The body of Sarai Michaels, 31, of La Crosse, Wis., was found around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday at Hotel Felix with multiple stab wounds and her throat slashed, officials said.
"She always had that attitude that she could handle herself, and I guess she got into a situation that was over her head," the woman's estranged husband, Stephen Michaels, said in a telephone conversation with NBC Chicago.
Officials ruled the death a homicide, and while no arrests have been made, police said they do not believe it was a random attack.
Stephen Michaels was delicate with his words in characterizing his wife's behavior, which included prostitution, according to court records.
"I know that in the past she had some issues with that type of a situation. She might have been doing some exotic dancing and things of that nature. I don't know how deep she got into that," he said.
The couple have been married for 11 years, he said, but separated a number of years ago. They never divorced.
Michaels said that when he spoke with his wife on the phone just two days ago, she lamented that she was "really struggling financially" and unable to afford proper legal counsel in her fight to regain custody of her children, who were in the care of Wisconsin's Department of Children and Families.
The couple had two children together, and Stephen Michaels said his wife recently had some domestic issues with her youngest child's father.
"Sarai and I were very close. When I spoke with her, I had been speaking with her quite often over the last four or five months... we've been talking constantly. She was talking about moving back to Minnesota and we were trying to get things together and even talking about a reconciliation," said Michaels.
The circumstances of the death aren't fully known, but a police source said one theory they're investigating is that Michaels was being held against her will in the hotel room and was attacked when she tried to leave.
Stephen Michaels said he has his own theories of who may be behind the homicide.
Hotel management said there was no unusual activity prior to the murder and that two guests were seen walking in and out of the hotel throughout the day.
Hotel general manager George Jordan said one person, a first-time guest, was registered to the room and two keys were issued. Jordan would not give the guest's name, but confirmed the hotel provided video surveillance to police.
"Absolutely no reason to have any fear whatsoever," Jordan said. "We do know the police took some people of interest into custody. This was not a random event, they knew each other."
News Affairs could not confirm anyone was taken into custody.
Hotel Felix is described as a, 225-room, four-star "boutique" hotel that opened in April 2009.
Early Tuesday police appeared to be looking for a car. They towed one car with Minnesota license plates in front of the hotel.