MYSTERY Tourist vanishes for WEEKS in Manhattan
GET BREAKING NEWS UPDATES
Get our instant notifications as news happens
You can manage them anytime using browser settings
An Uzbek tourist, after missing a bus from Chinatown to Ohio, lost his way, his identity — and nearly his life.
The 61-year-old visitor was planning to go from Manhattan to visit his daughter in the Midwest when he left his nephew to run across the street for a bottle of water before their nighttime bus was set to depart Aug. 3.
He never returned, leaving his nephew bewildered.
As the weeks passed, family members became convinced their patriarch was dead. He was, in fact, alive at a Manhattan hospital, where the staff knew their nameless patient as “Mr. Unknown.”
The man had been discovered, three days after disappearing, unconscious in a park 7 miles from where he went missing. Somewhere in between, he suffered severe brain trauma. He carried no form of ID.
No one knew who he was — or how to find out.
* * *
On the day of his disappearance, Sabirjon Akhmedov arrived at Kennedy Airport and took a cab with his nephew to Canal St. From there they planned to catch a late bus bound for Columbus. It was his first day ever in America.
Akhmedov was carrying nothing more than about $100 and his passport when he left for the deli. The nervous nephew waited for hours before finally calling the police.
Detective Sal Tudisco of the Lower East Side’s 7th Precinct caught the case, making his way to Canal St. to investigate the bizarre disappearance.
There was an immediate problem, he recalled: “The people didn’t speak any English.”
The nephew could understand a little Russian. The detective, wracking his mind for a possible on-the-spot translator, had an idea — he called his barber.
The Russian-born barber, cutting clients’ hair with one hand and holding the phone with the other, helped translate between the worried nephew and the puzzled detective.
“We were told he walked away and never returned,” Tudisco told the Daily News. “He didn’t say anything to the nephew, which we found very odd.”
Tudisco explored every possible angle — did Akhmedov have a secret girlfriend? An unpaid debt? A suicide wish?
“We came up blank on everything,” said the 22-year NYPD veteran. “It turned out this guy had no reason whatsoever to disappear.”
Tudisco, bouncing between Chinatown stores, began piecing together surveillance video from just before the disappearance. Eventually, he found footage showing Akhmedov approaching a deli before walking right past and appearing to get lost.
“He goes around the corner, over to Orchard St. then over to Division St.,” the detective recounted. “He crosses the street and he’s by himself and he starts to panic a little. He starts jogging a little.”
And then he disappeared from camera view at Ludlow St.
Tudisco, determined to find Akhmedov, created a “missing person” flyer with the victim’s photo and description. He included his NYPD contact information at the bottom.
He taped the flyers across the Lower East Side and distributed them to local hospitals. Akhmedov’s daughter Feruza Akhmedova soon arrived in New York to help out.
More than a dozen members of the local Uzbek community assisted in the effort, distributing the flyers to stores, taping them to lamp posts, spreading the word.
Akhmedova, 36, nervously looked for her dad for days, but eventually had to return to her young daughters in Columbus.
“I thought he was dead,” she told The News. “But police said he’s not dead, we’re going to find him and he will get better.”
Weeks passed, and the trail grew cold. Tudisco stayed in touch with the family, never with any good news.
“Really, really hard,” Tudisco said of those calls. “I spoke to the family on a regular basis and I really felt bad. Usually if somebody doesn’t return in the first couple of days, it’s not good.”
Though nobody saw it coming, this case became the exception to that rule.
On Aug. 6, Akhmedov was discovered lying unconscious by a woman jogging near 110th St. and Riverside Drive. The jogger called police and Akhmedov was taken to Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital on the Upper West Side.
He was suffering from a traumatic brain injury. Doctors theorized he had been hit by a car — or thrown from one.
Cops found a bit of Uzbek money on the victim. His passport had disappeared. He had no wallet, no phone and his $100 was missing. He had no identity, as far as the doctors were concerned.
Cops in the Upper West Side’s 24th Precinct opened an unidentified-person case.
The St. Luke’s staff soon dubbed their anonymous visitor “Mr. Unknown.”
Akhmedov spent about three weeks in the ICU, where he required a tracheotomy to help him breathe. A stomach tube was necessary to feed him.Read More...