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KAMLOOPS – A crime scene investigator told a Kamloops jury he observed open head wounds when he found the decomposing body of a woman in the Thompson River near Indian Point in August 2003.
“There were injuries to the skull.... The body was floating and (was) up against the upstream side of a tree,” retired Sgt. Steven Gehl told a jury in the Kamloops Supreme Court trial for Robert Donald Balbar Thursday afternoon. Balbar faces a second-degree murder charge in in the death of his girlfriend Heather Hamill.
Gehl added the body found by a conservation officer was face-up, the head mostly submerged under water. He said he thought he noticed the body was wearing a bra, but later determined the breasts were covered by "an accumulation of sand."
Gehl took several photographs of the body in the water from a Kamloops Fire Rescue boat, an RCMP helicopter and on the ground before it was retrieved by a diver. The body was transported to the Royal Inland Hospital morgue for further observation.
“Some of the skin appeared to be sloughing off,” Gehl said adding the skin was sunburnt in 39 degree weather. “The head was mostly devoid of hair.”
Following Gehl’s description of the body, Crown prosecutor Iain Currie asked him if he had ever visited an apartment on the North Shore’s Oak Road in Kamloops.
Gehl said he had on two separate occasions, once in the summer of 2004 and again in December 2007. He said he had also travelled to an alleyway that connected to Fortune Drive where he took photographs.
In the first two days of his trial, court has heard Balbar confess to murdering Hamill in a recorded conversation with an undercover officer.
The recording was played Thursday morning in open court. Balbar told the undercover officer, who cannot be named due to a court-ordered publication ban, he stored Heather Hamill’s body in a large five-foot-long plastic cooler before disposing it near the river on the North end of Kamloops. The video-recording of Balbar speaking to officers was shown to a jury in Kamloops Supreme Court Thursday morning.
The confession was made after a three-month RCMP-managed “Mr. Big” sting in 2007.
The undercover investigations are an RCMP tool used to gather information and a confession from suspects in criminal cases. Suspects are convinced they’re joining a criminal organization and before signing on officially, they must clear up all previous criminal activity to an undercover officer posing as a crime boss.
Balbar said he put Hamill’s body in the cooler to gather all the blood while he continued to beat her until she died.
“The next day she still looked like she was twitching around,” Balbar said.
He said he noticed she “was still blowing bubbles” so he dealt a final blow with a sledgehammer.
“I actually had (the cooler) in my apartment for a couple of days,” Balbar told the officer. He said he kept Hamill’s body stored in his bedroom before he figured it safe enough to take it out and dispose of it along with evidence of her death. While he had the body in his apartment, Balbar told the undercover officer police came and searched his home.
“The cop was sitting on the cooler going through my dresser,” Balbar said. He added while police searched his apartment he was placed in the back of an RCMP vehicle.
“I was sweating bullets,” he said. “I thought I was fucked for sure.”
Balbar said RCMP did not discover Hamill’s body. To dispose of it, Balbar said he duct-taped the cooler and took a taxi down the street to an abandoned alleyway.
“You put this cooler in a cab?” the officer asked.
“Yeah,” Balbar replied with a laugh. He said he left the cooler in the alley while he borrowed a truck from someone he knew “through the grapevine.”
Balbar said he packed up the cooler into the truck, dropped the truck’s owner off and disposed of Hamill’s body in the Thompson River. He said he ripped Hamill’s shirt off to make her death appear as if it were at the hands of a john. Hamill worked as a prostitute.
Balbar said he proceeded to a different location where he got rid of the cooler and threw the mallet he said he used to beat her into the river.
Balbar told the crime boss he didn’t remember where he disposed of the two other weapons he said he used - a hammer and a sledgehammer - but added he tossed bloodied blankets into a box which he dumped in Westsyde.
“I’m pretty sure (the police) might have them in their possession,” he said.
The officer asked Balbar repeatedly who knew about the crime and if it would come back to “bite him in the ass.” Balbar replied a couple people knew about it, including his son who he said witnessed the murder.
“I went and I... had a talk with him,” Balbar said. “We kind of just laughed about it a bit.”
“I’m worried about the cleanup,” the officer said. “This can’t come back and bite us in the ass, okay? It’s too important.”
“Everything was cleaned up within a week,” Balbar said. “I did a pretty good job.”
Balbar said he used Easy-Off cleaner to remove blood stains around the apartment and from the weapons. He said he bagged and disposed of everything that could be used as evidence and replaced the flooring in the one-bedroom apartment.
At the end of the recording the officer pretended he was convinced by Balbar’s story.
“You’re a lucky man,” he said.
The trial continues Friday morning.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Glynn Brothen at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-319-7494. To contact an editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
-This story was edited at 5:07 p.m. to include evidence from Steven Gehl
-This story was edited to correct the middle name of the accused.