Who killed Laura Araujo and stuffed her body in a duffel bag?

Posted: July 17, 2014

LAURA ARAUJO had her whole life ahead of her. Then it was all around her.

Clothes, photographs, jewelry, all the worldly belongings of the 23-year-old college graduate were packed in bags and dumped near an abandoned house in North Philadelphia.

Laura was in one of them.

"She was placed in a trash bag and then was folded into a blanket and ultimately stuffed into a duffel bag," Homicide Unit Capt. James Clark said yesterday.

Araujo, a New York native who graduated last year from the Art Institute of Philadelphia, was discovered by a trash-picker about 5:30 a.m. Monday on 3rd Street near Susquehanna Avenue following a "brutal attack" that likely occurred four to eight hours earlier, Clark said.

The medical examiner has determined that Araujo died of strangulation and blunt-force trauma. The killer ditched her Toyota RAV4 on Bambrey Street near Tasker in South Philly and set it on fire to cover up the crime, Clark said.

This morning, police announced they have a "person of interest" in custody for her slaying, a 23-year-old man who lived in the same West Philly apartment building where Araujo had been living in recent weeks. Charges are expected to be filed later today.

"She was a very nice young lady, very successful, and had a lot of good things in her future," Clark said. "It's very sad what happened to her and hopefully we'll get to the bottom of it."

Araujo was a sharp, organized go-getter. At the Art Institute she made the dean's list, rallied the troops on group projects and earned a degree in fashion marketing. But she also kept her ear to the streets and was interested in community service.

Her disarming smile would work on the grumpiest of Philadelphians.

In short, she cared, said classmate Malcolm Fisher, who graduated from the Art Institute in March. She was just . . . nice.

"She really was, man. She really was," Fisher said. "It hasn't sunk in yet. I'm just hearing it now and it doesn't feel like it happened."

Fisher said Araujo once said in class that she'd spent some time being homeless to understand what it was like. She'd also been involved with a Christian outreach project and had worked as a special-needs caregiver and housekeeper, according to LinkedIn and her profile on a website for nannies and baby-sitters.

"Her grades were on point. She was just supersmart and bold in her actions," Fisher said.

Police say Araujo had lived on 8th Street near Diamond with two female roommates, but had recently been looking for a new apartment, so all her possessions were in her SUV. The killer left everything with her body. "Her whole life was actually in these bags," Clark said.

"Nobody had to do this to her," said Araujo's former next-door neighbor, Dorothy Brown, 76, who had just gotten back from vacation in Virginia late Monday when she received the news and broke down crying.

"She was just a student getting her education," Brown said. "She never bothered anybody."

Brown, a 47-year resident of the block, tried to bring Araujo into the bond the neighbors share. They'd watch out for each other's mail and kept tabs on who to talk to and who to steer clear of. Brown said she'd chat with Araujo when she got back from class in the evenings, toting canvases and other supplies.

"I told her, 'If anybody bothers you, you let us know, because we got your back,' " Brown said, a matronly tone creeping into her voice.

But Brown didn't know where Araujo went after leaving her apartment on 8th Street, on the first floor of a cream-colored building.

"She didn't have to look for a place to stay. All she had to do was come right back where she came from," Brown said. "I would've welcomed her with open arms."

Araujo's family arrived at police headquarters yesterday to try to help investigators solve the slaying and fill in some of the blanks.

"We don't have a clue. We have no idea what happened," her father, Lorenzo Araujo, a psychiatrist in Oklahoma, told 6ABC.

Clark said anyone with information about the crime or Araujo's whereabouts leading up to her death should call 215-686-3334 or 3335.

On Twitter: @wbender99

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