A murder conviction without a body is difficult, but can be done, experts say, if prosecutors focus on other types of evidence to build a strong case.
Some of this evidence could be forensic – like blood spatter, fibers or fingerprints to prove that a person died. In other cases, prosecutors rely on the suspect’s behavior, eye witness testimony, and forensic Internet searches.
‘Corpus delicti’ is a legal term meaning no one should be convicted without sufficient evidence – and actually translates to ‘body of the crime.’ The phrase, however, does not mean an actual body is required.
Thomas A. DiBiase, an attorney who specializes in prosecuting ‘no body’ murders, says convictions of such cases are on the rise. DiBiase runs a blog that claims more than 500 ‘no body’ homicide cases have gone to trial, from the 1800s through 2020, and that 88 percent of them saw convictions.
The most recent high-profile conviction came in 2022 when Paul Flores was convicted of murdering Kristin Smart, a 19-year-old California State Polytechnic University student. It’s believed she was killed in 1996 but her body has never been found.
The question about ‘no body’ cases being convicted is being raised again as Brian Walshe, 47, entered a not guilty plea in Quincy District Court on Wednesday for the murder of his missing wife.
Brian Walshe leaves court today after being charged with the murder of his wife Ana
Ana, 39, had been enjoying her life as a busy working mother, splitting her time between Cohasset, Massachusetts, and Washington DC, where she worked for a real estate firm
He’s accused of murdering Ana in the basement of their home in Cohasset, Massachusetts, on January 1 in the early hours of the morning, then discarding her body in a dumpster.
Ana’s body has not been found, but prosecutors believe the trove of evidence – including chilling Google searches Walshe allegedly made in the hours before she went missing – they released in court on Wednesday could help win their case.
At Walshe’s arraignment, prosecutors laid out Walshe’s chilling Google searches that included ‘How long before a body starts to smell?’ and ‘Ten ways to dispose of a dead body if you really need to?’
Appearing in Quincy District Court, Walshe was largely expressionless as prosecutors detailed the evidence against him. He will be held without bail pending indictment.
Walshe told police he last saw Ana at 6am on January 1, claiming she left for work.
Today, it was revealed that in the hours before that, he’d been frantically researching how to dispose of a body, and how long decomposition takes.
The digital trail is part of what prosecutors are hoping will help win their case.
Brian Walshe pleaded not guilty to beating his wife Ana to death this morning as prosecutors laid out a mountain of evidence against him
Thomas A. DiBiase, an attorney who specializes in prosecuting ‘no body’ murders, says convictions of such cases are on the rise
DiBiase has attributed the high rate of recent no-body convictions to two factors: an upswing in the cases being made in the past decade as technology like DNA becomes more sophisticated and prevalent, and the fact that people leave behind a more detailed digital trail of cell phone records, texts and online posts.
Another factor is that ‘no body’ cases tend to involve a familiar or romantic relationship between the victim and defendant, and prosecutors only take strong cases to trial, given the challenges inherent in proving a murder case without a body.
‘Murder is the ultimate crime, and a murder with no body is the ultimate murder,’ DiBiase told Wake Forest Magazine.
‘When you get rid of the body, you get rid of the best evidence of the murder: How was the person killed? When was the person killed? Where was the person killed? Figuring out all those things becomes so much more difficult to prove when you don’t have the body.’
But while ‘no body’ convictions are challenging, they can be won, he said.
Walshe appeared to leave an extensive digital trail as his Google searches about divorce, murder, dismemberment and decomposing bodies were released on Wednesday.
On December 27th, days before his wife Ana vanished, he Googled: ‘What’s the best state to divorce for a man?’
Ana was last seen alive at 1.30am on January 1st by friends who had been in their home for a New Year’s Eve party.
Shortly before 5am on January 1st, using his son’s iPad, he searched;
- ‘How long before a body starts to smell?’
- ‘How to stop a body from decomposing?’
- ‘Ten ways to dispose of a dead body if you really need to?’
- ‘How long for someone to be missing before you inherit?’
- ‘Can you throw away body parts?’
- ‘What does Formaldehyde do?’
- ‘How long does DNA last?’
- ‘Can an ID be made on partial remains?’
- ‘Dismemberment and the best ways to dispose of a body?’
