Holly Hamilton's ex-boyfriend, Justin Dumpfrey, the father of her young daughter, was charged Thursday with second-degree murder a day after her body was found in the trunk of her car in a parking garage in the city of Hamilton.

The grisly discovery marked the end of a citywide search for the 29-year-old, who was reported missing on Monday.

During a news conference, Staff Sgt. Dave Oleniuk said Dumpfrey was arrested at a downtown Hamilton courthouse yesterday when he showed up for an appearance on an unrelated matter. Police had been searching for him for days, but it's unclear where he was staying during that time.

Police were unable to confirm exactly when Hamilton was killed, but did say she had been dead for "some time" before her body was found. A post-mortem exam has been scheduled for tomorrow. Oleniuk would not say if there were any visible signs of trauma on Hamilton's body.

Police said they are now working on piecing together information about Dumpfrey's whereabouts after her death. 

"I'm not going to get into specific evidence, but there is extensive video in the neighbourhood and he was quite busy during the day Monday," Oleniuk said.

Hamilton police update5:38

Dumpfrey, 30, appeared in court this morning wearing an argyle sweater vest and and blue jeans. He spoke only to say yes when the judge asked if he understood the charges against him.

He is slated to appear again in court by video link on Jan. 24. 

Police said there had been a documented history of domestic violence in the couple's relationship.

"Police had been involved in their relationship before as a result of violence," Oleniuk said. "He had been charged before."

Detectives also say Dumpfrey was under a probation order that had conditions regarding his ex.

Police said the couple's young daughter is safe with her grandparents.

Justin Dumpfrey Holly Hamilton

Dumphrey and Hamilton had a daughter together and police say there was domestic violence in the relationship. (Facebook)

Family members last saw Hamilton on Sunday evening, when she told them she was going to visit a friend. She was then spotted near her ex-boyfriend's apartment. Her family became worried when she didn't return home and contacted police, who then alerted the media after she didn't show up at the cleaning service where she worked on Monday morning.

Friends and family mobilized a search party that was planned for Wednesday evening — only for it to turn into a candlelit vigil after news of her death started to spread.

Hamilton vigil

Candles will be kept lit for Holly Hamilton until Sunday near where she was last seen alive. (Rob Krbavac/CBC)

Mourners gathered outside Dumpfrey's apartment where Hamilton was last seen. A teddy bear, pictures and candles were placed around a telephone pole, while the small crowd held hands in a circle.

Kelli Ruetch, who has lived in the building for four years, said she will make sure there are candles burning continuously until Sunday in Hamilton's honour.

"This is our way of saying we will stand by," she said.

As news of her death spread, tributes to Hamilton poured in online, as those close to her reacted to the news.

"As a family we thank you for your prayers and continuous efforts to spread the word," wrote Hamilton's niece, Julia. "My aunt [Holly] will be sadly missed by all of us. We were close in age and grew up as sisters. She was an amazing mother, friend, sister and daughter. At this time we pray for God to strengthen us.

"I am all out of words."

Holly Hamilton car

Police taped off the east-end parking garage where they found Hamilton's car on Wednesday afternoon. (Dave Ritchie/CBC)

A GoFundMe account that has been set up to cover funeral expenses and support the family had raised just under $9,000 as of Thursday afternoon. 

"The entire Hamilton family are truly appreciative of all the love and support the family has received," a post on the page reads.

"Holly was a struggling single mom and did not have the means to prepare for something like this, so we are asking for all the help we can get to give her an appropriate funeral and provide support for her daughter."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

With files from Greg Ross and Ieva Lucs