By Todd McElwee
This is a story without an ending.
On November 19, 2008, Andres Yelicie, 26, TeRence J. Strope, 38, and his brother, Ryan C. Strope, 26, were attacked and stabbed inside a rented home in the Ravensworth Farm area of Springfield. The three men were taken by ambulance to Inova Fairfax Hospital where they later died.
Two years later, the case remains open. And while there still may be more questions than answers, a few things are certain. Three promising young lives were cut tragically short, and a pair of families still mourns.
“This triple homicide is still under active investigation,” PFC. Shelley Broderick of the Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) says. “Detectives have received numerous tips from the public, and they continue to follow up on the information provided by tipsters. We believe someone out there knows who is responsible for this triple homicide. In the two years that have passed, friendships or allegiances may have changed between the suspects and acquaintances that have information on these murders. We continue to ask anyone with information to come forward and provide it to us.”
Fairfax County Police responded to a call of an injured man on the 5400 block of Moultrie Road around 9:45 p.m. on Nov. 19. It was Yelicie. According to a local news report, a bloodied Yelicie made his way across the street and collapsed in front of a neighbor’s home.
Yelicie was tended to by neighbor, Art Nolico Jr., who held a cloth on his wounds. Another neighbor, Carol Green, called 911. A car parked in front of the rented house, with someone reportedly ducking in the front seat, promptly sped off.
Yelicie then informed the officers who had arrived that there were two more victims inside the home. After entering the house, officers found the Strope brothers who were still alive inside, though badly wounded. All three men had suffered multiple stab wounds to the upper portion of their bodies.
Homicide and crime scene investigators arrived on the scene that evening. They found evidence of a struggle inside the residence.
Over the following weeks and months, the FCPD issued a series of press releases detailing some of what they had uncovered. A November 21 update stated that detectives believed that the attack was not random.
On February 4, 2009, another press release, this one from the Fairfax County Crime Solvers, progressed the story. It began by stating that investigators thought the homicide was the result of a narcotics-related robbery. It also said that one of the victims had described the assailants as males dressed in black clothing with the words “Police” and “SWAT” written on them.
Next the release described a light-colored, possibly gold, older-model Chevrolet Blazer or similar vehicle with Maryland license plates near the crime scene hours before the murders, as well as on the previous day. A white compact car with Maryland tags was seen in front of the dwelling roughly an hour before the attack went down.
It was relayed that detectives did not think the perpetrators and victims were close friends, or even familiar acquaintances, but that they may have heard of a narcotics sale through an associate of the deceased beforehand.
“These three victims knew each other and were inside a home together when the homicides occurred,” Broderick explains. “While their murders did not occur outside in public view, someone may have seen suspicious persons in the area in the days or hours prior to the attack.”
Publicly, the trail seems to ends there. The FCPD likely knows more, but is keeping additional information close to the vest in following standard protocol.
“Detectives believe this attack was not a random act; it was targeted,” Broderick says. “However, specific details have been withheld to protect the integrity of the investigation.”
As of presstime, no suspects had been officially named.
One individual who many believe to be a suspect is Lorenc Babu, 25. On October 14, 2009, the Fraser, Mich., resident and Albanian immigrant was sentenced to life in prison without parole in Macomb County Circuit Court for the murder of Rebekah Seely, 30.
Babu had pled guilty to her murder on September 10. The plea virtually came out of the blue and was made without any negotiation concerning a reduction in sentencing.
“He entered a plea of guilty; surprisingly enough it wasn’t no contest, to the charge of first degree murder,” William L. Cataldo of the Macomb County, Mich., prosecutor’s office says. “In Michigan first degree murder is life in prison without the possibility of parole. He stated the facts on the record. He indicated he planned to kill her. To do so, he had to be certain her brother was not around so he hatched a plan with him to steal returnable bottles and cans from behind a local pharmacy and return them for cash. He acted as the driver and lookout. Once the victim’s brother entered the store with the cans, he called the police to report seeing someone behind the store stealing the items. When the police arrived to investigate and possibly arrest him, Babu took off to pick up his victim.”
According to reports, Babu brought Seely to a gravel lot where he and her brother would go drinking. He hit her over the head 14 times with a tire iron, and threw her body in the pond.
“There was no purpose in the killing. It was not the move of a jealous or enraged lover. It was a thrill kill, pure and simple,” Cataldo surmises. “He was sentenced to life in prison. It appears the motivation was to use this conviction, and his willingness to plead to it, as leverage against the death penalty in Virginia.”
Why did Babu plea? The predominant theory among most involved is that Babu was involved in some way with the Springfield triple homicide. Seely was murdered on November 17. Yelicie and the Strope brothers were killed two days later. Babu, wanted for Seely’s death, was arrested by United States Marshals in a New York homeless shelter on November 24 and extradited back to Michigan. He was in possession of Terence Strope’s cell phone. Since Virginia is a death penalty state and Michigan is not, it could have behooved him to remain in Michigan.
