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Devil's Island

An ex-Marine with a secret life has a girlfriend who goes missing in Panama -- what happened to Yvonne Baldelli?

Produced by Chris O'Connell

Four years ago, Yvonne Baldelli left Southern California with her boyfriend, Brian Brimager, to start a new life of adventure on a tropical island in Panama. But when Brimager came back to the United States and Yvonne didn't, her family feared the worst and began their own investigation to find her. "48 Hours"' Peter Van Sant has been following the story since the beginning... and has a dramatic update.



Through his lens, photographer Jack English captures the smiles, playfulness and romance of newlyweds clearly in love.

"When I look at the pictures of Brian and Kristin I just see a couple in love and -- and super sincerely happy and just enjoying the day at the beach in La Jolla," English said of Brian Brimager's wedding pictures.

But the bride isn't Yvonne Baldelli. It's Kristin Werkhoven, an old flame Brimager proposed to just two weeks after Yvonne disappeared.

"It wasn't their wedding day, but they came in their wedding attire, in a limousine and champagne flowing'," English said. "Walking on the beach, holding each other with the sun going down, the waves crashing in the background."

Brian and Kristin Brimager
Brian and Kristin Brimager
Jack English

Brian Brimager had married a woman with powerful connections, who had once had top secret security clearance and worked as a White House analyst -- sometimes in the Situation Room -- under President George W. Bush.

"She looked very happy, very in love, as if she found her Prince Charming," said English.

Prince Charming? A man who had just left Yvonne Baldelli in Panama two weeks earlier? How could this happen? "48 Hours" travelled to the remote islands off the Caribbean coast of Panama to find out.

baldellicouple.jpg
Yvonne Baldelli and Brian Brimager
Faust family

Yvonne Baldelli and Brimager, who the locals called Brim, came to live on the island of Carenero in September 2011. It's a place, where they could chase their dream.

"Why did they decide to go to Panama?" Van Sant asked Yvonne's sister, Michele Valenzuela.

"She liked the fact that they could live on the beach ... you know, it's -- pretty reasonably priced down there," she replied.

Valenzuela said Brimager wanted to become a singer, performing in bars and clubs. With her beloved dog Georgia Mae in hand, Yvonne brought two sewing machines in hopes of starting a clothing business.

"She was gonna make bathing suits and sell 'em to tourists. ... I knew she was excited. ... And she ... -didn't have any reservations," Yvonne's stepmother, Lillian Faust, said.

"It sounded like she had a real plan for the future," said Van Sant.

"She did. And she thought that she found her paradise, her perfect place," Lillian Faust replied.

Valenzuela recalled how her younger sister, Yvonne, recently divorced, was smitten with Brimager when they first started dating in 2009 in southern California.

"I think she was physically attracted to him. That was a big part of it," she said.

And while Yvonne seemed to be falling in love with Brimager, big sister Michele wasn't so sure.

"As far as -- emotionally for my sister ... Yvonne would put 100 percent into you. And she would expect that back. And I didn't get that impression that she was receiving that. And that concerned me," Valenzuela explained. "She deserved that."

After Yvonne was laid off from her management job with Proctor and Gamble and Brimager ended his eight-year career in the Marines, the two decided to make a fresh start and reinvent themselves in Panama. They found a house to rent and quickly fell in with the local expats.

Joan and Steven Crabtree own the Cosmic Crab -- a funky resort and waterfront bar where Brimager would sing for his supper. They said the couple seemed to be in love.

"He played here at the Cosmic Crab -- a couple a nights a week. And they were frequent visitors here," said Joan Crabtree.

Penny Tom, owner of another waterfront bar, also let Brimager play for food and free booze -- lots of booze.

"Oh. They were very nice people," Tom said. "They used to drink a lot. So they were always happy."

"What's a lot?" Van Sant asked Tom.

"A lot," she replied.

Jim Mertens said Brimager's drinking may have gotten in the way of his singing.

"He played the guitar good, but when he started to sing, that's when it went away," said Mertens.

