A tip from a New York Police Department detective investigating the 1990 beating and dismemberment killing of a widow has led to the arrest of a man in Montenegro who is a suspect in similar slayings in at least three European countries, officials said Thursday.
The suspect, identified by authorities in Montenegro as Smail Tulja, 67, was arrested in his home in the tiny Balkan country's capital, Podgorica, on a federal arrest warrant obtained by the FBI and forwarded to Interpol agents, officials said. An FBI affidavit filed in the United States identified the suspect as Smajo Djurlric; the NYPD said his name was Smajo Dzurlic.
An NYPD spokesman, Paul Browne, said Tulja was wanted in the unsolved slaying of Mary Beal. The 61-year-old Yugoslav immigrant was reported missing in the New York City borough of the Bronx on Sept. 15, 1990; three weeks later Beal's decapitated, dismembered body was found in two bags near the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Tulja, then a cab driver living in New York, had met Beal during an appearance in a courthouse when she was an interpreter, said Sgt. Dennis Singleton, who investigated the case.
The pair began dating before getting into a dispute over money, police said. After Beal's killing, detectives discovered bloodstains in Tulja's Bronx apartment, but he left the country before they could question him, they said.
Singleton said that in the mid-1990s, while working with Belgium authorities, investigators received information that Tulja was living in that country and was a possible suspect in killings and dismemberments of five women there. He again eluded authorities by moving to Montenegro, the sergeant said.
The case regained momentum last year after a member of the NYPD's Cold Case and Apprehension Squad — while attending a training session at FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va. — learned about the dismemberment killings of two women in Albania.
Fingerprints matched up
The NYPD detective, James Osorio, noted the slayings "were carried out in a similar fashion to Mary Beal," court papers said. His squad eventually sought the assistance of federal and international authorities, providing them with Tulja's fingerprints from a prior arrest in 1974.
The court papers said that in January, Interpol notified the FBI that it had matched the 1974 fingerprints to those "of an individual who had applied for a government identification card in Montenegro" — Tulja.
Tulja appeared in court there on Thursday, said Tamara Popovic, a spokeswoman for the national police in Montenegro.
Dusan Luksic, a lawyer in Montenegro representing Tulja, told The Associated Press: "My client is not guilty of the murder of Mary Beal."
Police in Belgium and Albania investigating the killings of several women in those countries consider Tulja a suspect in the cases, the spokeswoman said.
Tulja, who was born in Montenegro, resettled there in the late 1990s and lived alone on the outskirts of Podgorica, officials said.
"Several pieces of evidence and some documents have been seized in his home that may be connected to the alleged crimes committed in the foreign countries," Popovic added.
The daily newspaper Republika in Podgorica reported that FBI agents were there working on the case.
Police suspect that a woman whose body was discovered in Albania shortly after Tulja's return to the region, and who has never been identified, may have been his wife — and his last victim, the newspaper said. Tulja's wife was an Albanian woman who had disappeared under unclear circumstances, it added.
Luksic said he had no information about the other killings in Albania and Belgium. He said Tulja will "exercise his right to remain silent" at this point in the proceedings.
He said Tulja has to be tried in Montenegro because local laws do not allow extradition of Montenegrin citizens. He said the maximum sentence Tulja could get if tried and convicted is 20 years under Montenegrin law.
Luksic also said he was informed that FBI agents were in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, but said he didn't have any details.
Some of the suspect's neighbors told local reporters that he was quiet and polite. Others said they found his behavior suspicious because he never left his house or socialized.