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Long IslandCrime

Cops: We're talking to 'John Doe Duffel Bag'

NYPD detectives are scouring a grainy video to

NYPD detectives are scouring a grainy video to see if it will help them identify the person who killed 78-year-old Rahmatolla Vahidipour at his Flatbush, Brooklyn apparel store. (Nov. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Handout

Police Tuesday night said they were interviewing a man thought to be the ubiquitous "John Doe Duffel Bag" -- the person recorded in surveillance images Friday near the scene of the latest slaying of a Brooklyn shopkeeper.

The man, who has not been identified as a suspect and was not under arrest, was being interviewed in the 68th Precinct in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge section. He was given his nickname because he's seen in the video images with a duffel bag.

It was the latest twist in the mystery surrounding the killings of three shopkeepers -- including Friday's slaying of a Great Neck man -- which deepened Tuesday when police revealed that all three had their heads covered by cardboard after their deaths.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly noted the unexplained similarity among the crime scenes as he was questioned by reporters at police headquarters about efforts to find the killer or killers involved in the three homicides.

The latest killing occurred Friday, when Flatbush boutique owner Rahmatollah Vahidipour, 78, of Great Neck, was shot dead in his store sometime before he closed for the day. Vahidipour, a Jewish immigrant from Iran, was struck three times by bullets from the same .22-caliber pistol used to kill two other merchants earlier in the year.

Among the similarities in the cases was that all three men were single proprietors of Middle Eastern ancestry who were in the process of closing up their shops for the day when they were killed. Kelly said police are looking at the possibility that the killings were bias crimes.

"We have not eliminated that," Kelly said. "Everything is on the table."

Of the man dubbed "John Doe Duffel Bag," Kelly said before the interview: "He was in the vicinity when the murder took place. We want to talk to anybody who was in the vicinity at that time."

Three other people seen on video surveillance shots have been interviewed or discounted as suspects, Kelly said.

The police commissioner also noted that a sketch of a man released by the NYPD after Vahidipour's killing was "no longer relevant" in the investigation. Kelly said the sketch was made as a result of the first two killings as someone the police wanted to talk to.

"I believe that individual has been interviewed," Kelly said.

An FBI profiler has been contacted to see if any leads or analysis can be provided to detectives, Kelly said.

So far, a motive for the killing of Vahidipour remains unclear. His family noted that his credit card and telephone address book, written in Persian, were missing. Kelly said $171 in cash was found on Vahidipour.

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