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Suspect in Hempstead triple homicide used knife, hammer, records say

Bobby Vanderhall, 34, is led out of Nassau

Bobby Vanderhall, 34, is led out of Nassau police headquarters in Mineola on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017, for arraignment on murder charges a day after his mother, sister and a third woman were found dead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A homeless man charged in the killings of his mother, sister and a third woman in Hempstead stabbed his mother multiple times and beat her and the other victims with a hammer, according to court records and prosecutors at his arraignment Sunday.

Bobby Vanderhall, 34, pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail during his brief appearance in First District Court in Hempstead. His next court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday, court officials said.

In the courtroom and near the crime scene Sunday, family, friends and neighbors remained stunned by the violence and gave seemingly contradictory descriptions of Vanderhall.

A neighbor said he was quiet and a helpful member of the block’s neighborhood watch. Others said his mother had feared for her safety due to his past mental health problems.

Police said Saturday that he had a history of “emotional issues.”

At his arraignment, Vanderhall, clad in a gray jail-issued jumpsuit, was led out of a holding area and stood before the judge. He briefly cast an expressionless glance behind him at those he knew in the courtroom.

His family, some in tears and others clutching each other for support, looked back at him in silence.

Nassau County police on Saturday charged Vanderhall with three counts of murder in the deaths of his mother, Lynn Reichenbach-Vanderhall, 58; his sister, Melissa Vanderhall, 29; and Janel Simpson, 29, of Uniondale, who family members said was visiting the home.

Police said the three women were found dead from “blunt force trauma” at a home on Perry Street about 2:15 a.m. Saturday. A Nassau County police medic pronounced them dead at the scene.

A fourth woman, identified in court records as Candace Murray, was assaulted before she escaped and flagged down a passer-by who called Hempstead Village police, authorities said.

“Bobby Vanderhall did attempt to bludgeon the victim Candace Murray to death,” striking her several times with the hammer and injuring her hand and head, according to the charging documents.

Vanderhall faces a charge of attempted murder in that assault, police said.

He beat Simpson and his sister with the hammer, according to the documents, also hitting his mother with the hammer “and stabbing her with knives.”

Next door to the Vanderhall home, neighbor Marie Claire Zamor — so friendly with the family that Vanderhall called her “Aunt Claire,” was still searching for answers Sunday to explain why the three victims were killed.

She said the block was quiet Saturday night just like it usually is.

“It’s just devastating,” Zamor said. “I know he’s had troubles in the past, but nothing . . . like this.”

She said Vanderhall and his mother were both quiet and that they seemed close.

“I wish I knew more,” Zamor said, “but I don’t.”

Zamor recalled Vanderhall knocking on her door to alert her that her vehicle had been sideswiped. He apologized that as a neighborhood watch member, he wasn’t able to catch the perpetrator.

Lt. Stephen Fitzpatrick, commanding officer of the Nassau police Homicide Squad, said Saturday that Vanderhall was homeless and had become enraged “because his mother had thrown him out of the house.”

When Vanderhall arrived at the home to find the doors locked, “he went to the garage. He obtained a large hammer . . . With this framing hammer, he broke through the basement door,” Fitzpatrick said.

“The girls were all upstairs and heard what was going on in the living room,” he said. “As they came to the staircase, Bobby was already coming up after them.”

Police said he stayed in the home briefly after the attack and was later found sleeping in a parked vehicle.

Zamor said she and her husband were home at the time of the killings, but neither of them heard any commotion coming from the home.

“How is it we didn’t hear anything? How come no one heard a scream?” Zamor asked as she stood in front of the Vanderhall home Sunday. “It doesn’t make sense. It’s such a quiet neighborhood.”

Officials do not know his diagnosis, but said his behavior had become more “unruly” recently, leading his mother to obtain an order of protection against him.

“He became more violent,” Fitzpatrick said. “His mother had enough.”

In one instance, Vanderhall called police because his mother withheld his social services money. In another, she accused him of slapping and harassing her, Fitzpatrick said.

His mother, fearing for her safety, had asked him to leave the home due to his “mental health issues,” said a friend who attended the hearing.

“The system failed Lynn,” said the friend, who declined to give her name. “He wasn’t kicked out of the house.”

Vanderhall was convicted in 2015 of sexual abuse and forcible touching of a female, and in 2007 for possession of a controlled substance.

The police department’s Homicide Squad investigation was continuing.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

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