Bound, burned doctor found dead in Philly home

Updated at: 01/22/2013 11:07 AM
By JOANN LOVIGLIO

(AP) PHILADELPHIA - The search for clues continued Tuesday in the murder of a young doctor whose body was found bound and burned inside her home in a bustling downtown neighborhood, but investigators said they have not uncovered any substantial leads.

Firefighters responding to the home Monday afternoon found the body of Melissa Ketunuti, 35, on fire in the basement, with her ankles and wrists bound behind her and rope around her neck, Capt. James Clark of the Homicide Unit said. There was no sign of forced entry, he said.

"We don’t know if she walked in on individuals inside of her property, we don’t know if individuals forced her inside her property," or whether or not she knew her killer, Clark said.

Ketunuti was a second-year infectious diseases fellow and researcher at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She had been at the hospital for five years, having first served as a pediatric resident.

"Melissa was a warm, caring, earnest, bright young woman with her whole future ahead of her," said Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases. "But more than that, she was admired, respected and loved by those with whom she worked here at CHOP."

Jeff Moran, a spokesman for the city medical examiner’s office, said an autopsy was being conducted Tuesday. The official cause of death has not been determined but Clark said Ketunuti appeared to have died from strangulation.

Her body, so badly burned that she was unrecognizable, was discovered by her dog walker.

A preliminary investigation did not turn up anything missing from the home and it did not appear the victim was sexually assaulted, Clark said. He said Ketunuti’s boyfriend, who was not identified by Clark, is not considered a suspect.

Ketunuti made several stops around town in the hours before her death and investigators are looking for surveillance video that may show her killer following her. Nothing has turned up so far but detectives are continuing to canvass local business and neighbors, and there is a $20,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of anyone involved in the slaying, Clark said.

"She dedicated her whole life to being a doctor and helping children with cancer," Clark said. "It’s very, very unfortunate that she died this way."

Ketunuti kept a blog from March 2005 to October 2008 and wrote of her travels and studies in the U.S. and abroad.

After earning a doctorate in medicine from Stanford University, she went to Botswana in 2005 on an AIDS research fellowship and then completed a surgical internship at Georgetown University Hospital before moving to Philadelphia in May 2008 to begin a pediatrics residency.

"This is hopefully the last move for at least 3 years," she wrote, "given that’s how long it should take to finish a pediatrics residency."

She called the hospital’s pediatrics program "incredibly supportive."

"People are rooting for my success and education, which is a very different vibe than at Georgetown," she wrote. "As sexy as it was to be a life-saving surgeon, I feel much better suited for pediatrics."

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)