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Argument preceded killing, man says

On the night of her death, ex-husband says, Alexandria Salem had fought with her daughter and a man over $1,300 stolen from a shoe store.

By Victoria Cherrie and Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
vcherrie@charlotteobserver.com

On the night she was killed, Alexandria Salem had a fight with her daughter and a 22-year-old man over $1,300 stolen from a shoe store where she worked, the victim's ex-husband told the Observer.

Tensions had been brewing for days over the money, and Daniel Pataki and Leslie Morales moved out of the apartment the trio shared in southwest Charlotte and planned to spend the night at the Motel 6 off Nations Ford Road and Interstate 77, said Salem's ex-husband, Daryl Dawkins.

Salem showed up at the motel room Sunday night demanding the money and keys, possibly from the store, Dawkins said.

More than a day later, police found her body in a plastic bag behind a South Boulevard dry cleaners. Morales and Pataki disappeared, but Virginia State Police officers pulled over the Chevy Cobalt they were driving Wednesday, about 150 miles from the crime scene.

Investigators from Charlotte-Mecklenburg were headed to Virginia on Wednesday evening to question the pair about events leading up to the killing.

Police have declined to say how Salem died or to give details about how they believe the crime played out. Investigators do suspect the missing money could be a motive, Deputy Chief David Graham said.

“This is a sad final chapter in a long novel,” Dawkins said. “It's been one heartache after another.”

Raised by her mother, Morales moved around from Mississippi to Florida and Boston.

“Sometimes they would live a couple weeks here and there – it was a very unstable childhood,” Dawkins said.

Salem, who struggled at times with excessive drinking, had a kind heart but a mean streak – a hot head, he said. As a little girl, Morales was often the victim of emotional and verbal abuse, Dawkins said.

But by other accounts, Morales, Salem and Pataki had a good relationship. Salem gave the couple money when they fell on hard times and even paid for a bus ticket when they were trying to move to Charlotte from California.

And on Salem's MySpace page, there are several notes from her daughter that end with “I love you and take care.”

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