ST. LOUIS – FOX 2 has uncovered new details about the tragedy at the troubled, former Famous Barr building in downtown St. Louis, that took the life of a beloved K9 member of the St. Louis Fire Department: Balko, a dog trained to sniff out human remains.

We’ve learned more about why it happened and why Balko’s loss is so hard to take.
On Friday night, St. Louis police got a tip about a possible beating death inside the building, according to police sources.

Balko and his fire department handler were called to assist homicide investigators in the search for a victim. Balko reportedly “hit” on a scent and, in an instant, fell about 90 feet through an unsecured fifth-floor window.

“We just can’t snap our fingers and replace Balko or the ability, what Balko brought to our team,” Capt. Garon Mosby, St. Louis Fire Department, said. “It’s a huge loss, a huge loss in our capabilities and just as you would lose a family member.”

The training and preparation costs for a cadaver dog like Balko typically cost tens of thousands of dollars.

FOX 2 has shown you repeated evidence in recent months of people looting and even living in the 110-year-old building, also known as the Railway Exchanged Building, vacated by Macy’s nearly a decade ago and condemned for occupancy by the City of St. Louis in January.

Thieves continue to gut the place of copping wiring and various pieces of metal to sell as scrap. There have been repeated fires in the building, as well.

Balko had been with the fire department about 3½ years, according to Capt. Mosby, and was credited with finding nine bodies from fire scenes, to the aftermath of the tornado that killed six people at an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois.

He also brought smiles to boy from Northern Ireland in who received life-changing surgeries at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in June 2022.

“We put (the boy) next to Balko and Balko was just the sweetest thing ever,” Mosby said. “That was his demeanor: very laid back, just one of the guys, if you will.”

Mosby said Balko’s handler at the fire department is “devastated.” Balko lived with that firefighter and his family.

A private security firm now patrols the building and reports the number of people getting inside has dropped dramatically.

Police did not find a body there, Friday night.

The building’s owner, Hudson Holdings of Delray Beach, Florida, is being sued for more than $7 million for allegedly defaulting on a loan used to purchase the building in 2017.