In a small hostel on an island in Panama — the kind vacationers can only access by water taxis or private boats — Yvonne Baldelli lived her last days.
She had packed her sewing machines and her King Charles Spaniel named Georgia Mae, and hopped on a plane bound for Panama’s Bocas del Toro with her boyfriend, Brian Karl Brimager.
But the Marine veteran had a secret.
Brimager was headed to a Caribbean island with Baldelli, but he was leaving a girlfriend and a daughter in California. From Panama, he emailed the woman, saying he planned to move back to San Diego to be a family man.
And soon, Baldelli found out.
Fearful that she would ruin it for him, federal prosecutors say, Brimager killed her “in order to silence her.”
They say he broke her nose and her teeth and stabbed her numerous times, and then he dragged her bleeding body to a shower, where he chopped it into pieces with a machete. He packed her torso into a military-style bag, put her limbs into trash bags and hauled the dismembered remains to a wooded area in the Panamanian jungle.
Hours later, federal prosecutors say, Brimager emailed a friend.
“Hey bro, whatcha up to?” he wrote. “I got stories for days. I’m living on an island off the coast of panama loving life and living semper free!!!!!!”
The gruesome account comes from the U.S. Department of Justice and from court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Southern California. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In 2013, Brimager was indicted by a grand jury for obstructing justice and making false statements to law enforcement in Baldelli’s killing and was arrested by federal agents at his home in Vista, near San Diego.
He was later charged with her murder.
On Wednesday, the 40-year-old was sentenced to 26 years in prison after pleading guilty to foreign murder of a U.S. national. Brimager was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine as well as $11,132 in restitution to Baldelli’s father.
“This murder was particularly cruel and depraved,” U.S. District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller said during sentencing. “The lengths Mr. Brimager went to to avoid detection were particularly brazen and ultimately shattering to the Baldelli family. I daresay they will never recover.
“A day may never go by without them thinking of Ms. Baldelli’s murder and the images seared into their psyches.”
By most accounts, Brimager and Baldelli’s relationship was tumultuous.
The couple started dating in 2009, broke up and then got back together. Two years in, it seemed, they were ready for a fresh start, heading south for Isla Carenero in the Bocas, according to court documents.
In September 2011, the two rented a room and, by all appearances, had settled in for a long haul.
But almost immediately, court records claim, Brimager began emailing his other girlfriend in San Diego, making plans to help raise their child.
In emails to friends, he did not mention Baldelli’s name.
Within weeks, Brimager had become violent toward Baldelli, physically abusing her, court records claim. “During these fights, Brimager struck Baldelli causing bruising around her eyes and on her arms,” according to the court documents.
The horrific end came two days after Thanksgiving.
On Nov. 26, 2011, the couple went to a restaurant and bar in the Bocas, according to court documents, and either later that night or early the next morning, Brimager killed Baldelli and disposed of her body.
He hurled their blood-stained mattress in the ocean.
He bagged her clothes, shoes and jewelry as trash.
He killed her King Charles Spaniel, authorities said.
And he put the machete up for sale online, jesting, “I only dismembered one stripper with it — it’s hardly used,” according to a sentencing memo.
Just weeks later, he was on a plane back to Southern California, where he was planning a wedding with his girlfriend, according to court records.
Shortly after, the two were married.
Baldelli, however, was now missing.
Brimager has objected to certain claims, including that he had beaten Baldelli in the days before her death and that he proposed to his girlfriend so soon upon his return, according to court documents.
Devin Burstein, one of his defense attorneys, said Baldelli’s killing came at the end of a slow and stormy relationship. On that night, the couple had been arguing, Burstein said, and the fight went too far.
“It was not a premeditated crime,” he told The Washington Post on Thursday in a phone interview. “It was a slow-moving train wreck. It was tragic, it was terrible — but Mr. Brimager is certainly not a monster.”
Burstein disputed claims that his client beat Baldelli, breaking her nose and her teeth. The lawyer did confirm that Brimager stabbed Baldelli in their room and then dragged her to the shower, where he cut her into pieces.
“Nobody is suggesting that this is her fault,” Burstein said. “But nobody should be judged on their worst mistake — and that’s really what this was.”
But it was Brimager’s elaborate and deliberate cover-up that the judge in the case said would be especially scarring for Baldelli’s family and friends.
For nearly two years, Baldelli’s body lay hidden down a secluded embankment on the island, according to the Justice Department. But federal authorities said Brimager took money from Baldelli’s bank account to make it appear that she was alive. They said he sent emails from her account so her loved ones wouldn’t suspect she was dead.
Days after Brimager killed her, he sent a note from her account to her sister, saying the relationship with Brimager was over and that she had fled to Costa Rica with a new man named Tony Gonzalez, according to court documents.
She “missed talking to mom,” he wrote to Baldelli’s sister, and was “starting to get a little homesick.”
Brimager even sent emails from his own account to Baldelli, asking her whether she had left Panama.
Over time, Baldelli’s family members became anxious, telling her in emails that they were worried.
In response to one email from Baldelli’s account, her sister wrote that she was “so glad” Baldelli had finally responded, according to a sentencing memo.
“Didn’t want to pry or bug but I was worried,” she wrote. “Wanted to make sure you weren’t kidnapped and someone pretending it was you. Ha ha. There’s my paranoid suspicious mind or maybe too many 48 hrs stories.”
Eventually, family and friends discovered something was terribly wrong: Baldelli was gone.
They set up a Facebook page called “Find Yvonne Baldelli” to help locate her and her dog.
The group’s name eventually changed to “Justice for Yvonne Baldelli,” after authorities said a Panamanian stumbled upon Baldelli’s skeletal remains.
“The day of reckoning has come for Brian Brimager,” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said Wednesday in a statement. “Not only did he show a callous disregard for Yvonne Baldelli’s life by viciously beating, stabbing, dismembering and dumping her in the jungle, but his words and actions in the hours, days and months following his horrendous crime exhibited an extreme lack of remorse. He stole a precious daughter, sister, aunt and friend, and now he is paying the price.”
In February, Brimager pleaded guilty in Baldelli’s slaying.
The Justice Department said he also admitted that he obstructed a murder investigation by destroying evidence, impersonating her in emails, withdrawing from her bank account and providing false statements to authorities.
Following Wednesday’s sentencing, Baldelli’s sister said Brimager does not deserve her family’s forgiveness.
“Today we got an apology — a hollow last-minute attempt to save himself,” Michelle Faust, Baldelli’s sister, told the court, according to the Justice Department. “Last night, we talked about forgiveness.
“But forgiveness is for those who repent, not for those who cover their crimes, not for those who confess only when their back’s against the wall.”