SAN DIEGO (CN) - A retired Marine pleaded guilty Wednesday to stabbing his girlfriend, dismembering her with a machete and dumping her remains in a remote jungle in Panama in 2011, the Justice Department said.
Brian Karl Brimager, 39, has been in federal custody since June 2013 on charges of obstruction, making false statements to a federal officer and falsifying records - all related to the murder investigation of his former girlfriend, Yvonne Baldelli.
A federal grand jury indicted Brimager on first-degree murder charges. He was arraigned on a superseding indictment and initially pleaded not guilty in April 2015.
Federal prosecutors said Brimager and Baldelli moved from Los Angeles to the archipelago of Bocas del Toro, Panama, in September 2011. They rented a room in a small hostel on Isla Carenero, a small island near Bocas that is only reachable by boat.
Almost immediately after settling in, Brimager began emailing another girlfriend - the mother of his young daughter - and discussed his plans to move back to California. Brimager never mentioned Baldelli in these emails, the indictment stated.
Around this time, the indictment alleged that Brimager began physically abusing Baldelli. And around Nov. 26, 2011, Brimager murdered the woman, dismembered her body and dumped her remains in a remote jungle area on Isla Carenero, prosecutors said
Brimager then concocted an elaborate scheme to cover up Baldelli's murder, destroying evidence, making false statements to investigators and sending a series of emails to the woman's family and friends to make it appear she was alive and well, according to prosecutors.
In the emails, Brimager - presenting himself as Baldelli - said the woman had gone to live with another man in Costa Rica. He then proceeded to withdraw funds from Baldelli's bank account between Panama and Costa Rica to corroborate the story, prosecutors said.
Brimager allegedly dumped a bloody mattress in the ocean, but not before using Baldelli's computer to do Internet searches on "washing mattress" and "washing mattress blood stain," according to the indictment.
Baldelli's skeletal remains were found in the Isla Carenero jungle nearly two years after her murder.
On Wednesday, Brimager admitted his crimes in exchange for prosecutors dropping all but a federal charge of foreign murder of a U.S. national. He faces up to life in prison and will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller on May 25.
"Brian Brimager took a young woman's life in a heinous way and then further victimized her family by creating a cruel lie that she was happily traveling the world with another man," U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said in a statement. "Now that Brimager has finally admitted his crime, we hope that the truth, and knowing that their daughter's murderer will serve decades in prison, will give this grieving family a sense of justice and peace."