On the phone, Julie Scully sounded unusually serious. Just back from a Caribbean cruise last February with her husband, Tim Nist, she told her friend Cheryl Chuplis that she had important news. "We met at a diner and she started telling me about this cruise and how she'd met this guy George," says Chuplis, a model who knew her friend's marriage was already on the rocks. George, it turned out, was Giorgos Skiadopoulos, a Greek-born engineer on the luxury liner Galaxy, on which Scully had sailed for seven days. Recalls Chuplis: "She said, 'He's so loving, he's so compassionate.' She said he gave her so much attention and she really liked him."

Now it appears that Scully, 31, a pretty, outgoing woman who sometimes worked as a swimsuit model, had allowed her desperate neediness to cloud her judgment. According to Greek police, Skiadopoulos, 24, murdered and dismembered Scully in a jealous rage on Jan. 8. Though horrified by the turn of events, Scully's friends say they weren't entirely surprised. They describe Skiadopoulos as an obsessive manipulator who took advantage of Scully's vulnerability—a man with a dark side to which his victim seemed oddly oblivious. "She knew George was possessive and jealous, but she thought that was a good quality," says her close friend Valerie Smith. "She thought it meant he loved her."

And love, above all, was what Julie Scully craved. When she was 10 years old, growing up in Philadelphia, her father, a police officer, left the family, and Julie, say friends, always had a difficult relationship with her mother, who worked in a shoe repair store. At 17, Scully was briefly married to a representative of an electronics company, and in 1991, at age 23, she wed Tim Nist, then 35, now the owner of a successful New Jersey landscaping business. They settled in Mansfield, near Trenton, the state capital, and Julie soon became a local celebrity, appearing 10 times in circulation-boosting swim-suit photos in the tabloid Trentonian newspaper. Headstrong by nature, Scully even went on The Maury Povich Show to defend cheesecake shots against charges that they exploit women. In 1995 she and her husband had a daughter, Katie, and all seemed well. "The happiest I ever knew her was when she was with Tim," says Valerie Smith. "He gave her everything—security, freedom."

Yet Scully suffered from depression, and by the fall of 1997 it had become aggravated by the daily grind of working for her husband, taking courses at Burlington County Community College and the usual burdens of motherhood. "She thought she could do all three, and if she couldn't she was a failure," says friend Tracey Allen. Hanging over everything was the fact that Scully and Nist's already rocky marriage was continuing to deteriorate. Hoping to make things better, Scully began seeing a therapist.

As they did every year, she and Nist took a cruise in November. But it was aboard the 797-foot luxury ship Galaxy that she met Skiadopoulos. Nist remembers sitting on the beach, when the ship dropped anchor off the Dominican Republic, and seeing his wife talking to a man in the water whom he had never seen before. A few minutes later Julie came over and introduced her husband to Skiadopoulos, who seemed obviously taken with her. "I imagine he was infatuated with her looks," says Nist, who didn't feel threatened. "I'm not the jealous type. You can't have a swim-suit model for a wife and be jealous." For the rest of that cruise, Skiadopoulos, who came from the town of Kavala on the Aegean Sea and was the son of an officer and first engineer who served on cruise lines, hovered around Scully, chatting with her whenever he had a chance.

After Scully returned from the cruise, Skiadopoulos kept up his pursuit, calling her frequently at home. It was clear to her friends that she was flattered by the attention. "He kept calling and wooing her," says Allen. Then, a few months later, in February, Scully made an unusual proposal to her husband: that they go on the same cruise again. This time, Scully later told confidants, she and Skiadopoulos became lovers. And in the weeks after the cruise, Skiadopoulos phoned her constantly. "George was always whispering in her ear, 'I love you, you're everything to me, you'll never be sad again,' and that's what she needed to hear," says Allen. "He was just a predator." If so, Scully was willing prey. "She became obsessed with him," says Valerie Smith. "She had to be there for his calls, and if he didn't call she became depressed." Their affair became obvious that spring when Nist opened the phone bill and found $1,200 in charges, many of them direct to Galaxy.

By June she and Nist had separated. By August Skiadopoulos had left his job and moved in with Scully. Her friends and family weren't impressed. "When I met him I thought he was the ugliest man I ever saw," says Julie's mother, Julia Scully. "I was at a loss for words." His behavior, too, was distracting. At one dinner attended by some old friends of Scully's he seemed to have her under his thumb. "He was by her side every second," says close friend Susan White. "I'm not exaggerating. If she went to the bathroom, he would follow and wait by the door." But the most troubling episode involved Scully's mother. During a minor quarrel between her and Julie, Skiadopoulos suddenly interceded and allegedly tried to choke the mother. Julia Scully now believes that part of his motive for pursuing her daughter was a desire to get a piece of the $600,000 divorce settlement she stood to receive from Nist over the next three years. "To my dying day, I will never know what Julie saw in him," says her mother. "He's the worst kind of scum."

Still, he displayed considerable affection toward Scully. And in early December she was making plans to join him in Greece. Skiadopoulos had insisted that she leave 3-year-old Katie with Nist, maintaining that his family had to get used to the idea that she already had a child. Julie reluctantly agreed, expecting that she and her daughter would eventually be reunited. On Dec. 6 she flew to Greece, but within days seemed to regret her decision and called friends telling them how much she missed Katie. Then, on Jan. 10, Skiadopoulos phoned Susan White to say Scully had vanished. White and Allen waited a few days, then urged Nist to hire a private detective in Greece. The investigator turned up evidence that Skiadopoulos had a violent streak and at the age of 14 had pushed his father down some stairs during an argument; the father told the man that under stress his son would become a "monster whose eyes would turn black." Using a wiretap, the investigator quickly obtained incriminating tapes of Skiadopoulos telling a relative about killing Scully.

When police brought Skiadopoulos in for questioning, he readily confessed to killing Scully to keep her from returning to the U.S. He allegedly described in clinical detail how in the early evening of Jan. 8 he and Scully had set out from Kavala for the 10-hour drive to Athens to pick up her furniture. Along the way they got into a quarrel and he drove the Fiat down a dirt road. He began to choke her, and she screamed. According to a statement released by police, he said, "Confused, I was afraid and pressed against her throat more so she wouldn't scream." Realizing she was dead, he tried to burn her body, then attempted to stuff it in a suitcase. When it didn't fit he got a hacksaw and cut her head off. Then he flung the suitcase into a swamp and the head into the Aegean Sea.

Now awaiting trial in a Kavala jail, Skiadopoulos faces life without parole if convicted. But for Scully's friends and family, no punishment will ease the regret they feel over not preventing the tragedy. "You always think you could have done more," says Smith sadly. "But no matter what you said, Julie was going to do what she wanted to do."

Bill Hewitt
Jennifer Longley and Matt Birkbeck in Mansfield and Toula Vlahou in Kavala

  • Contributors:
  • Jennifer Longley,
  • Matt Birkbeck,
  • Toula Vlahou.