An elderly man suspected of a series of murders in the United States, Belgium and Albania was discreet, pleasant and always obliging, neighbours in his homeland of Montenegro said.
Smail Tulja, 67, lived in Masline, a quiet suburb of the capital Podgorica, for years without giving the slightest indication of his alleged dark past, until local police acted on an FBI tip-off last week.
"Since he arrived in the district, 'Smajo' was an exemplary neighbour - pleasant, discreet and at pains to help everyone," said one local resident who wished to remain anonymous.
Tulja was detained in Podgorica on February 17 on suspicion of having carried out at least seven gruesome murders in the 1990s, five of them in Belgium, and one each in the United States and Albania.
DNA tests late last week linked him to the murder of his former wife, Mary Beal, whose mutilated body was found in New York, where he was working as a taxi driver at the time in 1990.
In the small, tight-knit community of Masline, the news landed like a bomb.
"Smajo was small, 1,60 metres tall at the most. He looked soft, likeable, and seemed nothing like a serial killer," said another neighbour who also requested anonymity.
The house that Tulja occupied in Podgorica, located close to an old military barracks, was built while he lived in the United States.
"He sent money and the construction of the house, which comprises four apartments was supervised by his cousins," said another local resident.
"Since his return to the country, Tulja lived off the rent he collected from these apartments and the financial assistance sent to him by his children."
Tulja lived alone but most local residents said they knew he had been married several times and had children, the majority of whom lived in the United States.
A few years ago, an Albanian woman, Remi, lived with him in Podgorica, said one of the neighbours. "She was a nice woman, but after a quarrel she returned to Albania and was never seen again."
Albanian police investigated Tulja for the alleged murder of his wife Remi in the late 1990s.
According to this neighbour, "Smajo" spent most of his time gardening.
"Once he insisted on me accompanying him downtown in his car. I accepted. He was very nice on the way. But since I learned the news (about the crimes of which he is suspected) the memory of this gives me goose bumps."
The tenants of Tulja's apartments also speak of their landlord as an exemplary character. "He never demanded the rent, and often agreed to wait a little," said one of them.
After having left New York, Tulja lived in Belgium until 1997 under another identity.
During this period five women were killed in Belgium, their dismembered bodies found in plastic bags throughout the western region of Mons in 1996 and 1997. The murders were never solved.
Ahead of the arrival in Montenegro of US and Belgian police, local authorities have widened their investigation to determine whether Tulja committed murders in his homeland.