Asked what it sounded like, Mertens told Van Sant, "Like a hound dog on a porch. it's not really good. I mean, he butchered the songs, you know?"

For Yvonne's father, Jim Faust, the constant stream of joyful phone calls and e-mails describing the couple's Panama adventures was reassuring.

"She looked very happy in the pictures and she was really enjoying herself there. And I -- I knew it would be a place that she would like," he said.

"Yvonne's e-mails were stories of exactly what her life was like down there. And I could picture it," Valenzuela said. "And I could close my eyes, and it -- it was like I was there. I could imagine the whole thing."

E-mails like this one: "'Hi sis ... Brian already working at local restaurants and bars,'" Valenzuela read aloud. "We love it! We wake up and go running then swim in the ocean every morning."

So Yvonne's family thought all was well in paradise and that Brian Brimager might be the one for her.

"I believed that they were gonna get married. That's what I thought was gonna happen when they got down there," said Lillian Faust.

But then, right around Thanksgiving 2011, three months after they arrived in Panama, the happy e-mails and calls from Yvonne started to drop off. For Valenzuela, a sisterly instinct started to kick in.

"That's what set me off ... was the fact that -- they were coming less frequent, the e-mails from her. And then they stopped completely," she told Van Sant.

Two weeks passed. Then, on December 14, Valenzuela finally got a text. But it wasn't from Yvonne.

"There was a number I didn't recognize, and a text message on there said, 'This is Brian. May I make arrangements to pick up my truck?'" she said.

Valenzuela was shocked. Brian Brimager was back in the U.S.?

"I sat up, called that number. The -- only thing outta my mouth was, 'Where's my sister?'" Valenzuela said. "He says, 'Didn't you get my e-mail?' I said, 'I haven't received any e-mails from anybody. It's been a few weeks.' I said, 'I'll call you back.' So I went to my computer."

Michele Valenzuela discovered an e-mail she had overlooked. It was from Brian Brimager, who had never written before.

"The one from him stated, 'I'm sure you've heard by now that Vonnie and I are no longer together.' ... So I called him right back," she said. "So I asked him, point blank, 'What happened?' And he said they had got in a fight because she had found out that he had a child from somebody else."

That somebody else? Kristin Werkhoven. The two had a baby girl in 2010. Since Yvonne was unable to have a child because of a medical condition, the discovery must have been earth shattering for her. Brimager then said Yvonne just up and left.

"I said, 'Did she leave a note?' 'No.' 'Has she tried to call you since?' 'No.' 'Do you know where she's at?' 'No,'" Valenzuela recalled. "And I said, 'I haven't heard from her, Brian.' And he said, 'Well, I'm sure she's fine.'"

But Valenzuela had her doubts about that story. And 10 days later when Brimager called and he still wanted to pick up his truck, Valenzuela said she had another plan.

"I said, 'When you come to pick up the truck, I'll be here. That's not a problem. ... And I think it's a good idea that you go with me to the police department, since you're the last one to see her and we can fill out a missing persons report,'" she said. "'Cause now we're already to mid-December ... and I haven't heard anything from her. And that's not right. Something's wrong."

A FAMILY WORRIES

In Los Angeles, Michele Valenzuela was still worried about her missing sister. So she went back to her computer where she found another overlooked message. This one from Yvonne:

"'Hi sis. Just an update. Brian and I are no longer together," Valenzuela read aloud. "'I should have trusted my instincts that he is a lying, cheating ass---- ... I'm headed to Costa Rica with a man I met when we first got to Bocas.'"

"What'd you think when you read this e-mail?" Van Sant asked.

"I just wasn't sure. There's some things in there that didn't feel right to me," Valenzuela replied.

Her head was spinning. Could Yvonne really have run off with another man after learning that Brian Brimager had a love child?

