Macabre Murder Mystery-Pediatrician found strangled, body set ablaze in home.
"IT'S THE MOST GRUESOME CRIME of the young year, and what's nearly as disturbing about the details of the horrifying murder of a young pediatrician is that police have no idea who did it.
The savage who bound, strangled and burned Melissa Ketunuti in her Center City home Monday afternoon remains on the loose, and after a second day investigating, police said Tuesday that they had no leads in the gut-wrenching case.
"Right now, it's an open investigation," Homicide Unit Capt. James Clark said. "We don't know if she walked in on individuals inside of her property. We don't know if individuals forced her inside of her property. We don't know if it's a known doer or an unknown doer."
Ketunuti's boyfriend, Surya Mundluru, a doctor who lives in New York, has been ruled out as a suspect, police said. Authorities also have eliminated as a suspect the dog walker who cared for her beloved black Lab mix, Pooch - the person who found her still-burning body in the basement of her rowhouse on a quiet block of Naudain Street near 17th.
Police said Tuesday that whoever killed Ketunuti, 35, a Stanford University graduate who moved to Philadelphia in 2008 for a pediatrics fellowship at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, strangled the petite, fit woman with a rope before setting her body ablaze.
Her body was found with the rope still around her neck, police said.
Ketunuti had spent the morning shopping, and detectives spent Tuesday retracing her steps and visiting area residents and merchants in search of surveillance tape that could help crack the mystery, Clark said. A $20,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the conviction of her killer.
Police found no sign of forced entry at her house, but Clark declined to say whether detectives found any evidence of a struggle. Detectives do not believe she was sexually assaulted, he added.
Investigators said Ketunuti had no known disputes with anyone, Clark said. He said he was unsure if anything had been stolen from her home, but investigators said initial reports that the woman's purse had been taken were inaccurate.
Ketunuti's brutal murder so far has vexed investigators, rocked her neighborhood and left her colleagues at CHOP in shock.
"It's going to be just a horrible thing for her family. It's a great disappointment," said neighbor Pamela Rimato Tirone, who was caring temporarily for Pooch on Monday night. "It's such a horrible thing."
CHOP on Tuesday released a statement that the community there is "deeply saddened" by the loss of Ketunuti, a second-year infectious-diseases fellow and researcher who worked at the hospital five years.
"Melissa was a warm, caring, earnest, bright young woman with her whole future ahead of her," said Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases. "But more than that, she was admired, respected and loved by those with whom she worked here at CHOP. Her death will have a profound impact on those who worked with her, and we will all miss her deeply."
Ketunuti moved to Philadelphia from Washington, D.C., where she had interned in surgery at Georgetown University Hospital and worked at a Veterans Affairs hospital. She came here for a pediatric residency, according to a blog she once kept. Her mother is Belgian, and her father, Thai; the family considered Bangkok home, according to the blog.
Ketunuti's blog leaves behind a haunting reminder of the promise lost when the killer violently ended the woman's life. She posted photos from her graduation and from trips to both of her parents' home countries, excitedly detailing her travels and experiences.
"My mother's old elementary school," the woman wrote in a 2007 post about Belgium. "She was, at the time, the only girl attending an all-boys school. Here, she perfected her shin kicks and punches!"
In a June 16, 2007, entry, she shared photos from her graduation day, when the young, pretty woman beamed bright-eyed at the camera, her dark hair barely grazing her shoulders from under a gold-tasseled cap.
"Finally the MD diploma!" she wrote that day. "Half is for me, and the other half belongs to all those who supported me along the way! Thank you!!!"
In Philadelphia, Ketunuti was known by neighbors as a pleasant woman devoted to her work, fitness and Pooch. She also was an avid runner who completed many distance runs.
She researched AIDS in Botswana in 2005 for the National Institutes of Health.
Late Tuesday, investigators in the homicide unit who worked the case all day said they had "nothing solid" on the case. They said they had conducted several interviews but had not determined a suspect, motive or any leads in the case.
Clark appealed to the public for tips to help solve Ketunuti's murder, one of six homicides over the holiday weekend. Anyone with information about the case should call detectives at 215-686-3334 or -3335.
That doesn't sound like a normal robbery gone bad to me.
Definitely not, r2. No signs of break-ins. And lest we start trashing Philadelphia, Philly crime has a sloppiness to it. This is pre-meditated murder.
