Robert Patrick Lipinski, charged in the fatal stabbing of a Towson diet center employee, was described by neighbors yesterday as a quiet, family man who played often with his three kids and had cookouts on the front lawn of their small apartment building in Dundalk.
"It seems sort of hard to believe," said Roy Rayman, who has lived downstairs from Mr. Lipinski and his family for the past 18 months. "It's a shocking story. He didn't seem like a criminal at all. He seemed like a normal man and a family man. He was a nice guy."
Mr. Lipinski was charged Tuesday in the weekend stabbing death of 22-year-old Gina Courtalis, whose body was discovered early Sunday in the Nutri-Systems Weight Loss Center in Towson where she worked. Mr. Lipinski, 27, was employed by the cleaning service contracted by the diet center.
The suspect was ordered held without bail yesterday after a hearing conducted under unusually tight security in Towson District Court.
Mr. Rayman said his family and the Lipinskis had grown close in recent months, watching their children play together in the front of the apartment building where both families lived and attending community carnivals and birthday parties of each other's children.
Mr. Lipinski and his wife, Nina, have three children, ages 4, 2 and 1.
On Sunday evening, Mr. Rayman said, he sat on the front steps of the building with his wife, Ruth, and talked with Mr. Lipinski.
"He asked, 'Did you hear about the girl that got killed?' " Mr. Rayman said. "I was suspicious because he was talking about it before it came on the news."
According to affidavits filed in the courthouse, Mr. Lipinski told the police that he killed Ms. Courtalis, of the 4200 block of Darnall Road, Perry Hall, after an argument at the diet center, located at the Towson Market Place in the 1200 block of Putty Hill Avenue.
They said the suspect, who was employed by Genie Cleaning Services, had gone to the weight-loss center Saturday to clean the building.
Ms. Courtalis, who was to go to her parents' house for dinner with her boyfriend, apparently complained to the suspect that he was taking too long, police said.
The situation escalated to a point where, the suspect allegedly told police, he simply "lost it" and stabbed the victim several times in the back.
Partial shoe impressions similar to those of shoes worn by the suspect were found in blood smears at the crime scene, according to the affidavits. A knife believed to have been the murder weapon was recovered and is being examined by crime lab technicians, police said.
At the 9:30 a.m. bail review hearing in Towson yesterday, security was tightened after Baltimore County police said they received information that the suspect's life might be in danger.
The police declined to provide any details.
"Because of the great number of people going into the courtroom and the strong emotions, we saw a need to make sure that we handled our obligations to the accused and preserve the safety," said E. Jay Miller, a police spokesman.
Judge Lawrence R. Daniels said he asked that the first couple of rows of seats in the courtroom be left vacant to provide a buffer zone between the audience and the judicial proceedings. Mr. Miller said plainclothes and uniformed officers were assigned inside and outside the courthouse.
But the hearing for Mr. Lipinski, of the first block of Oakwood Road, proceeded without any problems as at least 60 members of the victim's family crowded into Judge Daniels' courtroom.
A few soft cries were heard during the brief proceedings, that ended with Mr. Lipinski being remanded to the Baltimore County Detention Center without bail to await trial.