Police eye link between car, slaying


While family and friends mourned the loss of Gina Courtalis yesterday, Baltimore County police continued their investigation into the fatal stabbing Saturday of the young clerk at a Towson weight-loss center.

Police were awaiting the results of an autopsy report to determine the time of death for Ms. Courtalis, 22, of Perry Hall, who did not return home Saturday from the Nutri-System Weight Loss Center at the Towson Marketplace.

Police, accompanied by Ms. Courtalis' family, discovered the young woman's car parked in the shopping center lot early Sunday morning and later found her body in a rear file room of the business.

The center remained closed yesterday as police searched for clues that may lead them to a suspect or determine a motive for the slaying. Ms. Courtalis was last known to be alive about 1:30 p.m. Saturday, when she made a phone call from the center shortly before closing time.

Police were investigating whether a rental car reported missing about the same time from the shopping center parking lot may be connected with the slaying. The car was later found in Pennsylvania.

Members of the Courtalis family declined to speak to reporters about Gina, one of three children.

Patti Stewart, 20, a childhood friend of the victim, expressed the shock and deep regret many neighbors felt as they learned of the slaying.

"The Courtalises are such a wonderful, close-knit family -- it's such a shame it had to happen," Ms. Stewart said.

She reminisced about the fun times she and Gina Courtalis shared growing up together, attending the same school and remaining good friends even as the pair sought separate careers.

"Gina was lively -- really good-looking and outgoing with a sense of humor -- like someone you would see at a party who was always having a great time," Ms. Stewart said. "She was just naturally popular."

Ms. Stewart said her friend worked briefly as a secretary after graduating from Perry Hall High School and was hired 18 months ago as a clerk at the weight-loss center.

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