Investigators don’t know what Naseema Sami was running from Thursday. But it was enough, apparently, to drive her to kill two women in front of her 6-year-old son, one of them a former landlord who had offered her a helping hand if she ever needed it.
The violence tore apart the stillness of West Indian Lane, a row of tidy homes on a bank of the Schuylkill in West Norriton Township. They were the first homicides recorded in this slice of Montgomery County since 1986, and allegedly came at the hands of a woman whose only prior criminal offenses in Pennsylvania were traffic violations.
“The deaths of these two kind, wonderful women are sad, are tragic, and our hearts go out to their families," Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said Monday afternoon in announcing Sami’s arrest.
Sami, 43, was arraigned late Monday and charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Lila Frost, 78, and Lorraine Gigliello, 68, as well as criminal trespass, tampering with physical evidence, and endangering the welfare of a child. She was denied bail and remains in custody at the county prison.
Investigators were called to Frost’s home Sunday night after one of her tenants said he hadn’t seen his landlord for several days, even though her car, a candy-apple red Toyota Corolla, was parked on the property, according to an affidavit of probable cause. The caller also told police that he had seen a stranger enter the first floor of the home, which Frost kept as her residence.
When police arrived, the front door was locked. They gained access through a rear door, left unlocked. Inside, they found a “very bloody scene,” according to Steele. Then Sami emerged from her hiding spot under a bed, her 6-year-old in tow. The Folsom, Delaware County, woman had what appeared to be dried blood on her hands, the affidavit states, and had barricaded all but one door with furniture.
In a nearby bathroom, officers found Frost’s body in a bathtub, covered in a blanket. They later found Gigliello’s under a kitchen table, “wrapped in sheets or towels,” the affidavit said.
An autopsy determined that Frost died of “multiple injuries” and Gigliello of “head trauma,” according to Steele. The manner in both was ruled homicide.
In a subsequent interview with detectives, Sami said she had driven to Frost’s home, where she had rented an upstairs apartment 20 years ago, on Thursday night. She chose that spot, she said, because she “desired a safe place to go,” according to the affidavit. Steele did not elaborate Monday, saying it was too early in the investigation.
“She was worried, concerned about something,” Steele said. “And she decided to go to a kindhearted person who years before had offered her help.”
At the time of her arrival with her son, Sami found the home empty and entered through an unlocked door. Gigliello knocked on the front door, walked in on the two, and began asking questions why they were there. When Gigliello threatened to call the police, Sami struck the older woman on her face and chest, according to the affidavit. Frost walked into the home in the middle of the melee.
During the fight, Sami broke a bottle of tomato sauce and began slashing at Gigliello with a shard of broken glass. At one point, she pushed Frost into the bathroom, knocking her into the tub. There, she kicked “her in the head and neck until she died,” Sami told police.
Her son witnessed the entire ordeal, Steele said. He stayed with his mother in the apartment for days, watching as she attempted to clean up the crime scene on Saturday with as many as 10 bottles of bleach. The boy was later interviewed by staff at Mission Kids, the county’s child advocacy center, and released into the care of a family member.
Neighbors reeled at the news Monday, having been taken aback by the heavy police presence that had descended on their street just hours earlier.
From outside, Frost’s home appeared untouched, its trademark “Lady Sadie, Perfect No. 10” sign still above the doorway. One neighbor had left a bundle of roses at the foot of the driveway, wrapping them in a handwritten note that read, “We will miss you.”
Jeff White, who lives on the street, was walking his dog in the waning sunlight. “I knew her 30 years, she was just a nice woman,” White said. “This is all so hard to believe.”