It sounds personal. I wonder if she a stalker or had rejected a sexual advance.
I would say a stalker...an insane stalker. Perhaps someone who thought she was a Muslim?
I think it was probably a crazy person in her own neighborhood. Whoever is a schiziphrenic in the neighborhood.
Lot's of infectious disease research in her past. I wonder what she found.
r5, her part of town is very diverse. Black Muslims, Asians, Hipsters etc. I can't see anyone singling her out for being different.
Maybe she broke... the rule.
That's right in Center City! This is almost ordinary for some parts of Philly unfortunately but a CC resident can usually rest assured that they would be safe from bodily harm, let alone savage murder
You're wrong, r9. Philadelphia gets random killings and random violence or drug related violence, not obviously methodical murders like this. I can't recall a mystery like this in years. As I've stated before, Philly crimes are sloppy and usually quickly the idiot perps are found or at least we know what happened.
[quote]I think it was probably a crazy person in her own neighborhood. Whoever is a schiziphrenic in the neighborhood.
[quote] crazy person in her own neighborhood
Yeah it reminds me of the Long island murder of a retired teacher. She had just moved into a town home complex after years of living in a house. Her daughter came home to find a tremendous amount of blood in the entryway but no sign of her mother. It was the next door neighbor's (literally) basement-dwelling son who had killed her, chopped her up and then drove around with her head in the trunk of the car for two days.
Why does it sound personal? Because she was set on fire? Someone was just trying to destroy DNA evidence, that's all.
R13 and this is just my opinion it sounds like someone familiar with her because a simple burglar would probably bash and run as fast as he could in a panic and might even be wearing gloves if he was experienced. Nothing is known to have been taken from the home either.
Isn't strangulation considered to be a more personal type of attack?
A row house? I'd check the basement to see if one of her neighbors had burrowed in.
January 24, 2013, 2:21 p.m.
An exterminator has been arrested and charged with strangling a Philadelphia doctor who was found tied and burned in her home, police said on Thursday.
Dr. Melissa Ketunuti, 35, a second-year infectious disease fellow at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, was found Monday with her ankles and wrists bound and burned, police said.
Jason Smith, 36, was arrested Wednesday night at his home in Levittown, Pa., about 25 miles northeast of Philadelphia, homicide unit Capt. James Clark said at a televised news conference Thursday. Smith has been charged with murder, abuse of a corpse and other counts. There were no signs of sexual assault, he said.
Smith, an exterminator, had gone to Ketunuti's home on a service call where the two got into “some kind of argument,” Clark told reporters.
“At her home they got into an argument. It went terribly wrong. He struck her, and knocked her to the ground,” Clark said. “Immediately he jumped on top of her, started strangling her. She passed out, and then he set her body on fire.”
The body was burned to hide evidence, Clark said.
The police said they used surveillance videos from nearby stores to identify the suspect. Smith was spotted on video getting out of the vehicle and following Ketunuti to her home. The man left her home after an hour and was seen on video circling her home, Clark said.
I wonder what they fought about to make him go off like that?
May not be the case since she's still interning, but wondering if a one of her kid patients didn't make it?
WTF? R23 might be on to something or maybe he made an advance that was rejected.
It was the exterminator r23 -- he arrived for an appointment she had made and then Something Happened that made them argue, then made him punch her out and then made him strangle her, and them made him set her on fire.
Maybe head demons, or something way out there. Arguments usually don't go so far
That's one thorough exterminator.
Asian women are such nasty pieces of work. She probably saod something highly condescending to him and he snapped. Poor guy. I fucking hate Asian cunts.
Oh dear. This thread will not end well.
I would say, head demons caused the murder and the company he worked for, should be sued or punished in some way...they must have known they were sending out a crazy person.
Ah, fuck me. My partner and I own a rental house in Levittown. We live out in West Chester. Levittown is THE armpit of the country. Fucking gross.
Levittown is rough and tumble, and maybe if she was rude, he might have punched her in the head, but all the rest?
He exterminated her.
She treated him like an ass, and he popped her.
What kind of argument do you get in with an exterminator?
Oh come on, assholes. Blaming the woman who got set on fire?
R34: "What chemicals are you using exactly? I'm concerned about the effects."
A lunkhead with rage issues could start popping off at just that.
Are you new here, r35?
He's an exterminator, but all he hears are the voices in his head roaring "EXTERMINATE HER".
