By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — The body of a Bronx woman who was killed and stuffed in a suitcase last week was still laying at the morgue while officials searched for a family member to claim her, the medical examiner's office said.
Betty Williams, 28, would be held at the Medical Examiner's office for up to six weeks before her body has to be taken to the Potter's Field on Hart Island, where the city's unclaimed bodies are buried, officials said.
With no family identification, police were only able to identify Williams using her fingerprints. Williams' past remains shrouded in mystery, and the few details that have emerged paint the picture of a troubled past filled with arrests for drug possession and criminal trespassing and several stints at Rikers Island.
Police also said she had a history of prostitution, according to the New York Post and that that may have played a role in her murder.
Hassan Malik, 55, allegedly confessed to hitting Williams twice in the back of the head with a frying pan before strangling her with an electrical cord, prosecutors said at his arraignment.
Neighbors overheard a heated 45-minute argument the morning of the murder coming from Malik's apartment on Pleasant Street in East Harlem, in which a woman screamed "Daddy, no!" before going silent.
Malik is accused of stuffing Williams' body into a large black suitcase and dumping it in front of 435 E. 114th St. on Dec. 22.
Some neighbors at Williams' building said he had a reputation as a con man who met women on the Internet and ripped them off.
Melissa Broudo, staff attorney at the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center, said it was not uncommon for sex workers to suffer violence.
"Because of the stigma and discrimination sex workers face they are very frequently targeted by people looking to hurt someone," said Broudo. "Perpetrators know they are vulnerable because sex workers find it hard to report violence because they fear arrest."
A recent study found that 80 percent of city sex workers who were surveyed had experienced violence at the hands of their customers.
Despite the stigma facing sex workers, they deserved the same protections as everyone else, Broudo said.
"Sex workers are people's mother grandparents, children and siblings. Sex workers are so targeted but so stigmatized," Broudo said.