Vacation Romance Ends in Gruesome Murder
We’ve all felt like we’ve hit rock bottom at some point in our lives. Whether it’s dissatisfaction with a job or relationship or something more serious like clinical depression or a mid-life crisis, hopefully, most of us get the help we need to pull through to the other side.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for 31-year old Julie Scully. Julie was an unhappily married woman craving love and acceptance. She thought the answer to all of her problems lay in the arms of another man. Obsessed with the prospect of starting a new life, Julie divorced her husband, abandoned her 3-year old daughter, and moved to Greece to be with her new fiancé.
Not surprisingly, within weeks of moving across the world, Julie realized that she had made a terrible mistake in leaving her daughter behind. Tragically, she would be murdered at the hands of her lover before she could undo her actions and move back home.
Julie was somewhat of a celebrity in her hometown of Trenton, New Jersey. In the 1990s, the former model frequently appeared in bikinis in the “Page Six Girl” feature of Trenton’s tabloid newspaper. Her stunning looks and bright white smile made her popular with the tabloid’s readership. Julie craved the limelight and was sad to see that part of her life fade away when she became a wife and mother.
On the surface, Julie seemingly had it all: an adoring husband, a sweet little girl, a house in an affluent neighborhood, and local celebrity status. But on the inside, Julie struggled with crippling insecurity and post-partum depression. Trying to juggle motherhood while obtaining her college degree further overwhelmed Julie and widened the emotional cracks in her marriage.
By all accounts, her then-husband, Tim Nist, seemed like a good man and a faithful partner. But he was oblivious to the gravity of their marital issues. He naively thought a vacation would do the trick, and the couple set sail for a Caribbean cruise in November 1997.
Julie meets George Skiadopoulos
Instead of rekindling their romance, Julie fell hard for another man: 22-year old Greek petty officer George Skiadopoulos. He worshipped Julie and showered her with compliments and affection. Julie’s husband was used to men flocking around his attractive, outgoing wife, so he didn’t see George as a threat.
Julie was smitten with the younger man, and she convinced her still clueless husband to go on another cruise a few months later so that she could reunite with her “Georgie.” After the second cruise, Julie and George began a passionate relationship over the phone and fax messages. When Tim saw phone bills in the thousands(long-distance affairs were apparently much more expensive pre-internet), he finally confronted Julie, and she confessed to her infidelity. Shortly after that, Julie filed for divorce and agreed to move to Greece only after George assured her that she would frequently return to visit her daughter.
In December 1998, Julie left her entire life behind in New Jersey and excitedly looked forward to a fresh start in Kavala, George’s hometown. The new couple filed for a marriage license and planned to marry as soon as possible.
Julie’s friends notice warning signs
Julie’s friends and family unanimously disapproved of George. They could not possibly understand what Julie saw in this frumpy man who had quit his job on the cruise ship and was currently living with his parents. “I think he showed so much love for her that it overwhelmed her,” said one close friend. “She was just so needy.”
On the other hand, it was obvious what George saw in Julie. Not only was she beautiful and outgoing, but she brought to the relationship a $600,000 divorce settlement, with which she promised to set George up in a taxi cab business.
Much more alarming than his unimpressive looks and credentials, George was controlling, possessive, and had a frightening temper. On one occasion, he threatened to strangle Julie’s mother during an argument. As a private investigator would uncover later, George had a history of violence, including attacking his father. Furthermore, his entire family worried about his mental state as he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
It was only a matter of time before Julie saw her fantasy life turn into paradise lost. Kavala was a small town that was bustling during the tourist season but bleak in the winter when Julie arrived. She didn’t speak Greek, she didn’t get along with her in-laws, and she missed her daughter terribly. She called her family on January 6, 1999, and told them that she wanted to return home.
It seemed like Julie had finally returned to her senses, which is why her friends were alarmed when George called them two days later to say that Julie had disappeared after the two had fought, leaving behind her passport and credit cards. They immediately suspected that George had a hand in her disappearance. However, they feared alienating George, who was their only link to Julie. Her friends continued to contact him and took it upon themselves to reach out to media outlets and the US embassy, with little assistance from the Kavala police.
A break in the case finally occurred when George returned a rental car, and the rental car company detected a foul odor like that of a dead animal coming from the car’s inside. The trunk revealed traces of blood. Sixteen days after Julie’s disappearance, George cracked under police interrogation, and he admitted to killing his fiancée.
According to George, on January 8, 1999, while driving to Athens to pick up their marriage license, Julie called off the engagement and informed him that she was moving back to New Jersey.
George panicked. All of a sudden, his trophy girlfriend, $600,000, and the promise of a new business venture had disappeared. In a jealous rage, he started choking Julie and ultimately strangled her with his bare hands.
Panicking at what he had done, George drove to a gas station and tried to burn her body but was unsuccessful. He instead stuffed her naked body into a suitcase, cutting off her head with a hacksaw to make it fit, and threw the suitcase into a nearby swamp. Finally, he took Julie’s head and threw it into the Aegean Sea, his sick explanation being that the sea is where they had first met. With the body disposed of, he began plotting his cover story.
Investigators were able to recover the suitcase and retrieve Julie’s abused corpse. Divers searched the Aegean Sea but could not find her head. In 2001, a tourist stumbled upon a skull that had washed up on the shore near Kavala that investigators believe is Julie’s.
George was charged with murder and initially sentenced to life. An appeals court lowered his sentence, and he ended up serving only eight years. Today, George is remarried and still lives in Kavala. I can’t decide if his wife is the most trustworthy or foolish woman alive. He is extraordinarily lucky to live in a country that believes in rehabilitation more than incarceration. I hope that he received the mental help that he desperately needs, although I’m sure that is little comfort to Julie’s heartbroken friends and family.
We all know a Julie Scully. Someone whose life is Instagram-perfect, but who on the inside is profoundly broken and unhappy. I know that I’ve been a version of Julie in the past. I’ve convinced myself that if only I could be “X” or date “Y” or have “Z,” then my life would be perfect. Who hasn’t wished at some point for a fresh start?
Like all of us, Julie wasn’t perfect, and she made horrible mistakes, but she didn’t deserve to die a brutal death thousands of miles from home. “She [was] a girl who just wanted to be loved,” said her ex-husband. I wish I could go back in time and make Julie understand that she already had the very thing she was searching for: unconditional love.
She had friends who tirelessly searched for her when she went missing, working against different time zones, language barriers, and bureaucratic red tape. She had a daughter who cherished her. A mother who tried to protect her. People who mourned for her. It was her relationships, not her looks, that made her so lucky. We often think love is about passion and lust and excitement. But the people in Julie’s life showed her through their loyalty, devotion, and selfless actions what true love is.