More than two years after Eduardo Balaquit – a 59-year-old Filipino immigrant and family man – vanished while working as a cleaner in Winnipeg, police have charged a 35-year-old former colleague with his slaying.

More than two years after Eduardo Balaquit – a 59-year-old Filipino immigrant and family man – vanished while working as a cleaner in Winnipeg, police have charged a 35-year-old former colleague with his slaying.

Eduardo Balaquit.

Eduardo Balaquit.

Kyle Alexander James Pietz, 35, who worked at Westcon Equipment & Rentals with Balaquit but was no longer employed by the company the day the man disappeared, was arrested in Saskatoon Tuesday. Pietz was charged with manslaughter and made his first appearance in a Winnipeg courtroom Wednesday.

Winnipeg police Det.-Sgt. Wade McDonald announced the arrest during a press conference Thursday, characterizing the investigation into Balaquit’s disappearance as long, complex and gruelling.

"Eduardo was a hardworking man. He worked several jobs here in the city. He worked at this business for a number of years. He had just gone to work and never returned home," McDonald said.

"We believe he was a victim of a homicide, he’s deceased, and Kyle Pietz is responsible."

Sergeant Wade McDonald of the Winnipeg Police Service Homicide Unit announces Thursday morning that they have made an arrest in the disappearance of Eduardo Balaquit on June 4, 2018.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sergeant Wade McDonald of the Winnipeg Police Service Homicide Unit announces Thursday morning that they have made an arrest in the disappearance of Eduardo Balaquit on June 4, 2018.

“Eduardo was a hardworking man. He worked several jobs here in the city. He worked at this business for a number of years. He had just gone to work and never returned home." — Winnipeg police Det.-Sgt. Wade McDonald

The mystery began on the evening of June 4, 2018, when Balaquit left home to go to work as a cleaner at Westcon, located in the 300 block of Keewatin Street. When he didn’t return home that night, his wife and two sons knew something was wrong.

The next morning, it was discovered that only a portion of the Westcon business had been cleaned, indicating Balaquit had likely begun his work the previous evening but didn't finish. Soon after, police found his vehicle abandoned in a deserted parking lot nearby.

The window to Balaquit’s van was smashed and broken glass was scattered on the pavement. Personal belongings, including his cellphone, were found inside.

When Eduardo Balaquit didn’t return home from work on the evening of June 4, 2018, his wife Lumie and their two sons Erwin (left) and Edward (right) knew something was wrong.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

When Eduardo Balaquit didn’t return home from work on the evening of June 4, 2018, his wife Lumie and their two sons Erwin (left) and Edward (right) knew something was wrong.

The case quickly became high-profile news in the city, with the local Filipino community rallying behind Balaquit’s family and organizing searches for the missing father.

McDonald said it was clear to investigators that Balaquit had been the victim of a crime. It didn’t take long before Pietz was identified as a person of interest, he said. At the time, Pietz was living in Winnipeg, but he later moved to Saskatchewan.

The local Filipino community rallyed behind Balaquit’s family and organized searches for the missing father.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The local Filipino community rallyed behind Balaquit’s family and organized searches for the missing father.

On June 13, 2018, Winnipeg police announced the investigation had led them to the Interlake region. A massive search with RCMP took place in the area surrounding the town of Arborg, 100 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

That search wrapped up by the end of the week without the results investigators were hoping for. To this day, Balaquit’s remains have not been found.

On the one-year anniversary of Balaquit’s disappearance, Winnipeg police released a stock photo of a blue Ford Escape. Police said the vehicle had been seen near the 300 block of Keewatin around the time Balaquit went missing.

Unsolved cases

Thelma Krull

Thelma Krull was last seen on the morning of July 11, 2015, leaving her home for a regular morning walk in the East Kildonan area. The 57-year-old grandmother never came home. A year later, Winnipeg police identified a suspect — a heavy-set man with a bowl cut — who had reportedly been spotted with a woman matching Krull’s description. In fall 2018, a hunter found a skull in the Rural Municipality of Tache — later identified as Krull’s.

