The murder of Noel Fitzpatrick, from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, just over a mile from the White House, has puzzled police because of a lack of motive. His body was found in an alley close to P Street on Thursday afternoon with a bullet wound in his chest.
According to police, the streets in the area are notorious for drug trafficking and prostitution, but his attacker or attackers did not steal his camera or dollars 300 ( pounds 197) cash he was carrying at the time. No suspect has been identified, although a man was seen running from the scene.
Mr Fitzpatrick's death is likely to create new fears over the dangers facing visitors to American cities. In the past year at least eight foreign tourists have been killed in large American cities, six of them in Miami, where the killing of a German woman, Barbara Meller-Jensen, in front of her family on a freeway caused outrage across Western Europe. In April, Adrian Strasser, 36, a primary school teacher from Edinburgh, was bludgeoned to death and robbed of his camcorder while walking in the French quarter of New Orleans.
Mr Fitzpatrick was on holiday with his son Liam - his first break in two years of caring for his wife of 49 years, who has Alzheimer's Disease.
Liam Fitzpatrick, 44, said yesterday from his home in Oundle, Northamptonshire, that his father had been looking forward to the three-week trip for months.
He said: 'The whole family are devastated and horrified by this event. It was a totally senseless killing of a harmless 72-year-old man who was the most kind and gentle person you could hope to meet.'
Mr Fitzpatrick added: 'None of us know what happened to him that afternoon. We only hope he did not suffer too much fear in his last moments. It is absolutely tragic that the life of such a good man had to end so horribly.'
The P Street district is typical of Washington, where neighbourhoods can change from solidly residential or commercial to perilously criminal with bewildering speed and no warning - especially for first-time visitors like Mr Fitzpatrick. The theory is that he missed his stop on the Washington underground and strayed into the area by mistake.
Liam Fitzpatrick, who had business meetings to attend during the trip to the American capital, was not with his father when he was shot and has no idea where he was heading at the time. Plans are being made to fly his father's body back to Britain in the next few days.
Washington, with an average of 450 murders each year among its population of 600,000, has for several years suffered from one of the highest crime rates in the country. Most, however, have occurred in the outer southern and eastern reaches of the city which most affluent white residents and tourists rarely visit.
Travel agents are not telling tourists about the dangers of overseas destinations, even when these are the subject of a Foreign Office warning, according to a World In Action programme to be broadcast tonight. None of 30 agents contacted on Friday mentioned the Foreign Office's warning on Egypt, where five British tourists were injured last week in an attack by Muslim extremists. The agents were contacted by researchers from the programme posing as holidaymakers and inquiring about the availability of holidays in Egypt.
Other destinations known for crime or attacks on tourists, but where travel brochures paint an idyllic picture and contain no hint of a warning, are: Miami, Florida; Acapulco, Mexico; Gambia, West Africa; Nassau, The Bahamas; Jamaica; Mombassa, Kenya; Bali; Cairo, Egypt; Thailand; and Rio de Janiero.
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