A trap door, false walls, two-way mirrors, hidden video cameras and a chair with shackles were part of what authorities call a “house of horrors” used to briefly imprison a woman inside a Mid-City apartment on Friday before she escaped and was rescued by bystanders and police.
U.S. marshals arrested Mario Perez Roque , 56, on Saturday morning on suspicion of kidnapping a 36-year-old woman he worked with at a janitorial company that services the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after she spurned his romantic advances, police said.
After Perez and an accomplice took her from her Kenner apartment at gunpoint a day earlier, authorities believe, they bound her to a chair in an apartment toward the rear of a lime-green shotgun double house in the 100 block of North Lopez Street.
Detectives and crime lab technicians combing through the house found what Kenner Police Lt. Brian McGregor called a “house of horrors.”
“That’s pretty much what it is,” McGregor said. “Who wants to be restrained? Who wants to be tied up in somebody’s else’s house?”
Fortunately for the woman, police believe, she heard the two men who had taken her captive talking about needing to leave the house at one point. She saw her chance and managed to slip out. Bystanders, including a man who was driving by the area, were able to help the woman fend off one of her kidnappers, who then fled.
The woman — a recent immigrant from Cuba who had been in the country for only a few months, according to McGregor — was treated and released from a hospital the same day.
A neighbor said over the weekend that she believed Perez, also from Cuba, was upset that the woman had broken up with him. But McGregor said police believe she was never in a relationship with him and that the older man was angry that she rejected him.
According to a preliminary police report, the woman was leaving her apartment in the 3700 block of Martinique Avenue in Kenner about 10 a.m. Friday to go to work when Perez and a younger man with whom he was speaking Spanish approached her from behind, covered her head with a bag and gagged her.
The younger man told the woman “she would be killed on the spot” if she didn’t cooperate, police said.
The men then bound her hands, forced her into a car, took her purse and cellphone and tied up her feet, police said. After hearing what she said sounded like an ammunition clip being loaded into a pistol, she was driven to the home on North Lopez Street, bound to a chair and told her restraints would be loosened if she behaved, police said.
The woman began loosening her restraints after hearing a door shut and music outside being turned up, police said in the report. She managed to free herself, leap a fence and run toward the intersection of Canal Street and Jefferson Davis Parkway while yelling for help.
Perez caught up with the woman, grabbed her from behind and said he wouldn’t hurt her if she returned to the home with him, but she went limp to avoid being taken again, police said.
A man driving with his wife and son in the area saw the commotion and began intervening along with others when Perez heard a police siren, abandoned the woman and fled in a black Mercury Mountaineer.
After New Orleans police spoke to the woman with the help of an interpreter, officers tracked down Perez’s residence and searched it. They said they recovered her purse but not her cellphone.
Meanwhile, authorities confirmed by using a license-plate recognition camera that the Mountaineer had been in the area where the woman lived on the morning she was kidnapped, McGregor said.
A U.S. Marshals Service task force then learned Perez was at a small office building in the 2800 block of Division Street in Metairie and arrested him there.
Perez remained in custody Monday at the Jefferson Parish jail in Gretna on one count of simple kidnapping and two counts of being a fugitive.
It is expected that he will be booked on counts of false imprisonment and attempted simple kidnapping when he is eventually transferred to the jail in New Orleans.
Perez was convicted in Essex County, New Jersey, years ago of kidnapping and attempted murder.
Authorities said they were still searching for the second man, who has not been identified.
McGregor said police also were investigating whether other women had been taken to the home on North Lopez against their will.
On Monday, residents of the woman’s mostly Hispanic Kenner neighborhood said she must have been abducted quietly because they did not notice anything amiss on Friday. Even the owners of the quadruplex from which the woman was taken said they did not know anything had happened on their property until a reporter called to inquire about it.
The Mid-City home where police said the kidnapping victim was taken is owned by Terrytown resident Jose Antonio “Tony” Perez. Tony Perez — who owns several other properties throughout the area — could not be reached for comment Monday. However, some of Mario Perez’s neighbors said Tony Perez had been back to the apartment for some items since Friday, and they identified the pair as brothers.
The entrance leading to the apartment where neighbors said Mario Perez lived was open Monday, but no one was inside the unit. Multiple signs in Spanish urged visitors to close the door behind them, and at least one surveillance camera overlooked a laundry room outside the entrance to the apartment where police said Mario Perez took the woman Friday.
Danny Monteverde of WWL-TV contributed to this report.