VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Highway of Tears
RCMP step up investigation into 18 dead or missing women along Highway 16 in northern B.C.
Friday, October 12, 2007
The RCMP announced today it has expanded its Highway of Tears investigation in northern B.C. to include 18 young women who were murdered or went missing since 1969, doubling the number of files being probed.
Investigators met Thursday with families of the murdered and missing women before making the announcement. The expanded probe includes an unsolved murder that took place in Prince George last year and another unsolved murder dating back 38 years.
The geographical scope was also expanded to include unsolved cases along other major highways in B.C., including those leading to Hudson Hope, Kamloops, Merritt, 100 Mile House, and extending as far as Hinton, Alta.
Last year, the police probe listed nine women between the ages of 14 and 25 who were murdered or missing along Highway 16, a desolate two-lane road that runs from Prince Rupert to Prince George and on to Edmonton. It was dubbed the Highway of Tears because of the grief caused by a string of unsolved murders and mysterious disappearances over the years.
There has been speculation that a serial killer has been preying on young women - a large number of the victims were aboriginal - hitchhiking on the highway. The RCMP has always maintained there is no evidence of a serial killer - a position reiterated today.
"The police would hope that would not be the case," said RCMP Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre, media relations officer for E Division headquarters in Vancouver, when asked if police believe a serial killer was responsible for some or all of the 18 cases.
"We have to keep an absolute open mind," he explained. "While the number of files have increased, at this time police are not discounting or supporting the theory that these cases have been committed by one individual."
The current investigation - code-named E-Panna - is being conducted by senior investigators from the Vancouver RCMP major crime section, including geographic and criminal profilers.
"There's several officers assigned to this task force," Lemaitre said, declining to reveal numbers. "All they do is work on these cases."
He said the investigation was expanded after investigators initially identified nine cases with similarities along Highway 16. The Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System (ViCLAS), which investigates serial crime, then identified more than 200 similar cases. Eventually nine other cases were identified as having "commonalties," said Lemaitre.
He said he couldn't reveal what those similarities were, but added they are "things that would only be known to the person involved in the incident."
He said some of the women on the list were hitchhiking, while the last murder victim was riding her bike. The common thread in each case was "they were obviously people who were victimized by people who thought they could get away with it," Lemaitre said.
The recent publicity about the case brought in a flood of tips today, he said, adding people can also call Crime Stoppers if they want to remain anonymous.
The investigation has consulted with Vancouver's forensic lab regarding the re-examination of exhibits originally seized in the investigations, police said.
Prince George businessman Tony Romeyn, who operates a Highway of Tears website with photos of the murdered and missing women, said he thinks the expanded scope of the investigation is a positive step forward.
"I think it's a good thing that it's being looked at in a broader way," he said. "Why should you think it only takes place between Prince Rupert and Prince George?"
Romeyn added he often receives tips, which he passes along to police, and some people think the cases may be linked to a trucker or someone who travels extensively in northern B.C.
"I'm glad they [police] are acknowledging there are more women out there," said Gladys Radek, the aunt of Tamara Chipman, 22, who disappeared in 2005. But she doesn't feel police have gone far enough. By her estimate, based on public information, there have been 43 murdered or missing women along Highway 16 since 1974. Still, she hopes police will solve some of the cases.
"Some of these families have gone four decades without any closure," she said.
Police in Edmonton are also probing a number of unsolved prostitute murders and have consulted with Vancouver's Missing Women Task Force, which at one point was investigating more than 60 missing women.
A Highway of Tears symposium held last year in Prince George brought together victims' families, politicians, police and native groups to discuss unsolved cases and prevent similar deaths. A symposium report recommended increasing safety for woman travelling alone along Highway 16 by setting up a proper transit system between communities and expanding Greyhound's free-ride program for those in financial need.
Here are the 18 women included in the expanded scope of the police probe:
1. Gloria Moody. Murdered. Williams Lake. 1969
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MORE INFORMATION at The Highway of Tears website: www.highwayoftears.ca/
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