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4 are sought in double slaying

KIDNAPPED AND robbed by drug dealers in 2004, party planner Rian Thal turned mum after her release, refusing to identify her captors.

Surveillance video shows the three suspects in the murder of Rian Thal and Timothy Gilmore at the Navona apartment building in the Piazza at Schmidts complex on Saturday.
Surveillance video shows the three suspects in the murder of Rian Thal and Timothy Gilmore at the Navona apartment building in the Piazza at Schmidts complex on Saturday.Read more

KIDNAPPED AND robbed by drug dealers in 2004, party planner Rian Thal turned mum after her release, refusing to identify her captors.

The 34-year-old blonde's silence spurred her rise "from hanger-on to one of the players," a law-enforcement source said.

She became a "big-time drug dealer," supplying heavy quantities of her specialty, powder cocaine, to other dealers, and at least once sold Ketamine, an animal tranquilizer known as "Special K," another source said.

The revelations about her secret life emerged yesterday during Daily News interviews with law-enforcement and other sources familiar with her drug dealing and other activities.

Homicide Capt. James Clark released surveillance videos of the well-orchestrated murders of Thal and Timothy Gilmore, a Detroit firefighter who was on disability, outside her seventh-floor apartment in the trendy Piazza at Schmidts in Northern Liberties on Saturday.

Now, "some of her customers are suspects in setting up her death," a law-enforcement source said.

Listening to the fatal gunshots from inside her apartment was Gilmore's unidentified friend,who came from Canal Winchester, Ohio, where Gilmore lived.

After waiting for an extended silence, the friend calmly stepped over the bodies to escape, just as the killers had done only minutes earlier, police sources said.

Gilmore's friend was being sought by police.

Clark narrated the action in the surveillance video, which started about 5 p.m. Saturday and ran 15 to 20 minutes.

The first gunman - a medium-built black man in a white T-shirt, jeans and dark baseball cap - followed a woman into the lobby of the Navona apartment building - one of three in the complex - and then into an elevator.

Clark said the man got off on the second floor, walked around briefly, and then returned to the lobby to let in two other gunmen - a heavyset black man in a long white T-shirt, and a tall, thin black man in an orange polo shirt. Both men also wore dark baseball caps.

The three men climbed the stairs to the seventh floor, where Thal's apartment was. They were soon joined by a fourth black man, who wore light-colored shorts and a T-shirt.

"He's not a shooter," Clark said. "He's the lookout."

Two of the men then hid in the seventh-floor stairwell. One staked out a spot near Thal's apartment. The fourth man went to the sixth floor and yelled up the staircase to alert his cohorts when Thal and Gilmore were on their way.

Thal and Gilmore stepped out of the elevator on the seventh floor, walked a few steps and stopped suddenly.

"You notice they're looking behind them. They almost seem to think something may be up," Clark said.

The footage shows Thal and Gilmore walk near the door to the staircase - where two of the gunmen were lying in wait - look out a window, then head toward Thal's apartment.

Clark said Thal and Gilmore were then surrounded by the three gunmen. "Some words were exchanged, and at that point, she was shot and killed."

Gilmore was shot several times and died near the elevator, he added.

Moments later, the three gunmen calmly left the building. One killer even paused to allow a resident who was carrying furniture to enter the lobby.

"They were extremely brazen, extremely bold," Clark said.

Investigators are trying to determine if the killers had previously cased the apartment building. "That's one avenue we're looking," he added. "It looks like they had been in there before."

Gilmore's murder shocked Detroit Fire Lt. Theresa Halsell, a classmate in his 1996 firefighters graduation.

Halsell said Gilmore's ex-fiancee, who was not identified, worked with her in the department's community-affairs office. Halsell said she would break the news to her.

Seth Doyle, deputy fire commissioner in Detroit, said Gilmore was hired as a firefighter in 1996 and left on disability after being injured on duty in 2007, receiving an estimated $45,000 a year, or 90 percent of his regular salary.

Thal's friends have reacted in disbelief to her drug-related murder.

Ngozi Ibeh, who said she worked in 2004-05 with Thal at Bluzette, a high-end soul-food restaurant on Market Street near 3rd, said that she contacted Thal a few years later to help the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania raise money.

She "was great at organizing events," Ibeh said. "She was a giving person, always willing to help."

"She wasn't a party girl; she was a party promoter," said a friend who wouldn't give her name. "That was her profession; that's was she loved doing.

"Everybody loved her in the city; it's a shame. The newspaper makes it sound like she's a drug kingpin getting high, but she wasn't like that," she added.

Yet, police said they found four kilos of cocaine and more than $100,000 in her apartment.

And Thal's name had surfaced in at least 10 drug investigations by local and federal authorities since 2000, according to criminal-justice sources and court records. Drugs were found in her home, or in a place linked to her, but she was never present when they were found.

"She was no small potatoes. In one case she beat, she was dating the narc," said a source, referring to the drug investigator. She paid bail for another drug dealer, raising as much as $10,000 within minutes.

"She was smart enough not to have anything in her own name," and then have the cases she beat expunged, the source said.

Thal decided not to press charges when she was kidnapped in 2004, and she would not cooperate after witnessing the kidnapping of another reputed drug dealer, a source said.

One of her two drug arrests occurred on June 27, 2000, when Thal tended bar at a Delaware County "go-go bar" raided by state police investigating liquor-control violations, including drug-dealing G-stringed dancers and other pushers.

Thal threw a small bag of cocaine on the floor, and later pleaded guilty and received one year's probation.

In a May 8, 2000, incident, Thal pleaded guilty to drug possession with intent to deliver, in return for dropping two charges, and forfeiting $13,000, on advice of counsel.

But when she realized she'd face six months in county prison, she hired A. Charles Peruto Jr., who persuaded the court to allow her to serve her sentence under house confinement with an ankle bracelet.

After that, "she called me 'God' and brought me a lot of business," said Peruto.

On April 11, 2008, Thal was arrested for driving without a license and a valid registration.

The last time Peruto saw her, he said, she and a girlfriend were having a drink at a Center City restaurant, El Vez. "She looked good," he added.

"She had a great, great personality, funny as can be, loved hanging out with celebrities," he said. *

Staff writer Stephanie Farr contributed to this report.