"All Yvonne ever wanted to do was be a mother. That's all she ever wanted to do was be a mother. And to find out that Brian had a child ... and, you know, she sold everything she had to go to the other ends of the world to be with this man, and he didn't tell her about that?" Valenzuela told Van Sant. "I'm questioning what her mental state is right now. She's heartbroken."

yvonnebaldelli.jpg
Yvonne Baldelli
Faust family

In upstate New York, Jim and Lillian Faust also felt that turn of events was just so out of character for their daughter.

"For her life to change so abruptly, and she's like, 'Oh well, I'm going with this guy, and ... to Costa Rica. That made absolutely, positively no sense to me," said Lillian.

Also making no sense - three weeks had passed since Yvonne Baldelli had e-mailed from Panama. But then, out of the blue, she sent a new e-mail. It was strange:

"'Miss you and everyone at home. ...I'm starting to get a little homesick. I'm working on plans to get home as early as the second week of January,'" Valenzuela read aloud. "I've been living with cliffhangers for a while. Love you sis, Yvonne.'"

While strange, the e-mail was also reassuring for her family, who was happy to learn Yvonne would soon return to California.

"So I stopped worrying. I figured, OK. She knows that in January we're having a family get together. She's gonna be there," said Jim Faust.

"Do you feel she's safe at this point?" Van Sant asked Valenzuela.

"I was still worried but I -- I was satisfied with it for the moment," she replied.

On the same day that e-mail arrived, so did Brian Brimager - knocking on the front door of Valenzuela's L.A. home to pick up his truck.

"What did you see on his face? What was his demeanor like?" Van Sant asked.

"He was just in a hurry. He was calm," Valenzuela replied. "It was very brief."

"All business," Van Sant noted. "Get his stuff, get his truck--"

"Yes," Valenzuela said. "And leave."

After Brimager got his pickup truck, Yvonne's e-mails stopped. Sixteen long days passed until, on Jan. 6, 2012, Valenzuela wrote to her sister. The subject: "Worried."

"'I just wanna make sure you weren't kidnapped or someone pretending to be you. Ha ha. There's my paranoid, suspicious mind or maybe too many '48 Hours,'" she wrote to Yvonne.

Asked if she ever heard back from Yvonne, Valenzuela said, "No. That's the last e-mail."

Michele Valenzuela was still hopeful that Yvonne would appear at that family reunion. But she never showed up.

"Well, at that point ... When we met up with my dad and I told him, 'We haven't heard from her,' he said, 'Oh no, something's wrong. Something's wrong,'" she said. "And I told my dad ... 'She did not leave Panama. That's just my feeling.'"

By now, Valenzuela was convinced her sister never ran off to Costa Rica with another man. So her instinct was to learn where Yvonne's e-mails were really coming from.

"So I went to my cousin and asked him to please check it out. ...'Cause, like I said -- I haven't got a clue," said Valenzuela.

The cousin, a technology whiz, said tracking Yvonne's e-mails would be easy. All he needed was their IP addresses. So he searched the e-mails Yvonne had supposedly sent from Panama and Costa Rica, as well as that e-mail Brimager had sent from Dana Point, California.

The cousin made a startling discovery.

"The ones from Panama came from Panama ... And then the one that was supposed to be with her being in Costa Rica came from the United States," Valenzuela told Van Sant. "One of them looked like they were coming from Dana Point, and also Brian's e-mail was coming from Dana Point."

Valenzuela said that e-mail originated from where Brimager was now living near Dana Point, California. It was the evidence she had been looking for.

"They were sharing the same IP address," she said.

"So Yvonne's e-mail is coming from Brian's computer," Van Sant noted.

"Yes," Valenzuela replied.

The family's worst fear had come true: it appeared Brimager had hacked into Yvonne's e-mail account and was impersonating her. But why? For Valenzuela, only one answer made sense.

"I said, 'My sister's dead and I'm never gonna see her again,'" she said. "It's like someone calling you up and telling you that your loved one got in a car accident or something. I mean I knew I wasn't comfortable with her going. But you don't really think it's gonna happen."

"That's when I knew that he did something to her," said Lillian Faust.

