NEW YORK – Police in Panama are questioning an American woman in the brutal murder of a wealthy New York socialite whose charred and dismembered body was found by school children playing at a nearby soccer field.
The woman, identified as Debra Anne Ridley, was arrested after an apartment manager identified her as one of three people he saw carrying a large suitcase — believed to contain the remains of murder victim Toni Grossi-Abrams — out of his building early last Tuesday.
Grossi-Abrams' partially dismembered torso was found propped up behind a building near a soccer field a few miles from the apartment. Police say whoever killed her set the body on fire in a crude attempt to cover up the crime. The suitcase was found nearby.
Grossi-Abrams, 57, a well-to-do widow from Staten Island, N.Y., who lived in an exclusive condo and was an active real estate investor, was murdered in a "crime of passion," Panama City police said, the New York Daily News reported. Two other suspects, both Panamanians, were in custody.
While local police would not identify the three suspects, the Policia Tecnica Judicial, the country's main crime-fighting agency, identified the American woman as Debra Anne Ridley, 56, several sources reported. It was not known where in the U.S. Ridley was from, or how long she had been living in Panama. Police said she was a neighbor of Grossi-Abrams, and may have been renting an apartment from her.
Police said Ridley was a suspect because she had "cuts on her face" and blood under her fingernails that were the result of a struggle with Grossi-Abrams, according to published reports. Police said they matched the blood with samples found at Gross-Abrams' apartment.
The Panama City coroner's office identified Gross-Abrams' body on Wednesday.
Police said Grossi-Abrams, who was murdered just two days shy of turning 58, returned to her apartment in Panama City late Monday night after spending the evening at a local casino with a young Colombian man who worked as a handyman in her apartment building. It was not known whether one of the two Panamanians in custody was the handyman.
According to a posting Grossi-Abrams left on the dating Web site Match.com, she had only recently started dating again, after her husband died in 1998.
Policia Technica Judicial officials confirmed that they also were hunting two Colombians in connection with the case.