The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on Monday announced it is investigating the death of a 34-year-old man in Lake Superior near Grand Portage as a homicide and that a Duluth man has been charged in connection with the crime.
BCA officials said Richard Anthony Balsimo, of St. Paul, died of “homicidal violence,” based on a report from the Midwest Medical Examiner's office.
Balsimo was last seen in St. Paul on June 19. Friends and family members had been engaged in a broad effort to find him. Investigators working with dive teams located his remains in Lake Superior on July 15 and 16.
The Cook County Attorney’s Office on July 16 charged Robert Thomas West, 41, of Duluth, with one count of aiding an offender and one count of interference with a dead body in connection to the incident. The BCA said additional charges are anticipated and West was being held in the Douglas County Jail in Superior.
‘Likely murdered and dismembered’
According to West's criminal complaint, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office learned that Balsimo was "likely murdered and dismembered on June 20 and his body later placed in 5 gallon buckets in Lake Superior outside of Grand Portage."
An adult witness agreed to speak with the BCA about what they'd seen. According to this witness, West and another suspect met up at West's home. The suspect appeared nervous about something he was carrying in his car, but the witness wasn't sure why, the complaint said. When asked, the suspect allegedly said, "Please don't make me tell you what I have on me." The witness also allegedly saw bullet holes in the passenger seat of the suspect's vehicle.
On June 22, West allegedly asked the witness if they knew anyone with a boat because he "wanted to go fishing." The witness mentioned a friend in Grand Portage who was a commercial fisherman and owned a boat, the complaint said.
The witness and West caravanned in separate vehicles to Grand Portage. They stopped at a camping area about 15 minutes from Grand Portage. The witness asked West if he was paranoid, to which he responded, "Ya, with a dead body in the back," the complaint said. When the witness and West met the commercial fisherman in Grand Portage at about 11:30 p.m., West allegedly claimed he had some of "his grandmother's valuables that he wanted to dump in the lake."
On June 23, the complaint said, the witness overheard a conversation about three buckets, at which point West allegedly revealed that Balsimo had been shot by the other suspect "in self-defense."
Investigators also spoke with the fisherman, who said he met with West on June 23. West allegedly asked him to take him on his boat on Lake Superior, and the fisherman witnessed West drop two 5-gallon buckets and one large tote into the lake, the complaint said. West allegedly said the tote contained the body of a dog. The fisherman also noted that the buckets were likely heavy, as West strained while lifting them, one at a time.
The fisherman later took investigators back to the approximate area where the containers were dropped, where, with help from the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office, a tote and one 5-gallon bucket were removed from the bottom of Lake Superior. Within the tote was a male human torso with legs, arms and head removed. In the pocket of a pair of pants in the tote, a casino players card belonging to Balsimo was found.
West was in custody in Douglas County on unrelated charges when he asked to speak with law enforcement, the complaint said. He allegedly confessed to coming up with the plan to dispose of the body and corroborated a number of details in both of the other witnesses statements, according to the complaint.
This is an active investigation, but based on what is known at this time, investigators do not believe there is an ongoing threat to public safety.
A relative of Balsimo declined to comment Monday, but referred to a statement from Applied Professional Services — private investigators the family hired July 1 to help locate their son.
According to a statement from the company, the private detectives determined that Balsimo was reportedly the victim of a homicide and also found evidence that identified the people responsible for his death. The investigators also identified the location of Balsimo’s remains and shared that information with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. On July 15, the Balsimo family and APS detectives were present when the BCA recovered Balsimo’s remains from Lake Superior.
“APS had five detectives working on this case in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and we were able to piece together information to assist law enforcement agencies in reaching this sad resolution," said Justin Terch, president of Applied Professional Services. "We thank the BCA, Superior Police Detective Joel Markon and the other agencies involved in the final stages of the investigation to recover Mr. Balsimo’s remains. We feel deeply for the Balsimo family. No one should have to go through the terrible emotions and sad news that they have dealt with in recent weeks.”
The BCA is being assisted with its investigation by the Cook County Attorney’s Office, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office, St. Paul Police Department and Superior Police Department.
This story was updated at 3:54 p.m. July 19, with additional information from Applied Professional Services, and again at 9:15 p.m. with details from the criminal complaint. It was originally posted at 2:37 p.m. July 19.