In the weeks after Melbourne mother Karen Ristevski disappeared, her husband Borce Ristevski appeared distraught.
He said she went for a walk from their Avondale Heights home and never returned.
In a tearful public appeal for information, Ristevski stood beside his daughter Sarah, who held a photo of her missing mother. And he carried her coffin at her funeral.
But all along Ristevski, 54, was feigning innocence. He killed his wife and dumped her body at Mount Macedon
He pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, more than two years after the killing.
The admission came on the eve of a scheduled murder trial and the day before Ristevski's 55th birthday.
It was sparked by Justice Christopher Beale's ruling in relation to Ristevski's actions after his wife's death being used as evidence.
"Whilst the post-offence conduct can be relied on as evidence that he killed his wife, it cannot be relied on to prove murderous intent," the judge said.
With that, prosecutors filed a new indictment with the lesser charge of manslaughter, which Ristevski admitted, scuttling a high-profile trial.
In previous hearings, prosecutors pushed hard for a murder trial. They said Ristevski's deceitful behaviours after the killing gave rise to the required intent.
"The accused deliberately excluded and withheld information and fabricated certain facts to distance himself from the crime," prosecutor Matt Fisher told a committal hearing in 2018.
Ms Ristevski, 47, went missing on June 29, 2016.
Eight months later, her skeletal remains were found wedged between logs in Macedon Regional Park by a pair of horticulturalists.
An autopsy could not ascertain her cause of death.
Ristevski was charged in December 2017 after a lengthy investigation that involved listening devices and CCTV footage analysis.
He allegedly killed his wife at home and took her Mercedes-Benz roadster to dispose of the body in bushland, killing the signal of his phone on the way.
The Ristevskis were in a difficult financial situation at the time and would sometimes argue about money and business, witnesses have said.
Their fashion store Bella Bleu had been losing money over a four-year period and they had mounting credit card debts.
But their daughter Sarah said her parents did not argue often, and that her father was a "calming influence" and never aggressive.
"Mum would get annoyed. She had the same personality as me," she said in her tearful pre-trial testimony in Melbourne Magistrates Court.
"And dad was always the calm one. He would calm us down."
Ristevski is due to face a pre-sentence hearing on March 27.
HOW THE STORY UNFOLDED
June 29, 2016
- Karen Ristevski last seen at her Melbourne home in Avondale Heights
- Her mobile phone pings off a tower in the Macedon Ranges
- A car similar to her black Mercedes SLK coupe spotted by CCTV cameras near Diggers Rest railway station
July 14, 2016
- Husband Borce Ristevski and daughter Sarah make a tearful plea for information to help find their missing wife and mother
December 19, 2016
- Police search grassland, waterways, creeks and farms
February 20, 2017
- Karen Ristevski's body found at Mount Macedon Regional Park
March 6, 2017
- Funeral service held with Borce Ristevski a pallbearer and daughter Sarah leading the procession
August 31, 2017
- Police recreate the journey of Ms Ristevski on the day she went missing in a black Mercedes, identical to hers
December 13, 2017
- Borce Ristevski charged with murder and faces court where a lawyer indicates a not-guilty plea and he is remanded in custody
April 18, 2018
- Ristevski returns to court where it's revealed detectives tapped phone calls and planted listening devices as they investigated the alleged killing, compiling a 22,000-page evidence brief
- Ristevski is granted state-funded legal aid as he fights the allegations
July 16, 2018
- Ristevski's two-week committal hearing begins and later hears evidence from his daughter Sarah who said he was never "aggressive" towards her mum.
August 2, 2018
- Ristevski ordered to stand trial in the Supreme Court charged with murdering his wife
December 4, 2018
- A five-week trial for Ristevski is set for March 2019
March 13, 2019
- A day before a jury is due to be empanelled for his murder trial, Borce Ristevski pleads guilty to manslaughter after prosecutors withdraw the murder charge.
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