May-June 2014 | Featured Article

The Killer Next Door

At 17, Samuel Sheinbein seemed like the All-American kid-except for the fact that he confessed to murdering a Silver Spring teenager and cutting up his body with a circular saw. We revisit the case more than 17 years later.

share this

Prisoners are generally housed two to a cell. There is a separate wing for ultra-Orthodox prisoners, who are permitted to conduct their thrice-daily prayer rituals as a group. Among them is Yigal Amir, who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. At Rimonim, Amir celebrated the ritual circumcision of his son, who was conceived during a conjugal visit.  

As anticipated, Sheinbein was eventually accorded weekend furloughs once a month, according to a spokeswoman for the Israel Prison Service. A report in The Jerusalem Post said Sheinbein had been given 96 furloughs, ranging from 24 to 96 hours, over his years of incarceration. Hayoun says a prisoner gets furloughs “only if he passes psychiatric, psychological tests that you are not dangerous, and if your behavior is extra, extra good.” Sheinbein was not under house arrest during his furloughs, she says. He would travel around Israel, read books and stay with his parents outside Tel Aviv. “He was very much a family boy,” Hayoun says.

In prison, Sheinbein worked in the wood shop, exercised in the gym and took university courses. Hayoun says he earned a degree in computers. “His behavior was without any complaints,” she says. “He was a civilized, intelligent person. He was a very good prisoner.”

The prison spokeswoman said much the same, months before Sheinbein’s death. “A good prisoner,” she said, with “nothing unusual.”  

Except that as he was nearing parole eligibility, a shiv was found in his cell on Dec. 13, 2012. Sheinbein lived in a section where prisoners had access to each other’s cells. And at a hearing the following March, he claimed the shiv was planted by another inmate to incriminate him. He demanded that officials take DNA samples from the metal implement and review security cameras in the hallway outside his cell, which he shared with another inmate. Both requests were denied.

A hearing officer ruled that the incident could not be held against him in his parole proceeding, though his lawyer says his furloughs were temporarily suspended.

“He was supposed to finish a rehabilitation process before continuing with his parole application,” Hayoun says. That included group sessions, “studying how to control your anger, meeting with social workers within the jail,” she says. “So we were supposed to go to the [parole] committee in a year’s time. It would be a little bit longer than two-thirds [of his sentence]. Because it was a very serious offense, you don’t go out immediately.”

Once paroled, Sheinbein would have been free to live out his life in Israeli society. But had he left Israel for any of the 190 countries participating in Interpol, he would have been extradited to the United States, where he would have faced arrest and trial in Maryland.

All of that became moot, of course, on Feb. 23.

The weekend before his death, Sheinbein was arrested while on furlough for trying to purchase a gun in Ramla, in central Israel. Hayoun couldn’t fathom why he was buying a gun, given that he was about to get a chance at parole.

About a half hour before the prison shootings, Sheinbein called Hayoun at her office. “He wanted to thank me and to say goodbye,” she says. “And he told us that we will hear about him in the [next] 24 hours and he wanted to [make] some arrangements.

“I understood from this conversation that he was going to kill himself. Therefore, I called the jail, the district attorney’s office. I said, ‘You have to find him. Something bad is going to happen to someone.’ They didn’t take my request seriously. They answered me in a [text] message: ‘If you’re worried for his life, so you should pray to God.’ One minute after I got this [text], the incident started.”    

According to The Jerusalem Post, Sheinbein had locked himself inside his cell block synagogue for more than an hour on Thursday, Feb. 20. His punishment was confinement to his cell over the weekend. That Sunday, he was being transferred to another cell block when he asked to use the bathroom. Then he barricaded himself in and, using a gun somehow smuggled into the prison, began shooting.

“He fired at the guards and wounded one seriously and two moderately,” the Israel Prison Service said in a statement that day. A later account said he’d injured seven—three prison guards, three special forces soldiers and one fellow prisoner.

The day after the shootout, Hayoun saw Sheinbein’s body. “It was full of gunshots, maybe more than 100,” she says. “He was alone with one gun with 12 bullets. They didn’t have to shoot him.”

Sol and Victoria Sheinbein buried the son they had tried so hard to protect two days after his death.

Their Aspen Hill home in the Strathmore at Bel-Pre subdivision had been sold in April 1998. The 1971 frame house—2,228 square feet on a 12,500-square-foot lot—went for $180,000 to a military couple. The necessary papers were notarized at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv.  

In 2002, Sol Sheinbein was disbarred from practicing law in Maryland. Now 71, he works as an “adviser” in the Tel Aviv law firm of Ehrlich & Fenster, according to its website. He declined comment about his son’s case in an email more than two months before his son’s death and requested that Bethesda Magazine not publish anything about him. After the shootout, he and his family issued a statement through Hayoun saying that they “wish all the wounded good health and [we] are in deep sorrow and shock for what has happened.”

Sam Sheinbein’s older brother, Robert, briefly moved to Chicago, and then immigrated to Israel, where he worked in his father’s office at Ehrlich & Fenster. He’s married, and now has a daughter and a son. He didn’t respond to messages left with a third party. He and his sister have changed their last name to Shein.

Nathalie took three courses at Montgomery College—introduction to paralegal studies, interpersonal communications and tort law. Her instructor for all three courses, ironically, was McCarthy. “Nathalie was a very good student and got very good grades,” he says. “She first asked if I knew who she was. We actually became friends. Sometimes, if she needed advice on something, she’d even call me.

“Most of the conversation centered on her father and what a decent man he was,” he says. “She described [him as] just short of being a saint, who for years had protected the family.”

In 2011, Nathalie Shein graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. At press time, she was working as a help desk analyst for iControl Systems USA, a data processing firm in Burtonsville, and living in Gaithersburg. Reached at work some months before Sam Sheinbein’s death, she would say only this of her younger brother: “It’s a very sad story. We must get on with our lives.”

More than 100 mourners attended the graveside service for Aaron Needle at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery in Adelphi, according to a Washington City Paper account in May 1998.

Roslyn Needle said at the time that she feared for her son because the Torah forbids suicide. But she found comfort in the fact that Aaron chose to “deliver himself” on the last day of Passover, the same day the biblical Aaron helped Moses deliver the Jews from bondage. She was glad, too, that her son strengthened his Jewish ties during his time in jail, eating only kosher food and subscribing to the Netanyahu statement that “no power on earth can rob any Jew of his identity.”

She recalled, too, what her son wrote from jail: “Life surely didn’t go as I expected it. How did I get here? Where are my dreams?”  

In 1999, the Needles sold their nearly 4,000-square-foot home, located off Old Georgetown Road in Luxmanor. They live in a condo nearby and continue to operate their computer software consultancy, CTS Inc., from home.

They have had occasions to celebrate in the years since their son’s suicide. In 2006, their daughter Rena graduated summa cum laude from Stern College for Women, an Orthodox institution that is part of Yeshiva University in New York. And this past fall they welcomed the birth of a granddaughter.

Through it all, the Needles appear to have found solace in religion. Now 70, Sheldon Needle served on the board of Ezras Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in Rockville, for 15 years, four of them as president. In one synagogue newsletter, he shared his thoughts on achieving peace of mind. Foremost, he said, “be eternally grateful for what you have.”