It seemed to be a typical Tuesday morning for Mordechai “Larry” Etengoff, a 42-year-old Brooklyn locksmith supply salesman. His wife of 16 years, Sandy, watched him leave their squat, gray, single-family stucco house in the multiethnic Kensington section to drop off their youngest of five children at the babysitter.
He stopped at the local Independence Savings Bank near their Avenue C home to make a deposit. He returned home to move his blue Ford Taurus for alternate side-of-the-street parking.
Mordechai “Larry” Etengoff hasn’t been seen since.
New York Police say they are mystified by the disappearance of the outgoing, mustachioed Orthodox man who is known among friends as dedicated to his family especially attentive to his ailing mother and mother-in-law.
“We are asking the public for help in locating him,” said Capt. William McNee, head of the Brooklyn South Detectives unit. “We are looking for witnesses that might have seen something. We’re looking into every single possibility.”
McNee said there have been no threats made and “there appears to be no foul play. We are trying to determine the facts.”
Indeed, the police and family have put out differing versions of the disappearance. A police spokesman said Etengoff was last seen at his home at 301 Avenue C. A flier said he was last seen on nearby 16th Avenue.
Police say Etengoff, 5-foot-7 and 240 pounds, was wearing a white short-sleeve shirt with blue pants, suspenders and sneakers. Meanwhile, his second oldest daughter’s bat mitzvah is scheduled for Sunday.
“We pray he will be home by then,” says Sandy, sitting at her kitchen table Tuesday wearing a red head covering and surrounded by cell phones and portable phones that ring every few minutes with calls from concerned neighbors and friends. Calls have come in from Israel, Australia and Turkey.
The local Orthodox community, rabbis from her children’s yeshivas and social service agencies all are lending support, purchasing household items like light bulbs and food.
Brooklyn City Councilman Noach Dear, who has been a liaison to the police, said privacy concerns prevented the family from publicizing the disappearance. Friends say Sandy Etengoff consulted with prominent community rabbis, who advised her not to go to the media.
“We’re generally very private people, but we need help,” she said quietly.
Dear praised Etengoff as well liked and friendly; he called Sandy “a lovely woman.” He said Etengoff had some financial difficulty over the past few years, including a stint when he was unemployed. During that period he fell into debt, “and maybe that affected him, making him distraught.”
Longtime family friend Devorah Marvin said “out of all the fathers on the block, the sun rose and set with his children.”
Etengoff, known to his customers as Larry, had been working from home since starting the locksmith business. Sandy says that at 5 p.m. on June 1, she paged her husband using their personal phone code, which he “always” answers. When she didn’t hear from him by 8 p.m., she knew something was wrong.
“Maybe he fell and maybe he hurt his head and maybe he doesn’t know where he is, and maybe he gave them a funny name at the hospital and they can’t figure it out,” she says softly in her modest dining room, graced with crayon pictures from her children and portraits of two rabbis.
The car is still sitting outside the house. Police say there has been no activity on his bank or credit cards. Friends have plastered the neighborhood with fliers showing a picture of Etengoff and offering a reward. Sandy’s sister flew in from Israel last Monday.
An old friend, Malke Biegeleisen from Lakewood, N.J., has been staying with the family since last week, monitoring the phone and visitors to the corner house. “She’s been trying to cope, she has strong faith,” Biegeleisen says. “She still has five children to take care of.”
When asked about what could have happened to her husband, Sandy stiffens, clearly uncomfortable with even considering the question.
“I really don’t know what happened. I just want him home,” she says.
She says her children are unhappy about the sudden intrusion of strangers into their lives.
“My kids are having a hard time, the community is having a really hard time. Everybody’s really praying for him.”
A group of local rabbis signed a letter asking the community to pay special attention to the commandment of honoring one’s father and mother in honor of Etengoff, as well as reciting Psalms. Police ask anyone with information on the disappearance of Mordechai Etengoff to call Brooklyn’s 66th Precinct Detective Squad at (718) 851-5603 or the Missing Persons Squad at (212) 374-6920.