"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."