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Personal Story – “Heather” Part VIII – The Ending

On Saturday November 4th, Shane Ertmoed was brought into a small bland 9 x 6 interview room, a desk, and two chairs the extent of the furnishings. Video and audio recordings were turned on, and Greg began his interview of Shane. A few boxes on the desk gave the impression of waiting insurmountable evidence. Greg, always cordial, always playing to the theme that we were there to understand, to “help”. “You didn’t mean to do it did you Shane?”, “you are not an animal are you Shane?” It being more of a misunderstanding than a killing.

Gradually, Shane began to speak, quietly, some times nodding in agreement. Eventually, he began offering up possible alibis, each was perfunctorily shut down, escape routes closed as quickly as they were proffered.

Three hours in, Shane Ertmoed confessed to the killing of Heather.

As Shane nodded in agreement about the killing, I was sitting with others in a nearby room, staring at the television monitor screen our collective breath seemingly on pause. It was a few seconds before one of the investigators let out the restrained exclamation “yes!

On Sunday, the following day, a 2nd interview was conducted, this time by Bill Fordy, wherein all the evidence was reviewed again with Shane, going over specific details, and he in essence confessed a second time. Shane said his newly appointed defence counsel had told him to say nothing, but then he continued, virtually repeating the story of the day before. Not emotional, seemingly resigned to some future destiny he could only guess at.

The confession along with what our investigation had revealed seemed to run in parallel, there were no large discrepancies, and it was consistent with the limited forensic information.  How he killed her and how she was found partially clothed gave us the “holdback evidence”, the evidence that only the killer would know in detail.

This was the chronology of the events as confirmed by Shane in his words, with a few new pieces we were unaware of:

  • Shane lured Heather into his apartment to look at books that contained pictures of “birds”.  (This was new to us and gave us the impression that Shane may have previously spoken to Heather)
  • Shane coaxed her to the floor of the townhouse and was spooning her on the floor stripping off her pants and underwear. It was then that she began to struggle, and he put his hand over her mouth to keep her quiet. (He would not admit to how long that would take but she was likely dead before Dad had even called her in as being missing.)
  • After he killed her, he dumped out his hockey/football bag, and put her in the bag along with her clothes.
  • He carried her out through the fence in his townhouse to his nearby car. (In doing so, some plant material got in the corners of the bag we were able to later match some “cultivated juniper”, unique to that area, to the landscaping in front of his residence).
  • And he placed her in the back seat, and drove out of the complex. Upon driving out and looking east he saw the police doing radar traffic enforcement, and so he circled behind, using the secondary roads, to eventually get over to 200th St in Langley.  (Later a witness came forward, who also happened to be an artist, who sketched what he saw that day on hearing the news of Heather; he showed us his pencil sketch done on a single piece of paper–it was a vehicle pulled over, and a male was standing near the back of the vehicle, adjusting something in the back seat; the male in the sketch looked remarkably like Shane)
  • He needed gas and stopped at the Happy Face gas station on 200th St. He then drove further up the road, when the idea came to him to buy a theatre ticket as he rapidly concocted his cover story. (He never went to the theatre to actually see the show, as we believed and could now prove)
  • He thought of going to Maple Ridge because of the distance away, and he had earlier heard about Golden Ears park through a co-worker (we were able to find the co-worker who he had earlier asked about Golden Ears Park)
  • As he drove into the park, he got a few miles in on the roadway, pulled over, and then put the bag containing Heather into the thick woods, just out of sight of the roadway.
  • He returned home; but was not content with where he put her, thinking that she could be easily discovered. So at 5:30 in the morning he left, was checked by the officer on his leaving and he went back to the Park. (it was here when he was followed by the Park Rangers, driving slowly, trying to find where he left her)
  • He eventually found her, and parked roadside, and put his hood up as if he was broken down. (This was observed by the Park worker #2). But by this time he was running out of time and needed to get to work. He marked the spot, by putting a skid brake mark on the roadway, and he headed to work in Maple Ridge, leaving quickly. (Seen by Park worker #2)
  • He feigned having a headache at work around 10 in the morning, and left. But he went to a Canadian store and bought an inflatable raft and a single paddle. (We figured out the store where he bought the raft later, and were able to get a copy of the receipt).
  • He returned to the Park, retrieved the bag containing Heather, and then headed down to the boat ramp, where he got in and paddled out of sight of those who maybe on the boat launch. (Observed by Park Worker #3)
  • He put Heather in the water, weighed down with rocks (Shane in his statement totally denied putting rocks in the bag – a strange disclaimer considering everything he had admitted to)
  • He came back in and drove quickly out of the park, stopped at a dumpster and got rid of the raft. (we were never able to locate the raft, no doubt it had been emptied by that time)
  • Shane gave no insight, nor any denial of why he called in the break and enter case. (It was our guess that he was worried that if for some reason we were able to go after him, and we found something of Heather in his apartment, fingerprints or hair as an example, he would have a cover story that kids had broken into his condo)

By late Sunday afternoon, the weekend over, Shane was placed back into his cell and I like everyone else headed home, in rush hour for the first time in six weeks; content, feeling  lighter, not fully absorbing all the nuances of the last 48 hours, but aware that something good had just happened.

This was the dramatic end of the operational element of this case. The looming courts and their processes, would be the 2nd marathon.  The forty investigators would dissipate, all  returning to their regular duties.  The excitement of the pursuit would soon be replaced by drudgery, the arguing over minuscule points of law, and those bone weary hours of sitting in a quiet courtroom, the drone of lawyers providing the white noise of the court.

The many involved would become the few left to take the case to the next level. It is the unsung hero portion of the story, it is the under-appreciated, it is paper intensive, and it would be wrapped in all the myriad legal issues that always surface. Preparations would begin for a preliminary hearing, and a possible bail hearing. Both would need to be supported in terms of getting all the gathered evidence into the Crown. The Crown would become our constant companions and our usually friendly thorns in our side, always needing more, or a further explanation, or another copy. Officers notes, exhibits and exhibit records would begin moving constantly back and forth, in the rhythm of the  court dance.

The media would go home for the time being,  only to return rejuvenated for the eventual trial coverage.

The secondary reports, the officers notes, and the loose pieces of information continued to trickle in, so we continued the work of sorting, evaluating and follow-up continued at a manageable pace, but with far fewer resources. Some of the information was valuable background, while other pieces were of little value but still needed to be filed. Some of what came forward:

  • We learned that Shane Ertmoed had only arrived in the Lower Mainland in September 1999, a mere 13 months before committing the homicide on October 1. He had been kicked out of his house in Vernon, and recently fired from working at the Dairy Queen in Vernon.
  • Shane’s aunt confirmed that Shane had a hockey bag (unfortunately those DNA tests that were trying to filter out for a good sample of DNA, did eliminate too much of the core DNA and are results were therefore negative.) ( The Aunt told us that she had “jokingly” asked Shane if he was involved in Heather’ disappearance.)
  • Shane was described by his fellow workers as someone who liked to talk to “kids” and they gave an example of him hanging around a kids lemonade stand at their work site.
  • Eight years earlier, in March 1992, while living in Vernon Shane had been forced to see a counsellor for lifting the skirts of two girls on the school bus, and trying to touch them.
  • Shane had written sexually explicit letters to his teacher/counsellor, and eventually left the school, and he was often described as a “scary character”
  • He also had sexually explicit correspondence with this then girlfriend
  • At his work site, he had offered to babysit for one of his co-workers. (those same co-workers would often tease him about him being involved in Heather’s disappearance.)
  • Heather had apparently been on Paxcil and another prescription drug at the time of her death. (not by itself noteworthy, but one when examined by a court trying to determine cause of death would surface as a complicating issue)

When all the information began to settle, having been sifted through the needed or discarded filters, what we were left with what is commonly referred to as a “circumstantial” case albeit with one what we believed was an “voluntary” confession.

We would never find a magic bullet, such as DNA, fingerprints, or matched blood samples. Cause of death was listed as “undetermined.” Every Crown counsel wants these dream pieces before going to Court. This was not going to be that case. We were pushing  Crown’s charge approval boundaries of every case needing to have a “substantial likelihood of conviction”. As the years have gone by, the pursuit of a circumstantial cases seem to becoming rare events. Crown and the police are more reluctant to let the courtroom decide, and as Wally Oppal once opined it seems that the Crown and the police are trying the cases in the reports now, not having a taste for a courtroom, reluctant to face possible failure. One wonders where this case would have stood in this climate.

However in those years  we enjoyed a strong and positive relationship with Crown Counsel both in Surrey and at the Regional level. All of the Crown lawyers, that we dealt with on this case; through charge approval, bail hearing, the preliminary inquiry and the eventual Supreme Court trial were exemplary. They deserve special mention for the hours that they expended and the roles they played; Terry Schultes who provided almost daily legal advice to me on this case and many others; Winston Sayson who handled the preliminary inquiry along with Lana Del Santo; and finally, Ron Caryer who handled the Supreme Court murder trial along with Roger Dietrich. Their lives were put on hold and this case became all consuming, with the added pressure of a constant media spotlight.

On November 22nd, 2000 Shane Ertmoed appeared in Court in Surrey and pled not guilty to the charge of 1st degree murder.

The Preliminary inquiry in Surrey began a couple of months later on February 19, 2001. As in all preliminary inquiries, Crown does not pull out all the stops in terms of showing all the evidence, and for this case they primarily relied on the confession. All they needed to prove was that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial. And the confession by itself when admitted would accomplish this purpose.

All was moving along in quick order, and then came the final trial in Vancouver Supreme court. The defence, oddly had applied and been granted a “change of venue” from New Westminster Supreme Court, successfully arguing that they would not get a fair jury trial in the Surrey area. (This seemed illogical at this time, as this case had been getting extensive coverage throughout the Lower Mainland, but it was not argued  by Crown.) So it was decided that the court would instead be held in Vancouver Supreme Court.

