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Squatters killed NYC mom found dead in duffel bag, cops say

NEW YORK — Nadia Vitels — the woman whose body was found stuffed in a duffel bag in the closet of the Manhattan apartment she had just started staying in — was killed by a pair of squatters she stumbled upon living there, police said Thursday.

The killers, who are still on the run, escaped in the victim’s Lexus, which was found crashed and abandoned in Lower Paxton Township, Pennsylvania, said NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny.

Vitels’ son made the grim discovery in the apartment on E. 31st Street near Third Avenue on March 14 while searching the unit with other relatives who had become concerned after not hearing from her.

“The son looks into the closet which is by the front door and notices the duffel bag with a foot sticking out,” said Kenny.

Vitels, 52, was getting the apartment owned by her late mother ready for a family friend to live in when she encountered the couple squatting there, said the chief.

“We believe that some squatters had taken the apartment over and this woman came home to get this apartment set up and walked in on the squatters,” Kenny said.

“We have video of her coming in and out of the apartment. On the same day we also have video of the perpetrators coming in and out of the apartment,” he added.

Police believe the squatters had been there for a few days before Vitels came to the apartment on March 10, having arrived from Spain.

After the slaying, the squatters fled over the George Washington Bridge and into New Jersey in the victim’s stolen Lexus.

“They enter into Pennsylvania and crash the car,” Kenny said.

Local cops didn’t do a check on the license plate, according to the chief, noting that they would have learned about an outstanding homicide warrant tied to the vehicle had they done so.

The next day, the vehicle was found abandoned on the road, Kenny said. This time, cops did do a check and then reached out to the NYPD. The squatters were subsequently discovered going to “multiple car dealerships trying to purchase a car for $1,000, which they (were) unable to do,” the chief said.

Around the same time Vitels was killed, the squatters threw her belongings down the apartment’s garbage chute, arousing the suspicion of the victim’s neighbors.

“The neighbors, they heard the same day as the homicide the chute opening up and closing, opening and closing,” said Kenny. “We went down to the basement and looked through the garbage and found a lot of the victim’s property.”

The porter for the building went to collect the trash the day Vitels was found and said there was much more garbage than usual.

“When I look, I see so much stuff. My super called me and told me … they found a body and it looked like it was murder. I was freaked out, like damn, nobody’s ever done murder in the building,” said the porter, who gave his name as Chris. “I’m seeing clothes, shoes, suitcases, boxes. I’m like, what if these people threw all her stuff down to hide evidence?”

The building’s super suspects the squatters planned to throw more than just her belongings down the chute.

“The duffel bag that she was in, it wasn’t so big,” the super, Jean Pompee, told the New York Daily News. “I’m only guessing but I think they might have thought about throwing her down the chute. The chute falls down to the basement and there’s a compactor in the basement.”

After not hearing from her for several days, Kenny said Vitels’ son tracked her location through her cell phone.

The son “is very concerned and knows she was going to that apartment," said Kenny. Vitels’ family headed to the unit around 4:30 p.m. March 14.

The victim finished moving into the apartment on March 12 and was killed the following day, police sources said. Her parents had lived in the building years earlier, said the super.

Chris, the porter, said he saw surveillance footage of the suspects coming downstairs on March 12 wearing blue surgical gloves and toting suitcases, one pink and one gray. They were later seen returning to the apartment.

“They looked like they didn’t care. They were smiling coming down from her floor. You could tell they didn’t care,” said Chris.

The porter also saw footage of the suspects driving away in Vitels’ Lexus.

“I saw them on camera going back and forth to get out. They didn’t know how to drive. They were out there trying to get out. I don’t know if they were searching for something in the car.”

Police and building staff are still trying to determine how the couple were able to get into the apartment in the first place.

Pompee said there was no damage to the front door of the unit.

“I still don’t understand. In the video it didn’t show them trying different floors,” said the super. “I don’t know how they targeted this building. The 19th floor, how did they know it was empty?

“It’s just tragic, you know. I hope that they catch them,” Pompee added. “I need some closure for this. I don’t know if there’s anything I could’ve done. If I knew she was moving in, I would’ve been on the lookout for her.”

An autopsy revealed Vitels died from blunt force trauma to the head, the city’s Medical Examiner said March 15, ruling her death a homicide.

Inside the apartment, officers found signs of a struggle, including a dented and broken sheetrock wall that the woman’s head could have struck, police sources said.

The Daily News obtained photographs Thursday of the cracked sheetrock and of blood on the closet floor.

“We have probable cause, we have the two subjects. We have the Regional Fugitive Task force out looking for them,” Kenny said of the couple.

At Vitels’ Long Island funeral on Monday, she was remembered by her son Michael Medvedev as a doting mother who had lived a colorful, adventurous life, and was embarking on a new chapter.

“Getting ready to move to New York City, where she would conquer the world,” he remarked. “She was so excited to move into the city.”

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