A tragic, violent event took the life of a gregarious mom of 6 one early fall morning almost 50 years ago in the small quaint city of Brantford. No arrests or charges were ever made for her murder. Who could have killed this fun and hardworking woman?
On Thursday, November 8, 1973, the kids, 16-year-old Virginia, 15-year-old Jim, 14-year-old Robert and 9-year-old Chris, got up, got ready and then left for school. Their parents’ bedroom door was closed, and it was quiet in the house. Their mom and their dad were nowhere to be seen. According to the children, this was not uncommon. One reason could be that their mom may have worked different shifts as a nurse’s aide at the John Noble Nursing Home, never mind that she had been off work for several days by the time Thursday rolled around. Nevertheless, the kids got ready and left for school.
Robert decided to come home for lunch; it was a relatively short walk from the high school where he and his older siblings would have attended. Shortly after noon, his sister called home to tell her younger brother to make sure to “wake up mommy.” Seeing as he wanted her opinion on what he should have for lunch in any case, he put the phone down. He then made the short walk to his parent’s bedroom, which was on the main floor of their 2-story single-family brick home, and opened the door.
His mom was still lying in bed, covered from head to toe by a blanket. But the scene was far from peaceful. Instead, the room spoke of unquestionable violence; the room was covered in blood splatter, as was her body and bed beneath the covers.
He returned to his sister, who was waiting on the phone, and told her their mom had blood on her. Virginia then disconnected with her brother in order to call for help. Emergency received a call from Virginia at 12:20 pm reporting a severe beating had taken place at 86 Queen Street in downtown Brantford.
Firefighters and EMS responded first, followed by law enforcement a few minutes later. There they entered the bedroom of Peter and Dina Belanco. According to eyewitnesses at the scene, the room was blood-spattered from the attack. Dina’s body was found lying in bed. She was clothed in her nightgown, and her body, including her head & face, had been covered by the bedspread. There did not appear to be any defensive wounds, and it was concluded that she had been asleep in bed when she was attacked and killed. Coroner Dr. J.H. Carson attended the scene and pronounced Dina’s death. A neighbour confirmed her identity. Law enforcement stayed on the scene for a few hours, gathering intel and evidence. No evidence of forced entry or robbery was divulged—Additionally, no obvious signs of sexual assault.
Her body was left at the scene for a considerable time while Dr. L A Jentz, a pathologist attached to the Brantford General Hospital, made temperature checks which would help him determine a time of death. After what seemed like hours at the Belanco home, Dina’s body was removed. Her autopsy was scheduled for the following day. However, it was apparent that her death was caused by homicide, and the police believed a heavy item was used to kill her. No murder weapon was found on the scene. Still, a senior officer on the scene was quoted as saying, “it must have been something heavy” because the victim’s skull was cracked.
At this point, Brantford Police Chief Weir told local media that they were seeking a suspect and that charges for non-capital murder were expected to be laid.
Who could possibly want to kill the pretty petite mother of 6? Dina was an active, outgoing and hardworking woman. Like many Canadians, she emigrated to Canada from the Netherlands sometime in her youth. She met and started dating and eventually married a widower and single father in her mid to late 20s. His name was Peter Belanko. He originated from Romania and had emigrated ahead of his young family, likely shortly after World War 2. He had been previously married to a young woman named Carolina or Line Argenziana. Records show that she and her two young boys moved to Brantford, Canada, at the end of 1951. The boys, Peter Jr or Pietro and John or Giovanni, were only four years old and five months old, respectively. Carolina had died suddenly just a little over a year later, at the beginning of 1953, leaving behind her husband, a school-aged child and a toddler. Her cause of death hasn’t been confirmed, as no local newspapers reported on her death other than publishing her obituary.
Dina and Peter would marry just a couple of years later, and Dina would step into the role of step-mom for Peter’s two boys.
Dina and Peter would go on to have four kids together; 1 girl and three boys. The growing family had lived at a few different locations early in their marriage but had lived at this downtown location for approximately 6 to 8 years. Peter gained employment mainly as a day labourer and had been caught several times with the theft. The issues surrounding theft were minor, including an incident where he stole a kitchen sink from a building scheduled to be demolished. He had also had a few instances of driving while under the influence of alcohol, angrily yelling and ripping up traffic violations at the police station. However, his most notable was the incident in the fall of 1959. Peter was charged with the assault of a man that landed that man in hospital. The victim, a 55-year-old man, named Alex Papp, was beaten severely about the head after an argument between himself and Peter Belanco Sr. regarding wages broke out. Alex Papp received severe head cuts when he was beaten at his farm home. The Ontario provincial police believed some instrument was used in the beating. Peter sr. had also stolen Mr. Papp’s leather jacket and had been caught driving without a licence.
