Warning: This story contains graphic details of a homicide.
A 70-year-old Alberta woman was convicted this week of second-degree murder and indignity to a body for fatally stabbing her husband, removing his arms and dumping his body 150 kilometres east of her home on an abandoned farm in Saskatchewan.
The crime has no clear motive, but the details are outlined in Court of King’s Bench Justice Dallas Miller’s 34-page conviction decision, which was handed down following a trial earlier this month that saw prosecutors Jase Cowan and Brian Shantz call 18 witnesses over the seven days of evidence.
The victim was Alfred (Alf) Belyea, a 72-year-old Cypress County councillor who had served his community for six years and had recently told his wife and friends he was planning to seek another term.
The killer is Deborah Belyea, a largely housebound woman with a host of health issues who uses an oxygen tank. One of Deborah’s friends told police she struggled to carry her own knitting bag, which weighed as much as a litre of milk.
The murder took place in the hamlet of Suffield, 40 kilometres west of Medicine Hat, on the Thanksgiving weekend in 2021.
The last people to see Alf alive besides his wife were three fellow Cypress County councillors, who spent the Thursday before Thanksgiving on the golf course together with another tee time booked for the holiday Monday.
But sometime between that Thursday round of golf and the holiday Monday, Deborah killed, dismembered and disposed of her husband, according to this week’s ruling in Medicine Hat. She would eventually draw a map to his body, leaving the map in her living room for their three daughters.
The Belyeas were close with their three adult daughters, who lived in British Columbia. Weekly Zoom video chats were supplemented with near-daily phone calls to and from the girls.
When Deborah told them their father had been missing for four days, they urged her to call police.
RCMP initiated a missing person investigation.
Const. Adam George testified that when he met with her, Deborah had an oxygen tank with her and “walked slow and unsteady and appeared fragile.” He said she was emotional and cried during her statement to police.
She told police that the Thursday before he disappeared, she and her husband had taken a drive and she’d told him she wanted to go stay with one of her daughters. The officer understood that to mean there was difficulty in the marriage.
A late night letter
The morning after that conversation, Deborah told the officer she woke up and her husband was gone. She said he’d mentioned a plan to look at a piece of land with an acquaintance, so she assumed that’s where he’d gone. But Alf never returned.
When police began investigating her father’s disappearance, Trina Belyea flew to Alberta to be with her mother.
Trina arrived on Wednesday, Oct. 13, and noted in her testimony that her mother suffered from depression and had issues with her heart and lungs. The daughter noted her mother was “very upset, emotional and crying.”
Both women woke up in the middle of the night. The mother and daughter spent some time together in the living room and Trina fell asleep in a chair.
When she woke up, her mother was writing something.
‘Please do not hate me’
Deborah went back to bed and her daughter read the letter.
“I love you all so much. You’ve all turned out to be lovely, loving girls. We are so proud.
I love Alf with all my being and I always have. I just want to be close to our girls and grandkids. I love and cherish you and never hurt you. Please do not hate me. I needed to be loved and wanted, your dad to hold me, but he never did anymore. I have days where I sit here by myself … and wish I was with everyone or dead. And now I wish I had just died. I don’t remember what happened but I will eventually, I am sure. Just remember I love you.
I did not mean for this to happen. I don’t ever — even know for sure I did anything, but I want your dad home. I love him. Please help my — I am so sorry. I was such a burden to your dad. No wonder he didn’t like me. I know he loves me just as much as I love him. I’m forgetting and doing stupid things and making his life hell. He wouldn’t let me breath. So sorry. Love everyone.
Deborah had included a hand-drawn map, showing her home and a location in Piapot, Sask.
Trina called RCMP.
Items from Belyea home found with body
The next day, officers were dispatched to follow the route drawn on Deborah’s map.
In Piapot, about five minutes off the Trans-Canada Highway, officers arrived at an abandoned farmyard. Investigators found a grey garbage bin that “appeared to have a human body tightly wrapped in a blue blanket and black plastic garbage bags.”
It was Alf. His arms were missing and have never been recovered.
Alf’s body had been placed in the couple’s garbage bin, which was missing from their home.
The living room area rug was also missing from the family’s home and was recovered with the body.
DNA discovered in Deborah’s trunk
Court heard that the investigation ultimately revealed Alf’s DNA was a match to a blood stain in the trunk of Deborah’s car.
The judge heard a toxicology report showed Alf had a concoction of sedatives in his system at the time of his death, including morphine, codeine, zopiclone and bupivacaine.
Deborah did not testify in her own defence.
Defence lawyer Katherin Beyak argued the letter and map were a continuation of a dream Deborah had told her daughter she’d had.
The Belyeas lived near Piapot before they moved to Suffield, Beyak told the judge.
Beyak took issue with the issue of a lack of murder weapon and the fact that the time of death hadn’t been pinpointed.
‘Tight circle’ of evidence
Deborah’s physical limitations were also a focus of Beyak’s submissions.
Beyak argued her client’s need for an oxygen tank meant “she simply could not do all the physical acts required to commit the murder, cut off the arms and transport the body almost two hours away.”
But prosecutors Cowan and Shantz argued Deborah had exclusive opportunity to murder Alf, who, the evidence showed, was killed in his home while wearing pajamas and dragged out the front door.
She knew where his body was, they pointed out. And his blood was in her trunk.
Miller ruled the evidence, though largely circumstantial, didn’t leave any space for doubt as to Debroah’s guilt.
“Together, this evidence creates a tight circle and prevents any reasonable inference other than guilty,” said Miller in his decision.
A sentencing hearing will take place in February.
A second-degree murder conviction comes with a life sentence with no chance of parole for 10 to 25 years. It’s not yet known what Crown and defence will seek for a parole ineligibility period.