"It's not missing person. It's murder now," said Van Sant.

"It's murder," said Lillian.

For Jim and Lillian Faust, who had lost a son to leukemia 12 years before, it was almost too much to take.

"Was that the moment of realization?" Van Sant asked Lillian.

"Jim had said to me, 'I think we lost Yvonne.' And I said, 'No, honey. I'm not gonna accept that we lost another child. I'm not going to accept that we lost another child,'" she replied shaking her head.

But for Valenzuela, there was no time to mourn.

"'I'm goin' straight to the police department right now.' And they said, 'May I help you?' And I said, 'I'm here to report a murder,'" she said.

Police referred Valenzuela to the FBI and the State Department to get a missing persons report filed in Panama.

"I called the embassy, and the embassy tells us there is ... no record of her ever leaving Panama, and no record of her ever entering Costa Rica," said Lillian Faust.

Adding to their worry, the house where Brian and Yvonne lived was once owned by notorious serial killer "Wild Bill" Holbert, who killed at least six Americans in Costa Rica and Panama.

"One of those -- eerie moments that -- that, you know, just give you chills when you think about the connection," said Jim Faust.

Holbert's M.O.? He used his victims own online identities to communicate with their families after murdering them.

"What he did, he sent false e-mails. So that I don't know if Brian ... knew about that or what connection there was there. But that was a similarity to Wild Bill the serial killer," said Jim.

In fact, "48 Hours" was told Brian Brimager knew all about Wild Bill.

"You can't make this stuff up, can you?" Van Sant commented.

"No," Jim agreed.

"It's unbelievable. It was very creepy how things like this could have happened in that same house," said Lillian.

Yvonne's family couldn't wait any longer. It was time to go to Panama and search for answers. All the while, Brian Brimager was enjoying his new life with his new wife.

THE SEARCH FOR YVONNE

Two months after filing a missing persons report with Panamanian authorities, Yvonne Baldelli's family travelled to the tropical paradise to start their own investigation.

"There was all this anxiety. We need to get there right away," said Lillian Faust.

Before leaving, they reached out to legendary investigator Don Winner.

"Why is it when something goes bad with an American citizen in Panama you get the phone call?" Van Sant asked Winner.

"I've already put away or helped to put away -- three serial killers," he replied. "So when bad things happen they know that -- to come to me when -- when they don't know what else to do."

Winner is an ex-U.S. intelligence officer living in Panama with an uncanny ability to solve murders. Jim and Lillian Faust tell Winner the story of their daughter's disappearance and Brian Brimager's claim that she's run off with another man.

"I think the chances that she's running around in Costa Rica somewhere with some other dude are damn near zero," said Winner.

It's not the first time Winner, a CBS News consultant, has worked on a case with "48 Hours." The intrepid investigator helped solve the murder of American sailor Don North, as "48 Hours" reported in 2011.

"Just on a personal side of in all of this ... can you believe you and I are doing this again?" Van Sant asked Winner.

"No. Absolutely not," he replied with a laugh. "I tell you what it's -- it's amazing."

Winner is convinced Brian Brimager is involved. His strategy? Put pressure on the Panamanian government to act and to turn Yvonne's disappearance into an international story.

"So he took us to the State Department. He took us to the prosecutor's office. And he took us to ... the men in charge," Jim Faust said of Winner.

"Because when Don Winner speaks ..." said Van Sant.

"The people listen..." Jim said. "Yeah."

Winner's game plan also called for Jim Faust and Michele Valenzuela to give blood for DNA tests should any remains be found.

And when Yvonne's family traveled hundreds of miles from Panama City to the tropical island where she disappeared, the Panamanian police were persuaded to hold a press conference to plead for information.

"The family has been experiencing a living nightmare for -- quite a few months," an emotional Jim Faust addressed reporters, "and we continue to appeal to anyone who knows absolutely anything about Yvonne's disappearance to come forward."

Panamanian police announce for the first time that Yvonne was the victim of foul play and name Brian Brimager as the suspect.

