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Gainesville woman found dead in car trunk in Minnesota

Suspect already charged in slaying of 2nd woman in Minnesota

POSTED: May 30, 2013 12:03 a.m.

BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. — A woman’s body, found May 20 in the trunk of a car in Minnesota, was identified Wednesday as a Gainesville woman.

The body of Klaressa Lorayne Cook, 24, was found last week in a car towed April 11 from a Brooklyn Park grocery store to a wrecker lot near downtown Minneapolis. The cause of death is still being investigated.

Brooklyn Park police said Wednesday that detectives have identified 24-year-old Alberto Palmer as the suspect in the case.

Police said he is also charged in the death of a St. Paul woman whose body was found in an impounded car this winter.

Palmer is indicted in Anoka County on a first-degree murder charge in the death of 18-year-old Brittany Clardy. 

Clardy’s body was found Feb. 21, hidden under bedding in her mother’s car at a Columbia Heights impound lot. The car had been towed from a Brooklyn Park apartment complex.

Police warned at the time that the case could be “the tip of the iceberg.”

Prosecutors say Clardy was working as a prostitute when Palmer solicited sex from her on Backpage.com, a site known for facilitating sex trafficking.

He had sex with her in his brother’s Brooklyn Park home. A struggle ensued afterward, and he choked her and then struck her in the head with a hammer before hiding her body in the car, according to court documents.

The Hennepin County medical examiner’s office said the cause and manner of Cook’s death need further investigation.

Cook wanted to see the world. 

Even growing up in Georgia, she was prone to exploration, her mother, Regina Dean, said Wednesday from Gainesville. 

“She started going when she was just a baby and never stopped,” Dean said. “She spoke all her life about how whenever she got grown up she was going to head up (out of) here and see other places.” 

In her early 20s, Cook started saving for her travel. Her income source, her mother said, was prostitution. 

Last year, Cook left home for Las Vegas, New York, Phoenix and, most recently, Minnesota. 

Palmer is wanted in Georgia on charges that he violently attacked at least three prostitutes — also solicited via Backpage.com — last year.

He allegedly bound and gagged one woman, wrapped her in blankets and put her in a plastic storage container in her car.

Chamblee, Ga., police said she escaped hours later.

They also said they believed his behavior could escalate to homicide.

Detective Sgt. Ernesto Ford from the Chamblee Police Department, who previously investigated Palmer, said charges against Palmer included rape, kidnapping and false imprisonment.

“We suspect he had fled Georgia before Christmas, maybe the first two weeks of December,” he said.

Ford said the district attorney’s office in DeKalb County has indicated it would pursue charges if the case against Palmer in Minnesota moves forward.

“They would extradite Mr. Palmer to Georgia, yes,” Ford said.

Palmer was arrested March 6 at a Woodbury residence where he has associates and relatives.

The Anoka County Sheriff’s Department said Palmer tried to contact at least 30 women on Backpage.com after Clardy’s death. He remains jailed in Anoka County.

Brooklyn Park police have not said whether Cook was working as a prostitute at the time of her death, but Dean said it wouldn’t surprise her if her daughter was. 

“She didn’t have a problem with doing that to pay her way,” Dean said. “I tried all the time to tell her to stop, but she was a headstrong young woman. She would say, ‘I can take care of myself mom. I’m being careful.’“ 

No charges have been filed against Palmer in Cook’s death, and Brooklyn Park police are tight-lipped about the reason he has surfaced as their primary suspect.

“The only thing I can say at this time is that evidence we have gathered in our investigation points us in that direction,” said Inspector Todd Millburn, spokesman for Brooklyn Park police. “But this investigation is not complete; it continues on.”

He would not elaborate on how long Cook might have been living in Minneapolis before her death, nor what brought her to the area.

Dean said she last spoke with her daughter in late January, when she called Cook to remind her to wish her brother a happy birthday. 

“She seemed happy with her life. She was getting a new car and saving up money to go to California,” Dean said. 

Though it wasn’t unusual for Cook to slip out of contact with family and friends on occasion, Dean said she began to worry when it appeared nobody had heard from her by March. 

Messages left on her cellphone and on Facebook went unreturned, Dean said. 

The family was contacted by Brooklyn Park police about her death Friday. 

“I am heartbroken. All of us down here are heartbroken,” Dean said. “She was my heart.” 

The oldest of six children, Dean said, Cook fiercely loved and protected her siblings. 

“They fought like cats and dogs, but they always made up,” Dean said. “She had a beautiful heart. She was such a giving person.” 

Cook’s family plans to cremate her body and sprinkle the ashes in the mountains between Georgia and Tennessee, where the young woman’s father lives. 

That way the “gypsy soul” can “go where she wants to,” Dean said.

Millburn said police chose to release Palmer’s name as the lead suspect to reassure the public they do not believe there is a risk to public safety.

It’s unclear when charges might be filed against Palmer in Hennepin County, Millburn said.

Anoka County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Paul Sommer said his investigators were aware of the possible connection between Palmer and Cook’s death, adding their own investigation into Clardy’s homicide raised red flags about his past.

“We knew there was a possibility he had other victims because of his past conduct in Atlanta and his conduct here,” Palmer said.

He and Millburn said neither agency has any reason to believe Palmer may be linked to other open cases.

“We don’t have any specific information that there may be any other victims locally, but we continue to do our due diligence with our investigation,” Millburn said.

Times staff writer Emma Witman and Pioneer Press writers Marino Eccher and Sarah Horner and staff researcher Pat Thraen contributed to this report.


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