In the side of herself she shared with the world, Ana Walshe was a font of positivity and platitudes. Her social media accounts brimmed with uplifting quotes and aspirational slogans, leaving little doubt as to her ambitions. The Cohasset mother of three was driven and confident, a capable leader who once pledged to a friend: One day she would lead a Fortune 500 company.
So much of her life and career was about presentation: showing high-end real estate, working at luxury hotels, dressing in brand names, and networking at black-tie events. And like so many her age, she chronicled life and career through a carefully curated series of online snapshots and affirmations, replete with hashtags: #smile, #luckymama, #grateful.
“Take the risk of optimism,” she shared in a social media post in the final days of 2022, a message typical of her buoyant persona.
Behind that public façade, however, her world was beset by stress and difficulty, the coming year poised to bring major change.
She had spent much of the past year living apart from her family, after moving last March to Washington, D.C., for work. On the West Coast, she was accused in a civil lawsuit of helping facilitate an elaborate fraud scheme with her husband. And in Cohasset, her husband, Brian R. Walshe — who pleaded guilty to the con in 2021 — awaited a potential prison sentence while mired in debt.
Now, the 39-year-old woman who was last seen on Jan. 1 is at the center of a mystery. Where is Ana Walshe?
Her husband is currently in jail, charged with misleading authorities in their investigation into her disappearance. And authorities are continuing an exhaustive search that has included scouring local woods and landfills, as well as picking through the details — public and private — of Ana Walshe’s past.
Beyond her recent move and the major life changes, there were other signs of distress.
Her mother, Milanka Ljubicic, of Belgrade, Serbia, told Fox News that her daughter had pleaded with her to come to the United States in late December, just a week before her disappearance. “Clearly,” Ljubicic said in an interview, “there must have been some problems.”
In one of the final photos posted to her Instagram page, she isn’t wearing her wedding ring. Also, a friend told a local television station that the couple’s living arrangement had become a source of tension, and that it had been a “very tense Christmas.”
A close friend and former-co-worker of Ana’s who spent New Year’s Eve with the couple described it as a festive evening at the Walshes’ Cohasset home. Asked whether he was aware of any issues between the couple, the friend, Gem Mutlu, demurred.
“You’ve got to talk to the police,” he told the Globe. “I can’t comment on that.”
In many ways, Ana Walshe’s story is one of by-the-bootstraps ingenuity, according to a trove of court records and legal memos, as well as interviews with friends and relatives.
A native of war torn Serbia, she arrived in the US in 2005, cleaning hotel rooms in a tiny Virginia town. Quickly, she went to work and rose through society’s social strata. She parlayed a 2010 certificate from Cornell University’s hospitality management program into a series of jobs at high-end hotels and restaurants throughout the Northeast, according to her LinkedIn profile. In Boston, she graced the InterContinental, the Taj, the Newbury.
At each stop, she seemed to make an impression. Colleagues noted her ability to motivate and lead with compassion. She knew how to read a room, and how to work one — a key skill in an industry based on accommodations. Her “emotional intelligence skills made me feel quite comfortable to be vulnerable to her,” a manager from the Newbury Boston remarked on LinkedIn.
”Ana was there when the work was tough and Ana was there when the work was finished,” another former colleague wrote.
She relished the world of Ted Talks, motivational speakers, and networking events. She reveled in luxury items and accommodations. Her social media accounts are filled with vacation snaps from Italy and South Beach, Serbia and New York City.
In 2008, she met Brian Walshe, himself no stranger to global travel, fine wine, and art.
Walshe, of Boston, met her at the Wheatleigh hotel in the Berkshires, where she worked. Though married at the time — or shortly later — to a different man, a chef at the hotel, when she met Brian, she later recalled in a court filing, it was “love at first sight.”
He was handsome and charismatic, with an appreciation for life’s finer things and a credit card that spared little expense.
In him, Ana later said, she found a good-hearted man struggling to overcome his demons.
“When I met Brian, I witnessed his kindness and generosity on many occasions, however, I also saw the level of suffering in his life,” she wrote in a letter to the judge overseeing his fraud case. “He was afraid of relationships and for years did not allow anyone to get close to him, including me. He was clearly in doubt that he could be loved for who he truly was.”
