NYC squatters got engaged, spent big after stuffing slay victim in duffel bag, prosecutors say

NEW YORK — The young squatter couple accused of beating a Manhattan woman to death and stuffing her body in a duffel bag went on a wild shopping spree, got engaged while on the lam and even bought a diamond ring with the victim’s credit card to seal the deal, authorities said Thursday.

After fleeing to Pennsylvania and crashing the victim’s Lexus they stole from outside the murder scene, Halley Tejada,19, of Manhattan, and Kensly Alston, 18, of the Bronx, used the victim’s credit cards to go on a spending spree that included Apple AirPods, clothing, food, a PlayStation 5 and the ring, according to prosecutors.

Alston, despite the trouble she was in, fancied herself in love, authorities said. The couple had just celebrated her 18th birthday and wound up engaged by the time they were apprehended.

Tejada and Alston were charged Thursday in the death of Nadia Vitels inside the victim’s late mother’s apartment on E. 31st St. near Third Ave. in Kips Bay.

Tejada was escorted out of the 17th Precinct stationhouse dressed in a black shirt, gray sweatpants and flip-flop sandals.

“I’m innocent, I’m innocent,” he told reporters.

“Never,” he said before he was driven away.

Cops believe that the squatters were in Vitels’ mother’s apartment, which had been vacant for a few months, when the 52-year-old woman showed up on March 10 to prepare the pad for a family friend to live in. The victim’s arrival apparently caught the squatters by surprise and they attacked her.

Vitels’ son found his mother’s body, her foot sticking out of the duffel bag in a closet, as they frantically searched the apartment four days later.

Police believe the squatters had been there for a few days before Vitels came to the apartment after arriving from Spain.

“Kensly Alston and Halley Tejada allegedly murdered Nadia Vitels in her own apartment while she was moving in to start a new chapter of her life,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. “I send my deepest condolences to her friends and family as they continue to mourn her loss. My office will secure justice for Nadia Vitels.”

After allegedly beating the woman to death, the couple stole her Lexus and drove to Pennsylvania, where they crashed the vehicle in Lower Paxton Township, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles from where they were apprehended, police said.

They spent the next week wandering around the area, going to “multiple car dealerships trying to purchase a car for $1,000 which they (were) unable to do,” NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said.

Elizabeth Clerkin, an assistant district attorney, said Tejada yelled at Vitels that he would kill her after Vitels told the couple to leave the apartment.

The couple ended up chasing her into the bedroom.

“Tejada stomped on the head while (Alston) kicked the body,” Clerkin said. “She was still breathing.”

According to the prosecutor, Tejada stomped on Vitels’ head with his bare foot while Alston watched.

“You should put your shoes on before you hurt yourself,” Alston told him, according to Clerkin.

Alston confessed that after dragging Vitels’ body to the kitchen, “she held open the bag while defendant Tejada put Ms. Vitels’ body in the bag and that she was still breathing,” said the ADA.

An autopsy revealed Vitels died from blunt force trauma to the head, the city Medical Examiner said March 15, ruling her death a homicide.

Officials said Vitels’ wrists were bound with tape, her neck and ribs had cords wrapped around them and the Medical Examiner would ultimately find signs of blunt force trauma, rib fractures, bruising and a hinge fracture to the skull, Clerkin said.

Inside the apartment, officers found signs of a struggle, including a dented and broken sheetrock wall the victim’s head may have struck, police sources said.

After the Pennsylvania crash, authorities let them go because they did not know about the body in the apartment yet.

The couple took advantage of the break and celebrated their nine-day Pennsylvania jaunt with a spending spree, courtesy of their victim, Clerkin said.

“Ms. Alston explained how good their life had been in Pennsylvania,” she said.

Clerkin said security footage captured Alston and her accomplice as they walked around the secure lobby to gain access to the building, pausing before entering the apartment “as if waiting to see if anyone was inside.”

The last time Vitels was seen on surveillance footage was March 12 at 11:30 a.m. She was walking with her dog.

The victim was “never seen alive again,” Clerkin said.

Alston and Tejada were each charged with second-degree murder, burglary, robbery, criminal possession of stolen property, grand larceny and concealment of a human corpse.