When Kira Simonian, who had been beaten and stabbed to death, was buried, some things immediately struck her best friend as odd.

Simonian's grave was placed among those of family members, with no room to be joined later by her husband, Matthew Gretz. And he didn't attend the ceremony.

When second-degree murder charges were filed against Gretz on Friday, the picture became a bit clearer to Sonia Barrett Esler.

Barrett Esler, of the Chicago area, and Simonian had been friends for 10 years after meeting as bored employees at a furniture store in a suburban shopping mall near Chicago. They talked daily, even after Simonian and Gretz moved to Minneapolis a year ago so she could pursue her dream as an artist.

Friends and family members could only speculate about why Gretz might have stabbed his wife 15 times in the chest and neck, and smashed her head with a hammer on June 28, as authorities allege. According to the charges, during the attack, he chased her around their south Minneapolis apartment screaming, "Do you love me?"

Simonian, 32, had never hinted of any problems brewing in the marriage, Barrett Esler said.

A half-hour after police believe he killed his wife, Gretz took a cab to the airport and flew to New York for a business trip, police say.

"I have no idea why he did this," Barrett Esler said. "I hope he confesses."

Ron Meshbesher, Gretz's attorney, said he knows nothing about the case beyond the information contained in the criminal complaint. Gretz steadfastly maintains his innocence, he said.

"All I want to say is Matt has always been an honest and kind person," said his mother, Judith Worobec of Sheboygan, Wis., where Gretz grew up. "They were very happy together."

Simonian was a graduate student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She lived about a block away from the college with her husband, who worked in marketing at Target Corp. They had recently talked about moving back to Chicago, where they met.

Everything changed when Simonian's body was found by an apartment caretaker on the evening of June 28. Police had difficulty reaching Gretz in New York. They finally were able to interview him June 30.

Bruises, cuts on suspect

When they did, investigators noticed fresh bruises and cuts on his hands, arms and body. When a crime lab technician swabbed Gretz's fingernails for DNA, he asked her if she also did manicures, the criminal complaint said. Police found Simonian's blood on the suitcase he took to New York and on a watch he wore the day she died.

Gretz, 33, continued to work until he was arrested Wednesday outside a house in south Minneapolis. Police had been monitoring his whereabouts.

In a news conference announcing the arrest, Police Chief Tim Dolan said that "the suspect felt he had us beat, and he was more confident he wouldn't get caught as time went on."

Ferryl Simonian, Kira's mother, who lives in the Chicago area, said that she hasn't seen the criminal complaint but that she is well aware of the details of her daughter's death. She said she did not wish to comment further.

After Simonian's death, the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America issued a news release with information from the Rev. Aren Jebejian, who conducted her funeral service in Chicago. During the eulogy, he said, "This girl met Satan face to face."

Simonian's sister said after the arrest that the couple's "relationship appeared to be a good one." Barrett Esler echoed that sentiment, saying she referred to Gretz when she first met him as "Mr. Nice Guy."

Because she and Simonian were five years apart in age, they attended DePaul University in Chicago at separate times. There, Simonian received the Art Department's highest honor, she said.

Gretz met Simonian at her birthday party. Simonian's sister gave him Kira's telephone number, Barrett Esler said. Simonian had studied painting and had several pieces exhibited in Chicago galleries, and Gretz worked in marketing at the Chicago Tribune.

Simonian and Barrett Esler talked or e-mailed almost every day, often discussing the freelance work Simonian did for Barrett Esler's photography studio in Chicago.

"Kira would have told me if something was wrong, which makes this so hard to understand," she said. "Maybe there was a dark secret I didn't know about."

Jocelyn Gretz, Matthew's sister, said his relationship with Simonian was filled with love, friendship and humor, and "I admired them for that."

She said she was frustrated that police were quick to say that the public didn't need to be concerned about who killed Simonian because it wasn't a random act, and questioned whether they focused on her brother at the expense of other scenarios.

She said her brother has cooperated fully with police.

"I ask for the public's sympathy, including for my brother and the Simonians," Jocelyn Gretz said. "Kira is like a sister to me. I want her to be able to rest in peace."