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In late 2001, just months after the 9-11 attacks shook the country, N.Y.P.D. detectives set out to find who killed an upper Manhattan grandmother and her romantic partner. But even the most seasoned investigators were shocked to learn the reasons behind the vicious double stabbing.
On the evening of December 1, 2001, N.Y.P.D. officers were called to an East Harlem three-story brownstone to conduct a welfare check on 52-year-old Carmen Quinones. The woman’s daughter, Amy De Jesus – then attending college in Buffalo, New York — called the 23rd Precinct in Manhattan to say she’d tried to get ahold of her mother since the previous evening to no avail.
De Jesus was especially concerned because Carmen was the primary caretaker of De Jesus’s 3-year-old daughter, Ashley, while De Jesus was some six hours away at school. After placing several calls, the child answered the phone and claimed her grandmother wasn’t moving.
When officers arrived at the E. 101st Street apartment, they saw the child through the window and noticed pieces of duct tape around her body, according to N.Y.P.D. Sgt. Bill Cannon of the 23rd Precinct.
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“They knew, obviously, there was a big problem,” Cannon told New York Homicide, airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.
Despite having duct tape on her face, the child was otherwise unharmed. Further into the apartment, however, police found the bodies of Carmen Quinones and her boyfriend, 60-year-old Ruben Frederick, both believed to have been stabbed to death the previous day.
There were no signs of a break-in, though the home was in disarray, with drawers turned inside out and furniture ransacked.
“It was a chaotic crime scene,” said Lt. Dennis Churns of the 23rd Precinct. “It looked like the two individuals who were stabbed put up a good fight.”
Who was Carmen Quinones?
Neighbors like Judith Mason were surprised by the police presence in their close-knit neighborhood, referring to the scene as “turmoil.”
“The neighborhood called the block Sesame Street because there was the racial mixture, and there was kind of an innocence,” Mason told New York Homicide. “It was just a shock because nothing ever happens on Sesame Street, right?”
Carmen Cruz, a longtime friend of victim Carmen Quinones, said she met the victim in 1977 after Carmen Quinones moved from Puerto Rico. Cruz, then working for a development company for low-income housing, said she hired Carmen to work as a secretary, and the pair were friends ever since.
“She was very intelligent, she was very responsible, and she would laugh a lot,” Cruz told New York Homicide, sharing a memory of when Carmen surprised her after obtaining her G.E.D.
Around that time, Carmen purchased the three-story brownstone, which came at an affordable price due to the neighborhood’s crime rates that existed back in 1980.
She soon married Justino De Jesus, an East Harlem resident who worked for an elevator manufacturer. Described by Mason as a “friendly” couple who raised their daughter, Amy, together, the pair’s relationship began to deteriorate in 1998 after Justino lost his job.
Carmen and Justino divorced but remained friends in the years leading to Carmen’s murder.
“I’d known her since the early ’70s, but in 2001, she really seemed to have come into her own,” Mason continued.
An Investigation into a double murder
Fast forward to December 2001, and responders called in a specially trained detective to try and glean information about the double homicide from Carmen’s 3-year-old granddaughter, Ashley. The police said Ashley was too “traumatized” to disclose anything in detail, according to Sgt. Cannon.
Police found no signs of forced entry at the crime scene despite visitors needing two keys to enter the building.
“What our first thoughts were that maybe Carmen had been walking home and was followed into the building,” Sgt. Cannon told New York Homicide. “It could have been a push-in robbery, and it turns into a murder.”
Investigators wondered what the killer or killers were looking for by ransacking the residence and soon found $16,000 in cash hidden underneath Carmen’s mattress. Police learned the money was “legit” and came from the tenants who lived in Carmen’s building, but wondered if that was a motive for murder.
Another surprising detail was discovered when police began canvassing the building, learning that Justino De Jesus — Carmen’s ex-husband — lived on the third floor with his new wife, Maria De Jesus. According to the De Jesuses and those close to Carmen, the former couple had an arrangement so that Justino could live in the building in exchange for carrying out the maintenance work.
Justino and Maria told police they were home at the time of the double murder but heard nothing. A lack of wounds on their hands also suggested that neither were capable of murdering the victims, both of whom were stabbed more than 20 times each.
“Justino was crying; he was upset about what happened,” said 23rd Precinct Detective Patrick Porteus. “That was his granddaughter at the crime scene. Thank God they didn’t harm her.”
Ruben Frederick’s Secret Revealed
Detectives worked under the theory, given the violent nature of the crimes, that there was more than one killer and that the victims weren’t chosen at random. Looking at Carmen’s deceased boyfriend, they were shocked to learn one crucial detail.
“We didn’t know much about him at that point, and soon found out Ruben is married,” Lt. Churns told New York Homicide. “So now the lightbulbs go off in our heads.”
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Detectives wondered if a love triangle was the motive behind the killings, and soon, they visited Ruben’s wife in Brooklyn to learn more about the victim. At the time of the murder, Mrs. Frederick said Ruben told her he was working a triple shift at work when, in fact, he was with Carmen Quinones.
However, news of Ruben’s philandering ways came as no surprise to his wife, who was well aware of her husband’s extramarital relationships. Detectives said she was “upset,” though she had an alibi for when Ruben and his paramour were killed.
