Arrest offers some relief to slain woman's family

Tara Alicea, a mother of three, whose body was found in Jan.
Tara Alicea, a mother of three, whose body was found in Jan.
Posted: August 08, 2014

Tears dripped from Sona Turner's face as she drove, but her lips stayed silent.

It had been more than five months since an unknown killer had stuffed her 30-year-old daughter, Tara Alicea, into a suitcase and left it in the woods behind Egg Harbor Township's Harbor Square mall.

Now, as Turner drove past the mall to drop off her boyfriend at a bus station, she felt like vomiting.

On the way home to Clayton, Turner's granddaughter - Alicea's 8-year-old daughter, Nilza - moved to the front seat and asked to wear her grandmother's glasses.

Then, Nilza saw two "glows" above.

"They're Mommy in the sky," she said. "I see them through these glasses."

"You have a special connection with your mother," Turner, unable to spot them, told Nilza. "She wants you to see her."

It was one of many heartbreaking moments for Alicea's family leading up to Tuesday, when authorities made an arrest in her slaying.

Steven Stallworth, 27, of Pleasantville, N.J., was charged with murder and desecration of human remains. He was arrested about 9:40 a.m. Tuesday in Mays Landing, N.J., and was being held on $2 million bail.

The connection between Stallworth and Alicea is unknown. Atlantic County authorities declined to comment Wednesday. Alicea's mother said she and other family members did not recognize Stallworth.

Alicea, a mother of three, struggled with heroin addiction and sometimes drifted around Atlantic City. She last contacted Turner on July 6, 2013, to wish her an early happy birthday.

Then, she seemingly disappeared.

Six months later, on Jan. 5, a hunter who was also a municipal police officer in Atlantic County found the suitcase with Alicea's remains.

Investigators identified her through tattoos and a fingerprint match. She had been strangled, police said.

In the months that followed, Turner sat at her kitchen table with friends, trying to picture her daughter's killer: Was it someone in love with her? Someone jealous of her? A person with a grudge?

Answers seldom came.

"I think, somewhere in the back of my mind, I was kind of coming to terms with the fact that we may never know what happened to her," said Turner's friend Robin DelVecchio, 55, whose children grew up with Alicea.

For Turner, Atlantic City became two words of despair, unanswered questions like a kick to the gut. After reluctantly dropping off her boyfriend at the bus station there in June so he could attend a wedding - no one else could take him - she refused to return to the resort.

"I can't go down there," Turner said. "I don't even like hearing the name Atlantic City anymore. It's scarred me for life."

For Alicea's children - Marih, now 13; Ariana, 10; and Nilza, her youngest - the pain came in spurts. Alicea gave Turner custody of the children in 2010 as she tried to beat her addiction. It began after years of back pain, first from a childhood fall and later from a car accident, family members said.

The children loved Alicea, who did her best to care for them despite her troubles, Turner said.

Two weeks ago, during a dance contest in Turner's home, the children picked up boards with photos of Alicea and began jamming with them in the kitchen.

Then Nilza broke down, fell to the floor in tears. She missed her mother, she said.

On Tuesday - seven months to the day Alicea's body was found - detectives knocked on Turner's door. They had a suspect in custody, they said.

Alicea's children jumped up and down, tossing the burden of the unknown - at least some of it - off their shoulders.

Turner called it a miracle.

"I've just been numb every day wondering and praying to her to help us find who did this to her," she said. "It's such a relief."


mboren@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @borenmc

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