As mentioned previously Ron Caryer was leading for the Crown, an experienced trial prosecutor and one of the few who for the most part conducted only murder trials for the Crown. His second on the case, or partner, was Roger Dietrich, a young prosecutor prone to wearing suspenders to cover his large bulk which he had previously used to his advantage as a player in the Canadian Football League. The two were Ying and Yang. Opposites but ideally suited.

The defence counsel was the rather infamous Sheldon Goldberg.  Mr Goldberg had been a criminal defence lawyer in and around Vancouver for a number of years. He  invariably found the police to be involved in some form of conspiracy or another, and this inevitably would form any part of his defences on almost every case. He had a jail-house reputation as one of the best because of the dirt he would throw at the police. He  was a classic example of  “tossing (expletive deleted)” at the police blue wall, and then standing back and see what stuck. He was also “thorough”, although some may say deliberately obtuse, bordering on obstruction. I have met many a defence criminal lawyer, some I liked some I didn’t. Mr Goldberg was in the latter category.

This was also not my first time dealing with Mr. Goldberg either.  Previously in the 1990’s I had been involved in the case of David Snow, a multiple killer and rapist, who was eventually declared a dangerous offender in North Vancouver, and later convicted in Toronto, Ontario of killing an elderly couple. I testified at both of these trials, and was up against Mr Goldberg’s version of cross-examination which is often derogatory and personal. I don’t know if he even remembered me by the time we got to the Ertmoed trial, nor do I know if his demeanour was more a matter of style rather than personal belief. Needless to say I was anticipating lots of defence motions, and a slow moving trial.

Judge Wally Oppal, also of some fame by this time as a prominent Judge was assigned to sit on the Supreme Court case.

As the jury was selected, and the first days of the trial began, it was quite clear that this was going to be a painful, slow moving process. It was decided that I needed to be at the courthouse for at least the morning portion of the case, helping to find documents, answering questions which had arisen the previous day, assisting with witness preparations and notifications, and being a general handy-man. I was given an office at the courthouse, and I moved in with the file, consisting by now of 17 legal 10″ x 12″ x 17″ sized boxes of paper; charts, photos, statement copies, all pulled and eventually returned. The small room a makeshift file library sitting amongst the usual detritus of coffee cups, plastic wrappers, and styrofoam lunches hurriedly eaten.

Monday thru Friday after lunch, I would then go back to Surrey Detachment, and begin my normal usual shift in the Serious Crime group. Other murder files began to come in, which sometimes would blur my memory on the “Heather file”, but only until the next morning at 800 Smythe Street.

The trial was set for 3 months beginning in March but by the time it wound down, seven months had passed and we were now at the end of August 2002. Final submissions were prepared and presented to the jury.

Crown’s submission was a moving testament to Heather’s life, and at one time, Caryer stopped mid way through, and pointedly asked the jury to consider in silence how long it would have taken to kill Heather. Ninety seconds then went by in excruciating quiet, interrupted by the occasional uncomfortable cough or nervous sniffle which seemed to reverberate around the old ornate courtroom. You could feel the forced thoughts, the ugly sequence of events as they would have un-folded being forced into the minds of all those there. Almost all absently bowed their heads.

The jury was then excused to consider the case and render their verdict.

Five hours later, in the evening of August 29, 2002 in one of the quickest decisions ever seen in a murder trial, the jury reached their verdict finding Shane Ertmoed “guilty” of 1st degree murder,

One can not adequately express what I was feeling that night as the news sprayed across all the television news, people interviewed expressing relief that a nightmare was over.

Shane went down swinging telling Judge Oppal at sentencing when asked if he had anything to say,  “….all that happened today was a fundamental miscarriage of justice”.

Oppal seemed surprised, and said rather unusually, “I happen to agree with the jury….you have been found guilty of the most horrific crime in law….you murdered a 10 year old simply to satisfy your sexual desires…” and then he confirmed and levied the heaviest sentence possible in the criminal courts of Canada. An automatic sentence of life without a chance of parole for 25 years.

The case was over at last.

Congratulations came in;  phone calls, letters, emails, and thank-you cards, over the next days and months, from as far away as Europe and the United States. Gradually I had time to absorb it all, to sort through my thoughts, what went right, what went wrong, the twists and turns, the bad luck and the good luck.

You quickly determine that any investigation of this sort involves multiple people, all doing right by simply doing their job. Policing is not magical when things come together, in fact for the most part it is mundane fact checking, onerous paper work, and incessant interviews, interspersed by heart-breaking disappointments, or adrenaline fuelled giddiness. There is no middle ground and very often there is little sleep.

There are no real heroes, that is the fodder of television as envisaged by those that have never been there. As a lead investigator you are holding the wagon’s reins but you are only holding the reins with little or no power as to how each individual facet is going to perform, or where the next turn will be in the road.  You just have to get on and try not to get thrown. If it all works, and you are thrown a bit of luck, you will succeed.

Epilogue

Chris Drotar my partner for this file has been promoted a couple of times and remains with the RCMP in a different section. He is still a friend.

My boss, Mel Trekofski who provided the confidence I was sometimes needing has since retired and doing well.

Ron Caryer, the Prosecutor was made a Judge and is now also retired. He returned to Golden Ears Park for many years on the anniversary of Heather’s death and erected a small cairn in her memory. We also became friends.

Roger Dietrich, the 2nd Prosecutor is now a senior Crown Counsel in the Toronto area. He wrote a book about the case, as a kind of catharsis, but never submitted it for publication.

Dr. Rolf Mathewes, the Botanist, who matched the “cultivated junipers” to the bag and to Ertmoed’s residence, shortly thereafter opened a Forensic Botany unit at the University of British Columbia. Dr Sweet, the dentist who was able to positively identify Heather also began to also specialize in Forensic dentistry.

Cpl Jean Bouchard the Forensic Identification officer who I had put under the hood of the suspect car went on to be an Instructor at the Canadian Police College in Ottawa, teaching other Forensic Identification officers.

All the other investigators are too numerous to mention, but as much as I have been able to follow them throughout their careers, as expected, they all seem to have done rather well.

We eventually determined there were two “leaks” as to the information which led to the media ultimatum. One was inadvertent and came out of the psychiatrists office, while the other was tracked to an upper level RCMP officer. RCMP HQ, a couple of months later said they were ending their investigation, as it was “unnecessary”, after all “you won the case in the end”. You can read what you want to in that.

Sheldon Goldberg, the defence counsel, in 2009 was forced to resign from the practise of law for 5 years, after being found guilty of professional misconduct and incompetency.

After 15 years Shane Ertmoed applied for early parole under the “faint hope clause” and was denied. He is now scheduled to be up for parole in 2025; he will be 48 years old when he is eligible to walk free.

Jodie Aspin Thomas, Heather’s mother is still a survivor, and still often wears a “Heather” button, with the same picture as you saw in Part I of this story. Her sorrow is always with her just like the picture.

I lost track of Pat Thomas but he was last known to be working as a carpenter in the Whistler area, no doubt, also trying to put his life together.

Heather would have been 28 years old this year. Of course I was never able to meet Heather in a way that humans are expected to meet. My thoughts still often go to her, despite the passage of time, and I feel that we quietly and in our own way travelled some type of dark road together. I think we would be friends now. But, nobody should have to meet someone this way.

 

Photo Courtesy of Flickr via Commons created by x1klima some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

PM and Justice Minister interfere with our Courts to further Indigenous cry of Racism…

Clearly not interested in facts, Justin Trudeau, your Prime Minister has hit a new and dangerous low in his attempt to become the ultimate superhero for the Indigenous and First Nations. In doing so, he is segmenting this country, siding with fringe radical elements, and showing no concern about trying to interfere with the Justice system. Rational, clear thought is being pushed to the side by blatant political opportunism.

Predictably, he is being parroted by his Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, who has already proven that she is Indigenous activist who happened to be chosen to be Justice Minister, rather than a Justice Minister who happens to be Indigenous.

They are playing to their constituencies in such a way that it would make Donald Trump blush.

Of course I am talking about the recent court case where Gerald Stanley, a farmer in Biggar, Saskatchewan was charged with the 2nd degree murder of Colten Boushie a member of the Red Pheasant reserve. Stanley’s subsequent acquittal took place in front of jury of 12 in a North Battleford Saskatchewan courtroom.  Colten Boushie,  was a 22 year old indigenous male, which it should be remembered is the only reason we are talking about this case rather than giving it a cursory glance.

The CBC, seemingly acting as an editorial arm of the government, insistently before and after the court case framed the case as being about racism, even before hearing of a single piece of evidence. In the days leading up and through the trial, the twitter monitoring journalists of the CBC, portrayed the case as one of a “white” male shooting an indigenous “Cree” male. Extensive coverage was given to interviewing indigenous members of the community, highlighting the “two solitudes” theme, and calling the situation “polarized” in terms of race relations.

This was not a race case, as the evidence showed in the end, but that is not a flashy or easy story to write and it certainly doesn’t fall within the narrative being pushed by the government and a radical few.

Boushie’s mother’s lawyer (unknown why, but interesting that she has already obtained legal representation), Chris Murphy  who said that the case “represents the elements of a larger conversation about reconciliation”. A  2nd degree murder case somehow being about “reconciliation”?

So what are the facts?

First, lets deal with the selection of the jury, because the first criticism brought by the Indigenous was that there were no “visibly” indigenous members on the jury, even now they do not for sure if there were indigenous members of the jury, but why bother a narrative with such a small detail.

