NEIGHBOURS of Timothy Shepherd thought it was odd that he should spend two days barbecuing foul-smelling meat on two outdoor grills, especially while apparently distraught over the loss of his girlfriend to another man.
The unpalatable truth has allegedly emerged with the conclusion of a murder probe: police say he strangled her at his home, butchered her, and disposed of the evidence by grilling her remains.
Mr Shepherd (27), met Tynesha Stewart (19), while they were working at a Pizza Hut in Houston, Texas.
The relationship proved to be difficult from the beginning.
Mr Shepherd left Ms Stewart for the mother of his young daughter, then reunited with his former co-worker at Christmas, only for the relationship to fail again when Ms Stewart went to college.
That was when Mr Shepherd became jealous, always checking up on her, becoming suspicious of her male friends and allegedly tailing her in his car. Eventually, Ms Stewart met another man.
She was last seen alive on March 15 and reported missing on March 19.
The next day the Harris County Sheriff's Office homicide division decided to launch an investigation.
It was on March 16, however, that Mr Shepherd is alleged to have started burning the remains on his balcony.
Police claim that in a panic over how to get rid of the body, he decided to do what millions of other Americans do over the spring holiday weekend: light his grill.
However, cremating human flesh is not easy, requiring exceptionally high temperatures.
For two days neighbours complained of filthy black smoke and leaping flames from the second-floor apartment balcony in the Red Oak Place apartment block.
"The smell was awful," recalled Louis Evans, a neighbour, who was concerned about a fire.
"I was wondering: what is he burning? Not cooking, but burning. There is," he said, "a difference."
Mr Evans called the emergency services, but when the fire department turned up, the flames had been brought under control.
After originally focusing on a rubbish dump where it was thought Mr Shepherd had disposed of the body, detectives finally put two and two together.
Tommy Thomas, the Harris County Sheriff, said: "We have determined through this investigation that the defendant dismembered Tynesha Stewart and . . . he burned the body parts.
"There are no remaining body parts."
The discovery came amid an increasingly fraught debate among the authorities over whether to begin an expensive landfill search.
Mr Shepherd is now charged with murder and is being held on $250,000 (?187,000) bail.
"I just don't know what to think about it," said Mr Evans, the neighbour. "I thought he was a nice normal person.
"I guess you never know what your neighbours are doing." (© The Times, London)