Son And Friend Held In Triple Slaying -- They Had Been Prime Suspects In Bellevue Bludgeonings Last Year
Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns made at least one crucial mistake in planning the perfect crime, police and prosecutors say: They talked about it.
One year after Rafay's mother, father and sister were bludgeoned to death inside their Bellevue home, the couple's son and his high-school friend, both 19, are behind bars in Vancouver, B.C., each charged with three counts of aggravated first-degree murder.
Rafay and Burns were arrested last night at their rental home in a quiet Vancouver suburb after an undercover investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and an ongoing investigation by Bellevue police detectives led to charges in King County Superior Court yesterday.
The young men were being held in separate cells in North Vancouver, pending an appearance today before a judge who would set an extradition hearing date.
King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng said he is considering asking for the death penalty and expects extradition to take about six months.
Maleng said the break in the case came when the RCMP secretly taped Rafay and Burns describing in detail the planning and execution of the murders. Bellevue police said the taping was authorized by Canadian courts.
Charges allege Burns bludgeoned the three victims to death while Atif Rafay staged a burglary.
"It was greed, pure and simple, untempered by any compassion for human life," Maleng said today.
The investigation also included gathering a sample of Burns' DNA from a tissue he had used to blow his nose, then discarded in the street.
Maleng said hair samples obtained from the death scene were put through DNA testing and link Burns to the homicides.
Twenty-one hairs were found in the Rafays' shower, where investigators believe the killer washed off blood. The hairs were linked to those found in Burns' hairbrush.
For months, Bellevue police believed the two young men were responsible for the slayings of Tariq and Sultana, both 56, and Basma Rafay, 21. But the suspects returned to their native Canada after the slayings and police couldn't reach them there without formal charges.
According to court documents, police believe the motive for the slayings was money: As the only heir, Atif Rafay stood to inherit an estimated $300,000, although most of the money was tied up in the Somerset house as it underwent renovations after detectives removed walls, ceilings and floors.
The tape allegedly includes Atif Rafay saying he expected to "net" $350,000 from the insurance and home sale. Burns allegedly said they should have realized a better profit and that the money seemed, "trivial."
The Rafay family had lived in their neat two-story gray house in Bellevue's Somerset neighborhood only a few months when they were slain in different rooms.
Born in Pakistan, Tariq and Sultana Rafay met in school in Colorado but raised their two children in West Vancouver. A bridge engineer for Alpha, Tariq moved to Washington state in 1992 after he was laid off in Vancouver.
His wife, who had a degree in nutrition, and his daughter, who had developmental disabilities that prevented her from speaking, joined him about a year later. The three moved into the $230,000 Somerset house in the spring of 1994. Atif Rafay had already begun his freshman year at Cornell University.
Friends and co-workers described the family as religious, kind and reserved. The oldest of eight siblings, Tariq Rafay was described as a wise listener who always gave good counsel. In Vancouver, Burns and Atif Rafay were gifted students and reputed troublemakers at the large suburban high school they attended. In one stunt, the young men and their friends allegedly changed the captions in the school yearbook to defame teachers and students. The book had to be completely reprinted at enormous cost.
Both won awards and passed grueling examinations with top scores. But according to an acquaintance, Burns lost interest in school and dropped out of the rigorous International Baccalaureate program before graduation. He attended the University of British Columbia.
But Atif Rafay kept studying. At Cornell, he made the dean's list and talked philosophy, especially existentialism, late into the night. His freshman roommate, Dan Hutchison who attended the same high school, said Rafay continued to talk to Burns on the phone and saw him during vacations.
Atif Rafay planned to spend summer vacation in Vancouver with Burns and had been staying at the Somerset house only a few days when the slayings occurred.
On the night of the murders, the two young men left the house at about 8 that night for dinner in Factoria. according to police. After dinner, they went to Factoria Cinemas for a 9:50 p.m. showing of "The Lion King." Then they drove to downtown Seattle for a snack at Steve's, stopped by a nightclub at closing and headed back across Lake Washington to the house.
At 2 a.m., July 13, Bellevue police were called by Burns to a gruesome scene.
All three of the victims were beaten to death with a blunt object, likely an aluminum baseball bat. A weapon was never found.
Atif Rafay and Burns were seen in every place they mentioned, but police are convinced there was ample time in between the movie and the trip downtown for the young men to have committed the crime.
Tariq Rafay, who was in his bed asleep, was hit the hardest.
Sultana Rafay was downstairs unpacking boxes from the recent move when she was attacked from behind. Basma Rafay, who hadn't uttered a word since childhood, fought the hardest, her battered arms evidence of her vigorous attempts. She died in a hospital hours later.
According to charges, the RCMP eavesdropping recorded the two talking on July 18 of this year about how Burns beat the parents and the girl.
Burns allegedly said he only wore his underwear during the attack so he did not have to worry about blood stains.
As news of the slayings circulated through the community of two-car garages and gentle hills, various theories arose: the Pakistani family was the target of racism, some guessed; others suggested an invasion robbery or a business deal gone awry.
From the start, police suspected the young men.
It wasn't simply that the two rented a VCR and a Kung Fu movie to watch in their hotel room the day after the slayings. Or that they refused to return long-distance calls from relatives sick with grief.
Detectives would later say it was a combination of those factors and others that aroused suspicion: their alibis were too good, their clothes too clean, their aloof demeanor incongruous with the grave situation.
When they left for Vancouver unannounced, before Atif Rafay's family was buried, police suspicion grew. Later, the two refused to answer further questions and declined to provide DNA samples.
Maleng called the killings a "meticulously planned crime," but said police detectives doubted from the start that a burglar would savagely murder three people to steal a CD player and VCR.
Prosecutors also say that Burns showed no remorse and while Rafay said he felt bad, he said on the tape that the killings were "necessary to achieve what I wanted to achieve in this life."
Mike Thompson, who lives across the North Vancouver street from the unkempt house the two rented with another high-school friend, watched last night's arrests.
"It was really quick: boom, boom, boom," Thompson said. "There were Hondas and vans; before you knew it they were in and out."
Thompson said there was little commotion as the young men were escorted into the vehicles, their hands cuffed.
"It's pretty crazy, it's pretty wild," said Thompson, who met with neighbors and police several times during the past few months to discuss safety after the teenage tenants were arrested for allegedly harassing another neighbor. "It's a huge relief."
"It's just impossible to accept," said Mujib Ahmed, who worked at Alpha Engineering, Inc. in Bellevue with Tariq Rafay for two years. "I knew Tariq. I just cannot accept the fact that his son could be so out of line. I can understand the rebel in a kid, but this is not rebellious."
Reached at their homes in Eastern Canada, two of Tariq Rafay's younger brothers were almost too distraught to speak. They knew for months that their nephew was a suspect, but news of the arrests evoked more pain than relief.
"Right now, I'm just trying to stabilize myself," said Tahir Rafay, who lives near Toronto, his voice shaking. "It's mixed feelings."
Anwar Fayaz, Sultana Rafay's only sister, knew Atif Rafay as a bright, friendly child.
"Those poor parents, they worked so hard to bring up their children," she said. "This child was a great hope for them and if this is the child that has killed them . . . I still hope it's not true, but if it is, he should be punished."