The breakfast dishes are still in the drain board. A child's pair of Christmas pajamas is still in the dryer. Indeed, everything in Nancy Bochicchio's home is much as it was last Dec. 12 when she and her 7-year-old daughter Joey headed to Boca Raton's upscale Town Center Mall to buy a gift card. "Joey was supposed to play a little reindeer in the school play," says JoAnn Bruno, 59, who can't bring herself to disturb anything in her sister Nancy's house. "Our biggest worry was that Joey would find out about Santa Claus. We were hoping that she would believe for at least one more year."

Joey never got that year. Security cameras show that she and Bochicchio, 47, a financial adviser, entered the Florida mall at 2:19 p.m., then left 52 minutes later. Shortly before midnight, a security guard phoned the local precinct after spotting a black Chrysler Aspen SUV idling in the mall parking lot. When police opened the doors, they found Bochicchio and Joey bound with cheap novelty store handcuffs, plastic ties and duct tape, their eyes covered with blackened goggles. They'd been shot to death at point blank range.

Shocking as Boca residents found the murders, they were even more stunned to learn that during the preceding nine months there had been two other violent incidents involving the mall, each with disturbingly similar features. In March 2007, homemaker Randi Gorenberg, 52, was discovered fatally shot in the head, 38 minutes after pulling away from the mall in her black Mercedes SUV. That August, a 30-year-old woman was carjacked in a mall parking garage while strapping her 2-year-old son into her black SUV. At gunpoint she drove to an ATM machine, made a withdrawal, then was driven back to the mall, where she and her son were left uninjured—the woman bound with flimsy handcuffs, plastic ties and blackened goggles over her eyes. Two months after the December killings, Fox's America's Most Wanted aired a reenactment of Gorenberg's murder. Host John Walsh offered his opinion, describing the perpetrator as "a monster who could be a serial killer."

Police acknowledge they're investigating that possibility. After the December homicides, Captain Jack Strenges of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office tapped the same detectives who for nine months had been looking into Gorenberg's murder. "There are some factors here that can point to one person," says Strenges. "But it's nothing definitive at this point." Boca Raton Police Chief Daniel Alexander notes that the DNA evidence "is not isolated to anyone or anything in particular."

There are, however, enough parallels to make shoppers uneasy. Not only were all three adult victims female, but all drove high-end SUVs with dark tinted windows—a vehicle that Strenges thinks may have attracted the assailant in each instance. "It sits higher than regular cars," he says. "You can see above traffic." And avoid eye contact with other drivers. "So, there are some advantages for the bad guy," he says. Also, in two of the attacks—perhaps in Gorenberg's case, too, Strenges says—the victim was forced to drive to an ATM machine.

But not all aspects match up. In the first murder, the Gorenberg case, no distinctive restraints were found; and she was shopping alone. "Possibly the killer then upped the ante by involving a child," says Strenges, who observes that a woman with a child in tow would be less likely to resist—as would someone in restraints. In fact, goes one police theory, the issue of control may have been the difference between life and death for the carjack survivor and the shooting victims. The carjack survivor and her son did as they were told. Gorenberg apparently resisted by trying to get out of the SUV. Bochicchio's cheap handcuffs were broken, indicating she may have struggled.

As the investigation continues, a $350,000 reward has been posted for information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers. Meanwhile, Boca residents continue to look over their shoulders. Despite stepped-up security at Town Center Mall, Mariel Larrain, a 60ish shopper, says she now only goes there "with my husband, not by myself. I'm scared." The survivor and the families of the two murdered women have filed lawsuits against the mall's owner, charging lax security—which the owner flatly denies. "Apart from these tragic cases," says a spokesperson, "Town Center was and continues to be one of the safest malls in South Florida."

Fifteen months after Gorenberg's death, her mother, Idey Elias, says that she, like Gorenberg's husband and two grown children, still feels shocked and unsafe. "It's so horrible, so senseless," says Elias. "It puts us all on alert: You can't take anything for granted."

  • Contributors:
  • Siobhan Morrissey/Boca Raton,
  • Lori Rozsa/Boca Raton.