Using health records to avoid bias, the courts aware of the growing climate, summoned over 750 potential jurors reaching with their summons all the way to the border of the North West Territories.  Under normal circumstances, the courts would only summons 250-400 persons. But the courts, in accordance and compliance with the Supreme Court of Canada,  exercised caution and over extended,  knowing that they would be open to accusations of a non-representative jury pool otherwise. Many of the communities that were included in their canvas are over 80%-90% indigenous; communities such as Beauval and La Loche.

On day one of the trial only 230 showed. There were close to 500 people who decided that they could ignore the courts.

The Judge, Chief Justice Martel Popescul reiterated that those that failed to attend “could” be charged under the “Jury Act”.  It was clear that a lot of the no-shows would be Indigenous persons, so given the opportunity to participate and extend the pool or jurors, decided not to attend.  It used to be considered a serious matter if one failed to attend for this duty, but clearly the dialogue has changed, and Indigenous groups feel they have the right to disregard the laws of Canada. Or do you believe that there will be charges forthcoming?

The Indigenous spokespersons of course explain this lack of caring in a dismissive way,  saying it was hard for them to get to court because of the isolated nature of their communities, and they could not afford to travel for jury selection. One lawyer stated: ” socio-economic issues can lead to people not being available. Health issues. Its anybody’s guess”.

A few years ago another court case reached the Supreme Court of Canada (R vs. Kokopenace) , where an indigenous accused argued that he had a right to have indigenous persons on the jury. One of the issues that this case explored and determined was that the response rate to summons for jury duty on the Reserve was 10% and falling. It would seem that the Boushie case got the same response rate.

A 2nd issue then surfaced; that being the right of the defence in this case, as in all cases, to have pre-emptory challenges to jurors without any reason needing to be articulated.

Of course, the indigenous groups said they were challenging all of the indigenous potential jurors, only because they were indigenous, and in their view this was another example of racism. But anybody who has been involved in these types of cases, and in particular have dealt with the jury selection process know that the defence always tries to exclude all jurors who show bias. Not because they are indigenous but because they are concerned about possible bias. It is not racism, it is our system which is designed to weed out bias, just as they exclude the police, or sherifs.

Historically, indigenous groups  have called to get rid of these challenges, which of course any criminal defence attorney would be opposed to, and would mean changing the concept and basis for impartial jury selection. Whether it works that way is another argument.   .

Furthermore, this entire matter has already been debated at length and even reached the Supreme Court of Canada in R vs. Kokopenace where in a 5-2 decision they decided that there was an onus to make the jury pool representative, but there was no obligation to determine the composition of that jury. Clearly in this latest case, there was an attempt to be all inclusive, and just as clearly there was insufficient response from the indigenous community. You are entitled to a representative jury, just not one you hand pick.

Now lets detail the actual facts of the case.

Five individuals including Boushie, all admitting to being blind drunk, were driving around the area in an SUV, after swimming and drinking at a local fishing hole. One “witness” claimed she was so drunk that she slept through the entire incident.

After leaving the fishing hole, they decided to attempt to steal from a neighbour to Stanley,  breaking a window on a truck, using a .22 rifle, that they had been carrying around with them, “target shooting”  from the vehicle. In breaking the window, they broke the stock on the rifle. This was according to the Crown witness Eric Meechance. (During the investigation he failed to mention the fact that they had a gun in their vehicle, because he had a “gun ban”. )

17 live rounds were found in the SUV vehicle, some in the rifle itself.

They then drove on to the Stanley farm, apparently somewhere in the process getting a flat tire.

They drove their “loud” vehicle on to the Stanley property, where Gerald Stanley and his 28 year old son were building a fence unbeknownst to the trespassers. The Stanleys heard and saw the vehicle come to a stop near to one of their ATVs, and watched as a person from the vehicle get on the ATV and appeared to try and start it.

Sheldon, Stanley’s son, ran towards them to confront them, and the male got off the ATV and ran back to their car and jumped in. Sheldon armed with the hammer he had been using on the fence, got up to their vehicle and smashed the window of the car, while his Dad “kicked at the taillight. The car then accelerated away, spewing gravel in their haste.

But instead of leaving the property, the car turned back and struck another of the Stanley’s vehicles. Gerald Stanley went to his shed where he kept a pistol for “scaring coyotes”, grabbed what he believed to be two bullets and put them in the gun with the intent of helping his son, who again had gone to confront the people in the car.

As he emerged from the shed Stanley fired a shot into the air as a “warning”. He could not see his son, but he could see two who had once again exited from the vehicle, and they turned and looked. He then lifted his gun again and fired “two or three times” into the air. He said he never pointed it at them, thought the gun was empty and popped the clip out into his left hand and carried the gun in his right as he went towards the vehicle.

As he approached the vehicle, he saw that the lawnmower his wife had been pushing was there, but not his wife. He said he felt a pure moment of “terror” thinking that the car had run over her. He said he ran to look under the car, and the car engine revved, and he assumed that he was going to get run over as well. So he went to the driver’s window, wanting to reach in to shut off the car.

He then sees something “metal” sticking out of the drivers side and he noticed the driver for the first time. He slapped at the metal, and simultaneously reached into try and turn off the keys in the ignition.

And it is then that the gun went off, killing Boushie, striking him in the back of the head. Although the gun was believed to be empty the defence argued that it had to be a delayed discharge, a “hanger”. The .22 rifle was beside Boushie in the front seat, as Boushie was in the drivers side.

Sheldon, the son, who had run to get his truck keys from the house and was intending to pursue them, said he heard two shots, and then a third. Consistent with his father’s later testimony.

The forensic evidence found by the police was consistent with this story.

That at least is the version of Stanley which was also consistent with one of the Crown witnesses.

Now, how about the testimony of those in the car, after all there were four of them.  Well, unfortunately, all proved to be unreliable and their testimony such as it was came close to  constituting perjury. Crown Prosecutor Bill Burge even warned the jury that they will here many “contradictions” in the stories.

One of the passengers in the Boushie vehicle, Cassidy Cross-Whitstone admitted to lying about trying to break into a truck on the other property and about how much he had to drink. He said he was worried about losing his drivers licence and that he “lied about that”.

Belinda Jackson, another Crown witness had earlier said that the only person with a firearm on the Stanley farm was a woman standing outside their SUV, but then changed her story to say that she saw Gerald Stanley shoot Boushie “twice” in the head. Boushie was only shot once, and two of the other Crown witnesses confirmed hearing two shots over their head, and then a third when they were in the process of running away.

So in the Crown’s case. Three of four potential witnesses were found, and admitted to lying or leaving out facts in the case. Another witness slept through the entire matter. All of the Crown witnesses admitted to drinking heavily and being at different levels of intoxication. All of course were indigenous, and I have not seen a single report after the acquittal mentioning that unreliable witnesses of the Crown were a big legal problem in this court case.

The Crown case was so bad, one wonders if Crown was pressured into the laying of charges. As a former homicide investigator I could not imagine getting charge approval on a case where all of your witnesses for the Crown were “unreliable” and admitted to high levels of intoxication.

So where does this leave us?

The Prime Minister of this country, a country who recognizes the need for an independent justice system, a justice system that should not be tainted in favour of a special interest group, a justice system that should be able to determine right from wrong without political interference. Our Prime Minister, touring in the United States immediately sides with the Indigenous outcry, and comments on Twitter.

“we need to do better”

“we have come to this point as a country far too many times”.

He then sends them his “love”.

Of course he is then echoed by our illustrious Justice Minister:

“Thank you PM. My thoughts are with the family of Colton Boushie tonight. I truly feel your pain and I hear all of your voices. As a country we can and must do something better – I am committed to working everyday to ensure justice for all Canadians.”

What message are they sending? Clearly they are saying that the court system didn’t work in this case and was biased based on race? It can not be interpreted in any other way.

Clearly both the PM and Wilson-Raybould were reacting as they always do, siding with the indigenous no matter the concern or the facts of a case. Grand standing to show their inordinate support.

In doing so, the clear implication is that the 7 women and 5 men who served on the jury, and the Judge who oversaw the case were tainted by racism. It displays both a lack of judgement, a lack of experience, and a supreme lack of objectivity on the part of these two leaders. This from a Prime Minister and a Justice Minister sworn to uphold the laws of Canada.

But this Liberal group for the last two years, bolstered by the two toadies, Jane Philpott and Carolyn Bennett have done nothing but embolden the radical fringe Indigenous leaders who are demanding different laws, a different Child welfare system, separate police departments, greater infrastructure programs, better schools, and a seat at Premier’s conferences as they strive to be a Nation unto itself.

“Reconcilation”, “colonialism”, and “residential schools” are the rallying cries and populate every conversation, whatever indigenous problem is being debated. They have even shamelessly compared the cultural genocide of the residential schools to that of the Nazi concentration camps.

More money, and more power are being demanded as part of this “reconciliation” and the monetary spigot is wide open as there are no impossible or improbable demands. Every government meeting is opened with the announcement about being on the ceded or un-ceded territorial lands of the local Indigenous group, which also furthers a point of view that most Canadians may not feel is appropriate.

The political parliamentary opposition firmly sit on their hands, and keep their mouths closed, clearly cowed by the thought of being branded racist, no matter what the logic of the argument.

The new NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, echoed the thoughts of Trudeau saying about the court case:

“There was no justice for Colten Boushie…today they have again been told that their lives have less value. We must confront the legacy of colonialism and genocide so they can see a brighter future for themselves”.  It is even more astounding when you consider that he is a lawyer, not a high school drama teacher, so should have had some appreciation of the facts of a case being paramount.

Yesterday, as I write this, finally the Conservatives and a few others are finally speaking up about this clear political interference on the judicial system. Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt, and Conservative Finance critic Rob Nicholson are asking the Justice Minister and the Prime Minister as to whether they were saying the jury had arrived at the wrong verdict.

