DANA POINT (CBS) — The search for a missing Orange County woman has taken a deadly turn in Panama and officials there are investigating her disappearance as a homicide.
This evening, family and friends gathered on the beach in Dana Point — one of Yvonne Baldelli’s favorite places.
Rachel Kim, reporting for CBS2 and KCAL9, was at the candlelight vigil held in Baldelli’s honor.
“At this time, take a moment to light a candle and think of Yvonne,” said her father.
Her niece, Lauren Beyer, said “We want to know what happened and we want to know where she is.”
Baldelli, 42, was last seen on Carenero Island in Panama on November 26, 2001.
She moved there with her dog — Georgia Mae — and her former Marine boyfrend, 36-year-old Brian Brimager.
They moved to get a fresh start. Her mother, Lillian Faust, told Kim: “She was telling me she was taking her sewing machine and Georgia Mae and she was going to sell bathing suits on the beach to tourists.”
Around Thanksgiving, Baldelli’s family said she stopped communicating with them — and that was uncharacteristic. She also missed a family reunion. Something, they said, she would never have done.
Worried, the family went to Panama to search for her.
Says Faust, “We saw her house. I was looking under the house, looking into swampy areas. It was overwhelming.”
Around the same time Baldelli disappeared, authorities say Brimager left Panama … returned to Southern California … and within a couple of weeks, married another woman.
He reportedly told Baldelli’s family that she left him — for another man. And said Baldelli had moved to Costa Rica.
Passport records show Baldelli never left Panama.
Kim asked Baldelli’s mother if she believed Brimager was responsible for her daughter’s disappearance. “We’re leaving that to up to authorities. What we’re working on is searching for her and bringing her home.”
The FBI has joined in that search, along with officials in Panama. They have named Brimager a “person of interest.” They have also declared the case a homicide investigation.
Baldelli’s sister, Michelle Vallenzuela, says “In the beginning, we were looking for Yvonne. Then it became a homicide investigation and we searched for her body. Now we search for justice.”
The missing woman’s father, James Faust, says, “Whoever took Yvonne from us needs to be behind bars.”