Drugstore slayings: Downfall of a couple

Wedding photo of David Laffer and Melinda Brady. Wedding photo of David Laffer and Melinda Brady. (Jan. 9, 2009) Photo Credit: Handout

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David Laffer needed cash. Twice last spring, he pawned jewelry at a shop in Selden.

On April 5, he brought in a 14-carat gold wedding band with a Greek design to Empire Pawn Inc. on Middle Country Road. He returned April 20 to sell a 14-carat rope chain with a gold coin pendant, according to records kept by the shop. Keeping with standard procedure, the shop reported the transactions to Suffolk County police.

"He seemed very smart," and spoke proudly of his military background, said Tania Veloso, the store manager. Laffer, 33, also looked heavier, she recalled, than the gaunt, battered figure in his arrest photo, taken June 22 when police charged him with murdering four people at Haven Drugs in Medford one month ago Tuesday.

It was not readily apparent then why Laffer needed the cash. From outward appearances, he and his wife, Melinda Brady, lived comfortably in an apartment carved out of his mother's house in Medford. He had a steady job as a clerk for a measuring-instruments company in Yaphank.

They seemed like ordinary people. They now stand charged in a crime extraordinary in its brutality. He is accused of killing four people in order to steal thousands of prescription painkillers from a small, local pharmacy, she of helping him by driving the getaway car.

Brady's use of painkillers predated their 2009 marriage, and it's still unclear if there were tipping points that put the couple over the edge. But within the past year, they had become socially withdrawn from small circles of casual friends -- and, according to the accounts of several of them, ever more deeply under the influence of their appetites for painkiller drugs, which police said was the motive for the robbery.

 

Spiraling downward

A neighbor, Kimberly Lavieri, noticed that Brady had become increasingly incoherent. When they saw each other outside, "she could hardly talk," Lavieri said. "She had her eyes closed. She didn't make sense."

She had long spoken to friends and acquaintances about using the drugs because of pain related to oral surgery. Friends said Laffer described using them recreationally.

Brady went "doctor-shopping" for painkillers in the month or so before the robbery, visiting three doctors and complaining of pain, a law enforcement source said.

On the first two visits, doctors prescribed her an unknown number of hydrocodone pills, the same kind taken from Haven Drugs, the source said. The third doctor, in Lindenhurst, checked a state Health Department database that showed her recent painkiller prescriptions and refused to provide more.

Ten days before the Haven Drugs killings, Laffer was suspended from his job of seven years at COSA Xentaur Instrument Corp. when he was accused of stealing, according to police. His supervisor, who asked not to be identified, said Laffer was recorded on video going through her purse and taking $300.

"That's not the person that worked here," said the supervisor, stunned by the theft.

A friend of Brady said she had grown desperate for a prescription in the days before the shooting, pleading with a mutual friend for help. "Melinda was trying to find out if anyone knew what hospital she can go to to get a scrip for pain pills," said the woman, who did not want to be identified.

The couple's downward spiral culminated, authorities said, in their plotting the following week to rob Haven Drugs.

Brady, quizzed by reporters when she was being led to a police precinct hours after she and Laffer were arrested, simply said, "He was doing it because he lost his job and because I was sick."

 

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Family quiet, in shock

With both Laffer and Brady in jail awaiting their day in court, the full prelude to what prosecutor John Collins called "the most cold-blooded robbery-murder in Suffolk County history" remains incomplete.

The closest witness, in proximity, to the couple's life together was David Laffer's mother, Pam, with whom they lived for nearly three years. Members of both Laffer and Brady's immediate family have declined interviews. Laffer's paternal aunt, Miriam Laffer of Merrick, said the accused killer's mom and sister were in a state of shock.

Pam Laffer is "a basket case," said her sister-in-law, who spoke to her after the arrests. "You never imagine someone in your family can do something like that," she said. "I can't wrap my brain around it."

According to the Suffolk County sheriff, no one in Laffer's family has come to visit him in jail. Only one of Brady's relatives -- her father, Charles Brady -- has visited her.

Attorneys for the couple have declined to comment or arrange access to their clients. Laffer faces five counts of first-degree murder. Brady is charged with third-degree robbery.

 

Warning signs

In September 2008, shortly before they married, Laffer and Brady hosted a party at the Medford house. To the 50 or so guests who attended the party, held in part to celebrate Brady's sister's 25th birthday, Laffer and Brady seemed a happy couple, excited about their upcoming wedding.

Signs of their eventual undoing, however, were already visible to those who looked closely. In an Internet posting, Brady wrote that summer of bringing out "the worst" in her fiance. She also wrote candidly about the painkillers she took and their detrimental effects. Longtime friends said both could be socially awkward and struggled to fit in.

In the fall of 1994, his senior year at Patchogue-Medford High School, Laffer joined the Army Reserve. He also wanted to be an FBI agent, said classmate Samantha Ruffen.

"Back then he wasn't a monster," said Ruffen, Laffer's prom date. "He wasn't very social, but that was just his personality. He turned into a monster."

While still in the Army Reserve, Laffer worked for Wenner Bread Products, a commercial bakery in Bayport, as a shipping foreman, said co-worker Mike Farina. After Laffer left that job in 2004, they kept in touch.

Laffer even asked Farina to be the best man at his wedding, but a few years ago, communication between them slowed to a trickle and then, for no particular reason, stopped.

"I had a lot of friends back then," Farina said, "but I think I was his only friend in a way."

Brady, 29, "was clingy to people, almost stalking them," said Kim Fazzi, who befriended her after high school.

 

Sharp change in behavior

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Laffer and Brady, who grew up in West Sayville and attended Sayville High, met through mutual friends in 2004 and got engaged two years later. During the engagement, Brady often posted thoughts on a wedding-planning website called liweddings.com.

In June 2008, she wrote: "I have known him for 4 years and he is a wonderful man he has changed the last few months and he says it is me I bring out the worst in him and I screwed him up."

She also wrote that month of using three different painkillers including Vicodin, a brand of hydrocodone. Friend Peter Regan said he noticed her mouth often appeared swollen.

"I am never like this," read one post. "This only stared [sic] when I started having surgery on my teeth. I am usually a very happy and fun person to be around."

Laffer played in a deck hockey league, and Brady often watched. Brady's frequent use of painkillers was common knowledge among Laffer's teammates, said one of them, who asked not to be identified.

Last year, Laffer started missing games and used Brady as his excuse, saying he needed to stay with her because she was in so much pain, the teammate said. Another friend of Brady's noticed a distinct change in her behavior about that time.

"She was acting like a drug addict, very anxious, very hyper," said the woman, who did not want to be identified. "She started losing weight, calling me at weird hours."

Early this year, Laffer abruptly stopped playing hockey, telling teammates he had been in a car accident and couldn't play any more.

With Martin Evans, Sophia Chang, Sandra Peddie, Jennifer Smith, Mikala Jamison, Victor Ramos, Matthew Chayes, Tania Lopez, Ali Eaves and Michael Amon

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