Toronto criminal lawyer Sean Robichaud argued that it was “wholly inappropriate for elected officials to publicly undermine findings of a lawfully delivered verdict, particularly if it was one with a jury.” He goes further saying that the comments from the Prime minister and the Justice minister that by questioning the credibility of the judiciary, “pose a threat to Canada’s democratic system”.

The Liberals don’t learn easily though, as today they flew members of the Boushie family to Ottawa to meet with those oh so sympathetic cabinet ministers Philpott and Bennett, the Public Safety Minister, and of course Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau himself.

The Justice Minister in the House  is also expressing a need to change the judicial system and they are now looking at quickly getting rid of pre-emptory challenges. Justin Trudeau, in the House of Commons, realizing now that he has over-stepped, had the audacity to say during question period, that he could not comment on this “particular case”, to the laughter of the opposition.

The damage is done. He has already commented, he has already sided with the likes of Bobby Cameron, Chief of Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations that the verdict was “..a bunch of garbage.” He is sanctioning the words of  Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the First Nations who says “the system has failed indigenous people, it remains rife with systemic rascism”

So what has all this created?

It has created the fringes on both sides to spout racist comments on social media and the creation of a go fund me page for the defence costs of Gerald Stanley which in three days has now raised $130,000.00. The divide in this country is widening, being pushed by the ridiculous Twitter verse.

The Orwellian “thought police” nature of the politics of Canada today is leading to increasing polarization. The settlers of Saskatchewan who for generations worked this harsh un-forgiving land, who “colonized” this land, are now told to stay out of the debate.

The jury in this case has now been branded, and must be now questioning why they did their civic duty only to be called racists, even obliquely by their own Prime Minister.

This case was one of a rural crime resulting in a needless death. There was absolutely no evidence of this being a racist driven crime.

Tragic, as any death is, it is now further driving a wedge into legitimate debate as to the problems of being indigenous in this country; abject poverty and abysmal education feeding violence and disenfranchisement.  The refusal to look inward, the insistence on blaming everything on colonization, regardless of the facts, is only going to fuel a now slow burning fire among the still silent majority, who it can be argued, have just as much claim to this country as do the 4% of the Canadian population who were here “first”.

We expect our politicians to recognize the need for an independent judiciary, to guard against politicization, to be the rational measure of policy and programs. Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould, Philpott, and Bennett need to know that they represent the entire country, they should not be biased to any cause without considering the whole.  It seems that they are currently incapable of understanding this, and show no concern about attacking the very judiciary and the laws which have founded and served us for 150 years.

The indigenous groups don’t agree of course, so let’s open the debate, let us hear the concrete proposals as to how they feel the system should be altered to serve their needs. But then, let the country decide. Let the courts be the arbiter to insure fairness and individual rights. Yes, the very same courts that they now denigrate, but lets keep in mind they are very selective in their protestations as Courts ruling in their favour are often lauded by them.

There are no other options, as to do otherwise is contributing to a growing backlash in this country. We must continually guard against allowing the radical fringes from both sides who tend to kidnap and hijack an honest, and I stress honest,  debate and resolution. Tough, complicated issues, are not furthered by simplistic sound bites that play to a particular audience. Trudeau and his cronies are driving a very deep and irreversible wedge into the heart of this country, they are dividing an entire nation. That never ends well, just ask the Americans living in the Trump world.

In the end this will be most detrimental to the indigenous people themselves. Ironically, they have chosen this particular case, where there is no evidence of racism once the facts are known, as the one that will be their hill to die on. They should have chosen better.

And, if Trudeau and his Cabinet would like to meet with everyone and show preferential treatment to those that feel the court system has let them down, then warm up the jets, there are going to be lot of people awaiting government limousines at the MacDonald-Cartier airport. By the way, we may need to change the name of the airport.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr via the Commons and Renegade98 Some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Story – “Heather” Part VII

On hearing the new living arrangements of Shane Ertmoed, I will admit that my first reaction was to drop the “f” bomb a few times, something which was not unusual if you had ever worked with me, but maybe these ones had a little more emphasis and artistry behind them, and I did manage to string quite a few together in sequence.  Of course, after I took a couple of breaths, I realized that I needed to now sell our ability to prevent another child from being hurt, when a five year old girl, was now living steps away from a homicide suspect, with only a ceiling separating them.

So at 8 that morning, in a briefing with upper management, I argued two points which would hopefully allow us to continue on course for the remaining few days. First, surveillance of the new residence was able to determine that there was a separate entry to Mr. Ertmoed’s apartment; which meant that if he tried to gain access to the upper floor, where the 5 year old lived, he would have to first come outside and then go up a separate set of stairs. Secondly and more importantly, the girl was only 5, and therefore was never left alone, and a parent or an adult would always be in the immediate presence of the girl.

The argument was accepted, albeit with some trepidation, but we were allowed to continue on. Needless to say the surveillance team was now under an even greater pressure, especially at night, when visibility to the residence was greatly limited.

(Unbeknownst to me,  I would find out later that one of my manager’s, in an effort to placate the concerns of upper management, took it upon himself to go the landlord of this residence in Langley, and advise him of our homicide target now living in his rented out house. This manager, who will remain nameless,  did not tell me or any of the investigators that he was about to break the police silence on our target, and in effect, jeopardize our entire operational plan. The landlord as it turns out, liked the RCMP, and decided not to tell his tenants right away, to allow us a few days as had been requested. So in the end, we survived this transgression by one of our own but anger would not sufficiently describe my reaction on finding out. My meeting, or confrontation, with this boss did not help my career aspirations I am sad to report. )

As the interview and arrest team continued their preparations, we were also busy with the reporting, the Report to Crown Counsel, and our ending Operational Plan. Other investigational results continued to come in, continued to be reviewed, evaluated, and re-assigned if necessary.

The interview team was in full bloom by Wednesday. The “team”was in its infancy in those days, just having come together more as a think tank, and there was little doubt that this case would be its biggest in terms of the investigational scope, and clearly they would be measured by the outcome and their role. This was the first time that I would not be calling on actual file investigators for the interview,  feeling that a fresh set of eyes, a physically fresh group, a group which did nothing more than concentrate on the interview was a concept worth trying. Greg Bishop who was a member of the team from the North Vancouver detachment was chosen as the primary interviewer, he was going to be the actual “guy in the room” with Shane.

Greg, was similar in stature to Shane Ertmoed, and he had also played junior football like Shane, who as we now learned had played briefly for the Vernon junior football team. (we were interested to learn that Shane would have a large equipment bag when playing football) In fact, Greg bore a resemblance to Shane. Greg’s interest in conducting interviews had begun in North Vancouver detachment, where he specifically took an interest in interviewing sex offenders. This led him to join the interview team. Greg had not interviewed many if any at all homicide suspects.

So it was a bit of a risk, but I was convinced they were going to go to incredible efforts and a better prepared group would not be found. Even two psychologists were hired to take part in the developing of a psychological profile of Shane.

By Wednesday, November 1st, at the end of the day, the interview team sat in the board room with Chris and I, and all the other investigators. For three hours everyone tossed about ideas as to approaches and themes that may work with Shane based on what facts we knew about the case. It was a worthwhile exercise, and what was clearly evident was that almost everyone had taken some ownership of this file, they were all personally invested.

By now we had confirmed that the prints that had been found in Shane’s apartment were not those of Heather, they were a small childs, but who exactly would never be determined. Some minor blood stains which had been found near the bed, also turned out to not be matched to Heather. Blood stains that had been found in the car were also negative.

As to the gymn bag, the Lab was examining the handles and had now identified three DNA samples, and they were now “cooking them”. In layman’s terms this meant that a series of filters were being used to get to the pure sample of DNA. The problem was that this cooking process, this cleaning may actually remove too much, and we may be left with no core sample of DNA. It was a risk that we had no choice but to take.

Some hair had also been found in the bag, but the Lab testing and their eventual results  would be at least another seven days. So any results would not be available to the investigators until after the arrest. Crown counsel would have to take a flyer as to whether we would get positive results in considering charge approval.

Also by this time, we had gone back to Shane’s Cloverdale address and rented the same apartment, allowing our forensic investigators to re-visit the site, but now they could do so with no time constraint or having to anticipate Shane’s return home.

It was also on this day that the funeral was held for Heather in Surrey. Cpl Janice Armstrong, our primary media person, attended along with our Forensic Ident group, who made a pretence of filming the crowd. This is often done by police in the event that the suspect shows up. In this case, we knew where he was, however, a lack of police presence may twig an astute media journalist who may find it strange that the police were not among the crowd.  So far our secret seemed to be holding.

Wednesday quickly led into Thursday, and our report teams were up to date, and the arrest team was now prepared and ready to go once given the word. Our deadline for the arrest was Friday at 5:00 pm.

Thursday morning began with a flurry, when we learned that investigators had uncovered some letters from the complex garbage bins, hand written by what we believed was a young girl to “Shane”. They were able to quickly identify the girl and she and the father came into the office to speak with us. In the interview the girl, probably frightened, probably leery of her present father, would not elaborate on the “diary” letters. It seemed highly likely though, that Shane had befriended other girls in the complex, not a calming notion, but one would have to wait for a few days in terms of searching for other possible victims.

The afternoon also brought some more disquieting news, from the news media itself. Janice Armstrong, our media spokesperson came to meet to discuss a phone call she just received. A reporter was calling to say that they knew we were about to make an arrest, and they knew who we would be arresting!

Clearly our boast of having no leaks to date was now untrue, and our ability to stay on the timeline may now have been jeopardized. The reporter was seeking a comment from the RCMP and the story would be running that night on the 6 o’clock news. However, they wanted to make a deal.

If we allowed them to film the arrest, they would hold off until Friday to go to press.

