Close friends of a former Niagara Falls woman said they didn't trust the new man who came into her life several months ago.
Investigators say those instincts were right.
Joann Lynette Gray, 46, was found dead over the weekend in the trunk of her 1986 Jaguar parked in a storage facility in Madison, Wis.
She had been missing from her home in Vero Beach, Fla., since the day after Christmas.
Investigators said Louis D. D'Angelo, 41, a man she met in a Niagara Falls bar and then brought back to Florida with her in November to work as a handyman, confessed to strangling her.
Gray's roof was damaged during hurricane season, and D'Angelo went to Florida to fix it, said Chris Baldassare, whose wife, Bernice, was one of Gray's close friends. "We had a bad feeling since the day she met him, and my wife told her to watch out," Chris Baldassare, of Youngstown, said Tuesday. He said family members had told Gray the same thing.
"Her problem was that she trusted everybody," Chris Baldassare said.
Bernice Baldassare and Gray grew up together in Niagara Falls. Gray graduated from Trott Vocational High School in 1977. "She fixed me up with my wife and was the maid of honor at our wedding," Chris Baldassare said.
He said Gray moved to Florida 22 years ago but spent summers in Western New York.
Eric Bloomquist, who hires guides for Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, said Gray worked for him part time last year, from April to late summer.
Chris Baldassare said nobody was really sure if Gray and D'Angelo were dating.
Gray, who had been known as Joann Fleener when she was married, went back to her maiden name after her divorce several years ago. She is the mother of a 19-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter.
Detective Keith Harmon of the Indian River County Sheriff's Department in Florida said Gray was last seen alive on Dec. 26 by family and friends in her Vero Beach, Fla., home, and that she and D'Angelo were driving together during that time in Gray's Jaguar.
Harmon and FBI Agent Mark Robel located D'Angelo in the city of Beaver Dam, Wis., and questioned him about Gray's disappearance. Harmon said that during the questioning D'Angelo, who gave investigators a Niagara Falls address, admitted to strangling Gray Dec. 26 in Florida and hiding her body in the trunk of the Jaguar.
D'Angelo told investigators he had been storing Gray's body in the trunk in a garage at a home in Beaver Dam where D'Angelo had been living with another woman, according to Beaver Dam police. D'Angelo admitted to Harmon that because "he knew that law enforcement was probably on to him and would be seeking a search warrant," he moved the Jaguar to a self-storage facility in Madison, Wis., on Jan. 15.
William Bedker, assistant district attorney in Dodge County, Wis., said the body was badly decomposed. Gray was identified based on fingerprint analysis and specific articles of jewelry on the body, according to court records.
"This is not a homicide in Wisconsin. We believe the homicide happened in Florida, and we can't tell what other jurisdictions will do," Bedker said of the homicide case.
Deputy Jeff Luther, spokesman for the Indian River County Sheriff's Department, said deputies are investigating the case as a homicide.
Bedker requested a high bail in court on Monday, which he said was based on D'Angelo's criminal history in New York, his failure to appear for court hearings and the seriousness of current offense. D'Angelo was held on $25,000 bail in Dodge Circuit Court in Wisconsin and charged with hiding a corpse with the intent to conceal a crime, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
He will likely be extradited to Florida to face a murder charge.
D'Angelo was arrested on Goat Island in Niagara Falls in 2001 in someone else's car, driving with a suspended license, invalid plates, and an unregistered and loaded semi-automatic handgun. In the five count indictment, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of criminal possession of a weapon. His disposition was unavailable Tuesday.
Luther said anyone with information should contact the Indian River County Sheriff's Department at (772) 978-6405 or Crime Stoppers at (800) 273-TIPS.