During the Vietnam War, Luyen Chi Pham helped American soldiers train South Vietnamese troops. After the war, he paid for his assistance by spending six years in jail and struggling to find work.
Pham came to the United States in 1996 under a special program for Vietnamese officers who aided Americans. He got a job, and he enjoyed life in his adopted country, his son said.
But after five years of perfect attendance at his job at Advanced Manufacturing, Inc., Pham didn't show up for work for a few days. On Monday evening, St. Petersburg police went to Pham's apartment at 800 Jackson St. N.
They found Pham, 63, lying on his back with his hands and feet bound together. He had been slain, the city's 16th homicide victim of the year.
St. Petersburg police say he died of upper body trauma. Sgt. Mike Kovacsev, the head of the department's homicide unit, said burglary may have been a motive.
There was evidence of a struggle inside Pham's apartment, and police found his 1988 burgundy Honda Accord early Tuesday in a dirt parking lot at Norwood Baptist Church at 1818 29th Ave. N.
The car had been stolen three times earlier this year, and thieves apparently painted the car's hood and trunk lid white. Police are asking anyone who may have seen the car to call them. Kovacsev said the homicide and the earlier thefts of Pham's car in June may be connected.
"He was a nice guy," said Pham's son, Bien Long Pham, 33, speaking in Vietnamese. "He was concerned (about crime), but he figured that he didn't own anything that valuable."
Ron Vogt, manager of the small building that houses Pham's one-bedroom apartment and two others, described his tenant as a genial, shy man with a thick accent and a touch of absent-mindedness. Pham lived in the 500-square-foot, $425-per- month apartment the past five years.
He was divorced and remarried two years ago, though it is unclear if he was living with his second wife when he died. He and his only son sometimes went out to dinner together at local Vietnamese restaurants.
Pham had locks for just about every door in the apartment, but routinely misplaced his keys, Vogt said. But he left his windows open and never turned on air conditioning, Vogt said. Pham often crawled through open windows to get back in his apartment when he lost his keys, the manager said.
The decor was bare bones, Vogt said, with a couple of calendars on the walls and not much else.
The open windows may have also aided thieves. In June, someone entered Pham's apartment through a kitchen window and stole his wallet and car keys, according to a police report. The culprit also took Pham's car and abandoned it in an alley.
Pham's car was stolen two more times that month. A police officer even gave him a club to put on the steering wheel. According to a police report, Pham said he was "very upset" and willing to prosecute.
The repeated thefts were jarring for the former high school math and English teacher who enjoyed photography.
"He liked it here," his son said. "He liked it here because he (could) live in freedom."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8472.
IF YOU HAVE INFORMATION: Call St. Petersburg police at (727) 893-7164