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Body found in 24-hour laundromat

Floral bouquets and candles adorned the sidewalk in front of the Springfield Gardens Laundromat where an overnight employee was strangled and suffocated to death in an apparent robbery early Friday morning, police said.

Rosedale resident Valerie Dennis, 33, was discovered by a regular customer shortly after 6 a.m. behind the counter in the back of Patrick's Laundry World, at 125-13 Merrick Blvd., police said.

Dennis, an immigrant from Kingston, Jamaica who worked the midnight shift at the 24-hour Laundromat, had a black plastic bag wrapped around her head, her hands tied behind her back, and her pants pulled down, police said. Investigators found no signs of sexual assault, police said.

Police believe that robbery may have been the motive behind the murder because the Laundromat's safe was missing. It was unclear how much money may have been taken, police said.

The customer who found Dennis was getting change from a machine near the counter when she noticed the clerk, police said. She called police and flagged down an ambulance coming down Merrick Boulevard, but Dennis was already dead. It is believed that Dennis was killed earlier in the morning, police said.

The city medical examiner determined Dennis died from the suffocation caused by the bag and compression to her neck, according to a spokeswoman.

Dennis had been working the overnight shift from Thursday through Sunday at the coin-operated Laundromat for about two years, a fellow employee said. Dennis had been looking for other work because she had been worried about just the kind of attack that caused her death, he said.

Two other attendants at the Laundromat had been victims of robberies - one had been tied up and one was shot, he said.

The Laundromat's doors are usually locked after 7 p.m., and employees must walk over to the door to let in customers, the employee said. It was unclear how the killer gained access to the store or if Dennis knew her attacker, police said.

No one has been arrested in Dennis's death.

Customers and community members left two bouquets of carnations and about six memorial candles outside the Laundromat in a makeshift tribute to Dennis.

The overnight shift is usually quiet, with few customers coming in, a Laundromat employee said.

"It gets busy sometimes but mostly on weekends," he said.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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