At the time of Dina’s death in 1973, the two older boys were both 26 and 22 and no longer living with Peter Sr. and Dina Belanco. Peter jr. had been getting in trouble by this point – small scale, like stealing a wallet, stealing a tent, getting into a fight and beating someone, careless driving.
The family of 6, Peter and Dina and the four younger kids lived in a two-story brick exterior single-family home on Queen Street, a relatively quiet area in the downtown core. The house was sandwiched between a larger 19th-century home, turned apartments, and a larger 19th-century industrial brick building that, although started off as a bakery, was now Dell’s Electric & Auto Repair. Directly in front of the family home was a funeral home, complete with a crematorium.
On the day that Dina’s body was discovered, Peter, her husband, was located at around 3 pm in downtown Brantford. Upon finding him, law enforcement immediately took him into custody for what is described as intensive questioning. During the overnight interrogation, Peter would outline his movements in the previous 24 hours before Dina’s body was found. He was released the following morning. Following his release, a team of detectives from Brantford left en route to Toronto to validate or confirm the alibi provided by Dina’s husband.
During questioning, Peter advised detectives that he had been at Toronto General hospital that morning and had left Toronto to return to Brantford by bus at 1:15 pm, the day that Dina’s body was discovered. A call from a doctor in Toronto and a photo identification of Peter by a bus driver confirmed what he had told the police. However, there was no mention in any media when he left Brantford for Toronto and why he was at the Toronto General hospital.
Chief Weir said the weapon was believed to be a heavy, blunt instrument and has never been located. However, we do not know how far and wide the search for a potential weapon went. Could it have been disposed of between Brantford and Toronto? Was it even a possibility? Their primary suspect, the victim’s husband, was never charged as they felt as though there wasn’t sufficient evidence, physical or even circumstantial, at the time. Following Peter’s release from custody, Chief Weir then told the media, “At first, we believed there would be an early solution to the case. We had every reason to believe we had a prime suspect as the evidence at the time was very strong. But after questioning the suspect extensively regarding Belanco’s movements in the previous 24 hours before the body was found, no charges were laid.”
Aside from the fact that most homicides are committed by someone within the victim’s close circle of family or friends, why would the Brantford police chief prematurely say to the media, on the day that she was murdered, that the case would be resolved and closed soon? Police would later tell local media that all that was known was that Dina and her husband were not getting along. In fact, law enforcement was called to the Belanco home the evening before Dina was murdered for a “family matter.” However, there was no confirmation from law enforcement that Peter was present in the family at the time or was involved in the incident that resulted in them attending. Instead, they indicated that when they arrived, they found that they had been called out for a matter that had happened some 12 hours earlier. However, no further information was provided regarding the incident for which the police were called, nor who was there. Chief Weir would only say at the time that there was no real connection between that call and the homicide.
The pathologist had completed the autopsy on Dina’s fractured body. He concluded and confirmed that her cause of death was blunt force trauma resulting in a massive skull fracture. Unfortunately, her time of death was never explicitly revealed to the media, with the police only divulging that it was believed that she had died sometime during the morning hours on Thursday, November 8. It’s speculation on my part, but it certainly seems possible that she could have been beaten and then left, only to die a few hours later. Additionally, morning hours could mean any time after midnight.
Law enforcement would canvas the neighbours to see if anyone saw or heard anything. No one saw or heard anything between the few residential places, the funeral home, and Dell’s Car Repair. This is no real surprise, as two of the locations would have been unoccupied during her beating and subsequent death.
As mentioned, when the four children left for school that morning, they didn’t look in on their mother. It was assumed that she was sleeping, which apparently wasn’t uncommon, possibly due to the different shifts she worked as a nurse’s aide. She had been off work for several days and was expected back to her job the day after she was killed.
According to Dina’s daughter, everyone loved the mother of six; she was fun, always wore a smile and was very caring. Yet, she was beaten to death while she slept in her bed the night following a domestic incident that the police attended. There was no evidence of forced entry into the home, no evidence of robbery and no sexual assault. But if not her spouse, then who? Were any doors or windows unlocked? Could one of the neighbours or a worker from Dell’s auto repair have waited until the early morning, snuck in, senselessly beat the woman to death, and covered her head so they wouldn’t have to see what they did to her? And then left without leaving a trace? What would be the probability of that? Could it have been one of the children? The oldest two were in the early to mid-twenties; although they didn’t live at the house, could they have come in the night/early morning, let themselves it and murdered their step-mom? Could it have been one of the children living at home at the time? Did they have the strength and stamina to cause the horrible scene left in that room following that violence? What motive would those children have, the youngest of the four only nine years old?
