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Authorities Seek Answers After Italian Student Found Stabbed, Strangled In Harlem

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Rita Morelli was found dead inside her Harlem apartment. (credit: CBS 2 | Handout)

Rita Morelli was found dead inside her Harlem apartment. (credit: CBS 2 | Handout)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A murder mystery has hit Manhattan after a student from Italy was found stabbed and strangled in her own apartment.

Rita Morelli, 36, came to New York from Italy five years ago and was found murdered in her apartment on East 120th in Harlem last Wednesday night. She attended Hunter College and worked at an Upper East Side restaurant.

Morelli lived with a boyfriend, who worked in the same restaurant. Police said the boyfriend was at work at the time of the killing. He came home, found the apartment door open and the place ransacked.

Waitress Kate Dulub said everyone who works in her restaurant is shaken by the killing of her co-worker.

“She was the most kindhearted person I ever knew,” she told CBS 2’s John Slattery.

Morelli was found with her throat slit. The medical examiner said she was also stabbed in the chest and had been strangled.

Police said that earlier, someone had seen her in front of her building with a man that the witness did not recognize. It is not known if that man went to her apartment.

Dulub said Morelli was very smart and would not have opened her door for someone she didn’t know.

“It sounds like she was being tricked into opening the door. I don’t think it was random. I think she knew who the person was,” Dulub said.

Neighbor Sonia Soto said the building’s buzzer works, but the intercom doesn’t.

“I wish I would have been able to at least help her,” Soto said.

With no cameras inside the building or out in front, police are hoping forensic evidence from inside will help them catch a killer.

Morelli’s body will be flown back to Italy later this week.

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