EAST ST. LOUIS - Zachary Irvin took a bus from tiny St. Elmo with hopes of finding a job, his family said. Instead, he wound up bound to a chair in an abandoned building on the East St. Louis riverfront.
Irvin's life came to a tortured end a month ago inside an abandoned freight warehouse, where a series of rooms had been fashioned into a human slaughter chamber, according to search warrants obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The case is so unusual and gruesome that police said they are investigating whether there might be other victims, although none has so far been found.
The warehouse came to police attention after Irvin's dismembered body was found burning on top of a metal landscaping cart nearby. Evidence led investigators to the large warehouse along First Street, where they found three rooms with blood spattered floors and walls.
Police found a meat clever, hacksaw, drywall saw, metal shears, claw hammer, rope, tin snips and binding material strewn about the rooms. Most of the items had remnants of a "red, bloodlike substance," according to the warrants. Also in the room, police found a blood-stained bandage.
Two homeless men - Dennis Iagulli, 41, and James Pierson, 36 - have been charged with first-degree murder and concealment of a homicidal death. Each is being held in St. Clair County Jail in lieu of a $3 million bond. Pierson admitted he was wearing Irvin's belt while he was being interviewed by police, the search warrants stated.
Police also found Irvin's identification and personal items inside the warehouse.
The two men allegedly tied Irvin to a chair as "a way of controlling him," said Lt. Bill Baker, commander of the Major Case Squad team that helped investigate. Police have declined to discuss a motive.
Irvin was lured to the warehouse by Iagulli after having an argument at the Rev. Larry Rice's New Life Evangelistic Center in downtown St. Louis, Baker said.
Ray Redlich, assistant director of the New Life Evangelistic Ministries, said Iagulli had been banned from the facility and there is no record of Irvin having stayed there.
Police said Irvin, 22, was shot in the neck and dismembered June 20. Two days later, his body was set on fire and discarded along nearby Winter Street. At the burn site, police found Irvin's dismembered body. Search warrants indicate that police were unable to find his legs or one arm.
A number of homeless people had been staying in tents inside the warehouse, police said. East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks said police have since cleared it of trespassers.
"We continue to monitor the situation to make sure everyone is registering for occupancy permits," Parks said. "It's hard. For the last few years, we've seen a surge the chronic homeless in the city of East St. Louis."
The warehouse is a long way from the Christian revival Irvin had attended a few weeks before his murder.
"He always wanted to help," said Jakob Barrientos, pastor of Freedom Reigns in Christ Church in St. Elmo, who officiated at Irvin's funeral. "He was very charismatic."
"He had come around the church quite frequently in the last few months," Barrientos said.
Irvin was laid off from his job at the Cumberland Trail Growers greenhouse in May. Paula Miller-Stanley, Irvin's mother, said her son took a bus to St. Louis a few days before he was killed.
"There were no jobs around here, so he went to St. Louis," Miller-Stanley said.
She said Irvin's grandmother had told her son to see if New Life Evangelistic Center could help him find a job.
"I gave him a cell phone, and he called me that weekend," Miller-Stanley said. "He even called his dad and left him a message on Father's Day."
Miller-Stanley said police arrived at her home a few days later, seeking her son's dental records.
"My son was a good, free-spirited young man," Miller-Stanley said. "He had people who cared about him. He knew nothing about East St. Louis, and he didn't know these men. This shouldn't have happened."