Ramon Antonio Vargas
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate
Two days after New Orleans police found a dismembered torso, human head, hands and other remains in a deep freezer aboard a bus parked outside a suspected meth lab, authorities were still waiting for the body parts to thaw to ascertain whether they belonged to a woman who had been living with the suspected lab operator, senior law enforcement sources said Thursday.
Meanwhile, court records documenting the suspected victim’s separation from her husband outline the depths of the struggle that Julia Dardar — a 36-year-old mother of two — was having with drug addiction and psychiatric issues before she was reported missing last month.
The investigation into Dardar’s disappearance led to Tuesday’s discovery of the frozen, mutilated corpse, along with a machine-powered saw covered in what appeared to be flesh and bodily fluids. It also prompted the arrest of the bus owner, Benjamin Beale, who remained jailed Thursday in lieu of $100,000 bail on allegations of obstructing justice in a death investigation as well as running an illegal drug lab.
Until the remains at the center of the case thaw and an autopsy can determine how the person died, it is unknown whether Beale will face murder charges. Police on Thursday had no way to know whether the grisly scene was the aftermath of a homicide, the attempted cover up of an overdose death, or other possible scenarios, according to the sources.
An Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office spokesman declined to comment Thursday on a timeline. The body parts must be defrosted in a refrigerator, which is a process that could take days.
Relatives of Dardar’s estranged husband, Micah Dardar, are bracing for the worst. Dardar posted a statement on Facebook early Wednesday calling Beale “demonic and demented” and urging authorities to ensure Beale can “never … hurt anyone again.”
Later, he posted a video of Julia Dardar dancing with the younger of their two daughters, along with the caption: “This is the Julia I want to remember.”
Before she went missing, Dardar and the scientist she married in 2003 were raising two girls, ages 13 and 17, in Slidell, according to their mutual friend Cheska Eymard.
Julia Dardar enjoyed working on cars as a mechanic and doting on her daughters, who inherited their mother’s artistic spirit. One wants to be a fashion designer, Eymard added.
But, at some point over the years, Julia Dardar became addicted to methamphetamines, which wreaked havoc on her mental state, Eymard said. Her sickness was bad enough that she once purchased drugs in front of one of the girls. She also put her hands on her daughter when family members pleaded for her to seek treatment, her husband alleged in divorce filings.
Dardar was estranged from her husband by June. He filed for divorce in August, court records show.
Even though Micah Dardar continued making sure his wife had money to support herself, Eymard said, Julia Dardar moved into Beale’s place in the 2200 block of Pauline Street in the Florida neighborhood, which police now suspect was outfitted with equipment to manufacture meth.
Beale, who uses the non-binary pronouns they and them, appears to have bonded with Dardar over their shared affinity for Burning Man, the free-form art and musical festival that is held in the Nevada desert. Eymard said she believes the pair were initially friends but then became lovers, even taking a trip to California together to pick up a bus that another late, so-called burner had left to Beale in his will.
The couple eventually returned. Then last month, Micah Dardar became worried when he spotted Beale driving his wife’s white Toyota Prius without her, Eymard said.
He reported Julia Dardar missing on Dec. 23 and directed police to Beale. Beale later told an officer that Dardar had moved out the previous week, and suggested that she might be suicidal, having left her car and belongings behind, police wrote in criminal court records.
Beale — who has also used the name Kelley Kirkpatrick — spoke again to a detective at a New Orleans police station in the St. Claude area on Jan. 5. Beale allegedly asserted 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.
But officers doubted Beale’s story because Beale had not suggested Dardar was missing or in peril until after her estranged husband had called the police.
Police raided Beale’s home Tuesday and found the human remains in a deep freezer plugged into the home via a long extension cord.
The torso had a deep, linear cut along the left shoulder, seemingly inflicted post-mortem, police wrote in court records. The other body parts detached from the torso were also frozen, with a reciprocating saw containing “bits of flesh and fluid on the blade surface nearby,” the court records added.
Furthermore, the records noted, there were goggles, a plastic face shield and garbage bags, all of which are useful to someone cutting up a body.
Police turned up equipment and ingredients used to produce meth during the rest of their search of the house, which is a block away from an elementary school.
They booked Beale on obstruction of justice and drug-related counts. Whether Beale faces more serious charges likely hinges on the autopsy findings.
Beale’s arrest sent shockwaves across New Orleans, with many knowing Beale for selling tooth gems on the street, spinning fire sticks and playing rave-style drum music.
For their part, Dardar’s daughters and estranged husband were left to come to grips with the developments and what they fear it means for their family.
“He’s just trying to take care of their girls and himself,” Eymard said.
Eymard then said she knew how Dardar would want to be remembered.
“She was a good mom who tried her best,” Eymard said. “The meth — meth is a horrible, horrible addiction.”
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