Police were investigating the disappearance of Julia Dardar when they found a dismembered body in a freezer Tuesday in New Orleans.
Authorities stopped short of saying the headless torso belonged to Dardar, or asserting that she was murdered. They said the condition of the body prevents immediate identification or the determination of a cause of death.
Here’s what we know so far about the missing 36-year-old woman from authorities, family, friends and neighbors.
How long has Julia Dardar been missing?
Dardar’s estranged husband reported her missing two days before Christmas.
He said she had moved in with Benjamin Beale, 34, at a house in the 2300 block of Pauline Street (map) in the Florida neighborhood. The report prompted an officer to visit and speak with Beale, who said Dardar had moved out the previous week, records say.
Police describe Beale as male. Acquaintances said Beale uses the non-binary pronouns they and them.
Beale, who has also used the name Kelley Kirkpatrick, added that Dardar left behind all of her belongings, including her white Toyota Prius, and that Beale, too, wanted to report her missing out of concern she was “suicidal,” the records say.
How did Dardar and Beale know each other?
A Facebook post under the Kirkpatrick name suggested Beale and Dardar met sometime before June 2021. The post showed Beale thanking Dardar for helping with an elderly neighbor’s move.
More recently, Dardar and Beale – using the Kirkpatrick name – each started GoFundMe pages soliciting donations to support their return from a West Coast trip they had taken on a bus Beale inherited from a friend. Beale’s post lamented that the bus, which had made annual voyages to Burning Man for almost 20 years, had been vandalized and had otherwise deteriorated.
Dardar’s post described how she had helped repair the bus, and now she was “stuck on the West Coast with no funds to get home” to New Orleans, where she hoped to see her daughter receive a diploma.
“I am 1,800 miles from home” in California, she wrote on the GoFundMe page. “I need fuel, food and shelter. Although I have been sleeping in my car and hitting up food banks in order to get by, my back is screwed up from failed epidurals so it’s not the most comfortable place to sleep.”
How long had she lived in the house with Beale?
Neighbors said Beale had lived in the house for about a year. Dardar arrived more recently and lived in the school bus near the rear of the property, straddling an empty lot, said Tracy Pearson, who lives next door.
“She was a nice girl, always tried to work on the house,” Pearson said.
Dardar made it back to New Orleans after Hurricane Ida struck Aug. 29, and Beale followed later, Pearson said. The bus they posted about on GoFundMe, which was mostly white and had a red, reptilian-like eye painted above the windshield, was parked at Beale’s home on Wednesday.
Pearson said Beale and Dardar often walked their small black mixed-breed dogs together in the neighborhood. Beale would also spin firesticks, play loud rave-style drum music and try to sell tooth gems.
“The only thing I heard was a lot of funny music,” said another neighbor across the street who would not be identified. “Boom, boom, boom. No real music.”
Neighbor saw her earlier this month
The day before police found the severed torso, Beale invited a neighbor over for a visit.
Mike Major, who lives across the street, told Beale on that visit that he’d recently seen Dardar walking down the block.
“He’s like, ‘You didn’t. She’s been missing. Unless you saw a ghost, bro,’” Major recounted.
On Monday, a day before police arrested Benjamin Beale after finding a severed torso in a school bus on his property, Beale invited a neighbor…
Major said he told police the same thing when detectives first showed up on the block last Friday.
“I wasn’t the only one who saw her. That’s what kind of sickens me,” Major said, standing in his backyard on Wednesday. “She looked skinny as f**k.”
“Now I know he was using me as a tool,” Major said. “He wanted an alibi.”
What did police find at the house?
Officers obtained a warrant to search Beale’s home Tuesday. During the raid, they spotted a power cord leading from Beale’s home to a blue school bus parked in the 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.
The body was found inside a deep freezer in a bus parked at a New Orleans home.
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.
What happened to Julia Dardar?
The investigation is ongoing and police have not confirmed the body they found belongs to Dardar. They also don’t know the manner of death.
Beale spoke to a detective at a New Orleans police station in the St. Claude area on Jan. 5. Beale described fretting that Dardar had either taken her life or overdosed in Bywater at an abandoned U.S. Navy base that is frequented by squatters, while Beale worked on a plan for her to move out.
A Facebook user who identified herself as Dardar’s mother-in-law posted that she helped her son pick up Dardar’s car and other belongings from Beale’s house on Jan. 5, the same day Beale was interrogated.
“I was parked less than 50 [feet] from the bus … and had no clue,” the woman wrote. “If anyone else is involved in this atrocious act against my family you will be caught. … You hurt my grandchildren and I am hell bent that you will, too, one way or another.”
Is anyone charged in her death?
No. She has not been officially declared dead. Officials have not confirmed the identity of the body they found in the freezer.
After the search Tuesday, they took Beale to police headquarters for questioning, authorities said, and Beale refused to provide a statement.
Resident booked with obstructing justice, after telling police she likely killed herself or overdosed
Beale was then arrested and charged with obstruction of justice in a death investigation, operation of a clandestine lab illegally manufacturing meth and illegal drug and gun possession.
Magistrate Court Commissioner Albert Thibodeaux set Beale’s bail at $400,000. Beale remained in custody as of Thursday morning.