FREE-SPIRITED romantic that she was, Julia Papazian Law had big plans to recreate a magical scene from her favorite movie, "Moonstruck."
Law was excited about attending a performance next January of Puccini's "La Boheme," the opera featured in a memorable scene in the film, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. She especially wanted to see it with her new love, her boss, high-profile defense lawyer A. Charles Peruto Jr.
"She wanted to recreate the scene. We were going to dress up, have champagne. Chuck and I were going to wear tuxes," said Richard DeSipio, a lawyer in Peruto's law firm near Fitler Square. Law already had a dress in mind: anything like the black strapless gown worn by Cher in the scene.
"A movie about new lovers watching an opera about two new lovers," DeSipio said. "We wanted to recreate that magic for one night."
Law and Peruto began dating less than two months ago, DeSipio said. But the romance had a tragic end.
Saturday morning a maintenance worker found the dark-haired beauty facedown in a bathtub in Peruto's two-bedroom condo at 20th Street and Delancey Place, near Rittenhouse Square. Law, who had her own apartment in the same neighborhood, would have turned 27 today.
"The police told me they did not observe any signs of trauma or injury," DeSipio said.
"All who knew her will miss her kindness," Peruto, 58, told the Daily News in a text message yesterday from the Jersey Shore. Peruto was staying there with his son Chas and his family, including two granddaughters, one a newborn, DeSipio said.
Peruto later texted the People Paper: "She loved that she was 'the law' in our relationship. She can nvr b duplicated. I was the luckiest man alive. Didn't give a hoot about material things, just wanted to save the world."
An offer of help
In late April, Peruto contacted the High School for Creative and Performing Arts, seeking to help out when the school couldn't put on its annual musical because of a lack of funding.
It was too late in the process for the show to go on, but Law was thrilled, according to Peruto.
"Julia was so happy I reached out to CAPA and other people in need that she told me it was a big reason she loved me so much," Peruto wrote in a text. Later, he wrote, "That donation was more her idea than mine."
Peruto has a "similar spirit" to Law's, DeSipio said. "Everybody thinks he's all bravado, running around with beautiful women," DeSipio said. "He has a heart of gold and he loved her."
"The real Chuck wanted one woman he could love," he said, adding that Peruto wanted "romance."
The maintenance worker, who arrived at the condo to clean and maintain the home when Peruto was out, called 9-1-1 and then Peruto just after 10 a.m., DeSipio said. Medics on the scene pronounced Law dead at 10:24 a.m.
Police were still investigating the death yesterday. Results of an autopsy may be made public as soon as today, police said.
Peruto, who was staying with friends Saturday morning and overseeing construction on his new home in Avalon, N.J., jumped into his car when he received the call and headed back to Philadelphia, DeSipio said.
On his way back, Peruto called DeSipio, "crying, hysterical. . . . It was hard to understand him." DeSipio was in his own car, just off Interstate 95 near Street Road, when he got the call. He headed toward Peruto's condo to meet him there, he said.
Police and fire officials were "very compassionate and understanding" at the scene, DeSipio said.
DeSipio called Peruto to let him know that Law was dead. "He just lost it. [Police] could hear Chuck crying over the phone. I told him to 'focus on the driving, focus on the driving,' " DeSipio said.
Later, when Peruto was on the scene and police cleared out, the prominent lawyer made a decision out of respect for his girlfriend: Peruto scrubbed down and cleaned the bathroom, DeSipio said.
"He wanted to personally clean the bathroom," DeSipio said of Peruto. "He didn't want some stranger doing that. He wanted to give her that dignity."
Law had a key to Peruto's condo and "she loved his big bathtub," DeSipio said. It was a "huge soaking tub" with a resting area for feet.
Law had up-in-the-air plans for the Memorial Day weekend to visit her mother and sister in her hometown, Absecon, N.J. She was going to tell them that she was dating her boss, DeSipio said.
"Julia was struggling. She was very much in love with Chuck," DeSipio said. She hadn't told her family, he said, and Law had broken up with her former boyfriend before they started dating.
Co-workers from the law firm had received texts from Law up until 1 a.m. the morning of her death, he said.
She was playfully grousing to one colleague in a text that Peruto's condo was a real "bachelor's pad" because he didn't have any scented bubble bath, DeSipio said.
"The best," is how DeSipio described Law, who was partly of Armenian descent. "Just an amazing, amazing girl. Free spirit. Kind. Gentle. Wanted to enjoy the passions of life."
That passion included her dog Sophie, who died three months ago, and Peruto's pooch, Ralph. When she got the call from her mother, Law was in DeSipio's office and "collapsed" at the news, he said.
Law wanted to visit Rome to see Pope Francis. She "really loved" the new pope and how "humble and inspiring" he was. She especially liked that he picked the name of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals.
The staff at the Peruto law office was close, often socializing outside the office. A group from the office flew recently to South Florida for a stay at Peruto's home there. The office also celebrated a secretary's graduation from Temple University at her family's home, DeSipio said.
"It's not going to be the same" at the office, he said.
Although the case has not been declared a homicide, a police lieutenant in Homicide said: "Any time there is a suspicious death, it is investigated as a homicide. But we won't know for sure until the medical examiner's report is complete."
Peruto's tree-lined block of multimillion-dollar brownstones and Italianate mansions on Delancey Place, often described as one of the most beautiful and elegant blocks in Philadelphia, is also home to the Rosenbach Museum & Library, which occupies two buildings only a couple of doors down from Peruto's home.
The Rosenbach has the only known complete manuscript of James Joyce's Ulysses, which Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, an influential rare-book dealer, bought at an auction in New York in 1924. Also, the late writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, chose the Rosenbach to hold his collection of more than 10,000 works of art, manuscripts and books.
All of the houses on the south side of Delancey Place, including Peruto's, were built in the mid- to late-19th century and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today on PhillyDailyNews.com: View the photo gallery that accompanies this story and an earlier profile of Peruto from the Daily News archive.