NEW YORK (PIX11) – 72-year-old Robert Rodriguez wasn’t happy to see us.
When PIX 11 pulled up to an apartment building in East Harlem this past week, we were amazed to find Robert Rodriguez—the former landlord of 76 Pearl Street. He was standing on the front stoop, holding a garment bag in his hand. It looked like he was waiting for a ride.
PIX 11 was there to ask Rodriguez, who did six years in prison on fraud and tax evasion charges, about a missing persons case he was tied to sixteen years ago near the tip of lower Manhattan.
On November 7th, 1997—Rodriguez’ tenants—36 year old, Camden Sylvia, and 54 year old, Michael Sullivan—vanished from their 5th floor loft at 76 Pearl Street. They were last seen renting a video, “Addicted to Love”, at J & R Music World, not far from their building. Earlier that day, the couple had delivered a petition to the landlord in his first floor locksmith shop. They threatened to withhold their $304 monthly rent, if Rodriguez didn’t turn on the heat. “It got cold that year the middle of October,” long-time tenant, Chuck Delaney, recalled recently.
Rodriguez, who could have commanded ten times more in rent, if the apartment was vacated, had been feuding with the couple for a while.
From her home in Cape Cod, Camden Sylvia’s mother told us what happened, when she asked for the key to the couple’s apartment.
“He gave me a key, shook my hand, and said if there’s anything he can do,” Laurie Sylvia, 72, said. “And then he vanished.”
NYPD detectives had called Rodriguez at his home in Orange County, New York, asking to search other parts of his five story loft building. Cops said he was cooperative, initially, and then he disappeared for ten days, before returning to town.
“Someone doesn’t just vanish for ten days,” Laurie Sylvia said. “and then surface later. And after that, he got a lawyer and never did want to cooperate.”
Rodriguez’s lawyer, Michael Rosen, said at the time his client “absolutely denied” any role in the couple’s disappearance. No evidence of wrongdoing was ever found. But the NYPD’s investigation, along with the District Attorney’s, revealed Rodriguez had quite the shady background. A young business partner of his had disappeared in 1991. And prosecutors later proved that Rodriguez had used a dead man’s identity, engaged in credit card fraud, and evaded taxes. He was convicted of state and federal crimes and spent nearly six years in prison .
Now 72, just like Camden Sylvia’s mother, we found Rodriguez at the apartment in East Harlem, and he started frantically attempting to open the front door of his building, while I asked him questions about the couple that never returned home in 1997. He covered his face with the garment bag and then attempted to push me out of the elevator. A maintenance worker came to his rescue and blocked us from getting on the elevator.
PIX 11 will have more on the Pearl Street mystery Wednesday night on PIX 11 News at Ten.