As the van pulled up to the South Philadelphia apartment about daybreak yesterday, the driver expected the two women, Cambodian immigrants, to come out as they normally did.
The women in their 40s worked at manual day-labor jobs, like many immigrants in South Philadelphia. Vans would pick them up and take them to jobs in the city or suburbs.
Yesterday about 6 a.m., the women didn't come out of their second-floor apartment, on 7th Street near Jackson, so the driver began making noise.
"They blow the horn for so long," one neighbor, who did not want to give her name, said of the van driver. "The horn, the banging, the yelling, they woke me up."
As the van driver knocked loudly on the street-level door of the building, a third-floor resident heard the banging and went downstairs.
She then went "knocking, knocking, knocking" on the second-floor apartment door, Boing Un, an Adolescent Violence Reduction Partnership coordinator for United Communities Southeast Philadelphia, said yesterday afternoon as she interpreted for the resident, who spoke in Cambodian.
"Then she open the door and saw them," Un said. One victim was naked and the other clothed, Un said.
Both had been stabbed multiple times and were declared dead there, police said.
Yesterday afternoon, the shaken third-floor resident hugged herself, and banged her hands against the top of her head and, at times, wiped her eyes with a tissue while relating her horrific discovery to other residents and Un outside her apartment building.
The woman did not know the victims well, Un said. She and other residents "are very freaked out right now."
Hours after the gruesome discovery, police arrested Sambo Nou, 21, of Jackson Street, near 4th, South Philadelphia, and charged him. An acquaintance of one of the women, he allegedly confessed to the killings, which had happened after an argument over money, Homicide Sgt. Anthony McFadden said yesterday.
Police last night did not release the names of the victims pending notification of next of kin. Police said one victim was 47, the other was 40. The older one had lived in South Philadelphia for a few years and the other, a friend, had moved in with her a few months ago. The younger woman had family in Connecticut, McFadden said.
By phone yesterday, a man who said he was Nou's brother said that the family is sorry for what happened.
"My whole family says sorry to this," Thon Nou, 35, said. "We don't know what happened to him. We say sorry to the victims' family. We feel bad. We feel shocked . . . "
McFadden and Thon Nou said Sambo Nou had returned to the crime scene as an onlooker yesterday morning.
Thon said that at the time he did not know his brother was involved.
During their investigation, homicide detectives found out that Nou's mother was a friend of the older victim, McFadden said.
About 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nou went to the women's apartment, McFadden said.
"He went there trying to borrow money off one of the decedents," the older woman, McFadden said.
"They had an argument over a cell-phone bill and over the borrowing of money. He ultimately stabbed her to death and stabbed her roommate to death."
The younger woman was stabbed as she came out of the shower, McFadden said.
Homicide Lt. Philip Riehl said the women's bodies were found on the floor in the living area of the two-bedroom apartment.
Detectives brought Nou into Police Headquarters initially as a witness, McFadden said.
Nou had a large cut on his right hand, but initially "stated that his injury was from a prior robbery," McFadden said.
"Ultimately, he gave a full confession," McFadden said.
Nou was charged last night with two counts of murder, robbery and weapons offenses. He is being held without bail.
Police recovered a kitchen knife at the scene, he said, but it was still to be determined if that was the weapon used.
A police source said that the knife had hair and blood on it and that the apartment was very bloody.
McFadden said that he thought that both women worked at a clothing manufacturer. Residents said that the older woman sewed, was quiet, and didn't come out much except to work. They did not know much about the younger woman. The victims were unmarried, residents said.
Thon Nou said his family is of Cambodian ethnicity. Sambo, who has a twin brother, was born in Thailand, where the family lived in a refugee camp, he said. Shortly after, in 1987, the family came to the United States and the members are now permanent legal residents, he said.
Thon said he and Sambo have the same mother, but different fathers, and do not live together.
Thon said Sambo graduated from Central High School and now works in real estate.
He said he and his brother were "not really close." He said the family was not aware of anything that was troubling him. "We don't recognize anything that he's going through. He's a good brother. He's a good kid."