NEW ORLEANS - Last week, when Benjamin Beale faced questions from a New Orleans police detective about his girlfriend’s disappearance, Beale told the investigator that he feared Julia Dardar may have taken her own life or overdosed on illegal substances.
Six days later, police raided Beale’s home in the Florida neighborhood and found a headless torso inside a deep freezer in a bus parked in the backyard, near a machine-powered saw that appeared to have flesh and fluids on the blade, according to court records filed in criminal court on Wednesday.
Authorities have stopped short of confirming that the torso belonged to Dardar, or claiming that she was murdered, saying the condition of the body prevented immediate identification or the determination of a cause of death. But police jailed Beale, 34, late Tuesday on a count of obstruction of justice, along with allegations that Beale was running a methamphetamine lab at his home, as Beale clearly became the prime suspect in the disappearance of the 36-year-old Dardar.
Beale, whom police described as male but whom acquaintances said preferred the non-binary pronoun "they," fell under police scrutiny after Dardar’s estranged husband went to police on Dec. 23 and reported her missing, saying she had left him and moved in with Beale at a home in the 2200 block of Pauline Street.
An officer then went to speak with Beale, who claimed Dardar had moved out the previous week, police wrote in court records. But Beale — who is also known as Kelley Kirkpatrick — allegedly added that Dardar had left all of her belongings, including her white Toyota Prius, and Beale wanted to report her missing because Beale feared she had been “suicidal.”
Beale elaborated on his statement on Jan. 5 during an interview with a detective at a New Orleans police station in St. Claude. Beale described fearing that she may have taken her life or overdosed at an abandoned U.S. Navy base in the Bywater that is frequented by squatters while they worked on a plan for her to move out.
Police said they asked Beale why Beale didn't try to find Dardar or report her missing. Beale told police he had lost his cell phone and didn’t know how else to contact the police, according to the records.
Officers subsequently obtained a warrant to search Beale’s home Tuesday, and during the raid, they spotted a power cord leading from Beale's home to a blue school bus parked in his backyard, the records said. Police followed the power cord to a deep freezer in the back of the bus.
Investigators looked inside the freezer and found what appeared to be the headless torso of a woman. The torso had a deep, linear cut along the left shoulder, which seemed to be inflicted after the woman had died, police wrote in court records.
Officers then noticed an ice chest nearby. They opened it to find a reciprocating saw that appeared to have “bits of flesh and fluid on the blade surface,” investigators wrote in the court records. There was also a plastic face shield, goggles and garbage bags near the freezer.
Authorities weren’t immediately able to conduct an autopsy or identify the person they had found because the body hadn’t thawed as of Tuesday evening, senior law enforcement sources said Wednesday.
Additionally, police alleged that they spotted various ingredients and pieces of equipment used to make methamphetamine during the raid on Beale’s property, which is a block away from an elementary school. They also confiscated Dardar’s credit cards and ID, as well as two guns, police said.
Police took Beale into custody and brought him to their headquarters on Broad Street for questioning.
He refused to make any other statements. Police booked him with obstruction of justice in a death investigation, operation of a clandestine lab for the unlawful manufacture of methamphetamine, and illegal drug and gun possession counts, investigators wrote in court records.
Beale hadn’t appeared for a bail hearing as of Wednesday morning.