VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Two former police officers join call for investigation
The Vancouver Sun
Two former Vancouver city police officers have joined the call for an investigation into the handling of the missing women case.
Geographic profiler Kim Rossmo and retired inspector Doug MacKay-Dunn say an investigation is needed to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
"This is unprecedented, this wasn't investigated in an optimal fashion, and an inquiry would help determine what went wrong and why," Rossmo said. "Most of these problems are systemic and it could help lead to improvements in policing. So it's a good idea."
The Vancouver Sun has also obtained internal police documents confirming that Rossmo warned senior officers in May 1999, that a serial killer was likely preying on the women.
Yet, despite his report, Rossmo says the department never devoted enough resources at the time to properly investigate the case. And he criticized Mayor Philip Owen for suggesting recently that everything was fine with the way police handled things.
"I am not sure that the victims and their families would agree with the mayor's assessment."
Rossmo said any effort to delay an inquiry until after the current criminal investigation is "clearly a stalling tactic."
Robert (Willy) Pickton, a 52-year-old Port Coquitlam pig farmer, was charged recently with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson. The two were on a list of 50 women who have disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside since 1983.
"Right now, they're saying they want the investigation to be over," Rossmo said. "Well, then they're going to say they want the court case to be over, then they're going to say they want the appeals to be over, and then we'll be talking 10 years down the road.
"If things aren't working well, we want to fix them now, not in a decade."
MacKay-Dunn, who worked on the Downtown Eastside and was involved in the early stages of the case, said B.C. Solicitor-General Rich Coleman should order an investigation to fix the system, rather than search for scapegoats and assign blame.
He favours an independent investigation rather than a public inquiry, which he fears would deteriorate into a show trial. A review by independent investigators reporting to the solicitor-general would be more productive in terms of developing recommendations to ensure this never happens again, he said. The final report would be made public, as was Justice Archie Campbell's review of the Paul Bernardo murder investigation in Ontario.
MacKay-Dunn agreed with Rossmo that more should have been done years ago. "I considered that Rossmo's approach was the right one," MacKay-Dunn said. "I think we had to deal with it."
The department's managers devoted the resources they had available, he said. They also were preoccupied with an office revolt against then-Chief Constable Bruce Chambers.
"But if you ask me? If I was God? I would have resourced it. I would have got ahead of it. I would have gone to city hall and I would have banged the table and said: 'I want people down here to do this. I want money to do this."
MacKay-Dunn, a North Vancouver district councillor, also said the RCMP should have got involved much sooner. Vancouver police began examining the disappearances in 1998, but the RCMP only joined the investigation in early 2001.
"This is the crime of the century," MacKay-Dunn said. "This crosses jurisdictional lines. Wouldn't you think that the provincial police force should be involved in this? That's a no-brainer."
MacKay-Dunn said many of the missing women came from outlying areas and were reported missing in RCMP jurisdictions. The bodies of Vancouver sex trade workers have also been found murdered in RCMP territory over the years, so it was reasonable to assume some of the missing women might turn up there as well.
"This is not rocket science," MacKay-Dunn said. "This is an attitude, an attitude saying, 'Well, if I don't believe this is happening, then I can focus my resources on other things."
MacKay-Dunn said any investigation should look at the need for a provincially funded major crime agency, similar to the organized crime agency, to handle such complex investigations in the future.
RCMP Constable Catherine Galliford, who speaks for the task force, said Friday that all the RCMP could do was respond to the Vancouver department's request for help.
"We became involved after discussions with VPD and we realized that we did have the resources that we could put towards this investigation," Galliford said, adding that Vancouver requested the meeting.
Despite the mounting pressure for an inquiry and the documents obtained by The Sun, the Vancouver police department refused to comment Friday.
Media relations Constable Sarah Bloor said reporters will have to wait to get their questions answered at the next missing women's task force briefing, which is scheduled for March 20.
But when Rossmo made similar allegations at his wrongful dismissal trial last year, Deputy Chief Constable Gary Greer dismissed them as "outrageous" and said the department had gone to great lengths to solve the missing women case. He also said that because police had no bodies, there was no proof that a crime had occurred.
Surrey-Newton MLA Tony Bhullar has already filed a formal request for a judicial inquiry into the case with the Police Complaints Commission. Bhullar said Friday that if the commission fails to call one, he is prepared to introduce a private member's bill in the provincial legislature requesting an inquiry be held.
MacKay-Dunn, who worked on the Downtown Eastside, said it was he who asked Rossmo in 1998 to examine the jump in unsolved missing women cases.
But Rossmo testified at his wrongful dismissal trial last year that Inspector Fred Biddlecombe, who headed the major crime section, threw a minor tantrum when Rossmo suggested police should assess the extent of the problem.