A business phone helps crack the case
Ruben Frederick’s wife provided the location of Ruben’s job, where the victim worked as a bus driver. By then, investigators ran dry on leads, but while speaking with his colleagues, Ruben’s boss made an off-hand comment about not getting a phone back.
“Ruben actually had a company cell phone,” said Lt. Churns. “We did not recover any phone from the crime scene.”
A subsequent investigation into the cell phone records revealed a man named Angel Rodriguez placed four calls from the phone after the double homicide. It didn’t take long to trace the phone and track Rodriguez in the Bronx.
Rodriguez made a living by cloning phones (a common but illegal way in the early 2000s to copy phone data from one phone to another and place calls without paying), and he was ruled out as a suspect. He did, however, give up the name Raymond Mundo, saying that’s where he got Ruben’s company phone.
“Rodriguez was telling us that he was so afraid of Raymond Mundo that he wasn’t even going to charge him to clone the phone,” Lt. Churns told New York Homicide.
A background check into Raymond Mundo revealed he’d served six years in prison for a home invasion. Furthermore, a look into his criminal associates showed that he and Rafael “Dog” Rios lived in the same Bronx building.
Neither Mundo nor Rios seemed to have any apparent connection to victims Carmen Quinones and Ruben Frederick.
“We just figured they [Mundo and Rios] liked to do crimes together,” Sgt. Cannon said.
Detectives found Rios in the Bronx and brought him in for questioning at the 23rd Precinct, though it seemed Mundo was in the wind. After securing a search warrant for Mundo’s phone records, investigators traced him to Willimantic, Connecticut — about 130 miles northeast of New York City — where his sister lived.
The sister was found at her Willimantic home, though she denied having any contact with Mundo (which was disproven based on Mundo’s phone records).
“There was a detective with us, and he was standing outside on the sidewalk,” Det. Porteus told New York Homicide. “And he looked over, and he saw Mundo walking down the sidewalk, and he goes, ‘Yo, Mundo!’”
Mundo made a run for it, and police gave chase. During the foot pursuit, Mundo attempted to pull a pregnant woman from her vehicle and hijack the car, but police soon caught up with the murder suspect and arrested him on the spot.
Mundo was taken to a local police station and questioned by police. Police then informed him that, back in Manhattan, Rios confessed to the double homicide.
“He starts singing like a parakeet,” Cannon said of Rios. “And he gave like a 10-page written confession.”
It was enough for Mundo to give his version of events.
The Shocking Confessions by Raymond Mundo and Rafael Rios
On Dec. 8, 2001, just over a week after the murders, Raymond Mundo confessed to police, an account that mirrored Rios’ statement back in Manhattan. According to both men, they were given two keys (which explained why there were no signs of a break-in) to gain entry into the building, posing as detectives in suits.
When Carmen opened the door, Mundo stabbed the victim in the chest and forced his way inside. During the scuffle, the door behind Mundo closed, leaving Rios locked out of the apartment.
Ruben came to his girlfriend’s aid, and nearly overpowered Mundo. Unfortunately, as soon as it seemed Ruben could overtake the attacker, Mundo reached behind him and opened the door, allowing Rios to enter and help stab both victims to death.
“These guys were savages,” Det. Porteus told New York Homicide. “Really sickening.”
Surprised by seeing 3-year-old Ashley, the men decided to duct tape her on the bed and leave her with the remote control as the television played.
But maybe the most shocking part of the confessions was that both men claimed that Maria De Jesus — the current wife of Carmen’s ex-husband, Justino De Jesus — paid them to carry out the attack on Carmen. Mundo admitted to police that, previously, he and Rio lived in the same building as Maria and that she paid them a total of $15,000.
“She had approached them and asked them if they would kill somebody for her,” according to Sgt. Cannon. “Maria chose them because she knew them to be bad guys.”
Detective Porteus called it a “huge” revelation, “because she seemed like a nice little old lady when we interviewed her.”
Mundo and Rios were charged with first-degree murder, though the city’s district attorney’s office waited to press charges against Maria. Eventually, Rios agreed to testify against his co-conspirators in exchange for a prison sentence of 23 years to life.
For his part, Mundo was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors spent years readying Rios to testify against Maria due to his dependency on drugs, and in 2004, she was arrested for first-degree murder and conspiracy.
Two years later, Maria was tried in a courtroom, where prosecutors alleged she wanted to have Carmen Quinones killed because Carmen planned to evict Justino and Maria De Jesus since Justino wasn’t keeping his end of the bargain with maintaining the building. Maria also believed that with Quinones dead, she and Justino could inherit the building, though detectives didn’t understand the latter reasoning.
“This case was all about that Brownstone,” said Det. Porteus.
Maria was found guilty as charged and sentenced to life behind bars without the possibility of parole.
Investigators determined Justino was unaware of his wife’s evil plot.
“He never would have wanted Carmen harmed,” Carmen’s friend, Judith Mason, told New York Homicide.
“I think about her often; [it] breaks my heart,” said friend Carmen Cruz. “It’s a very haunting feeling to have to live with.”
Watch New York Homicide on Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.