Fatal doses of anger, coincidence help to create tragedy in Towson

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Gina Courtalis and Robert Lipinski had much in common.

Both respected their elders, valued their families and had simple ambitions. She wanted to be a wife and mother. He wanted to be a construction worker.

But when they met, fate cast them in roles as adversaries; and their lives collided together with such violence that it destroyed them both.

Mr. Lipinski, a 27-year-old father of three, arrived late to clean the Towson office where Miss Courtalis worked.

The two got into an argument about it and he stabbed her to death, police allege.

Mr. Lipinski, who had no criminal record, became angry with Gina Courtalis shortly after he began cleaning the Nutri/Systems Weight Loss Center at the Towson Marketplace June 1.

Gina, a weight consultant at the center, was filling in for a friend that day. She was in a hurry to leave, so she could prepare for a dinner date, police said.

"He apparently wasn't cleaning fast enough, and one word led to another until it escalated," said Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger, a Baltimore County Police spokesman.

The two argued to a point where Mr. Lipinski became so angry that "he must have just snapped," Sergeant Doarnberger said.

Police say they have recovered the knife believed to be the murder weapon, and court documents indicate that Mr. Lipinski signed a confession the second time investigators talked to him. Bloody shoe prints found at the scene also match the type of shoes Mr. Lipinski was wearing, the court papers say.

"Maybe they did argue and maybe she did catch him on a bad day, but there's nothing that she could have done that would justify this kind of response. No way," said Mr. Lipinski's attorney, Walter Balint. "Now, both families will have to suffer for a long time to come."

Police say the crime was sparked by the fury within Mr. Lipinski, who was facing eviction because his landlord wanted to move his daughter into the Lipinski's two-bedroom apartment.

"He perceived his problems to be a whole lot more serious than they were, and he felt he couldn't deal with them, and he must have just snapped," said Mr. Balint.

Mr. Balint said in preparing the defense, he will likely will seek psychiatric evaluation of his client. None was ever performed before, because there was never any reason to believe he needed one. But that was before Mr. Lipinski got angry and took the knife in his hand, Mr. Balint said.

He said Mr. Lipinski arrived 90 minutes late to clean the office that afternoon because he had worked late the night before and had overslept that morning. Mr. Balint added that it was a tragic coincidence that Mr. Lipinski even had a knife that day. He was returning it to a friend who worked near the store, and he didn't usually carry one.

"He didn't know her at all. He had never met her before, and yet out of that one meeting, he caused so much pain and grief, for both of the families involved," Mr. Balint said.

Along with pain and grief, friends of victim and suspect expressed shock that the first encounter between the attractive, health-conscious 22-year-old woman and the Dundalk handyman could come to such a violent end.

"I can't believe he did what they said he did," said Roy Rayman, who lived downstairs from Mr. Lipinski for the year the suspect rented the third-floor apartment on Oakwood Road in Dundalk. "I'd seen his wife get mad and holler at him and all, and he would just stand there and take it."

Mr. Rayman said he got to be friends with the slightly builneighbor because Mr. Lipinski's three children -- aged 4, 2 and 1 -- would play with his own children, and they would take their families to carnivals and have backyard barbecues together.

He said that Mr. Lipinski took his family to a neighborhood parsix weeks ago for a birthday party for his 1-year-old son.

He said he knew he had to vacate his apartment by July 30, but he didn't seem too worried about it. "He spent the whole day cooking on the grill and taking care of the kids," said Mr. Rayman, 26. "It wasn't like he was worried about anything in particular."

Mr. Lipinski had been working for about six months for Genie Cleaners in Timonium and before that worked as a carpenter for a home improvement company.

At Dundalk High School, the 1982 graduate sang in the concert choir junior and senior year, listed his ambition for the high school yearbook as "construction worker" and was apparently nicknamed "Tex."

"A lot of the neighbors literally cried when they heard the news," said Darlene McKrush, who lives two doors from Mr. Lipinski's parents and watched him grow up in a neighborhood near the high school. "He was a good kid, he listened to his elders and he always did what he was told."

John Mavris, another neighbor from Oakwood Road, said a few weeks ago he saw Mr. Lipinski take some tools out of his Dodge pickup truck and assemble a child's crib in his front yard and then carry it into the apartment house.

"If someone like that killed someone, it kind of makes you wonder about everybody doesn't it?" said Mr. Mavris, the general manager of a neighborhood dry cleaners.

Through ties in the Greek American community, Mr. Mavris and his wife, Chris, are also acquainted with the Courtalis family.

"They're a wonderful family, and that makes it all the more painful just to think about," he said.

Nicholas Courtalis, Gina's brother, said their parents, Gus and .. Tina Courtalis, moved from Canada to Baltimore about 30 years ago and settled in a house on Moravia Road.

Gina's father opened the Green Hill Bar and Restaurant on the 4200 block of Erdman Avenue and operated it as a family business for 28 years.

Mr. Courtalis, 24, said that his sister's closest friends may have been her 17 cousins, who often got together for family picnics and holidays.

Like the rest of them, Gina learned to speak Greek at the church school affiliated with St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Baltimore.

The family moved to Darnall Road in Perry Hall about 15 years ago, and Gina went to Perry Hall High School, where she was in the student senate and the future business leaders club and was remembered as energetic and extremely popular.

Bruce Seward, guidance director at the high school, described her as a charismatic student who had little trouble making friends.

4 "Gina seemed to attract people to her," he said.

She graduated in 1986 and went to work at a series of sales jobs before being hired at Nutri/Systems about 18 months ago.

"She liked to work, she was good at sales and she liked to take care of herself," said Mr. Courtalis.

When the Holiday Spa in White Marsh opened, she joined and became a regular in aerobics classes, in the weight rooms and in the pool.

Robert Magersupp, the club manager and Nicholas Courtalis' friend, said that Gina's parents came to work at the club soon after she joined.

Her father worked on the custodial staff and her mother behind the juice bar.

"That's a family that's as tight knit and as loyal to each other as you could possibly be," Mr. Magersupp said. That much was evident in the wake of Gina's murder.

Some 60 members of Miss Courtalis' family showed up for Mr. Lipinski's bail hearing June 5 in Towson District Court.

Nicholas Courtalis said that the huge turnout was prompted by the family's sense of loss and outrage -- and to emphasize the importance that Gina Courtalis' killer be brought to justice.

"I really feel sorry for his wife and his three kids," said Mr. Courtalis. "The whole thing just doesn't make any sense."

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