It was a sultry July week in New York City, and Tyrese Haspil and his girlfriend, Marine, were in a celebratory mood. Haspil, then age 21, rented an $18,000-a-month Airbnb on the cobblestoned Crosby Street for a romantic staycation for Marine's 22nd birthday.
For two days, from July 15 to July 17, 2020, the pair strolled through Manhattan's NoHo neighborhood, arm in arm, shopping at Christian Louboutin and dining out.
Less than a 15-minute walk away, police discovered the body of Haspil's former boss, Fahim Saleh. The 33-year-old tech entrepreneur had been decapitated and dismembered in the living room of his East Houston Street condo on Manhattan's Lower East Side.
His head, arms, and legs below the knees were cut off and stuffed into black plastic contractor bags. His torso lay bare near a Makita electric saw still plugged into the wall. Somehow there was barely a trace of blood, the $2.25 million apartment so meticulously scrubbed that an official later described it as a "professional job."
But the accused killer wasn't a professional. Police say it was Saleh's former assistant, Tyrese Haspil.
For five years, the 5-foot-5 charismatic Haspil had been entrusted with just about everything, including walking Saleh's dog, a Pomeranian-husky mix named Laila, and keeping track of his boss' finances. Soon after firing Haspil, in May 2019, Saleh — who had an estimated net worth of $150 million — discovered Haspil had apparently stolen nearly $100,000 from him. Rather than report him to the authorities, Saleh decided to let Haspil pay him back. He never did.
On July 13 at about 1:40 p.m., Saleh came home from a run on an 86-degree day. Five hours earlier, Haspil had entered the building, walking in behind another resident. He hid in a stairwell, waiting all morning for Saleh, police sources told Insider. Surveillance video shows an individual whom police say is Haspil. Dressed in all black — in a three-piece suit, tie, and face covering — Haspil followed Saleh into the elevator. He was carrying a duffel bag. The two men appeared to make small talk as they rode to the seventh floor, which opens directly into Saleh's apartment. As Saleh stepped out, Haspil used a Taser to send Saleh toppling to the ground.
Saleh was stabbed five times in the neck and torso, according to the medical examiner. Wounds on Saleh's left hand indicated that he had tried to defend himself, police sources said. A concerned cousin who stopped by when she hadn't heard from Saleh found his torso the next day.
"I could never imagine someone like Fahim having any enemies," Masha Mustakim said. Saleh provided a $350,000 angel investment to help fund Mustakim's gaming company, Alpha Potato. "But I guess he did."
Haspil was a 16-year-old student at Valley Stream Central High School in Long Island, New York, when he met Saleh. An active member of the Future Business Leaders of America program, Haspil was "extremely put together," said James D'Elia, a former classmate. He wore black wire-framed glasses and pressed button-down shirts, ran track, and won first place in web-design competitions hosted by the FBLA.
By the time the two met, Saleh had established himself as a pioneer of tech startups in the developing world. His ride-sharing company, Pathao, took off in Bangladesh, and today it has a valuation of more than $100 million. Saleh returned to New York following Pathao's 2015 launch, and with his newfound success he decided it was time to hire an assistant. He posted a job listing online. Haspil applied.
It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Saleh saw himself in Haspil. They were entrepreneurial kids. Haspil sold $1 snacks during homeroom in high school while Saleh hustled marked-up dollar-store goods on the playground in fifth grade. Both grew up in low-income families in New York and were determined to make it in tech, an industry severely lacking in diversity. Saleh — whom some dubbed "the Elon Musk of the developing world" — was living proof that dreaming big and working hard could pay off. A self-made millionaire in his 20s, Saleh was someone to aspire to be.
It's only human to want to fast-forward over the day-to-day grunt work and growing pains and cut straight to the success. Once Haspil began working with Saleh, he became obsessed with the CEO's jet-setting lifestyle. Haspil stole from his boss, according to prosecutors, signed emails to associates with the title "chief of staff," and hosted friends at Saleh's apartment, passing the condo off as his own. It's a classic story. Think "The Talented Mr. Ripley" or, in the latest incarnation, Anna Delvey, a rags-to-riches tale wherein the riches aren't earned, they're stolen.
