By Wednesday, only $40,000 was left, and the brothers, held captive by the gangsters in the garage of one of the homes in Southwest Philly, pleaded with their buddy to bring it to them, the source said.
But the friend walked into a trap set up by the brothers' captors: He found the two bound, gagged and stabbed, their throats sliced open.
And he joined them.
Crime-scene investigators yesterday returned to the home where the three were tortured, tagging as evidence buckets that strongly resembled those that had been filled with tar to sink the brothers into the river, according to police sources.
The third man, though also stabbed and dumped into the water, survived the ordeal and remained hospitalized in critical condition last night, police said. He has not been officially identified.
Homicide Unit Capt. James Clark said the victim is "well-known" to police, as were his friends who were slain.
A law-enforcement source told the Daily News that the survivor had been the focus of a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation earlier this month.
That's also around the time the survivor filed a report with police involving a violent incident in South Philly, according to another source close to the investigation.
The man told investigators that a group of men attacked him while he was driving, ripping him out of his car and smashing him with a hammer, the source said.
He told investigators that the men tried to abduct him, but that he was able to flee and contact authorities. Sources weren't able to confirm if the alleged abduction is related to Wednesday's slayings.
A shabby, white-shingled home on 72nd Street near Grays Avenue where crime-scene workers hunted for clues yesterday is where investigators suspect the three men were held and tortured.
Neighbors said a Vietnamese couple with five young children live there. The man was an out-of-work contractor who does odd jobs in the area, neighbors said; contractor's tools such as ladders, saws, tarps, buckets and a small bulldozer filled the cluttered back and side yards.
A surveillance camera was mounted to a pine tree outside the house and aimed at the driveway and street. Police have said they will review surveillance videos in the neighborhood for clues.
Neighbors and other onlookers yesterday said they never suspected anything sinister could happen on their street.
They noted, however, that there was often activity at the house, with cars passing through the driveway on a regular basis.
"It's basically quiet here," said Martin Schuler, 46, a repairman who often works in the neighborhood. "For this type of activity to go unnoticed is not unusual. We don't expect anyone to be vicious here."
Meanwhile, a home across the street from that family's sprawling property appeared to be vacant, but when investigators served a warrant on it, they found a sophisticated marijuana-growing operation, including heat lamps and other equipment, tucked away in a trailer next to the home, a police source said.
Investigators are probing the second property in connection with the homicide case, the source said.
At a news conference Wednesday, Clark said investigators believe five or six men were involved in the killings, which he called "barbaric."
Police were turned onto the case when they found the battered and bloody survivor as he stumbled along Kelly Drive early Wednesday.
Hours later, they pulled the two other victims from the Schuylkill, Clark said.
Tipsters are asked to call 215-686-3334.
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