We played out the various scenarios out loud, the what ifs, and I kept going back to my belief that they likely had one source, thus the need for comment from the police to confirm or deny. They needed confirmation because to go with such an explosive story without doubling their sources could prove devastating (at that time it was well known that news people would not run a story with only one source, sadly, that is not the case today). A final decision was made, we decided we would not have a comment; we would not confirm or deny. No deals would be made.

Of course at 6 o’clock that night, we raptly watched the VTV news, to see if our gamble had paid off.  If they broke the news, then we would need to arrest Shane Ertmoed that night and not as planned. As the headlines scrolled up, the background music intensified, but there was no mention of any arrest. The bluff seemed to have worked, so as we headed out the door that night for a few hours of rest breathing a little easier.

Friday, the 3rd of November arrived.  At 11 that morning I briefed all of upper management of the days activities that were coming, laid out our operational “plan” and the procedures that we were going to follow in terms of the arrest, and subsequent interview.

At 1200 noon, the Crown approved charges under Section 235(1) of the Criminal Code.  1st degree murder. This was the last piece of the operational puzzle that we needed prior to the arrest. So at 3:00 we briefed the arrest team and had them attend to await Shane Ertmoed’s return from work, outside his current residence at 206th and 44 A Avenue in Langley.

Chris and I could do nothing now but wait, so we drove to the perimeter area of the residence, a couple of blocks short of the house, occupied ourself with idle chat and  monitored the surveillance and arrest teams. The calm before the media storm,  waiting for that final radio transmission “subject in custody”.

Of course no arrest ever goes according to a book. The surveillance team lost him briefly for the first time in two weeks. Then they found him again. At 6:00 pm as darkness was falling and the air had become cooler, in this suburban residential area of Langley, with its tree-lined streets, and 1980 style homes Shane Ertmoed arrived home. A passenger in his commuting partner’s vehicle. Just as he stepped out of the vehicle, a plain clothes officer grabbed him by the arm and eased him out, and put up against the police vehicle, There was no struggle or resistance. On being told he was under arrest for murder, he feigned surprise, but said little else, and he was placed in the back of a van where members of the interview team awaited for the drive back to the Surrey detachment.

At 6:05 the local radio station, CKNW, was already broadcasting that an arrest had been made, and as we approached the Surrey detachment, media trucks were waiting at every intersection trying to identify the vehicle that Shane may have been in. They clearly now had their confirmation.

That evening, a press conference was held, where our managers took the podium to announce the arrest, pose for the usual congratulatory pictures, provide the usual “unable to comment at this time” to questions and provided the fodder for the 30 second sound bites. We stood at the back of the room able to hear, but out of sight, some of the adrenaline now draining away. A lot of work was looming ahead, but some satisfaction creeped in, temporarily blocking thoughts as to the further efforts that were going to be needed.

Shane spent the night in a jail cell, with an undercover roommate that had been arranged for him (in the event he would be stupid enough to say something); eating a microwaved meat pie and drinking instant coffee, no doubt preparing for the next day as well.

As he was watched on the cellblock video monitors, listened to on the audio coming from the implanted mikes in cell block, he didn’t seem scared. Was he struggling to control his thoughts, trying to steady his  physical mannerisms, nonchalant, unperturbed by what had just happened to him?

As evening turned to night he curled up under the grey prisoner blanket and went to sleep, snoring slightly.

 

Photo Courtesy of Les Bazso of Vancouver Province newspaper Some Rights Reserved

Personal Story – “Heather” Part VI

So at 6 in the morning of October 25, 2000 I found myself in front of a chalk board in a large darkened briefing room, with Chris as my sounding board and solitary audience, sketching out a rough two week calendar; the range which was now being dictated by one single necessity. We needed time to find evidence, and at the same time we needed to come close to a guarantee that our suspect Mr Ertmoed would not re-offend while we carried on in our quest for the so far elusive evidence.

Earlier, I had asked our surveillance teams, which now consisted of RCMP as well as VPD groups,  as to how long they could keep someone under 24 hour surveillance; with an expectation of never losing the target, while maintaining  three shifts of teams. The consensus was that “maybe two weeks on the outside”. For anyone who knows surveillance with all its ramifications, to request that they never lose the target was a bit preposterous and presumptuous. But it was not the time to be timid with our ask.

We now had an investigational time line, bracketed by our surveillance capabilities.  We had just 14 days and nights to find evidence. And just as importantly, we needed to find that evidence without Shane Ertmoed finding out we were looking. We wanted to poke around in his life, in his residence, around his vehicle, amongst his friends and acquaintances without him finding out. We wanted to know Shane Ertmoed better than he knew himself, and for him to be none the wiser.

The element of surprise was now on our side and if it came down to an interview it could prove invaluable in terms of the balance of power in that 5′ x 8′ room. That sounds hardened, conspiratorial, big government leveraging their power. But in essence, when it comes down to criminal interviews, the accused has all the advantages; any inappropriate comment, a slight promise, a refusal to allow for a chat with a defence counsel, even one asked for and given many times, could in todays courts completely destroy the evidence revealed in an interview.

So armed with a start and an end in our timeline, the end being a possible arrest and interview; I begin to sketch in the remaining days, with the idea that one day would flow into the next, in a continuous seamless operation, where the 2nd day activities were determined by the 1st day, or the 3rd day determined by the events of the 2nd day. Surveillance would run throughout and besides keeping Ertmoed in view, the surveillance could be used to background other elements of the investigation.

We quickly began to divide the forty or so investigators into teams, with a total of seven teams. Each team had an individual responsibility, each team had a leader who would  be given the ability and virtual free rein, to make their own determinations of which investigative tools they would use to pursue and reach their goal.

Our belief was that in all likelihood Heather was killed inside the residence of Ertmoed, and then in all likelihood transported in his car to the Maple Ridge area. We needed to see inside the residence, to examine the most likely crime scene, and we needed to forensically examine both the residence and the vehicle. And that examination needed to be done in secrecy. We needed to commit a legal break and enter, and steal a vehicle, or at least have Shane believe that someone stole his vehicle.

To enter his residence, we needed legal authorizations, “general” warrants under the Criminal Code which which would allow for surreptitious entry and an examination of his vehicle. Team 1 was assigned the thankless, but central task, of writing those warrant applications. They were given a deadline of 24 hours to have them signed and authorized. It was a momentous task, maybe only appreciated by police officers in terms of the short time period, but everything would flow from Team 1 and the seal of approval from the judiciary.

Another group of investigators, Team 2,  was assigned to travel to Vernon, to begin inquiries as to the background of Shane and his family, school, and sport activities. They could not raise suspicions and would have to develop reliable sources inside the various bureaucracies that we may need to access.

A third team, the entry team for the residence was made up of some Forensic Identification personnel, and some investigators who would be disguised as construction workers. They were left to brainstorm on their own, how they would get in, and to co-ordinate with the surveillance group to find the opportune time.

A fourth team was assigned to “steal” Ertmoed’s vehicle. We needed to get the vehicle into a police garage where it could be checked for hair, fibre, blood, fingerprints. Clearly, this had to be done at a time and place which would draw the least amount of attention.

Did I mention that the media had established an outpost at the housing complex. A reporter assigned, with a satellite truck, to be there in case anything developed. With no breaking news, they would often interview neighbours and do a human interest story. For instance they had begun interviewing neighbours in terms of whether they would let out their children for the approaching Halloween festivities, when there could be a “child” killer on the loose. We thought that this could be a problem for sure.

Other teams included an arrest team and an interview team. The final team was the group that had to write the story, the group who had to put all this planning, all this effort and its results in a readable and a formatted Report to Crown Counsel, whilst also keeping Crown Counsel briefed on the matter. The ultimate goal was to get “charge approval” from the Crown, but to get to this pot at the end of the rainbow, all of the teams had to come through, they were all reliant on each other, if one failed they could all fail. All the teams were aware of how it would work, each knew that they were only as good as the sum of their parts.

The briefing broke up and the teams began assembling in smaller groups in the briefing room, the noise level clearly rising as people became acquainted with their new team mates.  We had been somewhat lucky in gathering this particular group of  hard working, canny and astute investigators; which is not always the case in these last minute assembled project groups. They in turn were clearly  now relieved to be specifically  focused, they had a hard target. Not one complaint was ever heard from this group, even the Warrant team who very quickly realized that a 24 hour deadline for their role, meant they were going to be working all night.

I went off to a meeting with C/Supt Smith, Supt. MacIntyre and Inspector Jane to outline and sell them on the plan. After forty minutes and some back and forth, their approval was given.

So we were off and running. Team 1 began the warrants, and Team 2 was off to Vernon.

With this new found buzz, it would be difficult to keep things quiet. If we could keep things quiet for two weeks it would be a bit of a miracle. Cops like to talk, we like to gossip, we like the background story sometimes more than the central story. Even an overheard conversation in a bar or restaurant could jeopardize everything. Any reporters worth their salt had police “sources”. Reporters were just like us.

The surveillance team began to piece together Shane’s daily activities, including his evenings when he liked to walk to the local 7-11 for an over-sized ” Slurpy”. He seemed to be a loner, who would hitch a ride with two or three others to his work site in Maple Ridge where his construction crew was removing asbestos from old buildings. He was in essence proving to be a boring target. That is a good thing if part of your task was never “losing” him.

By Day 2, the warrant team had managed to get their job completed. General warrants had been signed and judicially authorized. Teams 3 and 4 started in motion with the plans to enter the residence and go after Shane’s car.

Chris and I flitted between the various teams answering questions, helping with some of the logistical and some of the more mundane issues. We answered the phones a lot and continued having two daily briefings with the investigators, and a daily briefing with upper management.

During this time the general overall investigation was now armed with the name “Shane Ertmoed” and this forced a review of the entire file to date,  to see if his name, or his vehicle, had surfaced earlier. There was a high probability that we may have run across our suspect in some form or manifestation.  This proved to be more than a little accurate.

