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May 27, 1999
Police Seek Information In Newsstand Owner's Murder
A P Kamath in New Jersey
Calling it an audacious act, police in Fairview, Bergen County, New Jersey are appealing to the public to come up with "anything they heard or saw" on May 22 between noon and 5.30 pm in and around the Marina's news and candy shop. The owner of the newsstand, 69-year-old Amritlal Savla, was found dead in the bathroom of his store following a heart attack. He was found bound in the room, apparently by a robber.
"The store is in a busy part of Fairview and Saturday is a busy day around it," said James Santulli, assistant Bergen County prosecutor on May 26. "So people who observed something unusual -- however insignificant it might have looked then -- should contact us."
The police have no clue, no leads, Santulli said.
He said a customer who found the small store empty called the police who came in about 2.30 pm.
"But we could not locate the bathroom, since it is hidden behind a lot of clutter," he said, explaining why the body was discovered three hours later when Savla's son reached the shop.
The autopsy found no injuries, but the final report from the medical examiners' office is to arrive soon, Santulli said.
Earlier he had said: "We have a person who is bound, and assuming he died of a heart attack, it would still be a felony murder." If it was just a robbery, the perpetrator would have got 5 to 10 years in prison. If the robber was armed, the duration would be between 10 to 20 years, Santulli said. In the case of felony murder, the perpetrator can get 30 years to a life sentence.
Word of Savla's death spread rapidly over the weekend to hundreds of newsstands run by people of the subcontinent.
Newsstand vendors are a natural prey to robbers because -- like cab drivers -- they keep cash in their shops. More than 60 per cent of newsstand employees are from the Indian subcontinent.
Many start their day at about five in the morning, even during the worst of the winter.
"There are times you come to the shop at 4.30, and find your papers are stolen," says Vinny Sheth. "I know that somebody will be selling the newspapers at a discount price on the subway. But people like me are helpless."
And then there are small robberies to contend with.
A teenager stole about $ 40 from Usman Khalidi a few months ago, and blew him kisses, with one of them saying, "Goodbye Gandhi." Khalidi, who is from Islamabad, got even angrier being connected with Gandhi.
"We are natural victims," says Hasmukh Patel who runs a newsstand in Richmond Hill. "The thieves think because we are Indians, because we are foreigners, we do not have papers or green cards... that we are afraid to complain to the police."
According to conservative estimates by newsstand operators, more than 200 shops are robbed in New York and New Jersey each year. But murders are rare.
Three newsstand operators have been killed in New York in the past five years. The numbers for New Jersey are not available. Arguably, Savla was the first newsstand murder victim in that state.
Call Sergeant Brian Callanan of the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office Homicide Squad, (201) 646-2422 or Detective Lieutenant John Pinzone of the Fairview Police Department, (201) 943-2100.
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