Before Nancy Bochicchio walked out of the Town Center mall in Boca Raton with her daughter five years ago today, she called her sister with good news.
"She said she got my Christmas present," said JoAnn Bruno of the chat on Dec. 12, 2007. Bochicchio said her daughter Joey's visit to the doctor to check out a heart murmur went well: "The doctor said Joey would live to be 100."
That was the last time Bruno would ever hear her sister's voice. Just after midnight, mall security guards found Bochicchio and Joey dead in back of the family's still-idling SUV. They had been snatched from the mall at gunpoint, robbed and killed.
Nearly 2,000 tips and five years later, the killer is still at large. The case rattled Boca Raton and South Florida, and went nationwide after being featured on "America's Most Wanted."
For Bruno, the suffering has been private and intense. Ask her what life has been like over the last half-decade, she'll use one word: "Hell."
Bruno has lain awake night after night, hoping her phone would ring with the voice of a detective bearing the good news that the killer has been caught.
"There's a crazy animal out there," Bruno said, crying, as she always does when she talks of the murders. "They need to rest in peace ... How could they rest with him out there?"
While the call hasn't come, Bruno said she has stayed close to detectives working the case, chatting on the phone every couple weeks.
Lately, there haven't been many updates.
"The police have been through all the files," Bruno said. "If only they could get a piece to put it all together."
Bruno rescheduled a visit to the crypt where her sister and niece are buried in Hartsdale, N.Y., so she could attend a 10 a.m. press conference today at 6500 Congress Avenue — the 6500 Building — and ask the public for help.
There's still a $350,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers.
A special task force had been formed between Boca Raton police and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, but it disbanded in 2009.
That's when investigators determined the Bochicchio murders were not connected to the killing of Randi Gorenberg, a 52-year-old woman last seen alive as she drove away from Town Center in her black Mercedes.
The Cold Case Unit of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office has been investigating that case since March 23, 2007, when Gorenberg was shot in the head and dumped in a park west of Delray Beach.
Her killer, too, is still on the loose.
The FBI has since been assisting Boca Raton police in the Bochicchio case.
It was early on Dec. 13, 2007 when investigators found the bodies of Nancy and Joey Bochicchio bound with plastic ties and handcuffs in the family's Chrysler Aspen SUV. At least one of the victims was wearing blacked-out swim goggles.
Detectives determined someone abducted the mother and daughter, took them to an ATM and forced Nancy to take out $500 cash.
Looking to find new leads in 2010, police released an image of the goggles and asked for the public's help identifying them. It was the first and only release of substantial evidence in the case. Police still haven't even released how the pair died.
Other details of the murder resembled an abduction and robbery on Aug. 7, 2007 at the mall.
In that robbery, someone abducted a woman and her 2-year-old daughter, took them from the mall parking lot to an ATM, forced the mother to withdraw money, then bound and left the two in their car at Town Center.
But the abductor left them alive.
The Bochicchio murders prompted mall officials to upgrade security with a police substation and surveillance cameras. Police also began using license plate readers while patrolling parking lots. Still, the killings rattled shoppers through the holiday season.
"It is truly unfortunate that this tragic incident took place in our city five years ago," said mall manager Brian Nelson. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all families who have suffered from violent crimes."
Despite the upped security, Bruno has stayed away.
"I don't like being in the neighborhood," Bruno said.
She's visited the mall only once in the past five years — to pick up Joey's white funeral dress.
Bruno filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against mall owner Simon Property Group and several stores in 2008, citing a failure to address security issues. The lawsuit was resolved later that year, but no details have been released.
Now, when she talks about the mall, Bruno talks about safety, warning shoppers that what happened to her sister and niece could happen to anyone.
"Don't put your guard down" Bruno said. "People seem to have forgotten. ... There are crimes all the time, everywhere."
While detectives continue investigation, Bruno said she'll continue to wait for the day the
killer is caught.
"It's not fair," she said. "He never paid for it."
Boca Raton Police urge anyone with information to call detectives at 561-338-1352 or Crime Stoppers at 800-458-8477.
TIPS FOR STAYING SAFE THIS SHOPPING SEASON
Pay attention. Robbers tend to target people who are distracted or seem oblivious to their surroundings, doing things such as loading packages into a car, strapping in children or talking on a cellphone. Be extra careful and aware if you're carrying something such as a purse or cellphone. For purses, authorities say it's best to carry them as securely as possible, so they can't be snagged by someone running or driving by. For women, vigilance is even more important — they are twice as likely as men to be accosted in mall parking lots.
Keep an eye on the people around you, and check over your shoulder often, especially if you're walking alone in a parking lot or garage. If you feel something isn't right, try to get to a lighted area or some place with more people. Trust your instincts.
Parking lots and garages can be especially dangerous. Many victims are robbed as they are getting out of or into their cars, when they can be most vulnerable. Again, being aware can be a lifesaver. If something suspicious is going on or someone appears to be watching you, stay in your car. If you're walking toward your car, keep going to a safer place. When you do get into your car, close the door quickly.