A Vicious Murder Rocked the Startup World. Who Was the Victim — And the Accused?

Illustration by Hokyoung Kim

Illustration by Hokyoung Kim

The tragic story of young millionaire Fahim Saleh, his even younger assistant, a penthouse, and a chilling act of violence.

Tyrese Haspil’s life began a tragedy.

By the age of 20, it was one of excitement, running the glamorous go-go life and finances of a young startup millionaire.

But by 21, it had descended into evil — for, prosecutors allege, Haspil murdered and dismembered his boss on a hot July afternoon in Manhattan this past summer.

His boss, Fahim Saleh, trusted Haspil, saw something in him where most people found an impenetrable wall. Even members of Haspil’s own family describe him as aloof and independent. Not the sort of man who’s prone to flying into rages.

“He never showed his emotions,” Haspil’s aunt Marjorie Sine, 52, told a local newspaper days after the killing, which he pleaded not guilty to committing. “His behavior, the way he was, he acted nonchalantly. He would do whatever he wanted.”

Sine gave the 12-year-old Haspil a home after the death of his grandmother, who had taken the boy in years earlier when his mother ended up in a mental institution. But Sine couldn’t provide his forever home. At 17, Haspil once again cut roots and finished his youth in foster care. “He wasn’t listening to me so he left,” Sine said. “We went to court. I couldn’t deal with it anymore.”

When Sine heard that the NYPD had arrested her nephew for the grisly murder of his boss and benefactor, she thought they were wrong.

But then again, not every crime is a crime of passion.

In the early afternoon of July 13, Saleh entered his luxury building on the Lower East Side for the last time, according to investigators. Saleh — a venture capitalist and founder of multiple successful startups at just 33 — had bought the newly built three-floor duplex for $2.25 million last year.

Trailing behind him and onto the elevator, security video would show, was a masked man in a black three-piece suit, with latex gloves and a duffel bag.

They were bound for the founder’s condo, per prosecutors and officials quoted in The New York Times. They reached the seventh floor together.

At approximately 1:44 p.m., as the elevator doors opened, the masked man shot Saleh with a taser. He fell to the floor.

They were soon out of the cameras’ reach: Saleh’s suite has its own elevator entrance, sales records show. The masked man dragged him inside.

The next day, the masked man made a short trip. “Video surveillance from a hardware store shows the same individual purchasing an electric saw and cleaning supplies on July 14, 2020, at approximately 9:30 a.m.,” the criminal complaint states.

The alleged killer returned with his shopping: A witness told investigators that upon entering the apartment, they confronted a gruesome scene and observed the same saw and cleaning supplies inside of the three-floor apartment.

Twenty-six hours after Saleh and the masked man disappeared into the condo, at precisely the same time that the killer was dismembering the body, Saleh’s cousin reportedly came looking for him. The tech executive had uncharacteristically gone silent over messaging and wasn’t answering his phone. So she made a house call: She buzzed the apartment from the austere lobby of 265 East Houston Street — which is presided over by a virtual doorman and abundant surveillance — and headed up. The killer fled.

Saleh’s cousin found his torso in the living room. Saleh had, according to the chief medical examiner’s office, “five stab wounds to the neck and torso, multiple incise wounds to the arm, multiple wounds to the left hand, contusion to the left forehead, two lesions on the back, and the body had been dismembered and decapitated just below the knees, both shoulders and the neck.”

Who would do such a thing? Saleh’s cousin thought she knew after watching the video with investigators: Tyrese Haspil, Saleh’s assistant.

The young millionaire’s murder created a press frenzy; a lack of immediate facts turned it into a vacuum. Into that void came a story, shared with New York crime reporters by “officials” and police sources who refused to be named — a story that pointed toward a horrid tale of theft, mercy, and murder.

“According to three officials briefed on the matter,” The New York Times reported on the day of Haspil’s arrest, “Mr. Saleh had discovered that Mr. Haspil had stolen roughly $90,000 from him. Though Mr. Saleh, who friends said was a generous man, fired Mr. Haspil, he did not report the theft, the officials said. He even offered to arrange a way for his former employee to work off his debt in what amounted to a payment plan.”

The Manhattan district attorney’s office did not lay out these claims in its brief complaint, nor have others close to the investigation or either party backed them up publicly. No one’s refuted them either — but that’s not the point, Haspil’s attorneys argue. The narrative has taken hold regardless.

These leaks “are emblematic of a culture within the police department to rush to judgment and strip individual citizens of their fundamental right to a fair and impartial jury,” the Legal Aid Society lawyers defending Haspil said in a public statement. The accused 21-year-old’s “constitutional rights are in peril — namely his presumption of innocence, his right to due process, and ultimately his critical right to a fair trial before a jury of his fellow New Yorkers.”

Their public statement, unsurprisingly, got far less play than the anonymous officials’ tale of lavish theft and betrayal.

“Rich people are infrequently homicide victims and even less frequently perpetrators,” says researcher Martin Daly, who with his wife Margo wrote several landmark books about who tends to kill and be killed, and under what circumstances across populations. Venture capitalists (“hedge fund managers or whatever”) don’t come up a lot in his line of work. “At the top, I don’t know what they do — whack each other with their lawyers instead?” The infrequent cases of rich-on-rich violence tend to arise from sexual jealousy or inheritance disputes, Daly says. “In the garden-variety homicides that don’t even make it into the press, everybody’s poor. Being rich is a protective factor.” He adds, “Against everything.”

