A 22-year-old sales clerk was found stabbed to death at Towson weight loss center early yesterday after failing to return home from work there.
Gina Courtalis, of the 4200 block of Darnall Road in Perry Hall, was found dead about 5:30 a.m. in a back room of the Nutri-System Weight Loss Center at 1238 Putty Hill Road, in Towson Market Place, according to E. Jay Miller, a Baltimore County police spokesman.
Ms. Courtalis' mother had reported her missing an hour before she was found, police said.
When an officer arrived at the center to check on the young woman's whereabouts, the officer was met at the entrance by her sister, two cousins, a boyfriend and a shopping mall security guard, Mr. Miller said.
"The officer tried to prevent them from going in, but they were so anxious they got in with him," Mr. Miller said.
Once inside, they found Ms. Courtalis in a rear file room.
She was fully clothed, lying on her side, with multiple puncture wounds in her upper back, police said.
There was no other sign of a struggle, and no evidence that the store had been ransacked or robbed, Mr. Miller said.
Police and neighbors described Ms. Courtalis as an attractive, hard-working woman, who had no bad habits, lived and got along well with her mother, was popular with her peers and had no known enemies.
"They're wonderful, hard-working people. We love them a lot," said Ethelind Sexton, a neighbor.
Police said Ms. Courtalis was a graduate of Perry Hall High School who had worked at Nutri-System for about 18 months. Earlier, she was employed by an area auto dealership.
"She was a real homebody. She lived with her mother, she was close to her family, she had two boyfriends and she was really well-liked and popular," one homicide investigator said.
Police were awaiting an autopsy report to establish the time that Ms. Courtalis died.
Investigators say she was alive at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, because she made a call from a telephone at Nutri-System.
They declined to say who she called.
Ms. Courtalis was supposed to close the shop between 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., depending on when the last customers left, Mr. Miller said.
The victim's key ring was found on the service desk at the front of the store, police said.
There was no blood evident outside the file room, which is about 30 feet down a corridor from the main store area.
Either the store's entrance door was unlocked or the door lock was defective, because the door gave way with a push when the group arrived to check on Ms. Courtalis about 5:30 a.m., police said.
The store is next to Martin's Eudowood, a catering hall, and police said that people attending a high school prom there confirmed that Ms. Courtalis' 1987 white Nissan Pulsar was parked overnight at a curb near the front of the store.