Man charged in mysterious 2012 murder of MD Anderson research student


by staff

Posted on May 22, 2014 at 5:42 PM

Updated Thursday, May 22 at 10:55 PM

HOUSTON—There could soon be answers to many questions in the mysterious murder of an MD Anderson student who was shot while driving in the Galleria area in 2012.

Ali Mahwood-Awad Irsan, 56, was arrested during an FBI raid in Montgomery County Thursday morning and charged with murder in the death of Gelareh Bagherzadeh, a 30-year-old molecular genetics technology student.

Bagherzadeh was headed to the home she shared with her parents near Augusta and Sugar Hill around midnight on January 15 when she was shot in the head through her passenger-side window.

Bagherzadeh crashed her car into a nearby garage and died at the scene.

Police said she was on the phone with an ex-boyfriend when she was shot. The boyfriend told investigators that he heard a loud thud, followed by a screeching noise. He said it sounded like someone driving away.

To help with the Crime Stoppers reward, which was then the biggest in history, private donations poured in. Despite the total reaching $200,000, the murder remained a mystery.

But investigators did receive reports of a possible motive. The murdered medical researcher was a well-known activist against the Iranian government, specifically for Iranian women’s rights, and it was said that Irsan had argued with her before about her political activities.

The FBI searched three properties belonging to the Irsan family. Authorities scoured a field behind a house on Old Houston Road using metal detectors and shovels and Irsan was taken into custody at the home on White Oak Drive.

A Neighbor witnessed that arrest of the people he identified as Irsan, his wife and their teenage son.

“I guess he saw the police, he turned in there, and they were on him in a heartbeat,” said William Orr. “They swarmed him. Flash grenades, guns drawn, put him on the ground, arrested him and carted him off.”

Orr took cell phone video after the arrest, and admits he was glad to see it happen.

“First time I met him he was bragging how he shot somebody and killed somebody,” Orr said.

According to Orr, the Houston Police first searched the White Oak Drive property looking for a gun shortly after the murder of Bagherzadeh. They searched it back then because Orr told them he saw something suspicious; the Irsan family burying something in their backyard at three in the morning.

Orr says after that, Irsan built a fence that included a hand-painted sign saying “If you have neighbors like ours... do like us.”

“I knew that there was something not right, but not sure what. They’re just always coming and going and very suspicious people. They watch everything they do,” said Angelique Mason.

Neighbors said they were not surprised that the raids were linked to a murder investigation.

“No. No. The way they’re sneaky and stuff at night, no normal people that have jobs and stuff, they don’t act like that,” said Nelda Pugh.

Irsan was booked into jail, but no bond amount has been set.