Handyman serial killer confesses to murdering 3 elderly women in an NYC housing complex

February 09, 2021

Handyman serial killer confesses to murdering 3 elderly women in an NYC housing complex

Seventy-eight-year-old Juanita Cabarello, a senior resident at a New York City Housing Authority building in Brownsville, Brooklyn, was found murdered at her residence earlier this year. Cabarello, who lived on the sixth floor, was found by her son, lying in the hallway of her home with a telephone cord wrapped around her neck on the afternoon of January 15, 2021. The cause of death was determined to be asphyxia, however, there was no sign of forced entry or a struggle, indicating that the victim may have been acquainted with her attacker. The only surveillance cameras in the building at the time were in the lobby. This was a point of contention for family members of the residents who had raised concerns for the safety of their loved ones after two other elderly female residents had been murdered since 2015.

On April 30, 2019, the body of Jacolia James was found bludgeoned to death on the 11th floor of the complex. She had injuries to both her head and upper torso. Jacolia, or Jackie, as she was known to friends and family, was active in the local community Baptist church and had a keen interest in ancestry, documenting her family tree and history.

Myrtle McKenny was found unconscious on her kitchen floor in 2015. Initially she was thought to have died of natural causes due to pre-existing health conditions for which she was receiving treatment, however, Wayne Watts, the mortician who embalmed McKenny, later discovered a stab wound to the back of her neck. Myrtle McKenny was found by her health care worker, Patricia Goodman. Goodman was instantly suspicious as the victim’s body was found under a table and was not discovered in a position one would expect from an elderly lady who had fallen. She told ABC7 that the death was not initially investigated as a homicide and that the victim’s body was stored in a NYC mortuary for over a month before the knife wound was finally noticed. McKenny also had several cracked ribs. Since the NYPD did not find the death suspicious, they failed to preserve McKenny's home as a crime scene and lost any forensic evidence that may have been present in the room. 

A spokesperson for the medical examiner ruled McKenny’s death a homicide, saying: "The cause of death is stab wound of neck and incised wounds of right upper extremity with blunt impact injuries of head, torso and right upper extremity, with contributing condition of hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The manner of death is homicide."

"When I saw her, I knew something was wrong. I said, 'this is not right'. They said she fell, I said 'oh, come on, if you fall, how would you get right up under your kitchen table like that? And her tongue is out of her mouth, something is wrong, something is not right" Goodman told the Daily News, January 25, 2021, in an article titled: ‘Sure’ he was the killer all along. Health aide tipped cops in '15.

Last month the NYPD arrested a suspect in the case, alleged serial killer handyman, 66-year-old Kevin Gavin. Gavin lived just a couple of minutes from the Carter G. Woodson complex where he killed his elderly female victims. He knew them, had access to their homes and regularly ran errands for them for which he would demand payment. Health aide workers who tended to the residents as well as other tenants were aware of Gavin and said he was often making his rounds in the complex and harassing people for money that he said they owed him. He would use intimidation against the elderly residents, some of whom had no one else to rely on, taking advantage of their vulnerable positions for profit.

“She got a lot of money, you know” Kevin once said to Goodman as he passed her in the hallway, referring to one of his victims.  

Residents described Gavin as 5”10 and 200lbs with a glass eye. A look into his criminal history revealed previous incidents involving drugs and burglary among other charges. According to the Daily News (New York) in an article titled: Handyman staged crash: suit, published 24 January 2021, in December 2019 Kevin Gavin, along with two acquaintances, orchestrated a car crash to claim $150,000 compensation from insurance pay-outs. The woman whose car the three men collided with claimed that their vehicle deliberately crashed into hers as she pulled out of her driveway and Gavin’s claim was ultimately proven to be staged.

After the arrest, tenant Esther Williams told CBS New York, “I can’t lie, I’m not surprised, he was always in and out of the building, he had access to the building, he had access to the tenants, all the tenants know him, and he was always looking for money.”

He confessed to police that he killed the women between 2015- 2021 because they neglected to pay him money which he said was owed. He admitted that he murdered Jackie James by stamping on her neck multiple times and choking her.

Goodman, the health aide who discovered McKenny’s body, was aware of Gavin and his relationship to the elderly tenants. In fact, she urged the NYPD to investigate him as a suspect earlier in the murders. The NYPD said that they too considered the handyman a suspect but didn’t have the evidence. He was caught several days after killing Juanita Cabarello on January 15, 2021. After murdering the 78-year-old woman he used her stolen benefits cards, leading police straight to him. Forensic evidence at the scene aided police in the arrest.

Kevin Gavin, lived in a nearby apartment with his older brother, Leon Gavin, up until Leon's death in April 2020. Although his death was initially ruled as natural causes, investigators are taking a second look considering the recent arrest of the decedent’s younger brother.

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