Montgomery County murder suspect who fled to Israel in 1997 killed in prison shootout

February 23

One of Montgomery County’s most notorious killers, Samuel Sheinbein, was fatally shot Sunday during a firefight with guards inside a prison in Israel. At least three guards were injured, one of them critically.

Sheinbein, 33, was a 17-year-old high school student in 1997 when he and a friend killed another teenager, used a power saw to cut off the victim’s arms and legs and wrapped the torso in trash bags. Then, with detectives on his heels, Sheinbein fled to Israel, where he was able to fend off extradition. He eventually pleaded guilty there in connection with the killing of Alfredo Tello Jr., 19, and was sentenced to 24 years behind bars.

“Today’s events are a shocking end to one the most brutal cases ever committed in Montgomery County,” said John McCarthy, state’s attorney for Montgomery.

When it first broke, the case created a rift between the U.S. and Israeli governments, with the latter initially signaling that it would back Sheinbein’s refusal to return to Maryland. Israeli officials eventually sided with the United States, but that country’s courts sided with Sheinbein. The case prompted a change in how Israel treats such matters.

It was not immediately clear what Sheinbein’s motives were Sunday or how he managed to get a gun inside the Rimonim Prison in central Israel. But shortly after 2 p.m., “he opened fire on three security guards inside the prison,” said Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman.

Israeli police clashed with American-Israeli prisoner Samuel Sheinbein, one of Montgomery County’s most notorious killers, and killed him Sunday. (Reuters)

Prison officials quickly closed off part of the prison, and Sheinbein isolated himself inside a cell. He didn’t take any prisoners.

Counterterrorism officers moved in. They tried to communicate with Sheinbein, but about 90 minutes after the initial shots, he fired more rounds, police said.

“He opened fire at the counterterrorism units,” Rosenfeld said, “and they shot and killed him.”

Rosenfeld said at least three guards were hit. He described their conditions as critical, serious and moderate.

Prior to the shoot-out Sunday, Sheinbein had been eligible to take furloughs from the prison. About one month ago, while on such a leave, he tried to buy a pistol over the Internet, Rosenfeld said.

“It was a complicated incident, and there are still many questions that we need to answer, but that will be done throughout the course of the investigation,” the Israel Prison Service said in a statement Sunday.

Officials in Maryland were trying to find out Sunday whether Sheinbein had still been slated to serve his full 24-year sentence. When he was sentenced in 1999, officials in Israel said he would be eligible to apply for parole in 2013.

McCarthy, who spent two years in the 1990s investigating Sheinbein, speculated on two possible motives for Sunday’s shooting. The first, based on reports he had read Sunday about Sheinbein’s recent mental state, was that the actions Sheinbein took were part of an effort to take his own life. Sheinbein could have been trying to escape, McCarthy said.

“Do I think there was always a mental health overlay to this case? Yes,” McCarthy said. “But this is the same guy who wrote out, literally, a ‘Recipe for Murder.’ He was an organized thinker. This guy was a planner. We would be foolish to assume this was a spur-of-the-moment thing.”

Sheinbein’s attorney in Israel, Orit Hayoun, said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 news that she had spoken to him a few days ago and was concerned about his state of mind. She said that she had requested Israel Prison Service get him some help and place him on suicide watch. Hayoun said that Sheinbein sounded suicidal and that if her requests had been followed, Sunday’s events might have been avoided.

The investigation of the Montgomery County murder began on Sept. 19, 1997, according to court records. Two real estate agents had arrived at a vacant house on Breeze Hill Lane, about three miles north of downtown Wheaton, to prepare it to be shown. They went inside, smelled foul odors, made their way to the garage and “noticed a black plastic bag with what they felt was blood seeping from it onto the garage floor,” a police affidavit on file said.

The agents left the home and called police. Inside the bag was Tello’s charred and dismembered body.

Within 24 hours, detectives had assembled a series of clues pointing to Sheinbein. Inside the garage of his home nearby, there was evidence of a recent fire, along with an empty a box for a Makita power saw. That box matched a saw found in the other garage, near the torso in the trash bag. Also found in that garage were rubber gloves, propane cylinders and a Home Depot bag with a receipt indicating the saw and cylinders had been bought several days earlier.

Montgomery prosecutors accused Sheinbein’s father, Sol Sheinbein, of helping his son get to Israel. They charged Sol Sheinbein, who eventually relocated to Israel himself, with obstructing and hindering, according to a warrant still on file in Montgomery County.

Back in 1997, Montgomery officials charged another teenager, Aaron Needle, with participating in the murder with Sheinbein. Needle later hanged himself inside a jail.

Eglash reported from Israel.

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Post staff writer Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County, Md.
Ruth Eglash is a correspondent for The Washington Post based Jerusalem. She was formerly a reporter and senior editor at the Jerusalem Post and freelanced for international media.
Ruth Eglash is a correspondent for The Washington Post based Jerusalem. She was formerly a reporter and senior editor at the Jerusalem Post and freelanced for international media.
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