The persistence of the family and Don Winner paid off in an extraordinary way... the news conference reverberated around the world.

Riding the momentum of the press conference, the family printed flyers, fanned out to neighborhoods and the village searching for their own clues.

For Yvonne's niece Lauren Beyer, it was a bittersweet search in a place that is no longer a paradise.

"There's nothing here for us until we find her. That's why we're here," said Beyer.

The family's quest started to get results. Witnesses who knew the couple came out of the woodwork, describing Brimager's verbal and physical abuse.

"To me ... he was a scary person," Jeff Salzman, a local bar owner, said. "He was -- not the kind of person I wanted to be around."

Salzman saw it firsthand on Yvonne's face.

"As I recall, it was black eyes and -- and blackness around the face and -- and bruises," he said.

"Was she self-conscious about it?" Van Sant asked Salzman.

"She was trying to hide it and -- and not speak of it," he replied.

Louis Georget lived next door and said he'd hear screaming late at night.

"You-- you're hearing physical fighting?" Van Sant asked. "From their apartment?"

"Yeah," Georget replied. "On the first floor. On the bottom. ... It was something that it was 0happening pretty much every single time."

"It was very painful to learn ... that he had hit her ... that she had bruises, that she had black eyes," Lillian Faust said. "Those things were very difficult to learn."

"I mean, Yvonne was such a part of our life and then to see a place where such torture may have happened to her ... it just breaks my heart," her father said.

The realization that Yvonne may have been murdered was setting in.

Where could her body have been dumped? Just feet in front of the house she shared with Brimager, there's thousands of square miles of water; 20 yards from the shoreline there's an impenetrable swamp.

Yvonne's family, investigators and volunteers set out to find her -- entering what could be Yvonne's swampy graveyard.

"Describe this area that has to be searched? Just how difficult a place is it?" Van Sant asked Winner.

"OK ... it's jungle. It's tropical ... so you have every kind of bug and critter that you can think of," Winner said. "Spiders and snakes and, you know ... it's not a place to go sloggin' around through."

Struggling through the muck, the spiders and the rancid water, the smallest discovery raises hope: a purse, a medicine bottle, a mysterious sinkhole.

"I kept asking myself, 'I wanna find Yvonne, but do I wanna find Yvonne?' I mean, I wanna know where she is. But do I wanna see her in these swampy areas?" said Lillian Faust.

Then, a U.S. passport was found. None of it is Yvonne's and the search for now is a dead end.

But FBI agents in Panama City have joined the investigation. They bring a special team of FBI divers from the U.S. to search the waters near the house where the couple lived.

While that search came up empty, FBI agents in California are hot on Brimager's heels. They conduct a surprise interview at his home on March 21, 2012, and leave with numerous pieces of evidence, including what they believe to be Yvonne's laptop.

News report: "Panamanian and U.S. officials, including the FBI are investigating. Panamanian authorities have named Brimager a person of interest and declared the case a homicide investigation."

When photographer Jack English hears that Brian Brimager is a suspect, he nearly dropped his camera.

"The first thing I actually did was call my assistant, I just said, 'I think we photographed a murderer,'" he said.

PORTRAIT OF A SUSPECT

"What did he do with her? Where did he take her? To the ocean? ... It just kills me to think that she's just thrown ... like trash," Michele Valenzuela said.

Valenzuela is convinced Brian Brimager killed her sister. "Did he have to dismember her and bury her? Where did he put her?"

Don Winner's campaign for justice seemed to be working.

Yvonne Baldelli and Brian Brimager
Yvonne Baldelli and Brian Brimager
Faust family

"Everybody's looking for Yvonne Baldelli," he said. "The U.S. Embassy, the FBI ... Panamanian authorities ... prosecutors. Everybody has got this effort goin' full speed to try to find Yvonne."

Meanwhile, "48 Hours" learned that the joint FBI-Panamanian investigation is now focused on a forensic analysis of the home where the couple lived.