All of their children were interviewed, including Peter’s two oldest children from his previous marriage, and all were ruled out.
Given that law enforcement knew of issues between the husband and wife and that Peter was known to police due to some unfavourable incidents, including the assault on a man by way of beating him about the head with a heavy instrument, combined with no forced entry and no robbery, it’s not a surprise that police would believe that “they had their man.” Following the release of their prime suspect, the investigation sputtered along until February 1974. By this time, they have interviewed and ruled out the other members of her family and circle of friends. At this time, the investigation into her murder ground to a halt and the case grew cold.
The initial police investigation was considered bungled by many officers, past and present. Despite this, no one knows precisely what went wrong or why the case was compromised to the point of being irreparable. But, according to the head of the city police criminal investigation branch in 1997, “if a homicide isn’t solved within 7-10 days, you’ve got a real task.”
Older and colder cases have been solved with significant technological advances and available tools or resources. But, all of that becomes irrelevant if there is no viable forensic evidence for law enforcement to test.
Peter Belanco died only one year and a bit later, just shy of 60 years old, on May 26, 1975, leaving the kids without any parents.
I reached out to the Brantford police hoping for additional information in this case as we move closer and closer to the 50th anniversary of her death. I asked a few things, namely what their position was on or response to the local media indicating the initial police investigation was mishandled; if they had a suspect for the homicide, deceased or alive; if the murder weapon was ever located; the times that Peter Belanco Sr. was at the Toronto General Hospital; a more precise time of death; if they could confirm if there was any correlation between the incident the BPS was called to the evening before Dina was killed; if they could confirm the cause of death of Peter Belanco’s first wife and if this was looked into during the initial investigation; if there was evidence of domestic violence in the household in question; if there is any forensic evidence that can be retested. The Brantford Police Services responded that they could only confirm that this case remains open and ongoing; however, most of my questions were evidentiary in nature, and they could not provide any of the requested information.
During an investigation, investigators will identify many details about the crime from the scene of the crime or from interviewing witnesses or victims. It can include how the crime happened, the sequence of events, the tools used, and the means of entry, exit, paths, and any other details only the offender would know. Law enforcement will typically select unique facts discovered during the investigation that can be kept back as “hold-back evidence.” This evidence isn’t cited in reports or media releases but is used exclusively for testing for false confessions. It is one thing to confess to a crime, but it is quite another to disclose and reveal intimate details to the court.
It is true; it is essential that police hold back information only the killer or killers would know and protect the public from forming their own opinions on a who-done-it and becoming a vigilante. But surely there was something additional that could have been released, as we are close to 50 years since the crime took place?
Unsolved murders and missing person cases generally never close. But, even after years of being cold, new evidence, including witness testimony, can move the case forward. Sometimes people may have information they think is trivial, but that detail might be the piece of the puzzle needed.
Anyone with information regarding the murder of Dina Haayer Belanco, please contact the Major Crime Unit with the Brantford police at 519-756-0113 or, if you wish to remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 519-750-TIPS (8477) or toll-free: 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Tips may also be sent via e-mail by visiting www.crimestoppers-brant.ca.
The Expositor (Brantford, Ontario) – 16 Oct 1997
The Expositor (Brantford, Ontario) – 9 Nov 1973
The Expositor (Brantford, Ontario) – 10 Nov 1973
The Expositor (Brantford, Ontario) – 6 Dec 1973
The Expositor (Brantford, Ontario) – 16 Oct 1997
The Expositor (Brantford, Ontario) – 18 Sep 1990
The Expositor (Brantford, Ontario) – 21 Mar 1974
The Expositor (Brantford, Ontario) – 16 Oct 1997
The Expositor (Brantford, Ontario) – 2 Feb 1953
The Expositor (Brantford, Ontario) – 08 Aug 1958
The Expositor (Brantford, Ontario) – 31 Aug 1970
The Expositor (Brantford, Ontario) – 8 Nov 1973
The Kingston Whig-Standard (Kingston, Ontario) – 9 Nov 1973
Various additional items were sourced from Ancestry.com