The wealthy and educated classes hardly ever experience physical violence. “When they do, it’s news,” says Daly, whose macabre field has worn away at the characteristic Canadian gentleness. “You bump off a millionaire, that’s going to make the front page.” And it did.

“This was my baby brother they were talking about. My Fahim, whom, when I was eight years old, my parents brought home from the hospital to me in an orange fleece blanket,” Ruby Angela Saleh reflects in a wrenching, self-published account. The Saleh family, an American dream if ever there was one, immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 1991. Ruby was 12, Fahim was four, and their sister just a baby. Watching their father struggle to provide, to make America home, during the lean years getting his Ph.D. in Louisiana drove the younger Salehs to excel. The first generation worked in a laundromat so the second could get three-story-Manhattan-duplex rich by their early 30s.

When Fahim Saleh discovered the internet, he finally had a way to channel — and monetize — his God-given gifts, according to Ruby. (God and good genes, as the son of a computer scientist.)

The young Saleh “quickly discovered that he could make money on the internet by creating websites,” Ruby writes. “He monetized his first website in 1999, when he was 13 years old. By then, my parents had moved from Louisiana to Rochester, New York, and I was in college less than two hours away. The site was called Monkeydoo: jokes, pranks, fake poop, fart spray, and more for teenagers. Our father worried when the first $500 check arrived in the mail from Google, addressed to Fahim Saleh. How is this boy making $500?”

Wizteen — an exquisitely named venture with his closest friend and partner, Kyle Kapper — made Saleh financially independent by high school. Selling custom AIM avatars, or Dollz, paid for his education at Bentley University. Money came easily to the tech entrepreneur, and so did spreading it around. Saleh gave generously of himself, and not as a down payment for recognition, those who knew him say. He mentored, invested in friends’ and strangers’ hatchling companies, paid freelancers early, and smiled easily, as if delighted by his own good fortune.

“He always seemed shocked and excited by the money back then, but never bragged about it or treated us normies any differently,” a Reddit user writes, one post in a long thread of tributes from self-identified friends and acquaintances. “I remember the first time he showed me a five-figure check before a class started and giving him a high five. I’m glad you had good experiences with him too,” the user told others in the forum. “I hope that’s what people take away from this.”

Haspil had no criminal record — which fits the profile of people who commit the unusual act he’s accused of: killing one’s boss. He has pleaded not guilty.

The ’90s phenomena of “going postal” produced a flurry of research on work-tied homicide, depicting a specific type of perpetrator distinct from, as Daly would say, “your garden-variety murderer.”

“Based on numerous case studies, it appears that most vengeful, violent workers are acting quite deliberately, not spontaneously,” two Northeastern University professors wrote in a 1994 journal article. “They do not just explode. Instead, they engage in well-planned ambushes to gain revenge. Workplace killers may be despondent, disillusioned, disappointed, and even clinically depressed — but generally not deranged.”

Those who say they remember Haspil from Valley Stream Central High School on Long Island don’t tend to use the word “crazy,” except in reference to his alleged crime. They describe an intensely private young man with whom few if any admit to remaining close.

“I was one of the [alleged] killer’s first friends when he moved to the town,” a Harlem-based Reddit user writes. “He never shared details about his life, but there’s always been something odd about him. Never talked about his life or where he came from, even after knowing him for so long. He was in my friend group in H.S. and everyone I’ve talked to about this is shocked.”

Another adds, “The [alleged] killer, Tyrese, was a friend of a friend of mine. When I had met him, he seemed really smart and well-spoken and I felt like he always had a goal in mind. I never would have expected him to go down this path, and [it] really makes me shudder because you never know who you meet in life can do such sick crimes.”

Doing sick things does not, clinically speaking, make one a sick person. A bad person, perhaps. Research, however, finds income inequality among the greatest predictors of murder rates.

Haspil had lifted himself out of a fractured childhood and into the upwardly mobile world of tech strivers. He went from a well-rated, majority-minority public high school to the private Hofstra University on Long Island, where tuition runs $47,000 per year. Haspil grasped Saleh’s coattails early and rode them all the way from Long Island foster care to the downtown New York tech and finance scene. He’d spent nearly a quarter of his life working for Saleh by the time everything fell apart.

Haspil lost every inch of social and socioeconomic status he’d gained and then some, landing where so many — far too many — young Black men raised under stress end up: Rikers Island.

Homicide researcher Daly, who had been studying who kills and gets killed for the better part of four decades, was taken aback to find out that Haspil came from a broken family. So few people from underprivileged backgrounds ever make it up that American ladder, to the American dream, that as a researcher he couldn’t quite get traction.

“For the most part, coming from poverty in the U.S. matches perfectly with still being in it. Present circumstances and rearing are hard to disentangle for that reason,” Daly says. “I wouldn’t have expected a guy with a background like that to even get himself into the position he was in, employed by a hedge fund manager or whatever.”

Which is one more sad element of the very sad story of two promising young men: Fahim Saleh and Tyrese Haspil.