Shortly after meeting, the couple embarked on a lengthy long-distance relationship. Almost from the start, there were problems.
In August 2014, she told police in Washington, D.C., that Walshe threatened her during a telephone call, saying “he was going to kill (her) and her friend,” according to a police report and a law enforcement official briefed on the matter.
The case was later dropped, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said, after she declined to cooperate with investigators.
The following year, the two announced their engagement, and soon after they were married. They eventually had three sons.
As their family grew, and as Ana Walshe climbed the corporate ladder, the couple’s legal troubles mounted.
Around this time, Brian Walshe was pulling off an elaborate art forgery and fraud scheme. He sold a pair of fake Andy Warhol paintings to a pair of art buyers, bilking them out of $80,000. Federal prosecutors said he was motivated by a need to sustain a lavish lifestyle that was out of his reach.
For instance, as part of the Warhol fraud scheme, he bilked a victim in France of $145,000, according to court records. He then took Ana shopping at Prada, according to prosecutors, who cited Walshe’s credit card receipts. Meanwhile, the money he fleeced in the art case went to pay credit card debts accrued through travel and at fancy restaurants, prosecutors said. Walshe pleaded guilty in 2021 to one count each of wire fraud, interstate transportation for a scheme to defraud, possession of converted goods, and unlawful monetary transaction.
Before he was set to be sentenced, however, he was accused of misleading investigators by failing to disclose some of Ana’s assets, including a 2014 Fiat, a 2015 Maserati, real estate, and more. Prosecutors were displeased.
“It is particularly striking because the defendant’s wife benefitted from the fraud here, which took place before they were married but were together: the defendant transferred approximately $115,000 directly to or for the benefit of his wife, from funds provided by the victims,” prosecutors wrote in one memo.
How much Ana Walshe knew of her husband’s alleged deceits remains unclear.
Though she was never charged in the Andy Warhol scheme, authorities in court records accused her of playing a peripheral role. Her eBay account was used to list two “original” Warhol paintings, records show, and she’d twice had contact with victims in the case. (At one point, the FBI sought her DNA and fingerprints in the case, though it’s unclear if the evidence was ever collected.)
According to the eBay listing, the couple owned the paintings and were forced to sell them at a loss in order to remodel their home. “Our loss is your gain,” the listing noted.
A civil suit filed by one of the victims in the Warhol scheme, a California art gallery owner, also alleges Ana used her position in the hospitality industry “to engender trust in buyers of forged art that she and her husband were selling.”
The Walshes’ attorney in the civil suit declined to comment.
In 2019, following the death of his father, Brian Walshe was accused in probate court of attempting to sell his father’s home despite being disinherited from the will. The claim became the center of a drawn-out court battle.
As these legal troubles swirled, meanwhile, Ana Walshe showed little outward signs of tumult.
Bojan Bacevic, 40, who lives in Belgrade and has known Ana Walshe since the two attended elementary school together in the early 1990s, said the only change he noticed in his friend over the past year was a new spontaneity.
“It seemed like she was at a place where she achieved what she wanted family-wise [and] work-wise,” he said in an interview with the Globe. “And she kind of wanted to live life a little bit more freely.”
As for her marriage, Bacevic said, “up until recently, I never had any doubt that she was completely, completely in love with the man.”
Over the last year, however, her life was increasingly anchored in Washington, her social media feed rife with photos of her life in the nation’s capital — at a book signing and a Capitals hockey game, surrounded by smiling colleagues at a holiday work party. And while she posted several photos of her three children, there are precious few of her husband.
”When [we] see Ana, it’s usually just Ana,” said Carrie Westbrook, a longtime friend of Ana Walshe living outside Washington, D.C.
Abdulla Almutairi, a longtime friend of Ana’s who is based in D.C., last spoke to her via text message around midnight on New Year’s Eve, just hours before she was last seen. In the days that followed, he said, he texted her again but never heard back — not out of the ordinary, he said, given her propensity for untimely responses.
It wasn’t until a few days later, when he was informed that a missing person’s report was being filed, that Almutairi began to worry.
“Then, it was like, ‘Wait, what is going on here?’”
Andrea Estes and Elizabeth Koh of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.