"The fact that they did a luminal test here in the bedroom and they had a positive result and there's also a positive result in the other room. ... As an investigator, what would that tell you if there's presence of blood in two rooms?" Van Sant asked Winner, standing inside the home.

"That's tremendously important. It's critical, you know, because this is the last place Yvonne was known to be alive," he replied.

As Winner worked the island talking to residents, he determined that Yvonne was murdered in the early morning hours of Nov. 27, 2011.

"Well ... they could hear-- a series of violent fights, altercations, screaming and yelling, glass breaking, people slamming up against the building," he said.

Later on that day, Winner learned Brian Brimager was telling anyone who would listen that Yvonne had run off with another man.

"He came up with this story of, 'Oh, my girlfriend left me, and poor me...' You know, he played the role of the abandoned boyfriend," Winner said. "Then he started to give away Yvonne's personal possessions, like clothing."

georgias-first-morning-walk.jpg
Yvonne Baldelli's dog, Georgia Mae
Faust family

And what about Yvonne's dog, Georgia Mae, which has not been seen since she disappeared? Winner has a theory.

"He knew that she loved that dog, and that if the dog was runnin' around, he knew that anything she said about her takin' off with some guy to Costa Rica -- everybody would immediately know it was crap. So he had to get rid of the dog too," said Winner.

Don Winner also made another potentially sinister discovery on Brimager's Facebook page, where he sold a machete.

"After Yvonne disappeared ... Brimager made a comment about that knife. He's like, 'yeah, that used to be mine. I brought it down with me when I came down from the States.' And the chilling part is he made a comment that said, 'I've only used it to chop up one stripper.' That's just chilling," he said.

For Winner, a portrait of Brimager the suspect, was finally coming into focus.

"Give me a biography of this guy. Who is he?" Van Sant asked.

"From what I understand he went in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2004," Winner replied.

That's the same year Brimager was stationed in Washington, D.C. and he met Kristen Werkhoven, then a White House staffer in the Bush administration. They started a romantic relationship.

"He did about seven years in the Marine Corps," Winner explained. "He was assigned to Iraq. Never in combat."

In our investigation, "48 Hours" discovered yet another woman in Brimager's life.

"He seemed like a super-nice guy, always came off ... super-sweet and generous," said Nicole Powell.

Powell was with Brimager after Yvonne disappeared. She said all he did was party.

"When she was gone, I feel like he just kinda opened up and exploded and was party time [laughs] spending money on everybody," she said.

And who was paying for all of this partying? Powell said Brimager was using Yvonne's ATM card.

"Whether it be booze, food, and -- and/or drugs. You know, he just kind of bursted into this whole other person," said Powell.

Days later, Brimager was back in California and in the arms of his new fiancé, Kristen Werkhoven. But what Werkhoven didn't realize is that when she was out of town, Brimager flew Powell up from Panama.

"He met me at the airport," Powell said.

"What was that like?" Van Sant asked.

"Hectic," she replied. "We get in his car and of course he's got his to-go beverage, little vodka [and] orange juice."

But Brian Brimager had changed.

"He was definitely not the same person," said Powell.

"What had he become?" Van Sant asked.

"This kind of super self-absorbed, nervous, alcoholic crazy person," she replied.

Two days into the visit, Brimager suddenly turned violent.

"He got super angry with me and flung his hand up and hit me in the face," Powell explained. "I was shocked. I -- I've never been hit before in my life."

Powell caught the first flight out of California and never saw Brimager again. Two weeks later, he and Werkhoven got married.

"It's so strange," Powell said. "And it's creepy. That's really creepy."

"So, within literally a month and a couple of days, he goes from bein' here in this -- building, killin' that girl, to back in the States, and marryin' somebody else. And oh, by the way, there was another girlfriend in between them two who he abused as well," said Winner.

Despite Brian Brimager being a murder suspect, he and Werkhoven settled into a condo on the outskirts of San Diego. While she worked for a defense contractor, Brimager spent much of his time golfing.

