“Can you be charged with murder without a body?”
That’s what Brian Walshe, 47, searched online after he allegedly killed his wife Ana Walshe, 39, prosecutors said.
Massachusetts authorities claim he is spotted on surveillance footage throwing away evidence and that internet records show he made a slew of suspicious searches.
He was charged with murder on Tuesday. Prosecutors believe he killed her and hid the body.
Law&Crime legal analysts say there’s wiggle room in these kinds of cases. They said that while the state’s case for hiding the body appears strong, the defense has wiggle room to argue that Ana’s death was not murder as charged.
An autopsy is used to establish intent, said Julie Rendelman, a New York-based criminal defense lawyer and Law&Crime Network analyst without a connection to the Walshe case. In homicide cases, one of the most important witnesses is the medical examiner, she said.
“So you’re not going to have that here,” she said.
An example she used is someone, hypothetically, getting shot in the heart.
Brian Buckmire, a Brooklyn public defender and Law&Crime Network analyst without a connection to the Walshe case, had a similar take.
“The evidence is bad for Walshe,” he wrote us in an email. “It clearly looks like he disposed of his wife’s body. But maybe, maybe he could get up on the stand and give a reasonable explanation as to why he came across her, and instead of doing the reasonable thing we would all do — call the police — he instead decided to dispose of the body.”
Buckmire suggested as a hypothetical that perhaps it might come out that Ana had a health problem such as a bad heart.
“Maybe he can survive cross-examination and sound believable,” he said.
Buckmire cited the case of murder defendant James Scandirito Jr. Though not technically a bodiless homicide, investigators never found the head of his father James “Skip” Scandirito Sr. Authorities could not show the cause of death while nonetheless maintaining the manner was a homicide.
Scandirito Jr. testified that he and his 74-year-old father did drugs. Scandirito Sr. soon died. The defendant claimed to have panicked. He was acquitted of murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison — the maximum sentence — for dismembering his father’s remains.
Many no-body homicides have been successfully prosecuted, Rendelman said. The United States has “tons” of such cases, she said. She emphasized the importance of strong circumstantial evidence.
In Walshe’s case, Rendelman said that prosecutors can even use the lack of a body against Brian Walshe. The state can argue that hiding the body is evidence that he had the intent to kill his wife. For example, if her death was an accident, then why would he be hiding the body unless there was something about the remains he was trying to hide?
Law&Crime has covered successful bodiless prosecutions.
Patrick Frazee was convicted in Colorado for murdering fiancée Kelsey Berreth. His ex-girlfriend testified about helping him clean up.
In Florida, Luis Toledo was convicted in 2017 of murdering his wife Yessenia Suarez, and her children, 8-year-old Michael Otto and 9-year-old Thalia Otto. A neighbor testified about Toledo deceiving him into helping clean up the evidence while keeping him in the dark about the killings. Investigators have not found Yessenia’s or her children’s bodies, Volusia County Sheriff’s spokesman Andrew Gant told Law&Crime on Tuesday.
Authorities say Ana Walshe’s D.C.-based employer asked law enforcement to do a welfare check after she did not show up to work on Jan. 4. Cops checked out her home in Cohasset, Massachusetts. Authorities said that it was only then that Brian Walshe, on house arrest and facing sentencing after pleading guilty in a federal fraud case, reported his wife missing.
The suspect allegedly asserted his wife left home on New Year’s Day at about 6 a.m. to handle to a work emergency. Rendelman pointed out that there was no evidence Ana got on the plane. Prosecutors believe the husband dismembered his wife.
At Walshe’s arraignment on Wednesday, a prosecutor said the defendant made several suspicious online searches amid the disappearance. This includes:
- “How long before a body starts to smell?”
- “How to stop a body from decomposing?”
- “10 ways to dispose of a dead body if you really need to.”
- “How long for somebody to be missing to inherit.”
- “Can you throw away body parts?”
- “Is it better to throw crime scene clothes away or wash them?”
- “Dismemberment and the best ways to dispose of a body.”
- “Hacksaw best tool to dismember”
- “Can you identify a body with broken teeth?”
Other searches concerned whether partial remains can be identified, cleaning blood from a wooden floor, and chemicals like the preservative formaldehyde and blood-detection tool luminol, prosecutors alleged.
There was blood and a knife with blood on it in the family basement, the prosecutor said on Wednesday.
Authorities claim Walshe purchased $450 worth of cleaning supplies from a Home Depot and was seen discarding items in dumpsters in different cities. Prosecutors believe they might have lost access to some of that evidence: trash collectors unwittingly took away certain dumpster contents for shredding and incineration.
Prosecutors said they found evidence in a dumpster near the home of Brian Walshe’s mother in Swampscott, Massachusetts. Recovered items from 10 trash bags included slippers and a suit that tested positive for both the wife’s and husband’s blood, the prosecutor said. There were also boots and a purse consistent with what Brian claimed Ana was wearing when he supposedly last saw her. Investigators claimed to have also found a partial necklace consistent with the jewelry Ana wore in photographs. Other items included cleaning supplies such as towels, rags, tape, gloves, cleaning agents, carpets, a hatchet, a hacksaw, and a COVID-19 vaccine card in Ana’s name, the prosecutor said.
Walshe’s attorney Tracy Miner declined to discuss the specifics of the case, instead waiting to see the state’s evidence in discovery.
“We shall see what they have and what evidence is admissible in court, where the case will ultimately be decided,” she said in a statement.
In discussing the dumpsters, Rendelman noted the similarities between this case and that of missing Connecticut woman Jennifer Farber Dulos. Jennifer’s husband Fotis Dulos, with whom she was in the middle of an ugly divorce, allegedly murdered her at her New Canaan home on May 24, 2019. As in the Walshe case, the husband allegedly tossed evidence in various trash cans. As in the Walshe case, Jennifer remains missing.
Connecticut jurors never evaluated Fotis Dulos’ alleged guilt. The defendant died by suicide while out on bond.
Rendelman pointed out that it is still early, but a defense attorney could argue that without a body, prosecutor’s cannot prove that Ana Walshe is dead. The defense could take advantage of any evidence that she did not want to be around and perhaps left home.
Fotis Dulos’ defense made a so-called “Gone Girl” defense in their case. The Connecticut couple’s split was contentious, going by divorce records. Massachusetts prosecutors briefly suggested that Ana and Brian Walshe had their problems.
“What’s the best state to divorce for a man?” Brian allegedly searched on Dec. 27.
Washington D.C. police said that in 2014, Ana claimed that a suspect, who was not named in the official report, threatened to kill her and her friends. Sources for WFXT said that Brian was that suspect. He reportedly was never charged after Ana did not cooperate in the investigation.
Ana, who shared three young sons with her alleged killer, spoke warmly of him in a letter to the judge in his federal fraud case. She described him as active in caring for their children and providing support after her mother suffered a major neurological event that caused heavy hemorrhaging.
“Brian was the one who heard my mother’s sighs for help within seconds and immediately called me and emergency,” Ana wrote in the letter filed on June 7, 2022. “He was quickly able to establish that she was in severe pain and that she needed immediate medical help.”
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