Theft led to man's death, police say

A crime scene officer brings out pipes from the bathtub in the apartment on 11th Street near Locust as they search for clues to the slaying.
A crime scene officer brings out pipes from the bathtub in the apartment on 11th Street near Locust as they search for clues to the slaying. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 07, 2013

Francis Zarzycki arrived at the dirty, three-room apartment near 11th and Locust Streets in Center City on an August night, believing he was in for a party with a pair of prostitutes known as Angel and Cinderella, police say.

But the ladies' handler, a big guy named Keith Tolbert, whom Zarzycki had dealt with before, had a different plan, police say. They say Zarzycki, 40, who lived with his parents in Northeast Philadelphia, was carrying cash and drugs and represented an easy score. The trio was going to rob him.

They'd use duct tape, rope, and a Taser.

It was in that apartment, police say, that a robbery became a killing - a crime that ended with Zarzycki's mutilated torso floating in the Schuylkill.

"What started out as a planned robbery escalated into a murder by suffocation, and ended with this body being chopped up, bagged, and thrown into the river," Capt. James Clark of the Homicide Unit said Thursday in a news conference at Police Headquarters to announce the arrests of Tolbert and the two women.

Clark and other investigators said that in Tolbert's living room on the night of Aug. 26, the girls had entertained Zarzycki. He had worked as a loan officer, records show, and was the son of a retired Philadelphia highway patrolman.

From the bedroom, Tolbert rushed with a Taser, police said. Zarzycki struggled, and the women helped subdue him - the three of them binding him with duct tape and rope as Tolbert pressed his weight into Zarzycki's back.

Soon, police said, Zarzycki stopped moving.

Tolbert took care of the body, police said. They think Zarzycki was dragged into the bathroom and Tolbert used a hatchet or ax on him.

Clark detailed the arrests of Tolbert, 34, along with Angel Weston, 21, of Kensington, and Stephanie Foulke, 22. All three were charged Thursday with murder, robbery, and related offenses.

The charges came just two days after a boater found Zarzycki's headless and limbless body wrapped in a plastic bag and floating Tuesday morning in the Schuylkill near Reed Street in Grays Ferry.

Police have yet to recover Zarzycki's head or limbs, the Taser, or the hatchet or ax that police think Tolbert must have used to sever the body; they don't believe the women were involved in that part of the crime. Investigators also don't know how the body was taken to the river, Clark said.

Security cameras captured images of Zarzycki entering Tolbert's apartment building around 7 p.m. on the night of Aug. 26, but investigators were still looking Thursday for footage of Tolbert leaving the building.

"Hopefully, we'll catch him leaving out the apartment with some type of bag," Clark said.

The building has an alleyway entrance that Tolbert sometimes used, investigators said.

Crime scene investigators returned to the apartment Thursday, a day after they removed bags of evidence, including sheets and duct tape. During that initial search, investigators found some blood in the bathroom. On Thursday - after the two women told investigators that Tolbert had cleaned that room after the killing - police conducted a more extensive search, tearing up sections of flooring and pulling out bathroom piping and drains.

At least one of the woman said Tolbert told them he had dismembered the body, police sources said.

Investigators had suspected Tolbert in Zarzycki's disappearance before his body was discovered. The trail that led them to Tolbert's apartment began with Zarzycki's parents, frantic over his disappearance.

The search begins

Zarzycki had struggled with drugs in the past, and his parents had tried to help him.

He was in the habit of calling his mother, Stella, if he wasn't coming home at night. When more than a day went by without his calling or turning up, she filed a missing-person report with police on Aug. 28, said Capt. Francis Bachmayer of Northeast Detectives.

His father, whose name is also Francis and who retired from the Police Department in 1989 after more than 20 years on the force, searched Zarzycki's computer and phone records. He saw clues that his son had gone to a website with personal ads, backpage.com, and made calls to an unknown number, police sources said.

Detective Paula Campbell, Bachmayer said, realized the case had "urgency to it."

Tracing Zarzycki's phone records, investigators zeroed in on the 11th Street apartment.

They worked the case through the Labor Day weekend. On Saturday, Northeast Detectives and the Citywide Vice Unit conducted a prostitution sting at Tolbert's apartment, arresting him and Weston.

On Sunday, police found Zarzycki's 2004 Chevrolet TrailBlazer in a parking garage a block from the apartment.

The homicide Special Investigations Unit took over the case when the torso was discovered. It identified the remains by tattoos - wings and a bull - on Zarzycki's back. Investigators interviewed Weston on Tuesday, then tracked Foulke down in Glenolden, Delaware County, on Wednesday.

The women both described the killing, police said - and their stories matched.

Tolbert isn't talking, police said. He has two prior arrests in New Jersey, according to court records.

Joan Taylor, 65, lives in the apartment next to Tolbert's. He moved there six months ago, she said.

"He had lots of girls running in and out of there," Taylor said, sitting on her couch along the wall she shared with Tolbert. "They looked like crackheads."

The police, she said, showed her pictures of Zarzycki this week, but she did not recognize him.

No one answered Thursday at the Zarzycki family's home in Northeast Philadelphia.

John McNesby, head of the city's Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said that he had never worked with Zarzycki's father, but that the union would reach out to the family in the coming days.

"It's just sad," McNesby said.


Contact Mike Newall at 215-854-2759 or mnewall@phillynews.com.

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