Recent Grad Beaten, Strangled, Stuffed in Duffel Bag

UPDATE: A person of interest in the victim's death is now in police custody. More details here.

Philadelphia Police have identified the young woman whose body was found in a duffel bag this week as 23-year-old Laura Araujo, a recent graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia.

Araujo was about to start a new job at a local hotel and looking for a new place to live when she was murdered, Homicide Division Capt. James Clark said. Her body was found in front of an abandoned house in the Kensington section of the city -- hands and feet bound. She'd been beaten and strangled and her body tossed into a trash bag, wrapped in a blanket and then stuffed into the duffel bag.

The bag was left out on the sidewalk with the trash along the 2200 block of 3rd Street on Monday morning. All of Araujo's belongings sat nearby. She was discovered by a man who was going through the garbage. He immediately called police.

Clark says Araujo was in the midst of looking for a new apartment and had her "life's belongings" in her car at the time of her death. Police believe the person who killed Araujo stole her car, a 2011 Toyota Rav 4, took it to South Bambrey Street in South Philadelphia. There, it was set on fire.

"All her belongings were found where her body was found in North Philadelphia. So obviously, after the murder, after her body was dumped there, somebody took her vehicle to South Philadelphia and set it on fire to try to cover their tracks," said Clark.

Captain Clark says autopsy results revealed Araujo was killed four to eight hours before her body was discovered.

"Where she was killed, we still don't know," Clark said.

The victim was from the Bronx in New York, but had been living in Philadelphia for the last four to five years while earning her degree in Fashion Design. She graduated in December. From her LinkedIn page, Araujo appears to have been a standout student who was on the Dean's List and received "Best of Quarter" recognition for six different classes.

The school would not answer questions about Araujo "out of respect for the family," said communications director Devra Pransky, but issued this statement:

“We are sorry to learn that Laura Araujo, a 2013 graduate of The Art Institute of Philadelphia’s Fashion Marketing program, recently passed away. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Ms. Araujo’s family and friends at this difficult time."

Araujo's work outside school included tutoring children and adults who were learning English as a second language, according to her LinkedIn profile. She also listed work with community outreach programs in Oklahoma and Georgia. Clark described her as a smart girl with a bright future.

Her last residence was in the area of 8th and Diamond where she lived with two women friends until a few weeks ago, police said.

Authorities are waiting to talk to the friends, who are both on vacation. Araujo's mother said as far as she knew, her daughter didn't have a boyfriend. Her father said she never showed any signs of distress.

"She was a religious individual. Very methodical. Very selective with her friends and the people she related to most of the time," Lorenzo Araujo said.

Investigators don't have much to go on right now, Clark said. A $20,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest.

Anyone with information on this crime is urged to call Philadelphia's Homicide Unit.

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