The crazed exterminator charged with strangling and setting ablaze a young Philadelphia pediatrician last week was a heavy-drinking deadbeat who was once hooked on phone sex lines, people who knew him told the Philadelphia Daily News.
Jason Smith, accused in the brutal Jan. 21 slaying of Dr. Melissa Ketunuti in the basement of her rowhouse, was a product of a broken home who mooched off his family members, one former acquaintance said.
"He was all about having a good time, that was pretty much what his life consisted of," Tracy Elliott, who was married to Smith's half-brother, Seneca Smith, a decade ago, told the newspaper.
"So work wasn't important and making money wasn't important, because there was always going to be someone else to take care of him."
Elliott said Smith, 36, always seemed broke, never had a steady job and once stuck his brother with $1,000 in charges from phone sex lines he racked up while staying at Seneca's apartment.
Smith "never acted like [the phone sex bills] were a big deal, and he certainly never gave us any money back," Elliott told the Philadelphia Daily News.
Elliott also said Smith drank heavily and was a lout to the women he dated.
"He was more rude and disrespectful than abusive and, just because of his nonambition, it turned a lot of girls off," she said.
[bold]Another woman who knew Smith provided a softer portrait, saying Jason and Seneca were raised by a "devoted" single mom who sacrificed to provide for her children, who had different fathers.
Kathleen McGrath, 61, who dated Smith's mom, Sharon, in the late 1980s and early 90s and lived with the family, said Jason was a troublemaker as a child, but seemed like he was "getting his life together" as he moved through his teens.
McGrath said she last saw Jason Smith in 1992.
She lived in the same apartment complex as Jason and his mom - McGrath and Sharon Smith were no longer dating - and Jason would come by and take her dog for walks, she said.[/bold]
Elliott and McGrath both said they were stunned to hear Smith confessed to the doctor's murder.
"There's nothing to make Jason out to be a monster," McGrath said.
The body of Ketunuti, 35, was discovered on fire in her Center City rowhouse sometime around noon on Jan. 21.
Police said Smith had an appointment at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia pediatrician's home to spray for mice, and that he attacked her and strangled her after they got into an argument.
Smith then bound the body and set it on fire before fleeing, police said.
Surveillance cameras caught him entering and leaving Ketunuti's home, and police picked him up at his suburban home in Levittown home on Wednesday night.
Smith confessed after hours of questioning, saying he snapped after Ketunuti made a comment that "belittled" him.
He was charged with murder, arson and abuse of a corpse and was being held without bail.
Before last week, Smith, who is engaged with a daughter, had a rap sheet showing a single DUI bust from 2004.
Dr. Paul Offit, chief of Children's hospital of Philadelphia's division of infectious diseases where Ketunuti worked, told the Associated Press that Ketunuti wanted to spend her career fighting infections that threatened children in third-world countries.
She dedicated her life to trying to make children's lives better," Offit said. "She wanted to make a difference. She would have."
[quote]Kathleen McGrath, 61, who dated Smith's mom, Sharon, in the late 1980s and early 90s and lived with the family, said Jason was a troublemaker as a child, but seemed like he was "getting his life together" as he moved through his teens... McGrath said she last saw Jason Smith in 1992.
What kind of idiot reporter would use her as a source. Way-distant lesbian ex-partner of the killer's mom, who last saw the guy 21 years ago when he was a kid age 15?
R41, it's a juicy tidbit. The "mom-is-a-lesbian" angle is one that sensationalist reporters will exploit to explain the scumbag's antisocial behavior. The conservative nutjobs will latch on to this as soon as they catch wind of it.
WHAT. THE. FUCK. Is wrong with str8 white men?
In his warped mind, he was justified in brutally killing this woman because he felt that she "belittled" him.
Take a good, long look in the mirror, you trash bag! There is NOTHING about you remotely valuable. You leech and whine and blame others for your miserable existence.
People like this utterly disgust me.
[quote]Take a good, long look in the mirror, you trash bag! There is NOTHING about you remotely valuable. You leech and whine and blame others for your miserable existence.
I wonder if it doesn't occur to you, R44, that this guy might have heard words to that effect aimed at him his entire life and that his utter lack of self-esteem may have been a contributing factor in his fatalistically violent outburst.
A person who genuinely believes himself to be a worthless piece of trash might very well believe he has nothing to lose in killing to avenge a slight.