“I am in the dark concerning the details of the Virginia case,” Cataldo says. “[Babu] never mentioned it to me, directly, but he has to his attorney, Dan Garon. I got the impression he was involved in it. Why the hell else would you plead guilty to this case, when, at some level, since there were no eyewitnesses, there was the potential to argue for second degree murder.”
Garon did not return phone calls, but during the 2009 trial told the Macomb Daily: “His plea was something that was discussed with me and done voluntarily and with knowledge of the implications of what he was doing. There are some legal advantages of what he did.” He later referenced the fact that Virginia has the death penalty, and Michigan does not.
FCPD, to this day, has never commented on Babu being a suspect in the Springfield case.
Facebook page dedicated to the memory of Yelicie contains a seemingly endless thread of poignant messages to the fallen young man. There are birthday wishes and photos of Yelicie as a little boy, a young man displaying a trademark smile and gusto for life which endeared him to so many. As of presstime, the R.I.P Andres Yelicie had 390 followers.
“We could not have gotten through all this without the great and wonderful support we have received from all our friends and family,” Andres’ older brother Eduardo says. “For this we are eternally grateful to each and everyone and cannot come up with the words to truly express how thankful we are to have them in our lives.”
Known as Andy to those close to him, Yelicie, who worked at a D.C. credit union, grew up in the area, attending Keene Mill Elementary, Washington Irving Middle and Paul VI High School before taking some classes at Virginia Commonwealth University and Northern Virginia Community College. He was an accomplished soccer player—a video on the memorial page displays his skills during a local adult league contest—and a travel enthusiast. Yelicie was also a motorcyclist who could often be found piloting his bike around the area.
This all came as shock to Eduardo and the Yelicie family. Everything seemed right in the days and weeks leading up to the tragedy. Nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
“This grabbed everyone by surprise,” Eduardo recalls. “To be honest when most people (myself included) heard of what happened, our first thought was that he had some sort of motorcycle accident since everyone knew he liked to ride around on his motorcycle whenever possible.”
Chris Strope watched as a mourners continued to pour into his sons’ funeral shortly after their passing. More than 500 attended the memorial service; evidence of the impact they had on so many lives.
“We knew that they had touched hundreds and hundreds of people in their short time on Earth. The turnout was a testament to both of them. Our family and friends have been amazing throughout this tragedy. We were truly blessed.”
Terence, or Terry, came of age in Northern Virginia and attended Jeb Stuart High. Following graduation, he enlisted in the Army and served valiantly during the first Gulf War.
An honorable discharge brought Terry’s military service to an end. In 2004 he founded a decorative concrete company with his father. A love of sports, in particular the Washington Redskins, was a constant in his life.
“Terry was extremely intelligent and talented,” Chris says. “He was very good-hearted and was kind and generous to everyone.”
The baby of the family, Ryan, will be remembered largely for how much he accomplished. He served as Drum Captain of Jeb Stuart’s 2000 All-State Honor Band and also was on the school’s wrestling team.
After graduating from Radford University, Ryan headed a Northern Virginia company’s IT division. He was described by his father as a dynamic young man who possessed a kind soul, quick wit and solid work ethic.
“Ryan was always quick with a smile and a helping hand,” Chris says. “In his short time on Earth Ryan profoundly touched everyone he came across.”
Despite the dozen years separating them in age, Chris says his sons were inseparable. They were always side-by-side. Chris, a former police officer, has setup an online memorial to his sons at www.strope.us.
“Both of these boys were robbed and cheated out of a life full of love, hope and great accomplishments,” Chris says. “Their family and their friends miss them dearly.”
Like Eduardo Yelicie, Chris Strope said he had no inclination of what would happen that fateful night. He’d never met Andres or heard his sons mention him.
The investigation continues. Chris Strope says he and his family have a great deal of confidence in the FCPD, referring to the department as one of the nation’s best.
Ravensworth Farm was thrust into the spotlight that night. The tranquility of the nearly idyllic neighborhood of approximately 850 homes was broken up by the blaring of sirens and throbbing of lights dotting the tops of police cruisers.
Two years later, life has returned to normal in Ravensworth. November 19, 2008 helped the community gel and lead to the reinstatement of a long-dormant neighborhood watch by resident Tom Mathias.
Mathias, who also runs Ravensworth’s Facebook page, says the community is still a desirable place to reside.
Sorrow surrounding the events of November 19 will never completely cease. And while the burden of a heavy heart will accompany the families and friends of the victims, the memories of Andres Yelicie, Ryan Strope and Terence Strope remain bright as those they touched go on with their lives.
“The grieving process is ongoing, and it is something that each member of the family carries with them daily and deals with differently,” Eduardo Yelicie says. “If there is something positive to have come out of this [it] is that it has brought us closer together and strengthened our bonds as a family. We are determined to not let those that did this to my brother ruin the rest of our lives.”