GRAND HAVEN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A 17-year-old cold case is another step closer to resolution after a Grand Rapids man pleaded guilty to murder in the brutal hammer killing.

Christopher McMillan is among three people charged last year for the slaying of 37-year-old Robert Caraballo, a mid-Michigan man whose charred remains were found in a metal footlocker in a Grand Haven Township blueberry field in 2002.

McMillan took a deal that will save him from facing life in prison without parole. It also requires him to testify against co-defendants Dineane Ducharme and her mother Beverly McCallum, who was married to the victim. In a Charlotte courtroom Wednesday, he laid out the grisly details. 

McMillan said McCallum and Caraballo had an unhappy marriage and that she had talked about killing him.

“They wanted to do it in the basement. They wanted to knock him unconscious and put a bag over his head and suffocate him,” McMillan told Eaton County Circuit Court Judge Janice Cunningham. 

That, McMillan said, is close to what happened in the basement of the Charlotte home after McCallum shoved Caraballo down the stairs. 

“Beverly was yelling to get the hammer, Dineane grabbed the hammer and swung a couple times,” McMillan said. “Beverly was yelling, ‘Give me the hammer, give me the hammer,’ so Beverly ended up with the hammer and she used the hammer and put it in his head.” 

Then came the suffocation. 

“Next thing I know, there was a bag on his head. Beverly had put a bag on his head and Dineane was holding the bag and Beverly was on top of him to keep him from moving,” McMillian recounted. 

They went to the store, got cleaning supplies and cleaned the basement. The body was placed in a trunk and burned, McMillan said. 

Police say McCallum loaded the body of her husband in a van also occupied by her 9- and 11-year-old children and took it to the blueberry field. 

Now at Lakeshore Cemetery in Grand Haven Township, you can find the nameless gravesite where Roberto Caraballo is buried.

Robert Caraballo gravesite
The Lakeshore Cemetery gravesite of Robert Caraballo, whose body was unidentified for years after his murder. (Oct. 16, 2019)

It was paid for by police donations because it took 12 years before the victim’s identity was discovered thanks to a documentary by then-Hope College Professor David Schock. 

“This was a hard story to tell because you don’t have any family. The only emotional attachment is through the officers and they do have and emotional attachment,” said Schock, who has produced a number of documentaries that have helped police crack cold cases. 

In this one, it was Ottawa County detectives who came to Schock to ask him to make a film that might jog people’s memories and prick their conscience. 

“Murder is generally so stupid,” Schock said as he thought over the cases he has documented. “And in each case, you realize how banal the reason is.” 

In this case, the main suspect, McCallum, remains at large and is believed to be in Pakistan. 

“I think she is the prime mover, but the other two are certainly guilty to one degree or another. I mean, the reason we’re here is because of their guilt,” Schock said. 

The U.S. has had an extradition treaty with Pakistan since 1933. The status of the extradition process against McCallum is unknown because the U.S. Department of State doesn’t comment on open cases. 

“I don’t believe it will be ‘if’ she will be brought back, I have faith that it will be ‘when’ she is brought back,” Schock said. 

The third suspect in this case, Ducharme, will be in court Nov. 19 for a hearing. 

The Eaton County prosecutor is working to get testimony on the record in case there is a delay in getting the main suspect out of Pakistan and back to Charlotte. 

An undated booking photo of Dineane Ducharme. (Courtesy of the Eaton County Sheriff's Office)
An undated booking photo of Dineane Ducharme. (Courtesy of the Eaton County Sheriff’s Office)