The killers tortured the trio, investigators said. They then slit their throats and chained two of them to large buckets to keep them underwater. The two bodies were found in 5 to 10 feet of water not far from a retaining wall on the riverbank, police said.
"It's one of the more barbaric murders that I've seen," Homicide Capt. James Clark said during a news conference yesterday. He added that the dead men - whose grayish, tattered bodies were covered in blood, gashes and silver duct tape when they were pulled from the water - were tortured in the moments before their deaths.
"It's very brutal," Clark said. "All of them, their hands and feet were bound, their eyes were covered, they were stabbed multiple times . . . and then thrown into the Schuylkill."
A "drug nexus" is believed to be to blame for the abduction slayings, Clark stressed, adding that the victims were clearly targeted. He added that detectives also are exploring the possibility that the victims and perpetrators may have links to Asian gangs.
Clark declined to identify the surviving victim, except to say that the man is 23 and lives on 2nd Street near Brown in Northern Liberties, where Crime Scene Unit investigators were scouring for clues yesterday.
"He's well-known to police, and his friends are well-known to police," Clark said of the surviving victim and the two who died.
The survivor had been a focus of a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation as recently as two weeks ago, a police source said yesterday. A spokesman for the agency declined to comment.
It was 3:56 a.m. yesterday when cops caught on to the bizarre chain of events leading to the gruesome killings. That's when the survivor was seen stumbling along Kelly Drive in his underwear about a mile north of Boathouse Row after he had managed to climb out of the river, police said. He was dripping wet and wandering the banks screaming, bleeding from nine stab wounds to his torso and legs, his hands duct-taped behind his back, his ankles duct-taped and with duct tape on his face.
"His feet were not anchored, and he was able to stay afloat, and then when he heard his abductors take off, he was able to swim to shore," Clark said.
Police took the man to Hahnemann University Hospital, where he was taken almost immediately into surgery. He remained in critical condition last night.
En route to the hospital, police said, he recounted the first version of his horrific tale - one that detectives later determined wasn't fully truthful:
He said he was at 62nd Street and Woodland Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia about 1 a.m. when five or six men pulled up in a van and yanked him inside. The men bound him, blindfolded him and stabbed him several times. He was put in the back of the van at some point, and later realized that two other men - whose bodies would later be pulled from the Schuylkill - were there as well.
Clark said that part of the man's tale had been debunked and that all three abductees knew each other and are well-known to police. They were kidnapped together but not at 62nd and Woodland, Clark said.
He declined to give the location where the men were attacked but said investigators had a "good idea."
It was unclear last night exactly how the survivor's swanky $230,000-plus Northern Liberties condo - which Clark said he shares with his girlfriend - was connected. The captain denied rumors that circulated among police sources that a grisly "butcher shop" scene of blood had been found inside the upscale condo, saying that crime-scene investigators had gone there to look for clues.
Clark implored the public to contact investigators with information about the homicides and said detectives plan to interview the survivor as soon as he is medically stable. The man had not even been able to provide a description of the van his captors used, Clark said.
Police declined to discuss what the trio had been doing when they were kidnapped.
"It's an ongoing investigation. We still have a lot of the pieces of the puzzle that we have to deal with," Clark said. "The only thing I can tell you is these three were very much targeted."
Tipsters should contact the Homicide Unit at 215-686-3334.
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