We quickly learned:

  • Our neighbourhood inquiry group had spoken with him briefly, and filled out the form we had designed for this investigation. Mr Ertmoed had been spoken with, and basically told the officer that he didn’t know much about it, that he had been “out”… he had “gone to the movies”
  • One of our officers who had been stationed at the entrance of the complex, watching those coming and going in the first three days of the investigation, had gone to the extra effort of writing down every plate parked in the complex. Mr Ertmoed’s vehicle was noted parked, but more importantly this same officer had checked Mr Ertmoed and his vehicle leaving around 5:20 in the morning on October 2nd.  She had spoken with him, took a quick look into the vehicle, which she remembered as being “clean”, nothing in the back seat. He said he was going to work.
  • Mysteriously, Shane Ertmoed on October 2nd had reported to the Surrey RCMP that he had been the victim of a “break and enter” at his residence, and he wanted the police to attend.
  • An examination of the large “hockey bag” showed some botanical material in the pockets of the bag, the main zipper was broken. The handle was removed from the bag and sent to the Lab in the hope that we could salvage some DNA from the bag.

It was 48 hours after Shane reported the “break-in” that the Forensic Ident officer attended to Shane’s residence, as was routine in most residential break-ins. As is normal, he took notes of what he found. The residence was quite clean, a red upright vacuum cleaner stood in the middle of the living room, not put away. But the investigator also made note of a pile of clothes thrown in a pile, in the middle of the floor, as if someone had emptied a bag. This would not be uncommon as often culprits take a pillow case or a bag to carry the stolen items. So he asked Shane if he was missing a bag of any kind. Unexpectedly, Shane said he was not missing any bag.

Was he trying to distance himself from the bag that was found in the lake? Was the break and enter report some way of covering if at some point Heather’s prints were found in his apartment? Clearly Mr Ertmoed was thinking in anticipation of a possible meeting with the police somewhere down the road? Paranoia or just good planning?

So as the days moved forward, the first major entry was made when the forensic investigators, in the middle of the day, entered Shane’s residence, dressed in coveralls and ball caps, carrying their “tool” boxes.

Shane was working in Maple Ridge being watched by the surveillance team in the event he decided to go home early.

Photographing as they went, examining anything that may have been interesting. Dusting for fingerprints, removing any prints, and then leaving the scene looking untouched.

In the condo, there were no obvious signs of a struggle, no blood, or hair in some irregular place. But then again, this was a few weeks past the time of the killing. Some child sized prints were found on one of the windows, but they did not seem likely to match Heather’s. It seemed like a typical young person’s suite, not overly clean, clothes in random places, a sink of waiting dishes, a desk with young person collectibles. A wrestling logo sweatshirt hung from a hanger.

However, in opening a desk top drawer there were some normal bills,  but there were two receipts set aside, separate from the others in a seemingly organized and deliberate way.  Both were receipts; one for the “Happy Face” gas station, and the 2nd for the “Colossus Movie Theatre” in Langley. If you drove a vehicle up 200th Street in Langley you would come to the Happy Face gas station, and if you continued on up 200th St., you would come to the movie theatre. Both were for the date of October 1st, 2000, the date of Heather’s abduction and believed murder.

The gas station receipt was time stamped for 5:20 p.m on the 1st of October, and the movie receipt was for a 7:00 pm evening show also on the 1st, for the movie “The Exorcist”. It now seemed completely obvious that Shane Ertmoed was setting up his alibi, getting ready to prove that he was not home at the crucial time.

The receipts were photographed and left in place. The surprise element we were trying to keep in place would be instrumental to the interview process. If we knew in advance his cover story, and were prepared to surgically destroy it, there could be nothing more deflating to a suspect convinced he can beat the system.

On October 26th, an autopsy was conducted on Heather by Dr David Charlesworth at Royal Columbian hospital. Charlesworth was known as fastidious, exacting, and thorough, but in this case, he could not make a cause of death determination. The water had taken it away, destroyed the tissue enough to not allow for our hoped for our speculative diagnosis of strangulation.

Also, to add further to this negative report, there was no sign of sexual trauma in the vaginal area. DNA swabs were taken, but it was believed that they too would be of little value due to the water contamination. It now appeared that  the interview team was going to need to find out from Shane himself, as to how she died, and what he did to her. It would be a large hurdle, and it would be a major hurdle in any prosecution.

The team in Vernon began to also uncover some details of particular interest. It turned out that Shane had a local police record, which would not have shown up in our earlier criminal record checks of those in the neighbourhood. It should be kept in mind that we thought it would be unusual if a sex offender went straight to killing someone, there is almost always a history. The team found it.

Shane had a girlfriend in Vernon who was babysitting. Shane was over to keep her company but after the babysitter fell asleep, Shane went in to the child’s bunk bed, pulled her onto the floor and was spooning her in some sort of sexual way.

But he got caught in the act. His girlfriend caught him, and told the parent on their return to the house. Father, incensed, at one point had Shane pinned up against the wall, fist tightened on his shirt collar. In the end  he thought better of it, and instead did the proper thing, and let Shane go. It was reported to the police and an officer was assigned.

Unfortunately, that officer failed to interview Shane, and it was not until 8 months later that they decided to go forward with the victim statement to the local Crown Counsel for charge approval. The officer contacted the father, the guardian, and asked if they were ready to go to court, and the shocked father who could not understand how it had taken this long, reluctantly decided that it was not worth putting his child through the court process. Sloppy and lazy police work meant that Shane was never charged. Justice was not done, and a sex offender walked free.

If Shane had been charged, he would have been likely found out by our neighbourhood inquiry team, in the first week, because they did criminal record checks on everyone they interviewed.

The only plus was that maybe it displayed the method and nature of the assault on Heather? Just maybe, we had been given some hints on how Shane may have approached Heather. The flip side of this was that Shane had also learned a valuable criminal jailhouse lesson: don’t get caught.

After the house had been entered by the team, the next day, our auto thieving cops orchestrated Shane’s vehicle being opened, and then towed from the complex.  There was a hiccup though when they called us to say that the media, sensing something newsworthy about the vehicle being towed, began to follow the tow truck.

The tow truck driver, an uncle of one of the officers, was now driving in circles throughout Cloverdale, trying to shake his tail so to speak, not wanting to head straight to the police office.  A quick co-ordination with our dispatch centre allowed us to orchestrate the media truck to be pulled over for a traffic “offence” by a nearby patrol officer, making them break off their surveillance. They were none the wiser, but they were not happy.

So the tow truck deposited the green 1971 Chevrolet Impala in the bay of the police office, eagerly awaiting by the Forensic Identification group. Knowing the residence had turned up little, we were anticipating a little better luck with his car, with the licence DRE-666. We stood staring at the large trunk, pausing with a deep breath, and then turned the key and opened the trunk.

Staring back at us was a whole trunk filled to the rim with a hydraulic lift kit (favoured by California “low-riders”, thousands of dollars of pumps, and cylinders designed to make the car lift, lower, and “hop”. Impressive,  but unexpected and pretty well eliminating the possibility that the body could have been put in the trunk of that vehicle.

As Cpl Jean Bouchard (the same forensic specialist who had attended Shane’s building for the break and enter) and I scratched our heads, he related a short story about seeing a documentary about the smuggling of illegal aliens under the hood of cars like this one we were staring at. So we opened the hood, and it was cavernous inside, and there was a very noticeable area, about 3 feet long on the driver’s side which looked like someone had removed the dust, or something had been put in that scraped away the dirt.

Was it possible Heather, in the hockey bag, had been placed under the hood of the vehicle. Seemed unlikely, until the good corporal climbed in himself and despite his rotund frame managed to shut the hood over top of him. Jean would spend the next several days trying to match the bag to the scraped area, with minimal results in the end, but extraordinary forensic effort.

Remembering the vehicle being seen with the hood up, in a wooded area by the Park staff, and with the plants and leaves in the pockets of the bag, we now believed that Shane Ertmoed had initially put the bag in the woods, and on the 2nd of October went back, put her under the hood, and drove to the boat launch to put her in the water instead. He was worried about her being found, which was I believe a very remote possibility. Our theory that there would be a second movement of the body turned out to be true, but the 2nd movement turned out to be 40 kms away. The suspect had made another mistake.

So the first week ended, and Sunday was picked as a day of rest, but turned into a day which was spent on report and note writing, a seemingly endless task.

The search for botanical evidence had been given to a professor at UBC, Dr Rolf Mathews; the Lab continued to work on the fibres, hair etc that had been sent to them; and members viewing the video from 22 cameras inside the Colossus movie theatre now allowed us to show Shane buying tickets, but we were able to say categorically that he never went into watch the movie.

A towel found in the hockey bag matched the type and colour of towels found inside Shane’s apartment, a towel sold by the Bay department store.

And on Friday, Shane had shown up at the counter with his aunt, to report his vehicle having been stolen.

He was clearly frustrated and told the front counter staff that a reporter had told him that it was a BCAA vehicle which had towed it out.

And on this hoped for quiet Sunday, the surveillance team observed Shane giving an interview to Vancouver Television news.  Shane seemed to be moving boxes out of his townhouse, and in doing so was approached by the television crew.

That night, on the 6 o’clock news we watched Shane speak about “moving out”  expressed his concern for his safety, and worried about the danger if his young “cousin” came for a visit. The reporter asked if he had spoken to the police, and he said no, and then laughingly as an aside “not that I want them to come to me”.

He also said that he was not home at the time, he had gone out to the movies. The male helping Shane, as it turned out was his brother, and told the interviewer that he too had been over that day, but he had left around 5 or 5:30 that day, a suggestion of Shane, as the both of them debated on camera as to the time. Shane,  is a somewhat lowered voice, almost as an aside, said that he had “gas slip” to prove it.