In September, 1998, Rossmo even drafted a press release, a copy of which was also obtained by The Sun, which said police were trying to "determine if a serial murderer is preying upon people in the Downtown Eastside" But the department refused to release it.
Since the proposed news release was drafted, 18 women have disappeared.
Despite the resistance by some to his suggestions, Rossmo said in a recent interview that he was encouraged by Deputy Chief Constable Brian McGuinness to do a statistical analysis to determine if the jump in disappearances might have occurred by chance and how many of the women would likely be found.
Rossmo's final report, which was obtained by The Sun, states: "While it is not possible with available information to determine with certainty the cause of these disappearances, the most likely explanation for the majority of them is a single murderer (or partner murderers) preying on Skid Row prostitutes.
The report, dated May 27, 1999, was addressed to McGuinness, Biddlecombe, and Inspector Chris Beach, who was in charge of District Two, which includes the Downtown Eastside. McGuinness and Biddlecombe have since retired from the department, and Beach is now in charge of the major crime section. None could be reached for comment Friday.
The documents back up Rossmo's testimony at his wrongful dismissal trial last year, and show his report reached senior officers in the department, who nevertheless continued to downplay the serial killer theory in public.
Two months after Rossmo submitted his report, Acting Deputy Chief Constable John Unger appeared at a news conference to announce a $100,000 reward in the case.
"The very best outcome that we could have is that every one of these missing women would phone us and say: 'Here I am. I don't wish to make it publicly known where I'm located, but here I am to let you know that I'm safe and sound," Unger said at the time.
However, Rossmo's report indicated it was unlikely police would ever locate more than two of the women. In fact, none of the women on the list of 20 missing sex trade workers that Rossmo examined has ever been found.
According to the documents, Rossmo examined more than 800 missing women cases in Vancouver from 1996 to 1998 to determine standard patterns in such cases. He concluded that the 20 unsolved files of missing sex trade workers from 1995 to 1999 were "statistically significant" and "unlikely to have occurred by chance."
"Based on historical data, we can expect to locate no more than two other individuals from this group."
Rossmo acknowledged that drug users and women in the sex trade are less stable, often transient, and therefore difficult to find.
"On the other hand, extraordinary efforts were made by our department to locate these individuals," he said. "In conclusion, the number of missing persons during the last 30 months from this group is significantly higher than what could be expected by chance."
Rossmo went on to say that if the women had met with foul play, there were three possible scenarios: They were victims of separate killers; they were victims of a serial murderer; or they were victims of multiple serial murderers.
"The fact their bodies have not been discovered makes the first scenario unlikely," Rossmo said, noting that typical murders on the Downtown Eastside involve drunken brawls, low level drug killings, and domestic incidents -- all cases where the victim's body is normally found.
Furthermore, Rossmo said, the rarity of serial murder made it improbable that there was more than one predator at work.
Rossmo favored the single killer theory.
"Similarities in victimology and the short time period and specific neighbourhood involved -- all suggest the single serial murderer hypothesis is the most likely explanation for the majority of these incidents," he said. "The single predator theory includes partner or team killers; approximately 25 per cent of serial murder cases involve more than one offender."
Rossmo, who invented geographic profiling, was unable to create a profile for the missing women case, because investigators lacked sufficient information on where the killer encountered his victims. But Rossmo noted in his report that missing persons cases that turn out to be serial murders often involve "cluster body dump sites."
"It is not unusual for serial killers who want to hide the remains of their victims to dispose of multiple bodies in one location; using several different sites increases the odds of discovery," he said. "When a body is found in a cluster dump site, several others can often be located within a range of 50 metres or less.
"Considering Vancouver's surrounding geography, potential burial sites are most likely to be in wilderness areas (e.g., North Vancouver District), or less likely on the offender's residence or property." Rossmo says he was referring to a city property.
Rossmo also concluded that the offender was likely local, based on an analysis of when and where they went missing.
Rossmo, who now works for the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C., said in a telephone interview this week that his report should have set off alarm bells, but the department continued to treat the case like a missing persons inquiry instead of a serial murder investigation.
"While I think it helped guide investigators, I don't think it helped guide the management of the major crime section." And no matter how committed the investigators were, "they didn't have the resources for this type of case," Rossmo said.
"And look what happened when the resources were put on it: In less than a year they make an arrest."
A Sun investigation last year revealed that Vancouver police assigned inexperienced and overworked police officers to the case without the time or resources to do a thorough job. The investigation was plagued by infighting, computer problems and a lack of training. It eventually stalled in late 2000 and was replaced by a joint Vancouver police-RCMP probe in early 2001.
Rossmo recently lost his wrongful dismissal suit against Vancouver police and has filed an appeal. But he said his calls for an inquiry stem from a sense of responsibility to the public, and not because he has an axe to grind with his former department.
"I've been saying the same things since 1998, haven't I?" he said.
Updated: August 21, 2016