Gregarious, ‘Zen’ and, police say, a killer (2024)

The affluent area just outside D.C. was still dumbfounded by the brutal killing of a 50-year-old woman when Eugene Gligor got the question.

“Who do you think did it?”

At the time, it seemed like gossip from a friend’s mother who figured he must care, since he’d dated the victim’s daughter for about five years. Police had yet to make an arrest in the attack inside the family’s Chevy Chase, Md., home.

Gligor made eye contact with the woman, recalled a friend who witnessed the exchange. Then he replied. Steady and even-keeled, with an answer he would maintain for 23 years.

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

Now, that conversation is one of dozens that have haunted his friends and co-workers since last week, when police arrested Gligor, 44, on a charge of first-degree murder in the killing of his ex-girlfriend’s mother. After decades without answers, authorities said he was the one who, on May 2, 2001, strangled Leslie J. Preer and battered her head on the foyer floor.

“It was almost impossible to believe — like, Eugene?” said Jordan Weiers, Gligor’s mentee at a real estate company, where Weiers worked from 2018 to 2021. “I couldn’t imagine him hurting a fly.”

Police say that new analysis recently brought them closer to Gligor and that this month they matched his DNA to evidence from the crime scene. His brother and mother declined to comment, as did his attorney, Isabelle Raquin, citing a policy at her firm not to comment on active cases. He’s being held in the Montgomery County jail ahead of a hearing next month.

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Interviews with eight people who knew Gligor offer a stark contrast between the person described in court documents and the man he portrayed himself to be. The friends, some of whom have known him since high school, said they saw Gligor as warm and gregarious. One person described him as “Zen.” The only hints of trouble they could see came from a teenage knack for the mischievous and past struggles with alcohol — challenges later overshadowed by what appeared to be a commitment to personal growth and self-improvement.

Now they are turning over their memories, trying to parse fact from fiction, charisma from deceptiveness, the accused killer from their friend with thick-framed glasses and silky brown hair.

“He was a happy, positive person,” said Joseph McDermott, 34, who worked with Gligor at a real estate company, Homesnap, which has since been acquired by CoStar. “We are all just shocked.”

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As they grapple — most persuaded, even if stunned, that DNA evidence appears to connect Gligor to the killing — other court filings and anecdotes from acquaintances have surfaced that show potential warning signs.

A former wife once accused him of throwing objects, punching walls and yelling in her face, according to court records.

One former co-worker described how Gligor’s initial warmth gave way to condescending superiority.

Several of the friends spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of interfering with legal proceedings. The person who witnessed the conversation between Gligor and a friend’s mother after the killing said he feared backlash for being associated with Gligor.

Gligor was raised a 10-minute walk from the Preer family in the Kenwood section of Maryland, a neighborhood known for its close commute into Washington and a collection of cherry trees whose blossoms draw tourists wanting to avoid crowds at the Tidal Basin. He had an older brother and two highly educated parents. Court records show that his father was a tenured professor at the University of Maryland and ran a consulting firm; his mother worked for the World Bank before leaving the position to raise her two boys at home.

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By the time Leslie Preer’s daughter, Lauren Preer, and Gligor were dating as high school students, his parents were careening toward divorce, Lauren Preer said. Court records show a contentious process, with Virgil Gligor asserting that his wife “condoned the children’s shoplifting, drug use, and theft of money, alleging that they are part of the children’s ‘growth experiences.’” Judith Graves “vehemently” denied the assertion, according to the court records.

Eugene Gligor was expelled from a boarding school after two months in the year the couple’s divorce began, court records state without explanation. The divorce weighed on him, Lauren Preer said.

Virgil Gligor could not be reached, and Graves declined to comment. Officials at the Montgomery County Police Department declined to answer questions about Gligor’s childhood and work history, saying they’re not relevant to their investigation of Leslie Preer’s killing.

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Lauren Preer and two friends said they knew that Gligor could get into mischief in high school — like when he sprayed shaving cream into fans on his back patio and white dust covered his backyard. But none shared memories of violence; just time spent at his house on Brookside Drive, and at hers on Drummond Avenue.

He was a staple for years at the Preer home, where Lauren Preer remembered her mother cooking him meals.

Preer was so sure her then-boyfriend was sweet and sensitive that she marched down to a local police station — she believes sometime around 1995 — with her best friend to defend him when, she said, investigators thought he matched the description of someone who had assaulted a woman on the bike path between their houses.

Preer remembered her best friend showing officers how many boys in their class resembled Gligor.

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“We both said, there is no way Eugene would have done this,” Preer said.

The memory now enrages her as feelings of betrayal manifest.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Police Department, the county’s main law enforcement agency, said it had no record of reported assaults in the area from that time. Detectives are looking into whether it may have been handled by a smaller agency in the area.

Gligor and Preer broke up after a period of long-distance dating in a dissolution their friends recalled as mutual and uneventful.

His friends said he was enrolled in college at the time; his LinkedIn profile says he was at the University of Maryland Global Campus from 1999 to 2003.

