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NY Police Probe Missing Couple Case

November 18, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ After telling their landlord they wouldn’t pay rent until he turned up the heat, a couple disappeared. The day the landlord was to meet with police investigating the case, he, too, vanished.

Police said Tuesday it was too soon to call anybody a suspect.

``The only link we have at this time is that they all are connected to the building,″ said Deputy Inspector Joseph D’Amico.

The couple, Michael Sullivan and Camden Sylvia, shared a $300-a-month, rent-controlled loft one block off the East River in lower Manhattan. Each year when it turned cold, neighbors said, tenants argued with landlord Robert Rodriguez, 56, over the heat.

Sullivan, a 54-year-old actor, and Ms. Sylvia, a 36-year-old real estate agent, were last seen on Nov. 7, not long after they signed a letter telling Rodriguez they were withholding rent, friends said. Rodriguez’s attorney, Joseph P. Marro, denied there was a dispute.

Rodriguez, who has owned the five-story building since 1993 and lived in New Hampton, about 70 miles northwest of New York City, initially cooperated with police and was due to meet with detectives Sunday. That night, his son called police to report him missing.

Marro characterized the family as badly shaken by Rodriguez’s disappearance. ``Everybody forgets what this is doing to his family,″ Marro said. ``They’re distraught.″

Rodriguez, a Cuban immigrant, operated a locksmith business on the ground floor.

Rodriguez was ``the last person in the world that I would ever think″ could have something to do with the couple’s disappearance, said Wendy Ing, 30, co-owner of a neighborhood delicatessen.

Chuck DeLaney, who lives in the building and had also signed the letter to Rodriguez announcing the rent strike over heat, said the rent dispute was an annual event.

``It happens in almost all loft buildings,″ he told the Daily News. ``The owners tend to shave the heat at the start and end of the season. April may be the cruelest month, according to T.S. Eliot, but for loft tenants, it’s October and March.″

Ms. Sylvia’s mother, Laurie, came down from her Hyannis, Mass., home to keep a vigil in the couple’s loft.

``All I know was my daughter was in big negotiations and pretty angry about no heat,″ Mrs. Sylvia said. ``She just thought (Rodriguez) was a jerk and was going to play games until she brought in legal help.″

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