Seventy-year-old Murray Seidman was a sweet man with the mental capacity of a second grader who was killed by a manipulative 28-year-old masking a monetary motive with claims of sexual advances and religious zealotry, Seidman’s brother says.
Lenny Seidman, 69, of Philadelphia, told NBC Philadelphia that his brother’s murder was no gay-bashing. Lenny Seidman says suspect John Joe Thomas’ claims that he stoned Murray Seidman to death because of sexual advances toward the younger man is a dramatic obfuscation to hide Thomas’ real motive: Money.
“To me, [Thomas] is cleverly framing his defense,” says Lenny Seidman. “[Thomas was] a manipulative coward who wanted to cash in on Murray's retirement funds.”
Lenny Seidman was shocked not only by his brother’s brutal murder in January, in which Thomas allegedly beat the mentally-challenged 70-year-old to death with a sock full of rocks, but also by Thomas’ confession to police that he killed Murray because he read in the Old Testament that gays must be stoned to death.
“The story is [that a] predator murdered a vulnerable and mentally-challenged person out of greed,” Lenny says. “I have many gay friends; Murray wasn’t gay. If anything, my brother was asexual. He didn’t have the capacity to have deep feelings in a sexual way.”
What Murray did have capacity for was positivity and empathy, says Lenny. In his 40 years of working in the linens department at Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital in Lansdowne, Murray was well known and loved by his work community for being able to uplift people’s spirits, according to Lenny.
The hospital is where Murray met the man now accused of his murder, Lenny says.
“Murray was very empathetic and very social with all people,” Lenny says. “He made contact with people on the simplest levels and even more than the simplest level.”
According to Lenny, Thomas was a patient in the psychiatric ward at Fitzgerald Mercy when Murray met him in 2009. The 28-year-old quickly befriended the 70-year-old, Lenny says. The two would bowl, play miniature golf, and go to the gym together.
Murray, who had a limited concept of math or money, but loved playing the clarinet, flute and keyboard, as well as listening to Motown music, was happy to have a new friend in Thomas, Lenny says.
Thomas, who was extremely religious, convinced Murray – who was born Jewish – to be baptized in the Mormon Church, Lenny says.
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“[Thomas] was constantly quoting Jesus, constantly quoting the Bible, but I think that with really spiritual people it comes from the heart, and with [Thomas] it seemed to come from his head,” says Lenny. “I felt there was manipulation with him.”
At first Lenny was happy that his brother -- who had a brain injury at birth and spent 20 of his youngest years in the Elwyn Institute -- had found a church community that welcomed him and a new friend with which to spend time.
“It turned out to be a good thing for him,” Lenny says. “They were in two different congregations and the people in his church welcomed him and cared about him.”
But soon Lenny noticed that Murray was the only one spending money when Murray and Thomas would go out, he says. In the summer of 2010, Lenny says he received a phone call telling him that Murray wanted to give Thomas power of attorney. Lenny spoke to his brother, who assured him that this was what he wanted.
“I had mixed feelings,” Lenny says. “On one hand, I was grateful and happy Murray had a friend, but on the other hand he seemed a little off. He had this extreme evangelical thing, and why would a 28-year-old befriend a 70-year-old?”
Thomas then got a debit card in his and Murray’s name and began spending more, Lenny says. And when Lenny confronted Thomas in December of 2010 about the money, Thomas told him that Murray didn’t expect him to pay him back.
“I became furious,” Lenny says. But there wasn’t much he could do. Murray had been living independently and making his own decisions for more than 40 years. If Lenny tried to interfere with the friendship, his brother would have pulled away, he says.
“I was not my brother’s keeper; he wanted to be able to do his own thing. I would have alienated him,” Lenny says. “I could only suggest to him that friends don’t take your money.
“I just wanted [Murray] to have the fullest life he could while he was alive,” Lenny says. “I couldn’t fight it. It was more important for me to stay in touch with my brother.”
When Lenny found out that Murray had been murdered in his Lansdowne apartment, he didn’t know what to think.
“I didn’t know it was [Thomas]; I couldn’t imagine,” Lenny says. “How can someone who claims to be religious do that?”
Police found Murray’s body on Jan. 12, days after he was murdered. Thomas told police that he returned to Seidman’s apartment several days later to make it appear like he just discovered the body.
Thomas is being held on murder charges without bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday.