By Shayna Jacobs and Della Hasselle
MANHATTAN — A violent ex-convict charged with the gruesome murder of a woman found stuffed inside a suitcase on an East Harlem sidewalk told authorities he strangled the victim with an electrical cord before disposing of her belongings and dumping the body, prosecutors said.
Hassan Malik, 55, of East Harlem, was arraigned on charges of second-degree murder Tuesday, nearly a week after allegedly killing 28-year-old Betty Williams and leaving her body in a suitcase on East 114th Street.
Malik allegedly gave police a series of excuses for Williams' death, first claiming that he returned home to find her already dead in his apartment, and later changing his tale to say that she started a fight by hitting him on the shoulder with a frying pan, according to the criminal complaint.
Malik told police that he had been letting Williams stay in his apartment, and that he hit Williams twice on the back of the head with the pan in self-defense, the complaint said.
"The defendant then said that after striking her twice in the head with the frying pan she managed to wrap an electric cord around his neck but he ... was able to gain control of the electric cord, wrap it around her neck, and cause her to pass out. .. [he] stated shortly after she passed out he discovered she was dead," Malik's criminal complaint reads.
Malik "then admitted to discarding some of her personal belongings, packing her into a suitcase, and abandoning her in the street," the complaint added.
Prosecutors said he fled after dumping Williams' "partially clad" body, and had to be traced by phone records. They did not say where he went.
Sources said Malik is currently on probation after pleading guilty to attempted robbery for an incident in Manhattan in January. He was ordered held without bail Tuesday after prosecutors called him an extreme flight risk.
The NYPD questioned Malik as a result of a tip Monday because he matched the description of a man seen in a surveillance video dragging the suitcase near where Williams was discovered last week, police said. The News said police are no longer looking for a man in a second video released by police.
Williams' body was found near Rao's, a famed Italian restaurant, when a passerby unzipped the suitcase last Wednesday and Williams' leg popped out.
Malik's address is on Pleasant Avenue near 117th Street, just a few blocks from where the suitcase was found.
A neighbor of Malik's, who asked not to be identified, said he had seen Malik be taken out of the building in handcuffs before. The man, who's lived in the building for a decade, said the rumor in the building was that Malik was a former con man.
"He used to meet ladies on the internet, go to hotel rooms and rip them off," the neighbor said. "I was never frightened of him, he was such a friendly man."
The neigbor added that police camped out in front of the aparment building before arresting Malik on Monday. He said he saw officers taking boxes full of items from Malik's 4th-floor apartment. The neighbor said Malik told him he was from New Orleans when he moved in about nine months ago.
An aquaintence of Malik's said she was surprised by the allegations.
"We were so surprised. He always was so nice, he always said 'Hi, hello, how are you?' When we found out it was him from the word outside, I said, 'wow'," said superintent Flor Estin, 63, who works in the building next to Malik.
Malik's lawyer, Richard Ma, said his client was a drug counselor who lived with his family in the Bronx for 12 years before moving to Harlem earlier this year.