- ‘Ruminal to detect blood’
- What happens when you put body parts in ammonia?
- Is it better to throw crime scene clothes away or wash them?
Ana Walshe has not been seen since 1.30am on January 1. Police say Brian, her husband of 18 years, murdered her. Her body has not been found
After purchasing rugs from a Home Goods store while wearing rubber gloves and a face mask, he returned to the iPad for more research.
He also spent $450 on cleaning supplies from a Home Depot including mops, buckets, tarps, drop cloths and various kinds of tape.
This time, prosecutors say he searched;
- ‘Hacksaw best tool to dismember’
- ‘Can you be charged with murder without a body?’
- ‘Can you identify a body with broken teeth?’
Police say he visited a dumpster in Abingdon, where he was seen carrying a heavy-looking garbage bag.
‘He had to heft it into the dumpster,’ according to police.
Prosecutors tried to track down those trash bags, but by the time they got to them they had been destroyed in an incinerator at a trash transfer center.
Walshe did more research, allegedly searching;
- ‘What happens to hair on a dead body?’
- ‘What is the rate of decomposition of a body found in a plastic bag compared to on a surface in the woods?’
- ‘Can baking soda make a body smell good?’
Walshe bought bath mats, men’s clothing and towels at TJ Maxx and Home Goods. He then visited Lowe’s.
That same day, a colleague of Ana’s in Washington DC called police in Cohasset to report her missing and request a welfare check at her home.
Police visited the family house, where they noticed the seats in Brian’s Volvo were down, and a large, plastic liner was in the backseat.
Police returned to the Walshe family home, where they noticed Brian’s Volvo had been freshly cleaned.
When questioned, he said he’d thrown out the plastic liner they saw the previous day.
That same day, he visited the dumpster near his mother’s home.
Walshe is arrested for misleading police. A search warrant for the house is obtained, and police discover blood stains in the basement. They also found a knife with traces of blood on it.
Police then searched the dumpster near his mother’s home and found 10 trash bag that were stained with blood. Inside, they discovered;
- Slippers with both Ana and Brian’s DNA on it
- Rags, tape, a medical suit with Brian and Ana’s DNA on it
- Ana’s Hunter boots
- Ana’s Prada handbag
- Ana’s COVID-19 vaccine card, with her name on it
- Cutting shears
Police say Walshe used one of his young son’s iPads to search gruesome terms like ‘how long before a body starts to smell?’ Ana Walshe is shown with the boys
Ana and Brian at the start of their romance, left, when he showered her with designer bags and cars. She is shown, right, more recently. Ana had grown to become independent, working in Washington DC away from her family
According to friends, she and Brian had been fighting over her grueling work schedule.
She had been spending more time working in Washington DC for the real estate firm Tishman Speyer, while her husband was at home in Cohasset, Massachusetts.
Ana, a Serbian immigrant who met wealthy Walshe in 2005 while working in hotels, was enjoying her busy working life when she disappeared.
She regularly posted about her colleagues on social media, where mentions of her husband were few and far between.
She’d been working for Tishman Speyer for two years, and spending much of her time away from her family.
On January 1, she failed to show up to work in Washington DC.
Four days later, the head of security for Tishman Speyer in DC called police in Cohasset, where she lived with her family, requesting a welfare check.
The caller said he’d informed Brian that Ana was missing.
Ana Walshe and her husband Brian in happier times. Friends say she barely mentioned him when talking about her family
On January 8, Brian was arrested for misleading the police investigation into his wife’s disappearance.
It then emerged that police had found traces of blood in the couple’s basement.
A search of a trash transfer center later turned up bloody items including a hatchet and a rug.
Walshe had researched ‘how to dispose of a 115-pound body’ on the internet, and he’d also been seen lingering around a trash dumpster next to his mother’s house, according to prosecutors.
Long before his wife went missing, he was arrested on suspicion of stealing and trying to sell two fake Andy Warhol paintings.
Family friends described him as a ‘sociopath’ who turned on his ailing, elderly father in a desperate grab for his wealth.
After the murder charge was announced against her husband last night, friends started paying tribute to the vivacious mother-of-three.
Abdulla Almutairi, her colleague and best friend, said: ‘You’ll always be my best friend and family.
‘Rest easy, Heaven is a lot brighter; be the sunshine and the moonlight that you always are.’