Inside the D.C. Mansion Murders, When a Home Invasion Shattered a Family's Idyllic Life
The killer, Daron Wint, was convicted on Thursday
Ed. Note: The savagery of the killings was shocking, a grisly image of a seemingly perfect family life turned into a nightmare.
On May 14, 2015, firefighters responding to a fire in a Washington, D.C., mansion discovered the bodies of businessman Savvas Savopoulos, 46, his wife Amy Savoppoulos, 47, their son Philip, 10, and the family’s 57-year-old housekeeper Veralicia “Vera” Figueroa. They had been beaten with baseball bats and stabbed multiple times before gasoline was poured over their bodies, which were then set on fire.
A week later, Daront Wint, now 37, who had worked at one of Savopoulos’ businesses, was arrested. He was first identified as a suspect after he left DNA on crust from a pizza he ordered while holding family members captive. During that time, he made Amy call her Savvas and lure him home. The four were killed shortly after Savvas’ assistant delivered $40,000 in ransom to the home.
On Thursday, Wint was convicted of multiple counts of first-degree murder while armed as well as other crimes. He faces a potential life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Here is PEOPLE’s June 8, 2015, magazine story about the killings.
The school year was winding down, which meant Savvas and Amy Savopoulos were looking forward to extra family time with their three kids—and, as many parents do, they couldn’t help but note how quickly the children were growing up. At a recent get-together with friends, “we talked about how the kids are getting big,” says family friend Jami Fireman. The couple’s oldest daughter, 19-year-old Abigail, was set to graduate from high school in a few weeks, and their youngest child, 10-year-old Philip, was finishing fourth grade. “We were sitting outside, talking about summer plans,” adds Fireman. “No one seemed stressed at all.” Philip, a polite boy who had recently begun racing Go-Karts, was recovering from a concussion, “so he was taking it easy,” she adds. “He was telling me he wanted to be a race car driver. He was a terrific kid—just like his family.”
It was to be one of the last happy times the family would share. Just three weeks later, on May 14, the bodies of Amy, Savvas, Philip and the family’s housekeeper Veralicia Figueroa were found in their $4.5 million mansion near the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The quadruple homicide—discovered after the house was set ablaze—shocked neighbors in the well-heeled Woodley Park community, where Amy, 47, and Savvas, the 46-year-old CEO of a lucrative construction firm, rubbed elbows with the Washington elite and were lauded for their warmth and generosity. (The couple’s two daughters, Abigail and 16-year-old Katerina, were away at boarding school at the time of the killings.) “You can’t really grapple with anything like this,” says Fireman. “It is inconceivable. I cannot stop thinking about the family and what those last moments must have been like for them.”
As investigators began to reveal details of the case, a terrifying scenario came into view: The victims, authorities say, were held captive for more than 18 hours, and stab wounds suggest that Philip may have been tortured by one or more killers in order to get money from his wealthy father. “Who would do something so monstrous?” asks Jay Howard, Philip’s racing coach. “This was a nice family. Savvas would have done everything to protect them all. He would have given the thieves anything they wanted. He would have said, ‘Take it. It’s yours.’ That someone did this to them—it’s unthinkable.”
It may have been someone they knew. The home’s sophisticated security system had not been triggered, suggesting the perpetrators had knowledge of the house or had been willingly let in. Someone then ordered Domino’s pizza, with the discarded crust containing critical DNA evidence. Within a week, authorities had arrested a suspect: Darron Dellon Dennis Wint, a 34-year-old, Guyana-born former Marine recruit who had previously done work for Savvas’s firm, American Iron Works. He is charged with first-degree murder while armed. Authorities have said they don’t believe Wint acted alone, and court documents raise questions about the changing story of an assistant who worked for Savvas and delivered $40,000 in cash to the property. The documents state the assistant first told investigators that he or she had been called by Savvas May 14 and asked to take an envelope containing the $40,000—withdrawn from Savvas’s account—and leave it in the garage. Later, according to the documents, the assistant said the request had come from Savvas via text on May 13.
It appears that the four were killed shortly after the cash was delivered to the house on the morning of May 14. Was it ransom, or was it intended for a construction job on a martial arts studio the driven Greek-American executive was building? Authorities aren’t saying, but the use of cash on such jobs is not uncommon, says a project manager for American Iron Works. “That’s how things are done in D.C. construction,” says the manager. “I’m not saying Savvas would give $40,000 cash to just anyone, but he would do it if it was a person he trusts—a contractor who he had worked with.”