The square rimmed glasses, the casual sweater, and his amiable boyish disposition with the interviewer would not let the audience believe that they were actually seeing a person who strangled the life of a 10 year old girl. It was almost cocky, over-confident, and he seemed comfortable in his ability to lie.

He had not only made a statement, exposed and confirmed his alibi,  he was also now in the process of moving.

As we ground inexorably and hopefully towards an arrest, the 2nd week looked like it might be noteworthy to say the least.

On Monday morning, the 1st day of the 2nd week,  the 30th of October, as Halloween approached, we found out where Shane had moved.  Shane had moved into a basement apartment across from an elementary school in Langley; and a five year old girl lived in the upstairs apartment.

 

Photo Courtesy of Google….note this is a 1973 Chevrolet with hydraulics in the trunk, not Mr Ertmoed’s vehicle; but you get the idea…

 

 

Personal Story – “Heather” Part V

It was just two days since Heather had been found, and I was sitting, head down in a concentrated effort to get through the neatly arranged stack of reports, fighting the late afternoon doldrums, when I was approached by Gary Burke. Gary, was a former troop mate of mine who was currently working for the E Division Major Crime team, and their unit had been brought in to help.

Gary always had a smile on his face, whether delivering good news or bad news,  but as he plunked himself down in front of me, his grin was a little wider, he looked like he might burst. “I think we have something good for you” he said.

He began to tell me his story. Two investigators in his unit, Laura Livingstone, and Randy Hundt had just called from the road. They had some promising information on a lead they were following up on in the Maple Ridge area.

The day before, a Maple Ridge dispatcher had called our desk. She, like everyone else it seemed had been watching the tragic news and the recovery of Heather in the Park.  She had strong recollections of the day Heather had actually disappeared, and in fact had been working in Maple Ridge on that same date, when Surrey announced the search for Heather in Cloverdale on October 1st.

Hearing that Heather had now been found in Maple Ridge, more importantly in her detachment area was numbing.  She began to replay the time and events of those days in early October, the files she may have dispatched at that time. Disconcertingly I suspect,  she thought she remembered having had a call that day, one specifically concerning  Golden Ears park. It stood out in her memory as the Park was usually quiet at that time of year.

She was hazy on the details, remembering it being something about a vehicle. As she sat home that night reflecting on the news it continued to bother her. She needed to find out more and  try and fill in the blanks for her sake even if there was nothing to it. So she drove down to the Maple Ridge detachment to try and find the dispatch ticket.

She found the ticket by scrolling through the daily dispatch tickets, but it was actually on October 2nd, not the 1st, that she had the call that involved Golden Ears park. It quickly came back to her as she re-read the information.  It was in fact a call of a reported “suspicious vehicle” that  had been called in by park staff working there.  The dispatch information was brief, but indicated that an officer had in fact been dispatched, but there was no licence plate, and the eventual patrols closed the file saying that the vehicle was G.O.A. Gone on Arrival.

Nevertheless, even though she was let down somewhat, she called our office saying that we might want to look into it further, if possible.  So a new investigative tip was created, as were many that day, and Laura and Randy had been given the assignment to see if they could do any follow up on it.

Before I go any further I should point out that Laura is an extremely affable person which often belied an intelligent and investigative mind. Randy, a big guy with a flair for practical jokes, was smart, as stubborn as I, and a no holds barred approach to investigations. Paired up as they were on this date, it could be assumed that they would not miss anything, there would be no cutting of corners, or an un-checked investigative path.

They pulled the old dispatch ticket and identified the complainants as the campground workers; Mike Zabaglia, Michelle Mackie, Kyle Johnson and Stuart Paul.

So Randy and Laura set about finding and speaking with the workers, and they learned that: on October 2nd at 0650 in the morning, the employees were driving into the park heading to their office to pick up their respective work vehicles.

As they drove in their car pool, a slow moving “big boat” of a car appeared in front of them, the driver wearing a hoodie.  It was difficult to pass, so they followed it for quite awhile, until about 1 km south of the boat launch. They thought the behaviour was rather strange, but on they went to the office, got their vehicles and headed out, some going south towards the entrance to the park; in other words back from where they had just come.

One employee, began his work assignment, and was driving back towards the entrance to the park, and is somewhat startled to see this same questionable vehicle, this time parked, also facing south. The hood was up but no driver could be seen in or around the vehicle.

So the park employee drives by but calls on his radio into the office, and reports this second sighting. It was agreed that it was too suspicious to ignore, and decided to call the local police to see if they could come and check on the vehicle.

Meanwhile a second employee around 1030 or 1100, also driving towards the entrance to the park, and after hearing the previous report of the vehicle being parked alongside the road, had driven by and noticed that the vehicle was no longer pulled over on the roadside. So he continues on, heading to do some work at the boat launch area.

As he drives into the normally deserted parking area, there is the vehicle again. This time parked on the boat ramp, again with no sign of the driver in the area. He too calls into the office via his radio, and gives them the updated information.

The Maple Ridge RCMP were now sending a police officer to check it out some the employee continues on his work schedule, and eventually leaves the boat ramp area. The vehicle was still parked and vacant on the ramp as he left.

More minutes go by and now this same employee circles back to the boat launch as much out of curiosity as anything else, but as he approaches the general vicinity of the boat launch, he meets the suspicious vehicle, now heading out of the park, this time driving at about 80 kms an hour. He later describes the vehicle as “large”, and “blue or grey” in colour.

Needless to say by the time the RCMP patrol they do not find the vehicle. Too much time had passed prior to their arrival. The officer concludes his file, typing GOA into the electronic dispatch system. A routine call had ended with little or no effort.

Laura and Randy press on with their inquiries, and they learn from one employee that he thought they had written down the plate number, possibly on one of the park log books, but he could not be certain. They decide to go back with the employee, now with their interest slightly peeked, to try and locate the logbook.  Sure enough they find the logbook. And there in a corner of the book, under the date of October 2nd, there is a hand written inscription, written at an angle along the edge of the page simply stating  “DRE -666”. Clearly a licence plate number.

Now hearing the numbers 666, if you don’t know, it is often referred to as the number of the “Beast” in the New Testament; a symbol of the devil, or used to invoke the devil, a symbol of the anti-christ.  So at this stage of the story it gives me a bit of a pause and I look at my story teller with a raised eyebrow.  To say that I was not in the mood for a black humoured prank would have been an understatement. “No, No” Gary says, picking up on my look. And then he goes on with the story.

The vehicle licence plate, now checked, comes back to a 1971 Chevrolet Impala ( a big boat of a car would be a fitting description), green, and the registered owner was one:

Shane Ertmoed, born December 22nd, 1977. making him 23 years old at this time.  The vehicle was associated through registration records to an address in Vernon.

But it got better, as Gary continued. They had learned on October 2nd, one day after the disappearance of Heather, and on the day that the vehicle was spotted in Golden Ears Park, Mr. Ertmoed had renewed his drivers licence, and dutifully provided his new address, which was now:

Unit #8 at 17700 60th Avenue, Cloverdale, British Columbia. The same address as Heather’s complex.

We both exhaled, and I sat back in the chair, Gary just looking at me. A few seconds went by in silence as if by talking we would have broken a magic spell, the news too good to be true. If I was tired before, that was now all gone. A nervous energy began to build in both Chris and I, as we began to realize the enormity of this information. We may have just caught the the break of our lives. Another mistake by the suspect may have just been uncovered, a big mistake.

Coincidence is defined as a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection. I don’t believe in coincidences, never have, and I did not believe for a moment that this was going to turn out to be a coincidence.

Was it possible that an individual named Shane Ertmoed, who lived in the same complex as Heather, just happened to go for a drive in a park some 40 kilometres away, one day after her disappearance, and it was the same remote park where Heather was found half-naked floating face down in the lake?

Although all the neurons were now firing, I still  needed to restrain initial impulses, needed to be alive to it actually being a coincidence and nothing more. I needed to be alive to the fear of all investigators, the dreaded “tunnel vision”.

After briefing the investigative team, we all headed home around ten that night, exhausted but needing a rest from the marathon, but a marathon that now had become a head long sprint.

There was also one thought that overrode the excitement of the day, one idea, one realization that seemed to be intent on beating the investigative break Gods into submission.

There was no evidence.

We had nothing.

We had a young male that we suspected was involved, but nothing tying him to Heather. No evidence to tie him to the killing in any way, other than proximity to two separate and diverse crime scenes. To know of him, to identify a possible child killer and to not be able to prove it may be a worse fate than not knowing at all.

Exhaustion provided a few hours of sleep, but a very early morning was met with the same mangled thoughts, the testing and re-testing of investigative options, most reviewed and discarded in a few seconds.

But from this filtering and deciphering, this constant give and take, clouded with fatigue,  resuscitated by coffee, something emerged.

I now had a plan.

It was a relatively simple plan, a plan reliant on a single elemental investigative tool, but a tool relished by investigators. We still had the element of surprise.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons via Flickr by John Lambert Pearson entitled “Clue” Some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Diversity vs Merit…planned discrimination?

The term, affirmative action, in the 1960’s was a dictate given to the Government of the United States under then President John Kennedy to hire or give equal opportunity to the disadvantaged, to hire “without regard for race, religion and national origin”.  It was often designed to compensate for past discrimination, persecution, or exploitation by the ruling class.

A laudable goal to be sure, as the intention was to pull up those that were disadvantaged, to take away any roadblocks that kept some down and not able to compete in the economic world of the day. It was a typical liberal policy reflective of those times, it was  “Camelot” and the Kennedy era, where equality and fairness were the principle objectives and would be emblematic of the ensuing two decades of U.S. policy. It was the era in which I grew up and came to self-identify. It was the era when governmental change was an instrument of good and it was a time when people wanted to give back.

