A married couple died Saturday in a murder-suicide in broad daylight along a busy Columbia Heights thoroughfare, after the wife had made plans to leave her husband, a relative said.

Seconds after hearing gunshots about 10:30 a.m., a Columbia Heights police officer who was just a half-block away found the bodies of the couple in the parking lot of Asia Chow Mein, 4905 Central Av. NE. Police say they believe the man shot his wife before turning the gun on himself.

"It does appear at this time that this was a murder-suicide," Columbia Heights Police Chief Scott Nadeau said at the scene Saturday, adding that the "tragic turn of events" is one of the deadly outcomes of domestic disputes that all law enforcement jurisdictions have been working harder to prevent.

For a time Saturday morning and afternoon, many drivers caught in a brief detour caused by the demolition of a nearby pedestrian bridge passed by oblivious to the grim scene -- two bodies lying under bloodstained white sheets in the parking lot of the closed restaurant.

Near the man's body lay a handgun. Near the woman's body was a red pet carrier with what appeared to be a cat still inside. The cat, which wasn't harmed, was later taken away.

Only a few feet away from both bodies was the couple's Buick, apparently hastily parked with the driver's door still open. Its license plate, NJT JFT, bore the initials of both couples.

Though police have not yet officially identified the couple, public records identified them as Jozef Franz Tomasovic, 66, and his wife, Natalia Jurjevna Tomasovic, 55. They lived only blocks away from the shooting scene in an immaculately landscaped home in the 4900 block of Fillmore Street NE., where they had lived for about 10 years.

Neither of the two appeared to have a criminal record of any kind.

Jozef Tomasovic's sister, Eva Gisselberg of Sleepy Eye, Minn., was babysitting her grandchildren in Bloomington Saturday afternoon when she learned of her brother and sister-in-law's deaths from a reporter. She said she hadn't spoken much to her brother in recent years after a falling-out over who would care for their aging mother.

When most of family members moved from Czechoslovakia to America in 1969, Jozef went to South Africa, arriving in the United States in 1997, Gisselberg said. He had two grown children and three grandchildren from a previous marriage in Czechoslovakia, she said. Her brother, a retired car salesman, had no children with Natalia Tomasovic, his second wife, Gisselberg said.

"We knew her well enough and met her only when she came to visit my mom," she said of Natalia. "I knew she was a very intelligent, beautiful woman. We got along together as women, but had no close relationship."

Gisselberg said that a week ago, Tomasovic's adult daughter called her from the Czech Republic, asking her what was happening with her father's relationship with his wife, saying she believed the two were having problems.

"I called him afterward and he said everything was OK," Gisselberg said. "But according to my niece, his wife was leaving him."

Neighbors: No hint of trouble

Like the parking lot where their bodies were found, the Tomasovic home was surrounded by yellow crime scene tape Saturday. A red pickup sat in the driveway and a "For sale" sign was stuck from the grass as police milled about.

Jozef Tomasovic "was a real nice guy, a very nice, nice person," said Albert Kordiak, who lives a few houses away. "He'd always be in his yard landscaping, and I would speak Slovakian to him. He was always kind and polite and appreciative that someone could speak his native language."

Nadeau, who said the case remains under investigation, would not say whether the couple had a history of domestic violence or whether a note had been left behind. Because of construction at the intersection of Central and 49th Avenues NE., along with busy nearby businesses, plenty of reliable witnesses are available to be interviewed, he added.

Among them is likely to be a neighbor who asked not to be identified, who while retrieving her mail saw the woman walking down the street, pet carrier in hand. The white Buick was following her, the neighbor said, and the man and woman appeared to be talking. The neighbor did not notice whether they were arguing and returned to her house without hearing any gunshots.

Christina Vescio, who lives down the block from the couple, said she didn't know the couple well. She frequently saw the husband outside, but rarely the wife.

"He was very quiet, always working on his bushes," she said. "I didn't know he was married. I've tried smiling, or to be friendly, but he'd just give me a look and go back to his business."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921