For Haspil, who overcame a difficult childhood and struck out on his own as a teenager, the desire for more appears to have taken him too far.
As Saleh continued to establish himself in developing countries, including Colombia and Lagos, Nigeria, Haspil helped handle his boss' daily tasks like fetching the mail and responding to emails. In 2017, Saleh founded Gokada, a delivery service in Nigeria. Two years later, Gokada raised a $5.3 million Series A round in seed investments, and Saleh began to spend significantly more time in Lagos.
With Saleh gone, Haspil was free to live out his fantasy life. He treated his friends to dinner, drinks, and a show in Manhattan. At the end of the night, he'd invite them back to Saleh's Lower East Side condo, passing it off as his own, a friend of Haspil's told The Wall Street Journal. Another person close to Haspil confirmed this to Insider. When he brought Saleh's dog, Laila, to her weekly grooming appointments in the West Village, he registered her as his own pet. "We had no idea she wasn't his," a receptionist at Biscuits and Bath said. "He seemed to really love the dog."
But while Haspil, now 22, was living large, Saleh's associates noticed his work performance was falling short. On one occasion, Saleh's girlfriend received a call from the dog groomer after Haspil forgot to pick up Laila, two of Saleh's friends told Insider. When the girlfriend confronted Haspil about the incident he denied it.
"She called Tyrese and he was, like, 'Oh no, I'm out walking with Laila.' And she was, like, 'No, you're not.' And then he was, like, 'Oh, well, I'm at the dentist.' And she was, like, 'No, you're not,'" the friend recalled Saleh's ex-girlfriend telling her. "Then he was, like, 'Wait, I'll call you back.' And within an hour he had gone and gotten Laila.'"
But by 2018, Saleh had given Haspil more responsibility. He started handling the capitalization tables for Saleh's venture fund, Adventure Capital. Three of Saleh's work associates told Insider that Haspil was falling behind on Saleh's business accounts throughout 2018 and 2019. It took him weeks to get back to them or to send out money for operating expenses. Tanveer Ali, Saleh's coinvestor and business partner, said Saleh was unhappy with Haspil's performance.
"Fahim had a soft spot for him and was very lenient on him," Mahedi Omi Hasan, who worked as a portfolio manager for Adventure Capital, said. "That was when all sorts of shady things started to happen, because I believe that Tyrese thought there was no accountability and he could get away with it." But in May 2019, Saleh fired Haspil for good, according to Hasan. It's unclear what caused the termination.
In the fall of that same year, Hasan was studying Saleh's QuickBooks records when he noticed sums of cash ranging from $3,000 to $7,000 being taken from Saleh's accounts and placed into an unknown account between December 2018 and May 2019. Hasan alerted Saleh to the transfers and worked with Chase Bank to determine that Haspil was responsible, he said. Hasan said Haspil had stolen nearly $100,000.
Saleh gave Haspil the chance to own up to the alleged theft, but he continued to deny it, Hasan said. After hiring a lawyer, Saleh negotiated a repayment plan with Haspil instead of formally charging him with embezzlement, prosecutors say. Saleh's attorney said Haspil signed the agreement before Saleh's killing, and missed the initial payment.
"Because he's such a good person and sees the good in people, he thought this mistake shouldn't shape this kid's life," one of Saleh's friends in New York said.
Hasan said Fahim "used to trust people very easily, and when he trusts people he trusts them deeply. Tyrese was one of those people."
Saleh was born in 1986, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to Bangladeshi parents named Ahmed and Raihana. Saleh was the middle kid of three children. In 1991 his parents relocated to Louisiana in pursuit of a better life. During those years, Saleh's parents struggled to make ends meet as his dad completed a doctorate at the University of Louisiana in computer science and his mom worked at a laundromat.
"The only restaurant experience we could afford was the $3.99 Saturday Meal deal at Domino's," Saleh's older sister Ruby wrote in a Medium post. Despite their hardships, Saleh cultivated a precocious fascination with technology. "Any time he received a toy, he would take it apart to see how it was built."
The family eventually settled down in Rochester, New York, and Saleh launched his first business, reselling dollar-store goods on the playground with a friend. They made $150 before the school's principal shut down the operation.