In the summer of 2012, "48 Hours" showed Yvonne' sister, Michele Valenzuela, video of Brimager's new life.

"What goes through your mind when you see him?" Van Sant asked.

"Well, honestly ... It's not surprising now that I know what he's capable of," Valenzuela replied. "He thinks he got away with murder. ...So what you have here is a person, killed my sister ... and can walk away scot free."

It was time to confront Brian Brimager to get some answers:

"Brian? Peter Van Sant with CBS News. We'd like to ask you a couple of questions. Could you please talk to us?" Van Sant questioned Brimager. "Did you murder Yvonne Baldelli? You can speak to us, you can answer that question. Brian, why won't you speak with us? Did you have anything to do with her disappearance?"

While Brimager ignored Van Sant's questions and headed off to play yet another round of golf, little does he know that the FBI is onto his game.

SEEKING JUSTICE FOR YVONNE

"We seek answers, justice, and help," Jim Faust told those gathered at a candlelight vigil for his daughter in the summer of 2012 -- a march for justice for Yvonne. "But regardless of the wait, we will not rest. Whoever took Yvonne from us needs to be behind bars."

That long wait would continue.

"You feel like you're reading a book, a terrible -- mystery, a murder mystery and there's no end to it," said Jim Faust.

In the spring of 2013, the family held a memorial service without Yvonne's body -- but with the hope that answers and an arrest are coming.

"The governments, both of Panama and the United States, are not going to give up until they find out who did this to our precious Yvonne," Jim Faust said at the service.

All the while, murder suspect Brian Brimager is living just a few miles away.

"And his life is going on like normal. And our life will never be the same," said Lillian Faust.

While Brimager and family moved into a new house in 2012, "48 Hours" learned the FBI was getting ever closer to knocking down the front door of his fanciful life.

"My sister was humiliated in Panama. And then she was murdered ... that's the biggest concern" Michele Valenzuela said. "Obviously he doesn't care about women. This fact that he's raising a daughter is scary. That man needs to be taken off the streets."

Throughout "48 Hours"' investigation, Brimager has repeatedly refused to talk to us. So we approached him one last time for his side of the story.

"Brian, I need to talk with you. How do you explain the fact that Yvonne's e-mail, that said she was in Costa Rica that she sent to people was actually sent by you, from here in California. Can you answer that? You knew she was dead when you sent that e-mail didn't you? Brian, we really want you to talk to us...answer some questions," Van Sant asked Brimager in a grocery store parking lot.

Brimager never said a word.

But that would change.

News report: "A former Marine who family members say murdered his girlfriend before disposing of her body faced a federal judge today."

On June 26, 2013, just six days after his wife gave birth to their second child, the FBI arrested Brian Brimager.

"How did you learn ... that Brian had been arrested?" Van Sant asked Valenzuela.

"Truth be told, I received a text from my dad that said, 'They got the SOB,'" And I sat down and a sense of [clears throat] relief came over me for a minute, because now ... they believed us."

He was charged with 13 felonies relating to the cover-up of Yvonne Baldelli's death -- but not her actual murder, even though assistant U.S. attorney Hamilton Arendsen named him the prime suspect.

"Mr. Brimager killed Ms. Baldelli and disposed of her body in an unknown location," Arendsen addressed reporters. "And then ... engaged in an elaborate scheme to cover up his crime. The indictment specifically alleges that he destroyed evidence..."

Arensdsen says the evidence was clear, including s a Google search where Brimager sought how to clean blood off of a mattress. A stern-faced Brimager loudly pleaded not guilty to all charges and his bail was denied. He' remains locked up in a San Diego federal jail.

"Brian Brimager stood in that courtroom and said forcefully, 'Not guilty' to that courtroom," Van Sant commented to Valenzuela. "What do you say?"

"He's a damn liar. You're a damn liar. From the beginning," she replied. "And everybody's gonna see what he's about and what he did. It's obvious what he did to her. So, it's about time that he just fesses up. What did you do with her, and where did you put her?"