Thelma Krull

Thelma Krull was last seen on the morning of July 11, 2015, leaving her home for a regular morning walk in the East Kildonan area. The 57-year-old grandmother never came home. A year later, Winnipeg police identified a suspect — a heavy-set man with a bowl cut — who had reportedly been spotted with a woman matching Krull’s description. In fall 2018, a hunter found a skull in the Rural Municipality of Tache — later identified as Krull’s.

Amber McFarland

It’s been more than a decade since then-24-year-old Amber McFarland was last seen leaving a nightclub in Portage la Prairie in October 2008. A year after she never came home, two men — including her boyfriend — were arrested, but both were released without charges. RCMP declared the case a homicide that same year; there have been few developments since.

Jennifer Catcheway

Jennifer Leigh Catcheway, originally from Skownan First Nation, phoned her mother on June 19, 2008 to say she would be home in Portage la Prairie that evening to celebrate her 18th birthday. She never arrived. More than 10 years later, Catcheway’s family continue to search for her, believing the RCMP mishandled the case and have scarcely been in touch.

Claudette Osborne

In the early hours of July 25, 2008, Claudette Osborne called several members of her family from a payphone, located at the intersection of Selkirk Avenue and King Street, having just left the Lincoln Motor Hotel in Winnipeg. She was 21 and a mother of four. For the past 12 years, her family has led annual walks and vigils in the city’s North End, but no leads, tips or answers have come to light.

Sunshine Wood

Sunshine Wood, a member of the Manto Sipi Cree Nation, was just 16 years old when she was last seen Feb. 20, 2004, smiling and holding the door of the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Winnipeg. The street-smart teen had moved to the city for high school, her father told media at the time, and Winnipeg police described her disappearance as out of character. The case remains unsolved more than 15 years later.

Colten Pratt

On the evening of Nov. 6, 2014, 26-year-old Colten Pratt was seen leaving the Marlborough Hotel in Winnipeg, planning on heading home to St. Vital. Pratt, who identified as two-spirit and originally hailed from Long Plain First Nation, may have been spotted early the next morning at a bus shelter on Main Street near Redwood Avenue. No one has heard from Pratt since.

— Julia-Simone Rutgers

Investigators believed the same vehicle was later seen near Arborg. On Thursday, McDonald confirmed it’s believed Pietz owned a blue Ford Escape. While he wouldn’t say what led police to Arborg, it’s possible the sighting of a similar vehicle brought their search to the area.

On Thursday, McDonald would not speak to a possible motive in the slaying, and repeatedly declined comment when asked for additional details about the crime.

"This has been a lengthy and complex investigation. Over time, a period of three years, the investigation has evolved. Manitoba Justice has reviewed the investigation and authorized the charge of manslaughter," McDonald said.

"Homicide investigations are tough work. It’s difficult for our investigators and it’s difficult for their families... It’s hard work, it’s long work, it’s exhausting. And sometimes, it’s ungratifying. It was a good feeling making that arrest."

Pietz does not appear to have a criminal record in Manitoba, although he does have two civil cases on the books. He was previously sued by a collection agency for $7,800 in unpaid credit card debt, and there was a $20,000 judgment against him in a St. Boniface court.

Volunteers search for Eduardo Balaquit in a field just outside the perimeter highway June 10, 2018.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Volunteers search for Eduardo Balaquit in a field just outside the perimeter highway June 10, 2018.

When Pietz made his first appearance in court Wednesday, Crown attorney Brent Davidson said he would soon have a disclosure package for the defence totalling 175 gigabytes of data, which he called "an extensive amount of information."

Attempts to reach Balaquit’s family for comment were unsuccessful Thursday. In the aftermath of their father’s disappearance, Balaquit’s sons, Erwin and Edward, made repeated pleas through the media for information that could bring their father home.

"There are just all these days that you want him there for. Thanksgiving passes. My mom’s birthday passes. Christmas is coming. These are all events that are happening and he should be here," said Edward, in a 2018 interview to mark the six-month anniversary of his dad's disappearance.

"Until this is resolved, it’s hell. It’s been hell."

—with files from Dean Pritchard and Kevin Rollason

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
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Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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