DEDHAM — The next-door neighbor of a Russian immigrant who lived in Needham has been charged with brutally killing Laura Shifrina, who was 81, and stealing her car.
Shifrina was found dead May 31 by her daughter in her apartment in a Needham public housing development for senior citizens and people with disabilities.
Shifrina’s 2011 Ford Fiesta, a car that she took pride in and drove regularly, was missing, as was a sum of cash that Shifrina had been saving for dental work, which her daughter said might have totaled as much as $3,000, according to court records.
At the arraignment for the neighbor, Tammie Patrice Galloway, 47, in Dedham District Court Friday, Assistant Norfolk District Attorney Greg Connor said Shifrina had cuts to her neck, including one that severed her jugular vein, as well as broken ribs and cuts to her left arm.
In an early interview with police, Galloway claimed she had a “good relationship” with Shifrina, Connor said.
But the investigation found that after Shifrina was seen attending a funeral and then grocery shopping on the afternoon of May 28, Galloway viciously attacked Shifrina and stole her car, Connor said.
Galloway spent the night of May 28 at a family friend’s home in Dorchester, where she was seen carrying a purple purse that later tested positive for blood that matched Shifrina’s DNA, Connor said.
Security video shows a woman matching Galloway’s description leaving the Dorchester home on the morning of May 29 carrying a container of bleach and later wiping down the stolen car, including the door handles, Connor said.
Shifrina’s car was found June 1, with a city parking ticket underneath a windshield wiper. The car smelled overwhelmingly of bleach and had “streak marks” that appeared to come from cleaning, according to an affidavit filed in court.
A man who had a relationship with Galloway told investigators that on May 30, she gave him a gift of new sneakers and about $60 in cash and flashed a large wad of bills, which was unusual for her, according to Connor and the affidavit.
Phone records also showed that two calls to that man were made from Shifrina’s missing cellphone on the evening of May 28, after Galloway had allegedly killed Shifrina, according to the affidavit.
Investigators found surveillance video that showed a car that appeared to be Shifrina’s Ford Fiesta traveling north on Granite Avenue in Dorchester at the time of the second call. Call records also placed the cellphone in that area at that time, according to prosecutors.
Investigators also found that on June 3, Galloway bought a new cellphone and accessories using $300 in cash and paid an outstanding phone bill using $60 in cash.
The prosecutor said Galloway had a lengthy criminal record that included a drug offense and a violent crime in North Carolina in the 1990s. In a rare occurrence, officials had kept Galloway’s name secret until her arraignment. It wasn’t immediately clear why.
Shifrina was a Jewish refugee who immigrated to the United States about 15 years ago with her daughter and her family. She worked for the Moscow Aviation Institute as a computer software engineer before coming to America, a friend, Aleksandr Yufa, told the Globe. She was an active member of the Massachusetts Club of Russian Speaking Scientists and edited a bulletin called “Intellect.”
Yufa attended Friday’s arraignment and afterward told reporters, “It’s hard to believe that such people like the defendant exist in our country.”
He said he was relieved that police had arrested a suspect but horrified by the circumstances of his friend’s death, which he had learned about in much greater detail in the courtroom.
“She was an excellent person, high-level professional, and dear friend,” Yufa said.
Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey said outside the courthouse that Needham police and the State Police had “worked day and night to get us to this point.”
Morrissey acknowledged that the killing had disturbed and frightened residents of the Needham housing complex where Shifrina lived.
“We want the people, particularly the elderly residents in the complex . . . to feel, hopefully, some ease that we now have, at least, brought a person to the courthouse for arraignment to begin that long judicial process to conviction for murder,” he said.
Brad Walker, who lives one building away from Shifrina’s apartment, said he was suspicious after a “strange” interaction with Galloway days before the death was discovered.
“She knocked on my door late at night and asked if she could borrow some tools, a hammer, to hang some photos,” Walker said.
“It was very odd; I had never talked to her before.”
He said he thinks the fact that Galloway is being held without bail will comfort his quiet neighborhood, which had been left unnerved by the murder.
“I certainly have a sense of relief, big time,” he said.
Another neighbor, who asked that her name not be published, said Friday that Galloway had lived in the complex for less than a year. She did not know why Galloway, who is decades younger than most residents at the complex, was living there.
The executive director of the Needham Housing Authority did not immediately respond Friday to an inquiry about Galloway.
The woman said Galloway had seemed fine at first, but that neighbors had observed increasingly erratic behavior from her over time.
“She pretty much kept to herself,” observed the neighbor, who said she has lived in that part of Needham for about a decade.
She described the complex as “a very, very close-knit community” that had been shocked by Shifrina’s brutal killing.
“That woman was so nice. Never said boo to anyone,” she said. “An elegant lady.”
Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story misstated Galloway’s middle name.