"Are you hopeful you will find Yvonne?" Van Sant asked Lillian Faust.

"I really believe that," she replied. "We're going to be able to bury her. We're going to be able to give her a celebration of life like she deserves."

Then, two months after Brimager's day in court, came a stunning discovery.

Just a few hundred yards from the swampy hell the family had spent days searching, a local worker discovered a military-style duffel and two trash bags; inside them are human remains.

"When I first heard the possibility that they found Yvonne, my first reaction was ... it's good news, because I just feel good we can nail this bastard," Valenzuela told Van Sant.

DNA tests confirm it is Yvonne Baldelli.

"You know, how dare he? You know, he just thought that he could discard her and throw her away like she was trash. And she deserved so much more," said Valenzuela.

Yvonne had been dismembered. Investigators speculate that Brimager used that machete, which he sold on Facebook.

Seven months after his arrest in February 2014, Panamanian authorities finally charge Brian Brimager with Yvonne's murder.

"In my heart it -- it was taking a long time. But I -- always knew that we were gonna get justice for her," Valenzuela said.

Kristen Brimager is standing by her man.

"Kristin may I ask, do you still believe in your husband's innocence? Can you just tell us that?" Van Sant asked her as she was leaving the courthouse.

baldellivalenzuela.jpg
Yvonne Baldelli and her sister, Michele Valenzuela
Faust family

In the spring of 2014, Michele Valenzuela was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that quickly spread.

"I'm still alive to fight for my life, and I'm still alive to fight for my sister," she told "48 Hours" in June 2014.

In September, given just weeks to live, Valenzuela, a crucial witness for the prosecution, agreed to tell her story while she still could. Her deposition was videotaped with Brian Brimager sitting right across from her.

"Today, uh, we're going--I'm going to be giving a deposition," said a weak sounding Valenzuela as she was pushed into court in a wheelchair.

"I'm going to try to ignore him, the best I can," she said.

With the last ounce of her strength, she described Brimager's actions after Yvonne disappeared.

"Yep, I fight for her. I would fight for her like she would fight for me," she said.

Valenzuela passed out after the exhausting testimony. She died days later. Among the last words she spoke were at that deposition, a courageous final act of love for her sister.

"And this might be the last thing I get to do for her. Over and over and over again, because it will be on camera forever," said Valenzuela.

CASE UPDATE

In April 2015, five months after Valenzuela' tragic death, U.S. officials announced a bombshell. In agreement with Panama, the U.S. said it would prosecute Brian Brimager for the murder of Yvonne Baldelli -- a crime that happened in another country more than 3,000 miles away.

The charges follow complex negotiations between the U.S. and Panama. The U.S. invoked a rarely-used law -- "Foreign murder of a U.S. national." It's so rare, according to federal court records, it has only been used twice before.

"Well, today they brought an indictment against, Brian Brimager for murder," Jim Faust told "48 Hours" after hearing the announcement in court. "And so, it's a good thing it's being tried here because this way the family can be at the trial."

Both the offices of Secretary of State John Kerry and then-Attorney General Eric Holder had to approve the use of this law.

"I think just the fact after all this time that we've been waiting, on a psychological level, it's healing to feel that he's finally charged with what we've known he's done all this time. i's a good day in that way, but being in the same room with him it really turns your stomach," said Lauren Beyer, Michele Valenzuela's daughter.

For Beyer, it's a bittersweet day. Both her mother and aunt are gone, but their family is one step closer to justice for Yvonne.

"Today I definitely wish mom was here to -- to hear the words that he was indicted, charged with murder," she said. "She'd probably say something like, 'We got that bastard!' You know, she would be very, very, very happy. Yeah, we share ... that joy for her."

Yvonne's family is still waiting to bury her. They're anxious for the outcome of Brimager's trial when her remains are returned ... and they can finally lay her to rest.

Brian Brimager is due in court next week. A federal judge is likely to set a trial date.

  • Peter Van Sant

    Correspondent, "48 Hours"