Diner boss from Bellerose slain

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The killing of the Greek immigrant occurred in a three-family house at 92-25 Gettysburg St., just blocks from the 105th Precinct. Police said nothing had been stolen and there were no signs of forced entry.

As of Tuesday, no arrests had been made, police said.

George Rigos' roommate, identified by neighbors as Vasilios Spiliopoulos, was brought in for questioning, police said. Spiliopoulos was out of town on the night of the murder and his alibi checked out, according to the authorities.

When Rigos failed to show up at the East Star Silver Spoon Restaurant on First Avenue and 71st Street in Manhattan at 5:30 a.m. on New Year's Day, his son Louis, 47, went to his father's apartment.

He found his father dead in his bedroom, stabbed twice in the chest.

Louis Rigos said that the appearance of his father's bedroom indicated a struggle.

"It was not what you'd expect from an elderly man with a heart condition," he said. "He fought to keep his life."

Louis Rigos helped his father run the restaurant.

"He was kind of like a silent icon for the family," Louis Rigos said, describing how his father would only speak when he felt he had something meaningful to say, such as encouragement for his many family members. "He was a passionate, quiet, humble man. He never showed anger nor did he judge people," he said.

The elder Rigos apparently spent Dec. 31 just like every other Wednesday that marked a typical day off from the Manhattan diner that he owned.

"In all the years I knew my father, I never saw him celebrate New Year's Eve," Louis Rigos said.

While his neighbors prepared to ring in the new year, George Rigos had some of his 21 grandchildren over to his apartment near 92nd Avenue and Gettysburg Street, as he often did.

Neighbors said they never noticed any problems between George Rigos and his roommate. It was not known why Rigos, the father of seven, took a roommate or how the two men initially met.

Louis Rigos, citing the ongoing police investigation, declined to comment on the arrangement between Spiliopoulos and his father, who rented the top floor of a two-story brick house.

Neighbors said the two men had very different schedules, and while none knew much about Spiliopoulos, they all said George Rigos was a friendly man.

"George was a good person. You could tell by his demeanor," said Angela Echevarria, 31, who lives on the first floor of the house and called paramedics when Louis Rigos banged on her door the morning of New Year's Day. "It's left all of us in the house in shock," she said.

On New Year's Eve, Echevarria arrived home at 6 p.m. and celebrated by putting on some music, which she said she and her husband did not play too loudly. They went to bed at 2 a.m. and heard nothing that night. "In this house if you sneeze too loud, the next-door neighbor hears it," she said. "Whoever did this knows him. There is no possible way you could get through that door."

A funeral for Rigos was held Monday at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Jamaica.

Police Friday were trying to determine how the murderer managed to get into the house. As a team from the police's Emergency Services Unit lifted off nearby sewer grates in a fruitless search for a murder weapon, two detectives working on the case spoke with neighbors.

They paused to talk with one of George Rigos' daughters, who declined to speak with reporters. Before leaving, she laid a bouquet of flowers at the outside stairwell and lit a candle.

An immigrant from Greece, George Rigos had four sons, three daughters. Louis Rigos said his father became a widower in 1973 and that all of the remaining family lives in a five- to 10-mile radius around George Rigos' apartment, where he had lived for eight or nine years.

"His priority was his grandkids," Louis Rigos said. "He couldn't educate us the way he wanted, but he wanted to educate his grandkids. That's why he kept this place," he said, referring to the diner.

George Rigos became involved in the diner business after working at a concession stand at the Queens World's Fair in 1964. It was there that he got the idea to create a diner with food from around the world and to change the traditional boxcar style of diner by adding tables and booths.

"My father was one of the innovators of the modern diner," Louis Rigos said. After opening his Omega Diner in New Hyde Park in 1968, George Rigos started diners for other owners before buying the East Star in 1996.

Despite his success, George Rigos continued to live in his modest apartment in Bellerose, which neighbors said is usually a relatively quiet area of Queens.

"This is a good neighborhood," said Scott Wagner, 21, a college student home for the holidays who has lived across the street since he was 3. "Not much happens here. It's a good block."

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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