Victims of Dangerous House Calls: Melissa Ketunuti
Melissa Ketunuti, 35, was a second-year infectious-diseases fellow, researcher and pediatrician. She lived alone in Philadelphia, but she was in a relationship and was loved by many. She even kept a personal blog documenting her life and travels.
In January 2013 she hired Dave Bilyk Exterminators, a Newtown firm, who then passed the exterminating job onto subcontractor Jason Smith, 36. She was found strangled, bound, and set on fire in her Graduate Hospital-area home on Jan. 21 by her dog-walker just 15 minutes after her killer fled. Smith later fully confessed to murdering the doctor. Apparently he and the victim were arguing about the exterminating job in the basement when he just snapped. He became aggressive and continued to strangle her even as she begged for her life. He then tied her up and set her body on fire to destroy any evidence. His full confession can be found here.
This case is different from Sue’s in that Smith was not a convicted felon. He had no prior criminal record other than “minor traffic offenses,” homicide unit Capt. James Clark said. Smith had never met Ketunuti prior to coming to her home for the service work. He had not stalked her or planned his attack. He simply snapped.
“You have a young lady, she was  years of age, she had dedicated her whole life to being a doctor and to helping kids with cancer,” Clark said. “And it’s very, very unfortunate that she died this way.”
“Melissa was a warm, caring, earnest, bright young woman with her whole future ahead of her,” Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the hospital’s division of infectious diseases, said.
“The family and friends of Melissa Ketunuti are devastated by this senseless act of violence that has ended the life of someone who was so loved, cherished and admired,”a statement from the family spokesperson read. “Melissa was a source of joy to everyone in her life. Her passing has left an enormous gap in our lives.”
As we honor the life of this young doctor, what can we learn from her tragic death? Clearly, in this case, a criminal background check would not have resulted in previous criminal behavior, and Smith still would have been sent on the service call. However, other precautions can and should always be taken.
- Always, always invite a friend over for coffee when you are expecting service workers. Chances of violent behavior drop drastically if there are others around.
- Avoid putting yourself in highly secluded areas with service workers- like basements, attics, and garages. Bring your friend with you if you need to walk the technician to these areas.
- While we will never be sure of the exact events surrounding the argument between Ketunuti and Smith, we can be sure that Smith was angered. Remember, these service workers are strangers to you- you don’t know their normal temperament, their habits, or how they react to criticism. You have allowed this person into your home- your sanctuary- your safe space. It is best not to assume others will respond with stability. Nicole Sundine gives extremely helpful advice on her blog, and her thoughts on trust are very relevant here. “But it’s important to remember that trust should be built on consistent behavior and actions that occur over time. Let your instinct and intuition guide you when it comes to assessing whether someone poses a threat to your safety—not your commonalities.”
- Remember, if you feel uncomfortable at all when a service worker shows up, you have EVERY right to turn them away and close the door.
Previous Posts in this series:
Post : + Intro
Post: Ask a friend over for coffee