Police Ignored Murder That Could Have Cracked Dana Bennett Case Years Ago

Vitali Ashorov claimed that his brother, suspected of committing suicide, had been murdered.

Vitali Ashorov heard on the news earlier this week that his brother, found dead in his prison cell five years ago, had not committed suicide as the police had insisted, but was instead murdered by a suspected serial killer.

"Nobody came to tell me that my brother had been murdered, I heard it on the news," Ashorov complained Wednesday.

Aharon Simahov was allegedly strangled to death by Adwan Farhan, who is also suspected of murdering American-Israeli teen Dana Bennett six years ago, police said on Tuesday after lifting the gag order on the case. Adwan, who shared a Tiberias jail cell with Simahov in March 2004, is believed to have murdered two other people as well.

Ashorov claimed from the beginning that his brother had been murdered and demanded that the police and Justice Ministry's Police Investigation Department look into the case, but nothing was done, he told Haaretz Wednesday.

Police said Tuesday that in addition to four murders, Farhan is suspected of attempted murder, rape, two attempted kidnappings and other crimes of violence. He is said to have committed his first murder in 1995, when he was 18 - battering a man unconscious and throwing him into the Jordan River.

A police officer said Wednesday that police had investigated Simahov's death at the time as a possible murder.

"At a certain stage we were instructed to transfer the case to the Amakim Central Unit. We don't know how the investigation proceeded after that and in the end they declared it suicide," the officer told Haaretz.

"We don't know if it was whitewashed, but there is no doubt that if they had solved that murder they would have solved the mystery of Bennett's murder five years ago and perhaps prevented Farhan from committing more felonies," he said.

The Northern District Police said the probe into Simahov's death found no evidence of murder. A police spokesman said they made efforts to locate Simahov's relatives in the past few days, but in vain. Ashorov, however, said that the police knew him and on a few occasions talked to him when they ran into him in the street, trying to make sure he hadn't hired a lawyer to act on his behalf.

Ashorov, 25, of Tiberias, and his older brother Simahov immigrated to Israel from the Georgian Black Sea resort city of Sochi in 1995 with a third brother. The brothers - Simahov was then 14, Ashorov was 12 and the younger brother was 9 - grew up without parents and Simahov was like a father and mother to the younger brothers, Ashorov said. Their mother had died and they wanted nothing to do with their father for reasons Ashorov did not want to disclose.

The Jewish Agency brought the three to Israel, where they lived and studied in a boarding school in Kfar Hasidim in the Zevulun Valley. They used their mother's last name, Ashorov. At some point Simahov made contact with their father and agreed to change his name back to Simahov.

During his military service Ashorov was posted in a base near Tiberias and rented an apartment in the city. Simahov, who did not enlist in the IDF and worked odd jobs, joined him there. "Aharon loved Tiberias and the scenery here," Ashorov said.

Simahov was accused of property and drug related offenses he had not committed, Ashorov said. "He took the case on himself and got suspended sentence. He was a good, naive man. The second time he was arrested for nonsense. I was in the army and didn't know about it," he said.

Police sources said Simahov was arrested on suspicion of breaking and entering as well as drug offenses.

Simahov was put in a cell with Farhan and other prisoners in the Tiberias police station. One night Farhan allegedly strangled him and hung him, to make it look like suicide.

"In the morning a policeman knocked on my door. 'Your brother committed suicide,' he told me," Ashorov said. "At the station they told me that my brother had asked to be moved to another cell the previous night, but they refused. By the next time I came to the station nobody wanted to talk to me any more - they must have regretted telling me that he'd asked to be moved to another cell," he said.

Ashorov said other prisoners told him Farhan had abused his brother verbally and beat him the day before.