Wake held for mom, daughter stabbing victims

February 16, 2011 3:59:41 AM PST
There was heartbreak and rage and sadness and disbelief by those attending a wake for a mother and daughter killed in a brutal stabbing spree.

The coffins bearing mother and daughter were carried from the funeral home on Tuesday after more than three hundred relatives, friends and neighbors gathered to pay their respects.

Friends say Anna and Yelena Bulchenko were as close as a mother and daughter could be. They were murdered within hours of one another by a madman with a kitchen knife.

By the time Maksim Gelman was arrested on Saturday, police say he had murdered three people, carjacked three cars and struck and killed an elderly man in the middle of Ocean Avenue.

Law enforcement sources say Gelman has refused to answer questions. What allegedly sparked the rampage is still not clear.

Some mourners said they were convinced that Gelman became obsessed with Yelena Bulchenko and flew into a rage when he felt rejected.

Most had never even heard of Gelman until after he was arrested.

Yelena Bulchenko's boyfriend told Eyewitness News that Gelman was obsessed with her, but that there was never any sort of relationship between them.

Gelman, who was assigned a new attorney on Monday, is now undergoing a psychiatric evaluation.

Police say Gelman had a criminal history of minor drug arrests, writing graffiti and once threatened an acquaintance, but the case was dropped.

He never spent time in prison, and there were no recorded incidents of serious violence. Until the day his 56-year-old stepfather was hacked to death, police had never been called to the home he shared with his family, according to arrest records obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

But there were signs that Gelman was troubled. He told police after his arrest someone "had to die." Friends of one of the victims say he was obsessed with her.

Authorities are still investigating the reason behind the attacks, but they say Gelman became unhinged during an early-morning argument Friday over keys to his mom's Lexus and then stabbed his stepfather to death. He sped away and committed attacks - both targeted and random - for the next 28 hours, authorities said, until he was captured on a subway underneath Manhattan's Times Square.

Yelena Bulchenko may have been at the center of the crime spree, investigators said.

Yelena Bulchenko was initially described by authorities as Gelman's ex-girlfriend, but her friends and her boyfriend of two years, Gerard Honig, said she and Gelman were acquaintances who had never dated.

"She said he was creepy, he would try to harass her, to stalk her. But she was never with him, never tried to be with him, nothing," said Honig, who was living with the Bulchenkos and was at work when his girlfriend was killed.

"She was a beautiful girl, she only wanted the best for this world," Honig said. "She loved me and I loved her. We planned to have a family together."

Gelman is accused of driving his family's Lexus to the Bulchenko home nearby, and stabbing Anna to death. When Yelena Bulchenko arrived home at about 4 p.m., she found her mother's body in a pool of blood and called 911. But Gelman was waiting for her there, chased her outside and stabbed her 11 times, authorities said.

During his arrest, Gelman made some incoherent statements to police, including "she had to die," but it's unclear to whom he was referring, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

"I just think he was obsessed with her," Honig said. "I knew he existed, but he wasn't around or anything. I did not think he was a threat."

A longtime friend of Yelena Bulchenko, Angela Akopyan, said the first time she heard of Gelman was Friday.

The suspect was arraigned Sunday evening on charges of second-degree murder and assault and was being held without bail.

His attorney was appointed Monday, and said he had no comment on the case yet because he had not properly interviewed his client.

As he was lead out of the police precinct Sunday, Gelman cursed and yelled at a small throng of neighbors outside, saying "it was a setup." No family members attended the hearing.

The Ukraine-born Gelman and his mother became naturalized U.S. citizens about five years ago. He lived with his family in a predominantly Eastern European section of Brooklyn.

He had seven prior arrests dating to 2003 and an open case that was set for dismissal in March, before he became a suspect in the weekend rampage. He has been arrested for graffiti, minor drug possession and criminal mischief. Some of his cases were sealed because he was a minor, or the charges were dropped or dismissed.

The 2008 harassment complaint that Gelman threatened to kill a 21-year-old man was among those sealed, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the case was sealed.

After the stabbings, police say Gelman drove away and rear-ended a Pontiac, then stabbed the driver when he confronted Gelman, police said. He survived.

Gelman left the man bleeding on the street and drove off in his Pontiac but smacked into 62-year-old pedestrian Stephen Tanenbaum, who died from his injuries, police said.

He later abandoned the car and disappeared until just before 1 a.m. Saturday when police say he hailed a livery cab and attacked the driver, then fled. Shortly afterward, he approached another car and stabbed a man inside multiple times in the hand before hijacking the car, police said. Both men survived.

Just after 8 a.m. Saturday, passengers on a subway in Manhattan noticed that a man on the train matched photos of Gelman they had seen in newspapers. They notified police as Gelman jumped off the train at the West 34th Street station, crossed the tracks and hopped on another train, where he sliced a passenger, police said.

Officers were in the driver's compartment of the train looking for him on the tracks when he made his way up to the driver's door and pounded on it, "claiming that he was the police," Kelly said.

One of the officers threw open the door and wrestled Gelman to the ground, knocking the knife from his hand, Kelly said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)