Even in the big city, where news stories of ruthless murders often seem as perfunctory as traffic updates, reports detailing Fakhur Uddin’s late-summer slaying raised eyebrows.
Uddin was a 20-year-old native Bangladeshi who attended Community College of Philadelphia when he wasn’t helping his father run the family business, a Germantown Ave. hodgepodge shop known as Rahman Body Oils, Beads and Variety.
He sometimes talked about becoming a lawyer. He played cricket. He liked TV. People liked him.
“He was a real peaceful guy,” says 36-year-old Robert King while eating a fruit salad outside the shop on a pleasant Friday afternoon.
Nevertheless, while Uddin was preparing to open the shop sometime after 9 a.m. on Aug. 20, someone–perhaps several people–entered, shepherded him into a rear storage area, bound and gagged him, then executed him by firing a bullet into the back of his head.
From the outset police have leaned toward characterizing the crime as a robbery gone bad. But eight weeks into the investigation, they haven’t arrested anyone. Far more troubling is the notion that they never will.
Homicide detective Ronald Dove, the case’s lead investigator, agrees with a reporter’s suggestion that the “whodunit” is baffling cops.
“We’re hopeful and we’re still working on it very hard. But yeah, so far it hasn’t been an easy one.”
It’s been even more difficult for Uddin’s father, 48-year-old Syed Alam.
Speaking somberly with a visitor in a narrow aisle of his shop just above Chelten Ave., Alam casts his eyes downward when asked how painful the past two months have been.
“This you cannot speak in the language,” he replies in broken English. “You cannot speak in the language how I feel and how my family feel. As long as I live, I love my son. He is my hero.”
Alam, a slight, bespectacled man, explains that he arrived in the United States from Bangladesh in 1981 (his son came over in 2002), opened his store 14 years ago and has never before encountered trouble in the neighborhood.
As his leather sandals flap against the floor while he ushers his visitor back toward the area where a murderer ended his son’s life, he adds that even now he isn’t angry at the community outside his door.
“I not angry with the city or anybody,” he says. “When my son is killed I got help from my community, from my neighbors, everybody help me. Everybody come, everybody make me condolence. I cannot say the whole community is bad.”
Arriving at the death scene, a cramped space occupied by a bucket, mop and shelves crowded by plastic jugs containing body oils, Alam gestures at the wooden floor and says simply, “This is where they say they find my son.”
Although Alam has no complaints regarding the police investigation, he disputes initial newspaper accounts quoting cops saying that while petty cash was taken from a box near the cash register, the register itself was unopened.
“There is money missing from the cash register,” he insists. “Around $330 is gone from it. So they got this little money. They got their money. Why they kill him?”
Sgt. Bob Wilkins would like to know the answer to that question too. A supervisor in the Homicide Division’s Two Squad (the unit Detective Dove belongs to), Wilkins suspects Uddin knew his killer, or at least had encountered the individual previously.
“From our investigation it still looks like it was more than likely a robbery,” Wilkins says while taking a cigarette break outside the Roundhouse at Eighth and Race streets. “The shop wasn’t actually open yet but was about to open. We believe it was probably somebody familiar with the routine, with the store.”