By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
While in Los Angeles, Bralic checked into the Radisson Hotel in Baldwin Hills. A few days later, he drove to Las Vegas for a brief respite before heading on to North Dakota to meet up with his girlfriend, Rachel Duck, and his two friends Derrick Madinski and Garry Favell. They stayed overnight in Bismarck sometime around June 29 before driving back to L.A. Joe drove with Duck, and Favell and Madinski drove Madinski’s girlfriend’s Jeep. Friends say Bralic asked Duck to join him to celebrate their anniversary. The two had been fighting to the point where he had recently moved out of the Vancouver apartment they shared, and this trip was meant to signal a more positive turn for their relationship. Although it was last-minute, she agreed and flew to Regina, Saskatchewan — around 1,000 miles from Vancouver — to meet up with Madinski and Favell, who had driven there from Vancouver. Why they had rendezvoused in Saskatchewan before heading into the U.S. would later become a subject of scrutiny and speculation for police. The Jeep they were driving was given a secondary search by U.S. customs officials at the North Dakota border before they were allowed to enter the U.S.
Despite whatever romantic notions they had for their time in the States, Duck left Bralic and flew back to Vancouver the day after they all arrived back in Los Angeles. Friends say she had to return to work, but authorities believe otherwise. Fullerton Police Sergeant Kevin Hamilton, who has been working the case for the last three years, believes that Bralic may have realized that something was going sour with the “business” end of his Los Angeles trip and asked her to leave just in case it got dangerous. “We couldn’t determine a valid reason why she would leave California without him,” Hamilton says.
On the evening of Wednesday, July 4, Bralic and his friends Madinski and Favell cruised the Sunset Strip. They had a couple of drinks at the Viper Room before they crossed the street and checked out one of L.A.’s late-night tattoo parlors. Bralic had a skull-and-crossbones of the comic-strip character the Punisher tattooed on his ankle. Fullerton’s Sergeant Hamilton says that Bralic was reportedly acting tough that night. The artist who gave Bralic his tattoo told police that he warned the Canadian tourist about his cocky behavior, telling him that he would get himself into trouble if he kept it up. Bralic just shrugged it off, smiled and left.
The next day, Bralic got five calls on his cell phone. The second was from his girlfriend, at 9:47 a.m. He told her about his new tattoo, according to Vlatka Bralic, Joe’s oldest sister. The other four calls (9:30 a.m., 10:08 a.m., 10:40 a.m. and 11:57 a.m.) were all less than one minute long. Any calls after that went straight to Bralic’s voice mail. Madinski and Favell told Vlatka that they had asked her brother that morning to join them sightseeing, but he declined. They told her that brief conversation was the last time they spoke to Bralic.
Later that very day, almost 30 miles away, two Fullerton water-maintenance workers were driving through the back alley of a Discount Tire store on West Orangethorpe Avenue when they made a gruesome discovery. Lying next to two parked cars was a body wrapped in plastic. The city workers told police they were certain the body had been freshly deposited, because there was no body there when they passed by a half-hour earlier, at 1:30 p.m. The victim, a well-built male, was fully dressed and looked to be in his early 20s. He was wrapped so tightly that it stemmed the heavy flow of blood visible through the plastic. There was no ID on the 230-pound frame, just a couple of tattoos, including a large one that covered his right shoulder blade and a smaller, fresh tattoo of a comic-book character on his left leg, just above his ankle. His chest, legs and arms were completely waxed. He was clean-shaven and good-looking. The victim apparently died from a single gunshot wound to the head. You don’t see an execution-style murder every day in Fullerton.
“This started out unusual. A body dumped in the middle of the day,” says Hamilton. “In an alley off a very busy street. He hadn’t been killed very long.”
At first, Fullerton detectives believed the murder was linked to an ongoing investigation into possible credit-card fraud that Anaheim police and the U.S. Department of the Treasury were conducting in the area at the same time the body was found. They were told the cases were unrelated. They also thought that because the body was dumped next to two unmarked police cars, it might have been a vendetta against the police. That proved baseless. When no one filed a missing-persons report, the Fullerton police gave the local press a composite sketch of the deceased and a description, which included the frosted blond tips that highlighted his dark, spiky hair. Police believed at first the victim was possibly European, because of the Croatian coat-of-arms tattoo that covered his shoulder blade. In addition, police processed his fingerprints through state, FBI and military records, but found no matches. They also filed a report with the Department of Justice, which keeps updated information on missing-persons cases nationally and internationally.