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According to police, around 3 p.m. that same Thursday, Favell and Madinski asked the maid at the Radisson Hotel back in Baldwin Hills for the key to Bralic’s room. They told the maid they wanted to check in on their friend, who was not answering his door. The two had checked out of the Radisson and moved down the street to the Queen’s Lodge Motel that morning. “I think they knew something was up,” says Hamilton. “Why would you move across the street? It doesn’t make sense unless you are trying to protect yourself.” On Friday, they made another trip back to the Radisson and paid for his room for another night. The next day, the two swung by the hotel again before driving the 1,300 miles back to British Columbia. They arrived in Canada that Sunday night.
Meanwhile, Vlatka Bralic was starting to panic. Her baby brother had not returned from his trip to L.A. He was due back on Friday, July 6, in plenty of time for his cousin’s wedding, an event he was supposed to attend with Vlatka the next day. Her calls to his cell phone went directly to his voice mail. “I kept saying that Joe was missing,” says Vlatka. “When anyone would ask me, I would keep saying that. I started to fantasize that he went to Mexico with a girl and didn’t want his girlfriend to know.”
Vlatka says she last saw her brother two days before his trip at his birthday dinner at their mother’s house. That was when he announced he was going to California alone. She said she was surprised and uneasy about his decision.
“I remember saying, ‘Why would you go to Los Angeles by yourself? What happens if you get killed and you are alone in a hotel room with no one there to help you?’ He did his usual ‘Shucks, Sis, I am not going to get killed.’”
On Sunday, July 8, Rachel Duck went over to Bralic’s mother’s house and told the family that she had last spoken to her boyfriend on the morning of July 5. Duck informed the family that she, Madinski and Favell had been with Joe while he was in California. Duck then told the family that Bralic’s friends had returned without him. Vlatka Bralic began contacting the authorities and hospitals in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. She filed a missing-persons report with the Vancouver Police Department and with the local authorities in Baldwin Park. There was still no sign of Joe Bralic.
Three days later, while at her job as an insurance investigator, Vlatka received a call from Fullerton police informing her that they had a John Doe who possibly fit the description of her brother. They asked her to describe his tattoos. Later that day, Joe Bralic was identified through his B.C. driver’s-license photo as Fullerton’s first murder victim of 2001.
Not long after they identified Bralic, Fullerton detectives started to suspect Bralic’s trip was more business than pleasure when they learned from Joe’s friends and family that Madinski and Favell had driven back to Canada days after their friend disappeared without reporting him missing to the local or Canadian authorities. The only missing-persons report was filed by Vlatka Bralic on July 8 — three days after her brother vanished. A week after Bralic’s body was identified, two Fullerton police detectives made their way to Vancouver to interview his family and friends, including his girlfriend, Madinski and Favell. After an initial interrogation by detectives from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Fullerton detectives, both Favell and Madinski hired attorneys.
Joe with his nephew
Even without the help of Favell and Madinski, Bralic’s hidden life began to unravel. Friends say Bralic started to veer in a dangerous direction around the time of his father’s sudden death from lung cancer in March 2001. Of all the four siblings, Bralic took his father’s death the hardest. He became secretive and reclusive. He started to act recklessly. Vlatka Bralic says her brother felt some obligation to help their mother financially. His relationship with his then live-in girlfriend, Rachel Duck, was also on the rocks.
“It was like he had a double life. That whole direction started after my dad’s death,” says Vlatka. “He valued life less. I think it also had to do with his age. He was still in some ways immature, not thinking things through. Usually you outgrow the fact that you are invincible, but it magnified after my dad’s death.”
It was after his father’s death that Bralic grew tighter with Derrick Madinski, Garry Favell and, eventually, with a dangerous former American resident named Anton Brad Hooites-Meursing. Hooites-Meursing was born in Canada, but grew up in Long Beach before he was deported back to Canada 10 years ago, when he was in his early 20s. Hooites-Meursing would eventually introduce Bralic to the men in L.A. who friends think placed a gun to Bralic’s head and killed him.
Dustin Riske says Bralic met Madinski, a fellow bodybuilder who did stints as a bartender at nightclubs in Surrey and Vancouver, at a rave on the burgeoning Vancouver scene. When they met, Bralic was working as a bouncer, and Madinski was investing in the drug trade with his friend Javan Luke Dowling, a convicted drug trafficker. Friends say Bralic soon began to deal marijuana on a small scale. Sources say he also sold Ecstasy. Madinski, on the other hand, was beginning to deal in larger quantities. In the Vancouver law courts a year later, Madinski told authorities that those deals, which started as low as $5,000, soon escalated to amounts as high as $80,000. By February 2001, Madinski’s success in the drug trade allowed him to quit his straight jobs.
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