“I don’t know where she is,” Al Kasatkin said as he choked back tears.
No text, no voicemail, no trace. Kimberlee Kasatkin had vanished.
It was November 2016 when she was last seen alive, entering her apartment in Lima, Peru with her partner, Christopher Franz Bettocchi. And since that day, her family has been tormented, trying to uncover what happened to the 41-year-old mother while navigating an unfamiliar and challenging legal system.
According to Kimberlee’s sister Kristina, Kimberlee and Bettocchi left their apartment to go out for dinner on the evening of Nov. 26, 2016. Kristina said she was the last person to talk to Kimberlee on the phone before she left home, adding that everything seemed fine.
“They were going out for a date, for dinner. They were going to have sushi in some restaurant,” said Kristina.
Surveillance footage showed the couple had returned home that evening, and police documents said it’s the last time Kimberlee was seen alive.
You can watch Crime Beat ‘Kimberlee Kasatkin: No Body, No Crime’ Saturday, May 16 on Global TV at 7 p.m.
The B.C. woman’s parents, Al and Kathy Kasatkin, have travelled from Abbotsford, B.C., to Peru more than 15 times over the past three years, searching for any sign of Kimberlee.
“I just miss her so much. It’s just taking so long. It’s just not fair,” Kathy said, clutching her husband’s arm. “I imagine what she must have been going through in the last few minutes of her life and I’m having a hard time holding it together right now.”
Kimberlee had an innate desire to help people, her parents said. She was ambitious, too, they said.
“We kept telling her, ‘You need to go on MasterChef.’ She liked skiing. She loved gardening. And, you know, she loved a good joke and she loved to laugh,” Kathy remembered.
Kimberlee wanted to make a difference. She was drawn to Chinese medicine as a young woman growing up in Aldergrove, B.C., and was studying acupuncture at Pacific Rim College on Vancouver Island in 2009 when she first crossed paths with Christopher Franz Bettocchi, a Peruvian citizen. Bettocchi was a teacher and student at the school.
After a fierce love affair, Kimberlee was pregnant. The couple’s son was born in Victoria. A source confirmed Bettocchi was expelled for plagiarism. After that, the couple packed up and left for Uganda. Ultimately, Kimberlee and Bettocchi moved to Miraflores, a wealthy district in Lima, Peru, where their second child, a daughter, was born.
It was after they had moved to Lima when friends and family became aware of a troubled relationship.
“There were so many times she was in my apartment in tears, just incredibly upset,” said Rachael Fois, one of Kimberlee’s best friends in Peru. “They had a lot of fights. He’d say, ‘You can leave any time you want. The plane is there. You can go any time you want back to Canada, but the children will stay here.’
She never would have left those kids. Never! There’s no way, no way!”
According to Fois, Kimberlee had tried to get help from the Canadian Embassy in Lima. When Global News asked the embassy for details, they refused to answer questions, citing privacy concerns.
“For us, it’s not disappeared. For us, she has been murdered,” said Julio Rodriguez, Kimberlee’s lawyer in Peru.
Rodriguez detailed chilling evidence in the case. Kimberlee entered her building that night but never came out. The day after, on Nov. 27, 2016, Bettocchi was captured on a surveillance camera dragging a large mysterious bag he could barely lift from the elevator to his vehicle in the underground parkade.
“We saw the package being dragged. I think that’s when I actually jumped up and I yelled and I accused him right there…murder and that he was getting rid of the body,” Al Kasatkin said.
The prosecutor’s report stated Kimberlee’s blood was found on a column in the parkade, and traces of unidentifiable blood were discovered on the apartment door, elevator button and the couple’s mattress.
Bettocchi was arrested on Feb. 21, 2017 in a café near his home. He denied Kimberlee’s body was in the bag, claiming it was camping gear.
“The first thing for me was that my heart sank. Even though I had already suspected that this is what had occurred,” said the major crime detective in charge of the missing persons investigation in Canada.
“I thought he (Bettocchi) was definitely withholding information or being economical with the truth,” the detective added in his first interview. For safety reasons, the undercover officer, with the Abbotsford Police Department, cannot be identified because of his current unit.
Cellphone records led investigators to Chilca, a city 90 minutes outside of Lima. Bettocchi has land in the area. Two bodies were ultimately discovered, but based on Kimberlee’s dental records, neither was her.
One week after he was arrested, Bettocchi was charged with femicide — the killing of a woman under Peruvian law.
Femicide is one of the most serious crimes in Peru. It carries a higher sentence than homicide. The prosecutor was seeking a 17-year sentence.
“I know in the North American system there is a phrase I heard — ‘no body, no crime’ — but in our system it’s not because if we have enough evidence, we can use that evidence to sentence him for femicide. There’s a lot of evidence,” Rodriguez explained.
Despite the scale of evidence resulting in two judges denying Bettocchi’s release, a third judge in another jurisdiction let him go on habeas corpus in June 2018, citing insufficient grounds for detention.
The Kasatkins were astonished when Peruvian press broke the news that Bettocchi was a free man.
“I was blindsided,” Al recalled.
The public prosecutor won an appeal against that decision, and the court ordered him to return back to prison.
But Bettocchi is gone, his whereabouts unknown. In an email Bettocchi sent to Global News, the fugitive claimed he has not vanished and is awaiting his day in court.
“I am in Peru just waiting for the trial to start. Once the trial is over and I can finally prove my innocence: when that moment comes, I will start legal actions against those who have defamed me and against those who have given false statements about my name and integrity,” Bettocchi wrote.
Bettocchi is one of Peru’s top 10 most wanted. The price on his head is 20,000 soles for any information leading to his capture. That works out to almost C$8,000 — more than a year’s salary for the average Peruvian. A criminal trial is impossible until Bettocchi is found.
“Peru doesn’t have a justice system. It has a legal system, but there is no justice system there,” Kathy asserted.
No body, no death certificate, but it was time to put Kimberlee to rest. The family moved forward with a memorial service in September 2019. It wasn’t an easy decision, but hope was fading. The focus now is on Kimberlee’s legacy and her children, who are living with the accused killer’s mother in Lima.
“I just feel like they’re brainwashed,” Al said.
Kimberlee’s parents are fully aware that the court battle for custody of their grandchildren could take years. They sold their house and are exhausting their retirement savings to cover the legal costs.
“I would love to just sit back someday over a campfire or barbecue and just tell stories. I mean, I think that’s what grandparents are supposed to do, right?” Al said.
Al and Kathy’s resolve is fortified, no matter how long it takes. They’ve already lost their daughter. They’re determined not to lose their grandchildren, too.