by Bob Couttie

Former U.S. Marine and security and intelligence contractor Timothy Kaufman’s attempts to avoid facing trial for a double murder in Angeles City in the Philippines came to an end this week when a U.S. federal magistrate ruled that there was enough evidence to agree to a request from the Philippine government for his extradition. Given the glacial progress of the Philippine legal system, the final verdict may take years.

kaufOn 2 September 2011 two men broke into a home occupied by David Balmer, a former Northern Ireland policeman, and his girlfriend Elma de Guia, and pumped 18 shots from silenced pistols into their heads. Kaufman, another American Joseph Tramontano, and Filipino Jesus Santos Jr., are accused of involvement — Kaufman and Tramontano firing the guns, Santos acting as the getaway driver.

Kaufman’s housekeeper, Arceli Garcia, gave police the two Beretta 92DS with suppressors used in the crime and the jacket and jeans worn by the suspects during the killing. She has agreed to turn state’s witness.

A third man, Australian Les Nelson, is alleged to have acted as a lookout but has not been charged.

girls4It is more than a decade since the U.S. Air Force abandoned its base at Clark Field next to Angeles City in the Philippines following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, but its legacy of a economy based on bars and prostitution remains. The former airbase has become a special economic zone and the site of Manila’s second airport, and the notorious girly bars of Angeles have burgeoned. The growth of the sex industry, easy money and drugs have brought the inevitable growth in crime, and a murder rate some 20 percent higher than the rest of the country.

The new establishments include the vast Egyptian-themed Golden Nile bar which delivers girls to the dance floor by an elevated platform a dozen at a time. Just opposite, the Blue Nile hotel provides “sexual shoppers” with fantasy rooms redolent of Tutankhamen’s tomb. Tramontano and a former Northern Irish policeman,  Richard Agnew, were co-owners of both businesses.

gold2It can be a rough town. Richard Agnew, who owned the house where David Balmer and his girlfriend were killed and discovered their bodies, was subject to an assassination attempt in 2012, believed to be the work of a business rival.

Drugs appear to be at heart of the double murder.  Balmer and his live-in girlfriend are said to have been users of cocaine and crystal meth, known in the Philippines as ‘shabu’ and the drug of choice for many foreigners and Filipinos.

Jesus Santos Jr. was arrested in Manila in March 2013. Kaufman, who had left the Philippines on 25 September, three weeks after the double murder, was arrested in Saratoga, New York in April 2013. Tramontano is in hiding somewhere in Asia, whereabouts unknown. He left the Philippines three days after Kaufman.

The Australian getaway driver Les Nelson, who departed for Queensland, Australia on 5 September has apparently not been traced.

Kaufman protests his innocence, claiming he has been framed and that he will be killed if returned to the Philippines. However, the Times Union newspaper quotes U.S. federal magistrate Randolph Treece as saying:

“The tight noose of circumstantial evidence, eyewitnesses’ accounts placing Kaufman and another at the crime scene on or about the time of the murders, the connective forensic thread of the evidence relative to the guns seized by police and the discarded bullet shells found at the crime scene, and Ms. Garcia’s linchpin testimony compel a finding that there is sufficient proof to charge Kaufman with two counts of murder in the Philippines”.

Richard Agnew, who believes drugs were involved, issued an open letter to Tramontano in April, appealing for him to surrender  to U.S. authorities:

meth“I’m sure had you and Kaufman been drug free the murders would not have taken place, therefore you need to come clean on that, as i see it the drug biz is partly to blame for what happened… The mastermind, the paymaster, the protectors of the drug biz all need to be named for you to get a break in this mess you find yourself in. The ambush on me must also be explained should you or any of the co-accused be involved in that….  Its time to step up to the plate Joe, time is running out for you.”

The appeal was personal.

 

Click here to see other posts by Bob Couttie:

The Day I Said No to the French Connection

My First Murder – The Blue Anchor Scandal

Dispatch From Cambodia: Murder In A Sleepy Town

U.S. Navy Cold Case : A Sister’s Persistence Restores the Honor of Murdered Ensign Andrew Lee Muns

The Moors Murderers: Myra Hindley and Ian Brady

 

 

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