Hostage Forced To Dance Naked, Then Is Killed

Posted: August 15, 1990

A New York City man, who police said was seeking revenge for money lost in a drug deal, took six people hostage in a North Philadelphia taproom overnight, then killed one after forcing him to dance naked on the bar.

"He said, 'Dance, dance before I kill you,' " recalled hostage Angel Rodriguez, 28. The female hostages were then ordered to slap the naked man and hit him with a pool cue.

"He said, 'See how tough you are now. Look at you, just like a woman,' "

Rodriguez said. "Then he stood behind him and shot him in the back of the neck."

The 4 1/2-hour standoff ended about 6 a.m. yesterday, when hostage Roberto Vazquez, his wrists and ankles bound, overpowered the gunman as the man pressed the .38-caliber gun against Vazquez's neck.

"He told me 'you're next,' " Vazquez, 27, recalled. "I put my hands over my eyes. I said, 'Go ahead.' "

The three female hostages - one just 14 years old - were then ordered to start counting. Vazquez said he heard the gun click. Then he heard another click.

But the gun did not fire.

"I got my hands on the gun and pulled it off me," Vazquez said. "Then I flipped him over. I got the man on the floor. I told the ladies, 'Go ahead, go outside. Open the door.' "

The women ran out, as Vazquez, an amateur wrestler, struggled with the

suspect, later identified as Jose "Cano" Melendez, 42.

Police stakeout units lobbed tear gas into the Santurce Bar, at Philip and Ontario Streets, then stormed inside and apprehended Melendez.

The dead man, who police believe was shot about 4:45 a.m., was identified as Angel Morales, 26, an Edison High School dropout who worked in a pizza parlor. He lived a block away from the bar on Philip Street.

Police said Melendez fired two shots through the front door when they first arrived about 1:30 a.m.

Melendez repeatedly threatened the hostages, cursing and issuing bizarre commands in English and Spanish, the hostages said.

"It was like being in a nightmare," said Elizabeth Rodriguez, 36, who is the daughter of the bar owners and had been tending bar. "He took three matches out of the matchbook. I got the one without the tip. Then he said I was next."

"He looked crazy to me," said hostage Lilly Medina, 14, who was pulled inside the bar from the corner. "He told me to go inside, don't move. People started crying."

One hostage was ordered to sweep blood onto the dead man's body, witnesses said.

The two surviving male hostages had their arms and legs bound. Angel Rodriguez said he cut his finger when the gunman forced him to break the cigarette machine so that he could smoke a cigarette after Morales was killed. He also said the gunman gave Budweisers to the hostages, telling them that it would be their last.

Rodriguez was the first to escape, after Melendez ordered him to drag the body outside. He said he opened the door and then ran out. The women ran out minutes later.

Melendez was charged with murder, robbery, aggravated and simple assault, kidnapping, robbery, burglary, reckless endangerment, terroristic threats, abuse of corpse and related charges. He was awaiting arraignment last night.

Police and neighbors said Melendez apparently believed he had been cheated out of money in a drug deal involving Angel Morales and his mother, Norma Torres. Police would not disclose the amount of money involved in the deal.

"I saw Angel on Saturday and he said, 'I'm in deep trouble,' " said Tony Serrano, 18, a neighbor and friend. "I said, 'What kind of trouble?' He said, 'I owe money.' "

Helena Mitchell, a neighbor and block captain, said Morales had recently sought help for his drug problem. "He wanted to go back to school," she said. "But every time he got one foot forward, he got pulled back."

Neighbors said Melendez had recently been paroled from prison and had come to Philadelphia from New York City to stay with a neighborhood friend.

Police said the incident began about 5 p.m. Monday, when Melendez went to the Morales home and held the family at gunpoint, threatening to kill them and demanding his money or the drugs.

About 1:30 a.m., he came out of the house, with a gun pointed at Angel Morales. As his mother screamed for help - "They got my son, they got my son!" - Morales was led down the street toward the bar.

Family members told neighbors that Melendez had threatened to kill Angel Morales if he didn't get "his stuff."

Several neighbors called police, who responded to a report of a man with a gun on Philip Street. The gunman then ran into the bar, grabbing Medina from the steps and locking the door behind him.

Police identified the sixth hostage as Wanda Colon, 21.

After the bullets were fired through the front door, one striking a police car, police called in stakeout units. Hostage negotiators made repeated contact with the hostage-taker over the telephone.

Yesterday afternoon, the words "In Memory of Angel" had been spraypainted on nearly every car window and front door on Morales' block.

At the bar, owners Praxedes and Gloria Tirado mopped up the blood, and swept up the broken glass from the bar, the sting of tear gas still in the air.

Praxedes Tirado said that Melendez had gone into the bar several times saying he was an architect and wanted to re-do the bar.

The Tirados said they had been trying to sell the bar so they could retire to a home in Puerto Rico. Gloria Tirado said that she had spoken on the telephone during the standoff with the gunman, who told her that he would not harm her daughter.

"My daughter is lucky," she said, weeping.

Hostages said the gunman told police that he would release them if they gave him his money, which he said was owed to him by Morales' mother, or his ''bundle," apparently referring to drugs that he was to receive for the money.

"He said (to the police negotiators), 'I'll give you a minute to give me my money or my bundle,' " said hostage Vazquez. "Then he put the phone back. Then he put a bullet in the gun and he said, 'Special for Angel.' "

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