EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Though last seen on New Year’s Day, Wednesday marks one week since a Cohasset, Massachusetts, mother was first reported missing to police.
Brian Walshe has since been charged with misleading police in connection with his wife Ana Walshe’s disappearance, as investigators have been searching the state to find the 39-year-old or her body.
According to former Rhode Island State Police colonel and 12 News law enforcement analyst Steven O’Donnell, murder cases can and have been prosecuted without a body. In fact, two instances involved murders that took place in the 1970s in Rhode Island.
Anthony Parillo was sentenced to life behind bars for the 1977 murders of Ronald Leone, 28, of Johnston, and Rudy Baronet, 17, of Cranston. Their bodies were never found.
The state Supreme Court later overturned the conviction, but Parrillo eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to 20 years. He was paroled in 1994.
Joseph “Joey Onions” Scanlon was murdered in 1978 and initially, his body was not found. Nicholas Pari and Andrew Merola were convicted, again despite the lack of a body.
The difference in this case is that Pari eventually offered up the location of Scanlon’s body. In 2008, investigators dug up the remains in East Providence. Pari previously lied and said the body was thrown off the Jamestown Bridge.
“Those are two major murder cases in Rhode Island that happened without a body,” O’Donnell said. “Both contained circumstantial evidence very similar to what’s happening up in Cohasset.”
O’Donnell said a major difference in Cohasset involves forensic evidence found at a transfer station in Peabody, along with dates Brian Walshe provided to police and surveillance video showing that he bought cleaning supplies at Home Depot.
“All the things that he bought at Home Depot, if they’re in the transfer station, and there’s blood, the DNA technology is even better now,” O’Donnell said.
“So without a body, they certainly could prosecute and probably have enough to convict,” he added.
Additionally, leading up to his wife’s disappearance, Brian Walshe was wearing a location-monitoring bracelet while awaiting sentencing in a federal case that involved selling fake paintings. The 46-year-old was supposed to report his planned movements, but as police learned, he was not entirely forthcoming.
Court papers outlining the conditions of Walshe’s release said he was restricted to his Cohasset home at all times, except for activities preapproved by the probation office.
“If that stayed on him the entire time, there’s a whole tracking system wherever he went, so there’s nothing that they can’t check,” O’Donnell noted.
Prosecutors said Walshe told police he went to his mother’s house in Swampscott on New Year’s Day, which is also the last time he says he saw his wife.
Since then, various pieces of evidence have been collected across the state.
“If that body or pieces of the body — as awkward as that sounds — is located in the transfer station, they’re going to have to track exactly where that person went,” O’Donnell said. “And that’s unusual that somebody would have a tracking system on themselves, which even goes more than he knows he has it on it.”
O’Donnell told 12 News that while the outcome of the case may not result in finding Ana alive, there is no reason for prosecutors to rush additional charges against her husband.
“They’re going to do their best to find it every possible way they can, if there is a body, but they have the suspect held,” O’Donnell said.
“So it’s not where there’s a lot of pressure that you have a monster on the street, that sort of danger that community. He’s locked up,” O’Donnell continued. “The chances of being released are pretty minimal.”
Walshe is currently being held on a $500,000 bond. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Monday.
To date, no one, including Walshe, has been charged with murder; it’s still a missing persons case.