Man with long police record charged in Overbrook Park double killing

Posted: August 23, 2012

Long before John Gonce became a suspect in the double homicide of two teenagers in a West Philadelphia house, police in Chester County knew him as a relentless criminal, a man repeatedly arrested on charges of everything from car theft to assault to drugs.

Gonce's alleged crimes eventually spanned at least three counties and two states. Police say Gonce, 28, was one of two men who broke into an Upper Darby apartment last month, tied up a man with electrical cord, and threatened him with a gun while searching for cash.

Two days later, on July 24, police say, Gonce and two others gunned down brothers Christopher Malcolm, 17, and Rohan Bennett, 13, during a drug deal in the boys' Overbrook Park home. Drugs and cash were found in the house, leading to charges against the boys' parents.

Told that Gonce now faces homicide charges, Sgt. William Cahill of the Westtown Police Department said he was not surprised.

"We just had too many contacts with him," said Cahill, who arrested Gonce in 2007 when he allegedly was trying to steal cars from the parking lot of an apartment building. "Someone like that, when you see them so often that you know their name, you don't know what they're going to do."

Gonce was arrested this month near Baltimore, where he allegedly fled. In addition to Gonce, Terrence Seldon, 26, and Michael Holmes, 28, face homicide charges. Gonce and Seldon have been charged in the home invasion.

According to Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood, Gonce is also a suspect in the rape of two girls in Baltimore County, Md. Chitwood said Gonce took refuge in the home of a relative who told police Gonce had assaulted the girls, who were staying there. She also said Gonce killed her cat, Chitwood said.

"Obviously, we're talking about a bad guy," he said.

This month, Philadelphia police said they were looking for a man in his 20s or 30s who was seen fleeing the house on Westbury Drive in Overbrook Park after the killings carrying a .45-caliber handgun and a black leather bag.

In the end, the July 22 home invasion led police to Gonce. On that day, police said, Gonce and Seldon broke into a unit in the New Orleans Park apartments on South Street in Upper Darby's Secane section, near the Ridley Area YMCA.

Gonce also lived in the complex, and Chitwood said the two men burst into another resident's apartment wearing masks and demanding money. The victim, however, did not actually live there, and could not lead the robbers to the money they sought. Working with some of Gonce's and Seldon's associates, Upper Darby police got Gonce's name, Chitwood said, and began communicating with his family.

Around that time, the relative Gonce was staying with in Maryland called police to report the alleged sexual assault of two girls younger than 15. Baltimore County police staked out the home, Chitwood said, and although Gonce tried to flee, police soon found him hiding in a trash can.

Once investigators started talking to Gonce, Chitwood said, he admitted his role in the home invasion and the killings. He also named Seldon and Holmes, the alleged getaway driver in the killings, as his accomplices, Chitwood said.

Gonce was still being held in Maryland on Wednesday, awaiting extradition to Philadelphia.

Holmes was arrested on charges of murder Aug. 15, and Seldon was taken into custody last week.

The streets of Overbrook Park were quiet but tense Wednesday night.

"It's a crime that was committed, so I am relieved. But I'm also saddened," said a mother of two who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. "I'm saddened by the innocence of the boys who were killed, their age."

Another woman who declined to be identified said she had just heard the news of the arrests. Her grandson was recently robbed at gunpoint in the neighborhood, she said.

"What goes through my mind," she said, "is, what happened in that house? And we'll never know."

In 2001, records show, Gonce was arrested on charges of attempted sexual assault in Montgomery County, Md. Records indicate the case was dropped.

Gonce was arrested numerous times over the next several years on alleged crimes including aggravated assault, presenting false identification to law enforcement, and resisting arrest.

In December 2007, he pleaded guilty to burglary, conspiracy to commit theft, and related charges, and was sentenced to three to six years in prison, records show. In February 2008, while serving that sentence, he was caught with drugs. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to an additional two to five years. He was released this year, Chitwood said.

"He's a hard-core criminal," Chitwood said. "Hopefully, his past has caught up with him for good."


Contact Allison Steele at 215-854-2641 or asteele@phillynews.com

Inquirer staff writer Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.

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