But he only got richer. Saleh went on to build and sell a variety of websites, including Teen-hangout.com, AIMdude.com, iconfun.com, msndollz.com, icondude.com, and Monkeydoo, which sold fake poop and fart spray. By the time he graduated from high school, Saleh had made nearly $400,000.
"He carried the same childlike curiosity, wonder, and intensity to everything he did in his life," Punit Shah, who started the playground business with Saleh, said. "As we grew older, it was clear he had this fountain of youth that inspired living in the moment and seeing opportunity wherever he went."
While he studied computer information systems at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, Saleh was known to give underclassmen rides to hookah bars in Boston so they could avoid the commute by train. He graduated in 2009. That same year he launched PrankDial, which has since generated more than $10 million, according to Saleh.
Saleh set his sights on expanding into markets worldwide, landing first in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2014 where he helped found the ride-sharing service Pathao the following year. Hussain Elius, who cofounded Pathao, was skeptical of Saleh's swagger when he first landed on the scene in Dhaka.
"My first impression of him was — I don't want to use the word 'arrogant' — it was more of a very energetic one," said Hussain, who remains the CEO of Pathao. "You know, you have this American guy who's coming in, who's loaded up on cash and hiring people very quickly. It seemed a bit rushed."
Opinionated and headstrong, Saleh had a tendency to ignore niceties, which earned him a reputation as a brash risk-taker. In one instance, Hussain and Saleh were searching for a logistics expert to help them work on Pathao when the candidate blew off the meeting three times. "Fahim got very angry and said, 'This is not how it's done. You can't keep blowing off the meeting. We'll just do it ourselves,'" Hussain said.
But even as his net worth grew, he never took himself too seriously. At friend Amreen Bashir's October 2019 wedding, Saleh showed up in a Hawaiian shirt and partied at the reception until 8 in the morning. Bashir said, "He just had so much joie de vivre."
Saleh was generous, too, surprising his dad with a brand-new Tesla Model S for Father's Day. That generosity expanded beyond family. Saleh paid Haspil "well enough that he was able to settle the debts of several members of his family," The New York Times reported.
"He was always willing to take financial risks when he believed in people, even when other people didn't see it," Bashir said. He invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in ideas pitched to him mostly by young, ambitious programmers from countries such as Bangladesh and Colombia, where opportunities in tech were hard to come by. To many, he was an inspiration and a mentor.
"Fahim used to code with the team right down to the last line. I don't know too many founders who would do that," Hasan said. "He never saw himself as above others."
Before Haspil's arrest, friends theorized that Saleh's business in Lagos — known for its corruption — was somehow connected to his killing. "We had all these conspiracy theories that it's probably the Nigerians, because Fahim was a person who, you know, lacked in diplomacy," Hussain said. "We were just thinking that maybe he pissed someone off."
From the outside, Saleh's assistant, Tyrese Haspil, seemed to embody the same joie de vivre friends saw in Saleh. "He was one of those guys who was always saying hello to everyone," D'Elia, the former classmate, said. "Even if he was having a bad day, he would never show it."
After school, Haspil worked as a cashier at Moe's Southwest Grill, in Oceanside, Long Island, where he gave out free queso to friends who stopped by. But while he was outgoing and friendly at school, at home Haspil seemed to shut off. "He never showed emotion and didn't talk," Haspil's cousin, Thomas Finn, told Insider. Finn said he lived with Haspil between 2011 and 2016.
According to Finn, Haspil had a troubled upbringing. His mother, Nadine, became impregnated as the result of a sexual assault, Finn said. And as a young child, Haspil's mother experienced mental-health challenges. She enrolled in a psychiatric inpatient program where she remained for the rest of Haspil's childhood, according to Finn.
Haspil went to live with his grandmother, Solange Sine, and then with his aunt and Finn's mother, Marjorie Sine, after Solange died, in 2011. Marjorie became his legal guardian that same year.
At first Haspil seemed happy with his aunt and cousins, playing video games with Finn and his sister. But there was a darker side to Haspil, people said. During a science class in middle school, a classmate, Tyler Johnson, recalled Haspil showing him a disturbing graphic novel he was working on filled with violent and sexual drawings.
