Salvatore Perrone, 63, of Staten Island, is walked out of...

Salvatore Perrone, 63, of Staten Island, is walked out of the 70th police precinct after being charged in the murders of three Brooklyn Bodega workers. Rahmatollah Vahidipour, 78 of Great Neck was killed at his Flatbush, Brooklyn apparel store on Nov. 16, 2012. (Nov. 21, 2012) Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

An itinerant clothing salesman from Staten Island was arrested Wednesday as the suspected "John Doe Duffel Bag" serial killer accused in the deaths of three Brooklyn store owners in recent months, including an Iranian immigrant living in Great Neck gunned down on Friday.

The suspect, Salvatore E. Perrone, who turns 64 Thursday, was believed to be on the verge of committing a fourth murder when he was arrested Wednesday on three counts each of first- and second-degree murder, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

He faces life in prison if convicted, prosecutors said. He was to be arraigned last night.

Police later found the suspected murder weapon, a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle believed to have been used in one of the other slayings, in a duffel bag in his girlfriend's Brooklyn apartment, Kelly said in a news conference.

"It is reasonable to assume he was going to continue doing this. By arresting him we have saved lives," Kelly said.

A law enforcement official said Perrone had cased out another store as late as Thursday, the day before Rahmatollah Vahidipour, 78, of Great Neck, was shot dead in his She-She Boutique in Flatbush. The official said the fourth location Perrone cased had similar characteristics to the three homicide scenes: located in south Brooklyn, had an owner of Middle Eastern ancestry; and is a clothing retailer.

Kelly said Perrone, who he described as a jobber who sold men's and women's apparel to small retailers, implicated himself in the killings during interviews with detectives. But Kelly said the motives for the homicides remained unclear.

NYPD detectives are scouring a grainy video to see if...

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) Credit: Handout

The arrest caps an intense probe into the three homicides, the latest being that of Vahidipour, a Jewish immigrant from Iran. The first homicide of Mohamed Gebeli, 65, on July 6, also involved a shooting, while Isaac Kadare, 60, killed Aug. 2, was stabbed three times.

"I just want him to suffer," Marjan Vahidipour, Rahmatollah Vahidipour's youngest daughter, told Newsday yesterday. "I want him to pay for what he did. Most of all, I just want to know why he did it."

Kenneth Taub, a senior prosecutor in the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, said at the news conference that the first-degree murder charge was brought in addition to the second-degree counts because the case involved three killings within a year done as part of a common scheme.

Taub also said senior trial attorney Melissa Carvajal, who grew up in Suffolk County, would prosecute the case.The investigation into Perrone accelerated late Tuesday, when he voluntarily accompanied detectives who had followed him in Brooklyn back to the 67th Precinct.

Detectives received numerous tips about Perrone's identity and Kelly singled out one caller, who didn't want to be identified, as providing key information pointing detectives to Perrone.

Kelly also singled out media circulation of Perrone's image, as he walked with a duffel bag, as helping break the case. Perrone's image was one of four persons of interest police wanted to talk to following Vahidipour's slaying. Three were quickly interviewed or discounted as suspects by police, leaving only Perrone as a person of interest.Perrone talked for hours into the night with detectives about all three homicides, Kelly said. Police then secured a search warrant and visited the home of Perrone's girlfriend in Brooklyn, where they found a sawed off .22-caliber rifle in a duffel bag.

The gun had initially been shipped in 1977 to a gun dealer in Manhattan that has since gone out of business, Kelly said. Crudely attached to the gun barrel with duct tape and rubber bands was a laser-type light. Police also recovered a blood-stained knife from the duffel bag which is undergoing DNA analysis, Kelly said.

Initially, Perrone wasn't arrested or charged as he talked to police. One law enforcement official said in some of his statements Perrone seemed incoherent and he never spelled out a motive.By all accounts, Perrone led an unremarkable life. He made enough of a living as a salesman to purchase a home in the Silver Lake section of Staten Island in 2006, although property records didn't indicate a purchase price. Kelly said he had a minor criminal record.

At Garage Clothing, a store in Brooklyn, one cashier who declined to be identified said Perrone used to sell clothing to the store years ago but was never an employee. At the time, he didn't use a duffel bag, she said.

The cashier had seen the video images but didn't make a connection to Perrone until she saw his picture in a newspaper story, his only distinguishing feature being his mustache. With Igor Kossov

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