'Frozen woman' murder shocks Croatian village

Lajla VESELICA
1 / 3
The family home, in the small Croatian town of Palovec, where a woman's body was found in the freezer

Shock and bewilderment have seized a small Croatian village where the body of a missing woman was found inside her sister's freezer at the weekend, a macabre discovery that has cracked open a 20-year-old cold case.

Jasmina Dominic had not been seen since she disappeared as a 23-year-old student in 2000.

On Saturday she was finally found inside the freezer on the ground floor of the home of her sister Smiljana Srnec in Palovec, a small but well-off village of neat, two-storey homes in northern Croatia.

The gruesome revelation has horrified the community and transfixed the country, with prosecutors pointing the finger at the elder sister who has been living in the house with the freezer all these years.

"Who is Smiljana Srnec?", one of the country's main newspapers, Vecernji List, asked in a headline on Tuesday morning, publishing a picture of the 45-year-old smiling with short hair and glasses.

An eerie unease has shrouded Palovec, which is home to around 900 people, most of whom have farms or work in a nearby shoe factory.

- State of shock -

The blinds have been closed at Srnec's white house while a car remains parked in the driveway.

According to local media, it was Srnec's son-in-law who found the body and alerted police on Saturday.

"No one in the village can sleep. We are all in the state of shock," said a 62-year-old neighbour who asked to remain anonymous.

The man said he was asked by police to serve as a witness to the search over the weekend.

"For two seconds I saw her crouched in the freezer, arms next to the body," he said, before recalling his memory of the two sisters.

"They were different ... Jasmina was nice, kept a low profile, studied in Zagreb, she was a hard-working kid, while Smiljana ... she was not liked that much, was not good in school," he said.

"It is an enigma," another neighbour piped in, shaking his head in disbelief.

A website that document's missing persons shows a photo of Dominic with a thin face framed by short hair. It says she went missing in August 2000, when her absence was noted both at her university in Zagreb and student job.

According to local reports, the sisters had been sharing the family house while their parents worked abroad.

- 'Time has stopped' -

Dominic's family did not officially declare her to be missing until 2005, when they told police that she said she was going to work on a cruise ship.

Police said they searched the house in vain and subjected the family to lie detector tests.

The father has since died, while the mother is currently working in Germany, according to neighbours.

"It feels as if time has stopped," municipal mayor Valentino Skvorc told AFP of the reaction in the village, where most neighbours are staying inside their and are unwilling to talk.

"Things like this usually happen in foreign TV series, but now the crime was committed by a neighbour ... People are upset," Skvorc added.

In the town's local bar, Stjepan, a retired mechanic, speculated about possible explanations.

"Maybe it was an accidental death, maybe the parents knew," the 60-year-old told AFP, sipping a beer.

"If Smiljana knew about the body all the time, it is really something sick. She was passing by it every day," he added.