Meanwhile, those who had contact with Savvas during the time that he and the others were being held captive are now haunted by the knowledge of the crimes unfolding inside the house (see timeline). Leaving a voicemail for Nelitza Gutierrez, the family’s second housekeeper, on the evening of May 13, Savvas told her not to report to work the next day and that Figueroa, 57, would be spending the night instead. “It was not normal for them to have us stay overnight,” Gutierrez, who worked for the family for 20 years, tells PEOPLE. “I thought, ‘What is this?’ It didn’t sound right.” She didn’t listen to the message until the next day, when she also received a text from Amy warning her not to come to work. “I didn’t go in because they told me not to,” says Gutierrez. “They saved my life.”
The friends and family who knew them best say that both Amy and Savvas had a reputation for looking out for others. “They were a big part of the community and always willing to help,” says Fireman. Attending the University of Maryland together as undergrads, “they were like peanut butter and jelly,” says Terri Jarboe-Farri, Amy’s former sorority sister. “I remember him being driven, and she was always such a bubbly person.” Amy converted to the Greek Orthodox church, and they married soon after graduation in a “typical big fat Greek wedding,” says Jarboe-Farri. “I remember they did Greek dancing in a big circle. It was beautiful.”
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As Savvas joined his father, Philip, in expanding American Iron Works into an even bigger multimillion-dollar business, he and Amy also grew their family. Savvas coached his kids’ soccer teams, and Amy was a fixture at their exclusive private schools. “She would bring these gingerbread-house decorating kits to the entire grade,” recalls her friend Tina West. “She did it every year while her kids were in elementary school. Her whole life was like that. She and her husband were all about their kids.”
A martial arts enthusiast and deeply religious man, Savvas was a “generous supporter” of the Greek Orthodox Church, says Mike Manatos, who first met Savvas when they were both altar boys. The couple, who also supported research into childhood concussions after all three of their kids suffered head injuries in sports, attended an annual gathering at the White House for Greek Independence Day in 2014 and once hosted a fund-raiser for U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe at their home. “Washington events are usually stiff, but their kids were right there,” says Manatos. “It was a clear sign that the kids were the center of their lives.”
Respected by his employees and colleagues as a fair-minded boss, “Savvas was a once-in-a-lifetime guy,” says his longtime business associate Robert Hodge, with whom he founded a welding program to teach struggling workers a new trade. “He was a brilliant man of impeccable character. He knew his employees and their families, and if someone was ill he would ask them about it. He didn’t act like a big shot.” Adds Fireman: “Some people have a life and other people live a life. He loved life. He enjoyed living.”
And he shared an especially close bond with his “mini Savvas,” as friends describe Philip. “Amy would say, ‘He is exactly like Savvas,'” West recalls. “He walked like Savvas and he had this really firm handshake and this presence already—and he was only 10 years old.” After coaching Philip on the racetrack for a few weeks, “I wrote a letter to Savvas saying, ‘If I ever have a son, I want him to be just like Philip,'” says Howard.
Figueroa’s family, too, remembers her as a bighearted mother of two who worked for years to send money home to her children in El Salvador so they could have a better life there. “The tranquility it gave her to know that we were in a zone that is safer was worth it,” her son Néstor Ulises Rivas told The Washington Post. “That’s what she had in mind when she persevered with working.”‘
Now grief-stricken loved ones are wondering how to carry on without all of them. “It is horrible to see a family that seemed to do everything right have such tragedy come into their life,” says Manatos. Abigail—who posted a Mother’s Day message on Facebook thanking Amy for “always believing in me and supporting me”—and Katerina are living with their grandparents. “I can only wish them love and peace,” says Fireman. “I don’t know how you get over this.”
Timeline: How the Horror Unfolded
Amy Savopoulos calls her husband, Savvas, telling him to come home to watch their son Philip because she has plans, according to housekeeper Nelitza Gutierrez.
Someone in the house places an order to Domino’s pizza, paying with the Savopouloses’ credit card, according to court documents.
Savvas leaves a message for Gutierrez telling her not to come in the next day. He says Amy is sick and that another housekeeper, Veralicia Figueroa, is spending the night.
Figueroa’s husband, Bernardo Alfaro, goes to the house looking for his wife. He sees Savvas’s Porsche parked outside but gets no answer when he knocks. He then gets a call from Savvas, who says that Amy had gone to the hospital and Figueroa had accompanied her. “My feeling was that somebody was inside,” Alfaro later told the local ABC News affiliate. “He said … ‘My wife was feeling bad and asked Vera to go with her.'”
Gutierrez receives a text from Amy saying, “I am making sure you do not come today.” Gutierrez says she calls Amy back but the call goes to voicemail. “I texted her, ‘I hope everything is okay,'” says Gutierrez, who got no reply.
MORNING: An employee of American Iron Works drops off $40,000 in cash to the Savopoulos home.
The D.C. fire department answers a call for a blaze on Woodland Drive. Fire fighters find the bodies inside the home.
• With reporting by STEVE HELLING, SUSAN KEATING and CHRISTINE PELISEK