on charges of first-degree murder.
Investigators picked up Wint’s girlfriend at her Brooklyn apartment and were questioning her at a precinct Thursday, but she has not been arrested, according to two law enforcement officials who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Another housekeeper told the AP she believes that the family and their housekeeper were held captive for nearly a day before they were killed, citing an unusual voice mail she got from Savvas Savopoulos and a text message sent from the phone of his wife, Amy, 47, telling her not to come to the house.
Slain along with the couple were their 10-year-old son, Philip, and housekeeper Veralicia Figueroa.
Figueroa usually left the house around 3 p.m., which led the surviving housekeeper, Nelitza Gutierrez, to suspect that an intruder already had her under control before then on May 13.
The fire was reported shortly before 1:30 p.m. on May 14. Firefighters found all four bodies inside, and it was clear that they had been slain before the fire was set, authorities said.
“Right now it does not appear that this was a random crime,” Lanier said.
The police chief did not discuss any possible motives and repeatedly declined to describe any evidence.
However, The Washington Post reported, citing police documents and anonymous sources, that Savopoulos’s personal assistant dropped off a package containing $40,000 in cash at the home the morning of May 14, following a flurry of phone calls between Savopoulos, a bank, an accountant, the personal assistant and his company.
The Post also reported that records show Savopoulos called his assistant at 11:54 a.m. — the last incoming or outgoing call he made or answered before the fire.
Savopoulos, 46, was the CEO of American Iron Works, a Maryland-based supplier to major construction projects. The slayings inside his $4.5 million mansion terrorized Woodley Park, one of the capital’s most affluent neighborhoods, where high fences and elaborate security systems protect properties and local and federal police are a constant presence.
Gutierrez worked for the family for 20 years, and was one of the last people to see Savopoulos alive.
She told the AP that she and Savopoulos spent May 13 cleaning up a martial arts studio he was opening in northern Virginia before he got a call from his wife at around 5:30 p.m. She could hear his half of the conversation, and he later explained that she told him to come home to watch their son because she was going out, Gutierrez said.
But after he got home, she said he changed his story: Sounding flustered, he left her a voice mail saying his wife was sick in bed, that Figueroa was staying with her overnight, that she shouldn’t come the next day and that there was no use calling because Figueroa’s phone was dead and the family didn’t have a charger.
“It doesn’t make any sense. How come you don’t have another phone — iPhones are all over,” Gutierrez said. “He was kind of building stories.”
By 1:30 p.m., firefighters were called to the home, found the bodies, and said the fire appeared intentional. The executive’s blue Porsche, also set on fire, was found in a parking lot in New Carrollton, Maryland, about 2 miles from an address listed for Wint in court records.
DNA analysis at a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms lab linked Wint to the crime on Tuesday, a law enforcement official involved in the investigation told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to discuss the investigation publicly. Wint was named publicly as a suspect late Wednesday night.
During the family’s final hours, someone called Domino’s from their house and ordered pizza. The Post reported that the DNA evidence came from a pizza crust. A person answering the phone at a Domino’s about 2 miles away told the AP that a pizza was delivered from there to the mansion, but directed other questions to a company spokesman, who did not respond.
The U.S. Marshals Service and New York City police were searching for Wint, who was spotted in the New York City borough of Brooklyn Wednesday night, according to a spokesman for District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, Michael Czin.
“Even his family has made pleas for him to turn himself in,” Lanier said. “It would be much easier if he would just turn himself in.”
Court records show Wint was convicted of assaulting one girlfriend in Maryland in 2009, and pleaded guilty the next year to malicious destruction of property after he allegedly threatened to kill a woman and her infant daughter, breaking into her apartment, stealing a television and vandalizing her car.
A police officer listened to Wint tell the woman, “I’m going to come over there and kill you, your daughter and friends,” court records show. “The defendant advised he was good with a knife and could kill them easily and was not afraid of the police,” a detective wrote in charging documents.
Also in 2010, Wint was arrested outside the American Iron Works headquarters while carrying a 2-foot-long machete and a BB pistol, but weapons charges were dropped after he pleaded guilty to possessing an open container of alcohol in a retail area, court records show.
Attorney Robin Ficker, who defended Wint in other cases, said he didn’t seem violent or capable of murder.
“My impression of him — I remember him rather well — is that he wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s a very nice person,” Ficker said.
Wint moved from Guyana to the United States in 2000, when he was almost 20 years old, and joined the Marine Corps that same year. He received an honorable discharge for medical reasons, then worked as a certified welder, court records show.
The Savapoulos family lived near Washington’s National Cathedral and Vice President Joe Biden’s official residence. Their two teenage daughters were away at boarding school during the slayings. Relatives have made few public comments and have not returned telephone calls from the AP.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long in New York City, AP photographer Alex Brandon in Washington, and AP freelancer Meredith Somers in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, contributed to this report.
Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.