CHRISTOPHER Murray said his wife was "a beautiful woman; a loving, caring mother, a fabulous friend."
No one in Northeast Philadelphia would dispute that. Connie Murray was all those things and more.
But before he clammed up on a Daily News reporter Wednesday night - the day police released autopsy results revealing that his wife had been slain - Murray said something else.
Not that he wanted the public's help in tracking down her killer. He said he wanted to move on, one day after her body was found in Pennypack Park.
"This is devastating, and I know you're just doing your job, but I have two small girls and I really don't want to discuss this," Murray told a reporter flatly. "I just want this to go away."
It didn't go away, and neither did the Philly detectives who were quietly closing in on Murray, 48, as the prime suspect in the death of his 46-year-old wife.
"Whenever you have a dead woman, you kind of start at the significant other, then work out from there," Homicide Lt. Philip Riehl said yesterday.
Police sifted through bad tips, but didn't have to expand the investigation. Murray flunked a lie-detector test administered by State Police on Saturday and confessed to strangling his wife beside two park benches, officials said. He was charged with her murder yesterday.
"I believe they went there to have a conversation," Riehl said, "and things went bad."
Christopher Murray initially reported Connie Murray missing about 2 a.m. Tuesday. He said she was last seen leaving their home on Tolbut Street near Ashton Road about 9 p.m. Monday for her regular jog.
But Riehl said Murray left out the part about allegedly following her to the park in his Ford Taurus - which was captured by a surveillance camera - and choking her to death with his own hands during a heated argument, then ditching her cellphone in a sewer.
He's 6 feet 2, 210 pounds. She was born without her right arm below the elbow. A neighbor walking a dog stumbled upon Murray's body near the Crispin Recreation Center about 6 a.m. Tuesday.
"The reality was he became a suspect early on and remained a suspect until he confessed," Riehl said of Christopher Murray. "There was a lot of good police work that went into this."
Murray's story raised eyebrows from the beginning. For instance, Riehl said, he never contacted his wife's friends or relatives to see if she was with them before calling hospitals and police.
"It seemed almost a show," he said.
The Murrays have two daughters, ages 12 and 15.
"They had the funeral scheduled, and now they're going to find out today that their father has been charged in their mother's death," Riehl said.
The services were scheduled for last night and today at John F. Givnish Funeral Home, 10975 Academy Road, Northeast Philadelphia.
The family's neighbors on their well-kept block said the news of the arrest came as a shock, a final twist to a murder mystery that seemed to catch everyone off guard.
Police sources say that Christopher Murray claimed he "blacked out" and strangled his wife, and that the couple had argued before. Tipsters had called investigators saying he was having an affair, a source said. Connie Murray's "likes" on Facebook include the "She's a Homewrecker" website, which exposes women who get involved with other women's husbands and boyfriends.
"I think it was more of a rage incident more than premeditated," Riehl said, adding that there had been "some ongoing domestic discord between the two."
Parked outside their brick rowhouse yesterday was a minivan with a Crispin Cheerleading sticker on the rear window. A welcome flag and a lawn ornament of a boy holding a frog were in the red mulch. There was a hand-painted sign above the mailbox: "The Murrays."
Some neighbors talked about Christopher Murray in the past tense, as if the man they knew was gone, too, and as if the Murray daughters had lost both parents, not just their mother.
"They were great people. Very, very nice," said a Tolbut Street resident. "We never suspected this."
Two weeks ago, Connie Murray changed her Facebook profile photo to one of herself with her husband, both smiling. She wore a dress and faux pearls, he had on a suit and paisley tie.
Cops say Christopher Murray has expressed remorse, including in his written confession.
"Obviously, there's no celebration in this case," Riehl said, "but perhaps the people that play and exercise in the area of Pennypack Park can have a sigh of relief because there is not a predator lurking in the area."