As NYPD detectives sought the black-clad monster who beheaded and dismembered 33-year-old tech entrepreneur Fahim Saleh in his $2.2 million Manhattan apartment, his family issued a plea for justice.
“No words or actions to provide any of us comfort except the capture of the person who exhibited nothing short of evil upon our loved one,” the family statement said.
“We need and urge the NYPD and other members of law enforcement to work diligently to get to the bottom of this horrific crime and bring justice for Fahim.”
The family described the brutality of the killing as beyond comprehension.
“The headlines talk about a crime we still cannot fathom,” the statement said, going on to say that the loss was more enormous than anyone but those who really knew Saleh could understand.
“Fahim is more than what you are reading. He is so much more. His brilliant and innovative mind took everyone who was a part of his world on a journey and he made sure never to leave anyone behind.”
Saleh was the chief executive and co-founder of Gokada, a motorcycle ride-sharing service that operated in Nigeria—one of his latest ventures in an entrepreneurial career that began when he was in his teens.
His body was discovered on Tuesday afternoon in a Lower East Side luxury condo complex. His head and limbs had been removed, and the parts were in contractor bags; an electric saw was nearby.
Detectives who reviewed building security footage saw that a day earlier, at 1:40 p.m., Saleh had been followed into the elevator by a man all in black, including a mask and hood.
Saleh used a key fob needed to bring the elevator up to his apartment, which occupied the entire seventh floor. He appeared to grow uneasy when the person in black fumbled in the absence of ordinary elevator buttons. The two appear to exchange words but the camera in the elevator has no audio and detectives were not immediately able to discern what might have been said.
By that point, the elevator doors had closed, and the elevator was on its way up to the apartment, where Saleh would be trapped. When the doors opened, Saleh stepped off and turned right. The suspect came up right behind him and raised his hand, and Saleh crumpled to the floor. Detectives theorized he may have been incapacitated with a Taser.
The elevator doors closed, so what happened next was not captured on video. But an autopsy determined that Saleh was repeatedly and fatally stabbed in the torso before he was butchered.
The killer seems to have waited overnight, allowing Saleh’s blood to coagulate, before setting to work with an electric saw. Despite its gruesomeness, “it was not a messy crime scene,” a detective noted.
Investigators believe the killer was interrupted—possibly by a relative concerned they had not heard from Saleh—in the midst of a plan to carry the body away and leave no trace of the killing.
“Like it never happened,” a detective said.
The detectives suspect that the killing may have been the result of a financial dispute with someone who either hired an assassin or did the murder themselves.
It’s not clear if there is an international component to the crime. A senior police source in the Lagos State Police Command told The Daily Beast that Nigerian authorities are not investigating but are ready to help if there are leads that point to their country.
Saleh was born in Saudi Arabia but raised in upstate New York by Bangladeshi parents who noted in the statement that he “found success at an early age and built on it year after year, while remaining grounded and committed to helping others.”
As recounted in numerous tech publications, the victim launched his first internet venture, teen-hangout.com, when he was still in high school. He was just graduating from Bentley College when he started an app called PrankDial with which people could make pre-recorded prank calls. It brought in more than $10 million—and also ensnared Saleh in a long-running legal matter.
PrankDial included a service called Evil Operator, which allowed a user to listen in as calls were placed simultaneously to two people, often causing them to think each had called the other.
The deputy director of the Hudson County Jail, Kirk Eady, used it on two of his officers and recorded the result as they said things that he then used against them. His intrusion drew the attention of federal prosecutors, who initially considered Saleh a target in the ensuing investigation.
Saleh’s lawyer told The Daily Beast that he convinced the feds that PrankDial was supposed to be fun and that customers were warned not to put it to any illegal use. The lawyer said Saleh ended up assisting the feds in prosecuting Eady on wiretapping charges.
The former jail official was sentenced to 21 months in prison in March 2015. When he got out last year, he filed a lawsuit against Saleh, which is still pending in federal court. An active phone number for Eady could not be found in public records.
After Saleh’s success with PrankDial, he went on to co-found a successful motorbike-hailing enterprise in Bangladesh called Pathao. He did well enough that he was able to post a video on YouTube of himself surprising his father with a brand new Tesla car.
In 2017, Saleh launched Gokada—kind of an Uber with motorcycles popular with lower-income Nigerians—in Lagos. He traveled frequently between there and New York.
He started the company with Deji Oduntan, who was the first CEO. Oduntan left in March 2019, and Saleh stepped into his role. A statement from the company said Saleh “brought Deji on board to focus on Gokada’s first year of growth.”
A former employee told The Daily Beast that Oduntan and Saleh clashed over how the company should be run, and much of the original staff was let go. Last year, Saleh told Techpoint.africa that accusations of mismanagement were unfounded.
“In August 2018, there was a very big pivot of the business which included layoffs of 70 percent of the staff, change in business model, and change in the app. This caused many ex-employees to grow frustrated and produce false stories about Gokada,” he said. “While they were distracting, we just continued to execute.”
Two months after Oduntan left, Gokada announced that it had appointed Ayodeji Adewunmi, founder of popular Nigerian job advertising portal Jobberman, as co-CEO. The company also revealed that it had raised raised $5.3 million through a Silicon Valley global investment firm—for which Oduntan took much of the credit.
In August 2019, Saleh revealed plans via a Medium post to suspend all Gokada operations for two weeks due to what he termed “operational issues” and an ugly experience he had when he tried to use the app a few days before. Gokada immediately retrained drivers, and launched new bikes and Bluetooth helmets for riders.
Having spent a small fortune, Saleh was in a tough spot when a ban on motorbike ride-shares went into effect, forcing him to lay off most of the staff. Adewunmi, the co-CEO hired in May 2019, left the company in January with no public explanation.
After the layoffs, Saleh went on Facebook with newly bleached hair to explain the situation.
“The drivers, every one of them, wasn’t there because they just wanted to make money,” he said. “They were there because they had families, children, dreams, they wanted to start businesses. They wanted to go to school.”
He added, “We were hoping that a lot of these drivers wouldn't be drivers forever, we were hoping that we could place them in higher jobs in Gokada and create a beautiful community which was developing slowly and, it was really something that moved me to the point where I was OK putting all my money in, all my effort in.”
He concluded, “Gokada is not just a business. We do things that nobody else did at the time. This has definitely been a blow.”
In addition to Gokada, Saleh had a venture capital firm, Adventure Capital. Among his investments: a Bogota ride-sharing company that had a crisis earlier this year when the Colombian government banned it from the road, reportedly in exchange for a promise by a taxi industry group not to join demonstrations against President Iván Duque Márquez.
—Daly reported from New York and Obaji from Nigeria