Man arrested on murder charges in gay bar drugging scheme

A suspect was arrested in connection to the homicides of at least one of the two men who were drugged and killed in separate incidents following visits to New York City gay bars last year, a New York Police Department spokesperson said Sunday.

Jacob Barroso, 30, was charged with murder, robbery, grand larceny and conspiracy in connection to the death of Julio Ramirez, a 25-year-old social worker and a separate incident where an unidentified victim did not die, police investigators said. 

Ramirez and John Umberger, a 33-year-old political consultant, were both found dead after visiting gay bars in the city’s lively Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood last spring.

John Umberger; Julio Ramirez.
John Umberger and Julio Ramirez were drugged and killed in separate incidents following visits to New York City gay bars.Linda Clary; Family photo

Both had left the bars with at least one unknown person before their bank accounts were drained of thousands of dollars using facial recognition access on their phones, according to their family members.

Last month, the medical examiner’s office ruled their deaths as homicides caused by a “drug-facilitated theft.” Multiple drugs were found in their systems, including fentanyl, lidocaine and cocaine. Barroso was not charged in the death of Umberger, and it remains unclear who is responsible for his killing.

Barroso’s arrest on Saturday comes shortly after police requested the public’s assistance on Friday to find him and two other suspects — Jayqwan Hamilton, 35, and Robert Demaio, 34 — believed to be connected to the homicides. 

Two law enforcement officials confirmed with NBC News last week that a Manhattan grand jury has indicted several suspects in connection with the deaths of Umberger and Ramirez. One of the suspects, Shane Hoskins, was arraigned on felony larceny and identity theft charges, prosecutors said. It is unclear if Barroso, Hamilton and Demaio are three of the other defendants, as parts of the indictment remain sealed.

Once the victims were “incapacitated to the extent that their ability to perceive events became diminished,” according to an indictment, the five co-conspirators would then steal their victims’ cell phones and credit cards and use the physical cards and information stored on the victims’ phones to transfer money to themselves and make purchases. 

The two officials also told NBC News that the five suspects were targeting victims for financial gain and not because of their sexual orientation. However, they added that the New York City Police Department’s Hate Crime Task Force is assisting in the investigation.

In the months after Umberger’s and Ramirez’s deaths, more gay New Yorkers stepped forward with eerily similar accounts to Ramirez’s and Umberger’s. NBC News has spoken with several gay men who said they survived similar incidents from December 2021 to October 2022.

The NYPD previously confirmed with NBC News that there are multiple groups of criminals committing these types of crimes against men visiting the city’s gay bars. Police also confirmed that comparable crimes were being committed against patrons of bars without any LGBTQ affiliation.

Last week, the New York City medical examiner’s office also confirmed that it is investigating “several additional deaths in similar circumstances” to those of Ramirez and Umberger. It is unclear, however, if they were found dead after visiting gay bars or whether they were connected to the indicted suspects.

A spokesperson for the medical examiner’s office said they “could not comment further due to the ongoing criminal investigations.”

The two law enforcement officials also told NBC News that there is a separate group suspected of committing similar crimes on 26 victims. The officials said that fashion designer Kathryn Marie Gallagher, whose death in July was ruled a drug-facilitated homicide by the medical examiner’s office, was one of the subsequent group’s victims.

Kenzi Abou-Sabe contributed.

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