A Woodbury man, wanted in Georgia on charges of attacking three women he met through online escort services, has been arrested in the death of an 18-year-old St. Paul woman whose body was found in a car in a Columbia Heights impound lot.
Alberto Prece Palmer, 23, is expected to be charged Friday in the death last month of Brittany Clardy.
Anoka County authorities said Thursday that, unknown to her family, Clardy had been working as a prostitute and that Palmer met her through the online website backpage.com.
That allegedly was the same site Palmer used to meet the three women in Georgia, where one was nearly beaten to death, according to a police sergeant in that state.
Friends and family had described Clardy, who lived with her parents in St. Paul, as “a good kid who wasn’t looking for trouble.”
“We’re trying to grieve for our daughter,” said Alvin Clardy, who said he was unaware of his daughter’s purported secret life. “There’s still an investigation going on. We’ll get answers in time. We want to let the police do their job.”
At a news conference Thursday, authorities said they were led to Palmer after discovering “several” prepaid cellphones in Clardy’s car. Phone records led authorities to “clients,” said Anoka County Police Cmdr. Paul Sommer.
Police wouldn’t say how or when Clardy was killed. She was last seen Feb. 11, when she left home to go to a store.
“She hugged my nephew and said she’d be back,” said Shavala Steward, 23, of St. Paul. Steward said she had known Clardy for 12 years and is the best friend of Clardy’s sister.
Authorities said Clardy died at a home in the 8400 block of Kentucky Avenue N. in Brooklyn Park. They said it has been occupied by “associates” and relatives of Palmer.
The car, which belonged to Clardy’s parents, was then left at an apartment complex in Brooklyn Park and ultimately towed to an impound lot in Columbia Heights. Her frozen body was found eight days later, on Feb. 21.
“The fashion she was found in left detectives with very little to work with,” said Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart. But there were “electronic footprints,” he said, referring to the cellphones in the car.
“It’s our belief that Palmer was a client,” Sommer said.
Palmer, arrested Wednesday at his Woodbury apartment after a search there and at the Brooklyn Park house, “has made some admissions of his involvement,” Sommer said.
Charges in Georgia
Palmer has been charged in connection with three sexual and physical assaults of women in Georgia last year, said Sgt. Ernesto Ford of the Chamblee Police Department. One of the women allegedly was held hostage for 19 hours and was beaten nearly to death, Ford said. “We may have more victims than what we know about,” he said.
In 2009, Palmer served prison time in Cook County, Ill., for stealing a car.
He moved to Chamblee, 15 miles northeast of Atlanta, in August to cook and help run a chicken and waffle restaurant. Ford said he was considered an excellent cook.
The assaults in which Palmer is charged occurred in September and December.
In each case, the assailant had consensual sex and then attacked the women unprovoked, said Ford. He said police believed Palmer was the main suspect after each attack and missed arresting him several times by minutes.
The first victim told police she fought with her assailant for 30 minutes. He became exhausted and the woman was able to flee, said Ford.
The second was repeatedly assaulted during a 19-hour period Dec. 11, the charges say. The 32-year-old woman agreed to be interviewed by the Star Tribune by telephone as she sat in Ford’s office.
She said she was an escort and had talked to Palmer on the telephone a day before she allegedly was attacked. When they met in person, she said they had sex and he paid her. They made some small talk and he walked her to the door.
“He acted like a gentleman,” she said. “Then he reached around and started beating me. I don’t know why he did this.”
She described an ordeal in which she was choked, passed out and had her legs and arms bound, was raped, forced to stay in a closet much of the time and tossed in a car with her arms and legs taped before managing to free herself.
The Minnesota case
A number of law enforcement agencies have worked on the investigation in the Minnesota case: In addition to the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, they include the Washington and Hennepin county sheriff’s offices and the Columbia Heights, Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center and Woodbury police departments.
Clardy attended Highland Park High School in St. Paul until she left in January 2012. That same month, she enrolled at Gordon Parks High School in St. Paul, but didn’t graduate.
City officials said she worked for the Park and Recreation Department for parts of 2009 and 2010, and a family friend said she worked at a child-care program.
“She wasn’t looking for trouble,” Shavala Steward said.