It was a freezing January night, and John Kelly had just taken down the Christmas lights from inside the lobby of the Pelham Bay apartment building where he worked as the super.
A son had taken the lights into their ground-floor apartment in the building at 3505 Bruckner Blvd. Kelly was following a short time later, carrying a ladder, when someone walked up behind him, put a gun to the back of his head, and fired.
That was seven years ago, Jan. 15, 2006, and with no statute of limitations on murder, Bronx detectives are now hoping to turn the heat up on the cold case with some new leads to bring the killer of the father of three to justice.
The closest they have for witnesses are a city bus driver who was driving along Bruckner Blvd., just past Buhre Avenue shortly after 8 p.m. when he spotted the 43-year old Kelly lying on his back on the sidewalk.
The other “witness” was a woman who was walking down Roberts Avenue at the other end of the block who heard the shot. When she turned the corner, she found Kelly, gasping for air as he lay outside his apartment doorway.
Neither witness saw anyone on the street.
It wasn’t until paramedics got Kelly to Jacobi Hospital, where he was pronounced dead an hour later, that doctors found the bullet wound in the back of his head.
As for a motive, detectives have some working theories, but nothing solid – yet – to back them up.
The murder had all the signs of a professional mob hit – silent, quick and deadly, with nothing left behind save for a small caliber shell casing.
“We went over the crime scene with a fine tooth comb,” said Detective Tom Aasheim of the Bronx Homicide Task Force, who worked on the original case as a detective at the local 45th Precinct squad. “We checked the sewers for the weapon, we even cut the grass looking for evidence.”
As far as cops can determine, Kelly was a solid, hardworking guy involved in local Irish sports leagues, with no dark shadows hovering over his life.
Besides taking care the apartment building, he was an electrician and on Friday nights tended bar at the popular Jimmy Ryan’s on Middletown Road.
One possible focus could involve his bartending job, where he was a no-nonsense guy when it came to unruly customers.
“It’s possible this could have been a grudge slaying,” said Aasheim.
Among the customers Kelly reportedly tangled with was one with a particularly short temper and a violent criminal record.
They did make one arrest early on in the investigation – a tenant in the building – but he came up with a solid alibi.
Aasheim said there is still a $12,000 reward standing for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Kelly’s killer or killers.
Anyone with any possible information, even possibly an overheard conversation, is asked to call 1-800-577-TIPS (8477).
Callers do not have to reveal their identity, and will be paid by a code number.