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Police: Afghan filmmaker killed by investor

MINEOLA, New York (CNN) -- A 38-year-old film investor and employee of a moving and storage company was charged Saturday with second-degree murder in the killing and dismemberment of an Afghan filmmaker, whose movie opened Wednesday in New York.

Police said they found the body parts of Jawed Wassel, 42, in two cardboard boxes in the back of a van driven by Nathan Chandler Powell, who had invested in Wassel's film. Wassel's head was found later in the refrigerator in Powell's apartment, police said.

Lt. Frank Guidice, commanding officer of the homicide squad for the Nassau County Police Department said officers stopped Powell near the entrance to Bethpage State Park, where he was speeding in a 1999 blue Chevrolet van with its lights turned off late Thursday night.

Powell told Officer Peter McGinn that a pickax and shovel were in the rear of the van because he was trying to dig up $10,000 he had buried in the park three years earlier, Guidice said. He said McGinn then saw that the two boxes in the van were splattered with what appeared to be blood.

Powell was arrested, and police found the arms and legs of Wassel in one of the boxes and his torso in the other, Guidice said. No head was found.

A search Friday of Powell's apartment -- in the same building as the moving company for which he worked in Queens -- turned up the missing head in the refrigerator, Guidice said.

Wassel wrote "FireDancer," a film about his life in Afghanistan and the United States. The film opened this week in New York. Guidice said Powell had invested in the film in exchange for 30 percent of the profits.

"He indicated to us he thought the film would make a million dollars," Guidice said.

But Wednesday afternoon, after a meeting with other investors, Wassel returned with Powell to his apartment and told him he would pay him no more than 10 percent, Guidice said.

At that point, Powell became angry and struck Wassel with a pool cue, then stabbed him twice in the back, Guidice said. He dismembered the body later that night, Guidice said.

Wassel's family and friends had been concerned since Wednesday night, when Wassel failed to show up at the film's opening in a Manhattan cinema. Powell was at the event, Guidice said.

Powell is being held in Nassau County Jail. He was arraigned Saturday morning.

"He intimated that he was really being coerced into trying to sign these things," Guidice said about contracts reducing his percentage of the profits. "He felt the guy may have been a danger to him because he was from Afghanistan."

In an article published in Wednesday editions of the Daily News, Wassel said it took him six years to make the film. The Associated Press reports that Wassel was smuggled out of his native Afghanistan by his mother after the Soviet invasion of 1979. He lived in Pakistan, Germany and France before moving to New York.

"I wanted to bring Afghanistan and its people and the role of Afghan-Americans to a wider audience," he said.

"The movie couldn't have been made anywhere else but in America," he said. "It's the one place where everybody has a chance."


• Emmys 2001, a special report

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