American vanishes in Panama, FBI investigates

(CBS News) Officials in Panama may be close to finding out what happened to Yvonne Baldelli, a California woman who vanished there five months ago.

Tuesday, a Panamanian official said the FBI is investigating a person of interest in the case, Baldelli's boyfriend, Brian Brimager. The investigation will take place in the United States.

Last September, Baldelli moved to Panama looking for a fresh start. Along for the journey were Brimager, and her dog, Georgia Mae.

But at the airport, when her sister Michelle Valenzuela, took one last picture with her phone, she had an ominous feeling.

Valenzuela said, "For some reason this emotion came over me, and I had this horrible feeling when I saw my phone that I was never going to see her again."

Just divorced and laid off from Proctor and Gamble, 41-year-old Baldelli settled into a house on a lush tropical island on the Caribbean Sea. They wanted a simple life, Brimager, a former marine, would live off singing at local bars, while Baldelli would make and sell swimwear to tourists.

All seemed to be going well until one day, Baldelli stopped contact with her family. Phone calls were unanswered and she skipped a family reunion. She hasn't been seen or heard from since last November.

(CBS News senior correspondent John Miller discussed the case on "CBS This Morning." Watch his analysis in the video below.


James Faust, Baldelli's father, told CBS News, "What we want is to bring Yvonne home and show that she's loved and cared about."

Her boyfriend said she up and left for Costa Rica with another man. Her passport shows she was never in Costa Rica. In fact, she never left Panama. But her boyfriend did. Within weeks of her disappearance, Brimager returned to the U.S., got engaged, and married another woman.

Since Baldelli vanished, her family has been a near constant presence on the island. As part of the search, they're looking for her dog and a necklace she always wore. But so far, they've found nothing.

A CBS News producer tried to reach Brimager Tuesday at his new wife's home outside San Diego. She answered the door, but refused to talk. Brimager has also taken down his Facebook page.

As for Baldelli's family, they hope a cash reward will turn up clues about what happened. "All I know is my sister went down there and she did not come home," Valenzuela said. "And obviously I'm hopeful that she will come home."

The family has set up a Facebook page to solicit volunteers for their search efforts. Police now say they believe Baldelli and Brimager had a violent relationship. Police won't even rule out that this was a crime of passion. The FBI is reportedly sending divers to search the waters around the island Wednesday.

Watch Terrell Brown's full report in the video above.

  • Terrell Brown

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