Melbourne man Borce Ristevski has unexpectedly pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his wife Karen, whose body was dumped in bushland.
Ristevski, 54, was about to stand trial in the Victorian supreme court, accused of murdering his 47-year-old wife Karen at their Avondale Heights home on 29 June 2016 and dumping her body in bushland.
Prosecutors withdrew the murder charge and Ristevski entered a plea of guilty to manslaughter on Wednesday.
Ristevski had denied killing the dress shop owner, whose skeletal remains were found eight months later in Macedon regional park by two horticulturalists who had noticed a strange smell.
An autopsy could not ascertain her cause of death.
When his wife vanished, Ristevski told police she had gone for a walk to clear her mind and never returned.
Ristevski, who was a pallbearer at his wife’s funeral, was charged with murder after an investigation that involved listening devices and CCTV footage analysis.
It is alleged he took Karen Ristevski’s Mercedes-Benz roadster to dispose of the body, killing the signal of his and her mobile phones on the way.
He then allegedly dumped his wife’s body between two logs and concealed it with branches before returning home.
During earlier court hearings, Ristevski’s lawyers had argued the murder charge should be abandoned and sought a pre-trial committal hearing on the lesser charge of manslaughter, because no jury could find there was murderous intent.
But prosecutors pushed hard for a murder trial, saying Ristevski’s deceitful behaviour after the killing gave rise to the required intent.
They said the way he concealed the body and lied to family and police were not the actions of a man who accidentally killed his wife.
The magistrate said the evidence was largely circumstantial, but, taken at its highest, the case was strong enough for a jury to convict him of murder.
In emotional testimony at the committal hearing, the couple’s daughter, Sarah Ristevski, said her father was never aggressive towards her mother.
The family’s troubled financial situation was aired, including details of Karen Ristevski’s fashion store Bella Bleu being unable to cover its expenses.
The Ristevskis had allegedly argued over money before the killing.