Preer said she and Gligor saw each other a few times in the period following their split. She said that she could not recall exactly how long they had been broken up before her mom was killed but that they were both dating other people by then.

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Leslie Preer was found dead inside her house on Drummond Avenue. A detective later told a reporter it was a “pretty brutal crime scene.” Blood was in the foyer.

Hundreds of Lauren Preer’s friends and family members turned out to support her at the funeral. But Gligor, according to Preer and three friends, was not there.

Instead, he drove across the country to Portland, Ore., to visit a friend who said he learned of the trip when Gligor was already on his way.

The friend said he remembered thinking he would have gone to the funeral if he’d been in Gligor’s shoes, given the time he’d spent with the Preer family. The friend assumed it was just too much pressure for Gligor, he recalled — an explanation other friends recalled Gligor giving them at the time.

They figured he was telling the truth.

When he got to Portland, Gligor was especially talkative over breakfast at the Cup & Saucer Cafe, the friend said. Then, he assumed Gligor was on edge over something else. Now, he said, he wonders if Gligor was nervous.

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Back in Maryland, investigators had been collecting DNA evidence from Leslie Preer’s home and from under her fingernails — the latter a sign she’d tried to fight off her attacker. As the case went on, though, they could not match that DNA to anyone, including men who knew Preer and who were asked to provide DNA samples.

Police initially zeroed in on Preer’s husband as a suspect, but Lauren Preer said she knew he was innocent. Carl “Sandy” Preer died of septic shock in 2017. His daughter said he had repeatedly told her that there was “something off about” Gligor.

Nearly nine months after the homicide, a tipster reported concerns about Gligor to police, according to new court records. The tipster, a previous neighbor of Gligor’s, “thought that he may be somehow related to the Leslie Preer murder,” detectives wrote in a recent affidavit.

It appears investigators did not seek DNA from Gligor in 2002. “There’s no information in the case file to suggest that he was asked,” said Shiera Goff, a Montgomery police spokeswoman.

Decades passed.

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Gligor moved to New York and worked in the restaurant industry, multiple friends said. He got married, then divorced in 2015, court records show. He started working in business development. He visited a friend in San Diego. They went to the beach. He moved back to D.C. and hosted Super Bowl watch parties with his second wife. He played in multiple fantasy-football leagues and enjoyed fine dining.

During those years, three friends said, Gligor struggled at various points with alcoholism. They said they believed he went to rehab and became sober.

Many people knew Gligor had struggled with substance use, said Weiers, who met Gligor in 2018 at Homesnap and said he spoke openly about regularly attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. “But that was very much not who he was when I met him.”

The side of Gligor that Weiers and other colleagues saw, for the most part, was business-savvy, community-oriented and introspective. He was a member of the “culture crew” — a group responsible for organizing events in line with company values — and one year donated $1,000 to Community of Hope, a nonprofit that provides health care for underserved families in D.C., McDermott said.

Weiers recalled Gligor recommending a self-help book called “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom,” which offers a code of conduct to achieve “freedom, true happiness, and love.”

Another one of Gligor’s colleagues, Michael Kyle, 44, said Gligor could have a temper. He described him as defensive when challenged, like one time when Kyle confronted him about comments on a work call that he found problematic.

“Some people are receptive and warm,” Kyle said. “He does that at first when he meets everybody, but then is a giant, condescending prick.”

Still, neither his colleagues nor his friends said they were aware of any violent tendencies — or what was unfolding at his home.

In 2021, court records show, Gligor’s second wife sought a protective order against him, alleging that his behavior was unpredictable and scared her. The request was denied by a Montgomery County District Court commissioner because there was “no reasonable grounds to believe that abuse — as defined in the statute — occurred,” according to court records.

In her petition, the woman said Gligor had demonstrated erratic behavior off and on, such as throwing objects and punching walls. There’s no indication that charges were filed. A woman who answered a phone number listed under her name declined to comment.

Around the same time, Lauren Preer said, Gligor’s brother texted her saying he was worried that Gligor was going to hurt him. Preer, unsure of what to do and focused on taking care of herself, said she decided not to reply. His brother, reached by phone, declined to comment.

His friends said they knew that Gligor had gotten a divorce but that in the years before his arrest, he appeared to lead a happy life in and around D.C.

In their telling, he went to the National Archives, traveled, enjoyed a Wu-Tang Clan concert and continued to eat at the area’s finest restaurants. He spent Thanksgiving with a friend’s extended family. He started dating someone new.

On June 9, Gligor was at Dulles Airport. He opened a water bottle, drank from it and threw it away. Investigators quietly grabbed it and then tested it for his DNA.

A week later, Gligor texted a friend to wish him a happy Father’s Day. His friend asked what he was up to, according to messages reviewed by The Washington Post.

“Relaxing at home with the lady,” Gligor replied. “Been a busy week since back from Europe.”

He said he had finally gotten over jet lag.

Two days later, he was in handcuffs.

Gregarious, ‘Zen’ and, police say, a killer (2024)
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