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Armanious slay probe runs into a roadblock

DeFazio: Can't read license plate in video of ATM transaction

Thursday, March 03, 2005

By Michaelangelo Conte

Journal staff writer

Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said yesterday that it appears unlikely investigators will be able to decipher the license plate of the car used by a man who made ATM withdrawals from the account of a slain Jersey City Heights family.

An image caught on a security camera at a Central Avenue drive-through ATM showing the man using the family's bank card is not clear enough to read the plate, even after being digitally enhanced, DeFazio said.

DeFazio said the angle the video was taken from will likely make it impossible to read the car's plate number, but that identifying the vehicle is still possible.

"Obviously, without the plate number it will take more investigative work to locate and positively identify the vehicle, but we believe the vehicle, if discovered, can be sufficiently identified by the make, model, probable year and some other distinctive features," he said.

The man used the ATM card and PIN number of Hossam Armanious numerous times in the week after Armanious, his wife and two children were murdered in their Oakland Avenue home in January, officials have said. The man continued to try to use the card even after the bank deactivated it because of suspicions about the transactions, DeFazio said.

The man, who used ATMs in Jersey City and Manhattan, withdrew thousands of dollars from the Armanious family's accounts, investigators said.

"We have verified that there were attempts to use the card shortly after the one-week period (following the murders)," DeFazio said. "There were numerous attempts at various ATMs, and police are working on getting the images" taken by ATM security cameras during those attempted withdrawals.

Investigators hope that identification of the man who used the card will lead to the capture of the killer of Armanious, 47; his wife, Amal Garas, 37; and their daughters, Sylvia, 16, and Monica, 9.

Their bodies were found, bound and stabbed, inside their home on Jan. 14. Investigators, who say more than one person was involved in the killings, believe the Armanious family died the night of Jan. 11 or early on Jan. 12.

DeFazio said the card was used successfully to make withdrawals from ATMs on Central Avenue, Kennedy Boulevard and in Midtown Manhattan, during a roughly one-week period after the murders. He said the attempts occurred during the next few days, on Central Avenue and in Manhattan.

The FBI, Jersey City police and the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office's Homicide Squad are all investigating the case, which has received international attention due to the brutality of the killings and speculation among some family members and acquaintances that the killings were motivated by religious hatred.

The Armanious family were Egyptian Coptic Christians who immigrated to the United States in 1997. Their killings sparked speculation among some Copts that Muslim extremists were responsible, owing to statements Hossam Armanious allegedly made in an Internet chat room.

"Law enforcement agencies are working together and hopefully we are going to find the individual who was using the card fraudulently and the motor vehicle involved," DeFazio said. "There is a tremendous amount of work which has been done, is being done and will be done."