"The main character would either murder or rape any other characters in the story, and it was like an ongoing series that he did," Johnson told Insider.
In his teens, Haspil became increasingly more rebellious, refusing to obey Marjorie Sine's midnight curfew or to help out with chores. When she confronted him about it "he'd just stare at her," Finn said. Haspil stole his aunt's television to give to Sine's ex-boyfriend, Finn added.
With tensions running high at home, Haspil emancipated himself from Sine at 17, telling court officials that she had starved him, according to Finn. "It was just a flat-out lie," Finn said. "Every day she would ask, 'Do you want something to eat?' We can order something if you want.'" Haspil would refuse to eat his aunt's food, Finn said.
Once Haspil found a foster family, Finn never heard from his cousin again. "I think he wanted to start over and wipe his slate clean, so he just cut ties," Finn said.
After graduating from high school, Haspil attended Hofstra University in 2017, but he dropped out a year later. By that point he'd already begun working for Saleh.
When police arrived at Haspil's Airbnb the morning of July 17, he tried to run, the building superintendent told Insider. Later that afternoon, Haspil, in a white jumpsuit and blue surgical mask, remained stone-faced and silent as police steered him by the arms from the precinct into an unmarked car.
"The video of him being escorted by police in cuffs was haunting. There was no life in his eyes, and I've never seen that from him," one of Haspil's high-school classmates said.
The morning after Saleh's killing, prosecutors say Haspil used a credit card to pay for a taxi to the Home Depot on West 23rd Street, where he bought an electric saw and cleaning supplies. According to prosecutors, surveillance video shows Haspil entering the store about 9:30 a.m. (Police found a Home Depot receipt at the crime scene.)
Another video obtained by police appears to show Haspil, in a gray hooded sweatshirt, entering Saleh's apartment with a handheld vacuum and cleaning the elevator. In addition, police sources told Insider that garbage from the scene was found a few blocks away.
Authorities later said that Haspil had been making PayPal transfers from Saleh's accounts into his own from September 2018 to July 17, 2020, four days after Saleh's killing.
Saleh's cousin is believed to have interrupted Haspil's plan to dispose of Saleh's body, which apparently caused Haspil to flee down a service elevator.
Many of Saleh's friends didn't believe the news at first. When Mustakim woke up to a WhatsApp message reading "Rest in peace Fahim," he nearly laughed. After all, Saleh had a habit of playing practical jokes, like hiding wheels of mini Babybel cheese in people's coat pockets or convincing coworkers he'd spiked their water with tequila. "It was just very him to do something like this," Mustakim said.
But when Mustakim started calling friends, "they were crying and saying it was real," he said. "He was really gone."
Haspil has been held without bail at Rikers Island. He's been charged with first-degree murder, three counts of grand larceny, burglary, concealment of a human corpse, and tampering with physical evidence.
On July 19, 2020, Saleh's family buried his body at a cemetery in Hudson Valley, New York.
"It wasn't easy, but we were able to put him back together," the funeral home told Saleh's sister Ruby. "His body was covered in a white sheet, ice packs placed on his torso, his beautiful eyelashes long and lustrous against his skin," Ruby wrote in her Medium post.
Haspil has pleaded not guilty.
"Despite the severity of the charges and the temptation to rush to judgment, we continue to endorse our 22 year [old] client's presumption of innocence, and to urge the public to keep an open mind," Haspil's lawyer, Sam Roberts, told Insider. Roberts predicts it will be years before Haspil goes to trial.
Haspil's girlfriend of two years maintains that he's not capable of committing such a violent crime.
"I know him as a person, I know that he hates conflict, and he's so nice to people. He would never hurt a fly," Marine told Spectrum News last July.
Prosecutors said they believe that Haspil killed Saleh to prevent him from speaking out about his alleged theft.
Throughout the course of reporting this story, Saleh's family, who declined to comment, asked dozens of friends and family not to speak to the media because of the impending trial, numerous people told Insider.
Yet many of those close to Saleh did speak. His gruesome killing sent an international network of tech founders, investors, programmers, and friends reeling.
"The great tragedy of all of this is that his story was cut short," Hussain said. "It's an incomplete story, and we'll never get to see his true potential."