The goal of  affirmative action advocated a generational change, a lengthy process to be sure. Not to be accomplished overnight, or even over a single Presidential term. In almost all circumstances, a formative change actually requires patience, and it requires a cultural change.

If these goals outlined by Kennedy and to a smaller extent by Pearson in Canada in the 1960s were to reach fruition, then there needed to be education and time. Politicians being what they are in our democratic and fixed term systems are not patient, they want to see and boast about change in shorter windows of time. Long term planning or even projecting out for 10 years is difficult if not impossible, and there in lies the rub.

So “affirmative action” and what it came to mean began to evolve, mainly to suit political need for instant gratification.  They needed to force the issue, to put persons into roles or jobs, or education, earlier than generational change would allow.  Qualifications, or deservedness would have to take a back seat. That some tolerance be built into the selection process, that qualifications be bent and sometimes lowered so that these persons could immediately or quickly fill these roles.

In other words instead of all boats rising with the tide, it became necessary to “favour” certain groups. This re-interpretation of the meaning of affirmative action was not a subtle change, it was one which has had a massive ripple effect.

The world began to follow suit.  Some countries, including the U.S. even began to use a quota system, where a certain percentage of government jobs, political positions, and school vacancies were reserved for specific  members of certain politically chosen groups. And this continues to this day.

Of course this by definition means that not everyone is treated equally and it would be only a matter of time, before some took umbrage with a system, which by its very nature excludes certain individuals, albeit usually the more advantaged groups.

So in most recent years, it has been generally true that countries where there are laws dictating racial and gender “equality”, many of these affirmative action programs which had dictated quotas were now declared illegal. The U.S. courts in particular saying that affirmative action programs  dictate that not all persons are treated equally, and therefore should not be allowed.

However there are countries in the world where quotas are still allowed, and have been used, and continue to be used extensively.

Nathan Glazer in the Harvard Crimson argues that the quota system divides people into categories, into racial, ethnic, and gender profiles. And benefits, and penalties would now adhere to these various compartments. “People would try to advance on the basis of group membership rather than individual capacity”.

In Canada, the politicos sensing some possible rejection of affirmative action and quotas,  began to use a new term, something they believed to be less offensive.  So we now have been programmed to accept the new “diversity”. Diversity, is defined as “the condition of having or being composed of different elements”. The Miriam dictionary then goes on to say that it can mean”the inclusion of different types of people, (such as people of different races or culture)”.

It is government speak for affirmative action in general, and they have replaced the likely illegal “quotas”, with “goals” or “targets”. They play to the “disadvantaged” groups, to try and counter balance a legally tenuous position. There is little argument to the fact that affirmative action is in fact discriminatory. Discrimination defined as “treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favour of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather on individual merit”.

But whether one agrees or not, we have a government who has become fixated with the need for “diversification.”

Of course the real balancing act is how far does one swing the pendulum, how far and to what level  is for instance, is one prepared to ignore merit in favour of ethnicity, or gender, or a visible minority.  Practically, in terms of hiring or university admissions, it is difficult to give specific policy or guidance as to how one needs to approach the problem without stepping over the line. How does one apply goals or targets without imposing quotas? Very few politicians and bureaucrats seem capable of reflection, they approach it like a quota, easier to apply, and easier to boast about their numbers.

In 2016, the Federal government announced a new appointment process for boards, agencies, tribunals, officers of Parliament and Crown Corporations. It specified that “diversity” was the goal, while it opened up the applications to the public. In other words, it did not set or say the word “quota”  per se but encouraged the government mandarins, and put them on notice that they would be measured by their attempts and delivery of “diversity”.

According to this same article, the Privy Counsel office has now released its numbers so that of the 429 appointments that have been made to date since 2016; 56.6 per cent women, 11.2 per cent were visible minorities, and 9.6 per cent were indigenous.

It then goes on to prove its point by counting the numbers:  48.3 % women, 16.1 per cent minorities, and 6.5 per cent indigenous. In Canada it points out, there is actually 50.9 per cent women, 22.3 per cent visible minorities, and 4.9 per cent indigenous. They are not arguing a generational change, they are pointing to their targeted “goals”, their “quotas” having been met. There is no other way of explaining it. Are we to believe that in one year, more indigenous people, or more visible minorities have been in a position to apply for more governmental posts because of improvements in their education or in their qualifications. That would be difficult to believe. It is far more likely they have been pulled up to fulfill a quota.

Justin Trudeau often brags about his “diverse cabinet”.  What he actually means is that his cabinet has been chosen in a quota system. Today in the news, the CBC headlines the fact that the Canadian government is now beginning to be as “diverse as Canada”.

Wendy Cukier, who is the director of Ryerson University “Diversity Institute” is happy with the numbers and lauds PM Trudeau for having made “great strides on gender”. She would like us to believe that in a year period, more females became more qualified for various jobs because there was “equal opportunity” got those jobs. Or is it possible that they were told to fill more positions with women regardless of merit?

This is playing out in every walk of governmental life. In policing we went through the quota hiring of women, and various visible minorities over the years. Every government department Provincially and Federally has fallen in line with this type of quota hiring.

Persons are gaining management positions, or being accepted into specialized jobs, not because they are the best person for the job, but by the fact there application is being skewed in their favour, sometimes to a large degree; skewed by their colour of their skin or their gender. It is troubling, for example, if a hospital is hiring a doctor, should merit not be the only single factor?

There are those that would put a strong argument in favour of “quota” hiring as a way of righting the wrongs of the past. If one accepts this principle, one is in effect accepting and proposing one level of discrimination, to right the wrongs of a historical discrimination. But be it as it may, my argument is that if the government of the day feels that this is acceptable, then at the very least they should be honest in their intentions.  It should not be allowed to be portrayed as an equal playing field to the general public. It is not.

Where “diversity” is a stated goal and gender or sex is part of the selection criteria it should be stated clearly. People should know that if you are applying for a police force as an example, other factors are coming into play, including the colour of your skin and your gender, and they should be told what is the given priority, and how it would affect their application.

An issue that also naturally evolves from this process is the growing need to determine if there are some significant after effects to this practise. If one continues to hire under qualified people, does the job suffer, does the output suffer? If they are not the best people for the job, is the job being done in the proper manner? If one throws out merit, or lessens merit in a bureaucratic system, does advancement and morale suffer?

We are now in a position where we have to question both the deserved and the undeserved. When you know the hiring process, and the priorities of government, it makes one question, why or how someone was chosen for this job. It may reflect badly on the person holding the job, tainted by this quota policy, even in cases where in fact it was deserved.

Were members of Trudeau’s cabinet chosen because they were the best for the job, or because they met his mandated quotas and play to his constituencies for whom he wants to be seen as the saviour. Women voters, non-visible minorities, and the up and coming indigenous groups are the stronghold of the Liberals, the bastion they hope to win over in future elections. The answer seems obvious.  Trudeau and the Liberals are engaging in obvious vote buying, and the Conservatives and the NDP are trying to do the same and get in on the action.

They are all playing politics to a high level, and it is costing this country. Merit has been given a back seat, “diversity” is the mantra being extolled by every politician from every pulpit. Do not challenge or you will be portrayed as a racist.

One could point out that the apartheid government in South Africa, as a matter of state policy favoured white-owned, especially Afrikaner owned companies.  It was clearly in place  to prolong white rule and power, and this quota system was discriminatory and the world celebrated its eventual downfall. But any quota system is discriminatory, the only thing that changes is the target of that discrimination.

I believe that when merit is given such short shrift, when merit becomes secondary to optics, everyone loses. We become compartmentalized. My stand is the one echoed by Nathan Glazer in that affirmative action, as it was originally intended is still a worthwhile intention. However,  quotas, thinly disguised as “targets” or “goals” should not be acceptable at any level, whether being practised by your government or your workplace.

And if you think some level of discrimination is o.k., then at least have the backbone to articulate and specify who in society you wish to treat as more equal than others. And then let the public decide.

 

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons via Flckr by Edyta Mazur – Some Rights Reserved

Personal Story – “Heather” Part IV

It could not have been more serene or more stunning in the blend of water and mountain as the hiker walked the rocky beach of this rather remote parkland. The large lake mirroring the surrounding mountains and trees, made even more dramatic by a quickly disappearing sun, ushering in the colder air.

As the hiker absent-mindedly hiked the beach he noticed a form in the water, about 20 metres from shore. The glass smoothness of the lake made this milky white lump, very noticeable, impossible to miss, but at first glance not easily distinguishable. As he focused, a sickening thought intruded and closed in on him. It looked like a body and maybe even worse, it looked like a small body. He called 911. This call then was diverted to the nearest RCMP detachment who had jurisdiction for the area known as Golden Ears Provincial Park.

The lake at the heart of Golden Ears Provincial Park, is Alouette Lake, and is about 11 kms north of the town of Maple Ridge, a distant working class suburb in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. It was a long forty-two kilometres from where Heather had been reported missing,

A busy tourist spot in the summer, with one road into and out of the Park. However, with the onset of Fall and the October colours, it becomes remote and almost deserted. The in and out access road is heavily treed with Western hemlock, red cedar and Douglas fir, all pushing close to the edge of the asphalt shoulders and sometimes overhanging the road.  A few hearty campers would still camp and there was always day hikers, but for the most part, standing by the lake in these surroundings,  you would not feel that you were close to any city.

Somewhat uniquely, the flow and level of the Lake is manually controlled by Park authorities, utilizing some sluice gates near one end of the lake. As winter approaches, and as a matter of routine the level of the lake is lowered.  So if one was inclined to dispose of body in the lake, unbeknownst to him, her, or them, the physical lowering of the lake level would allow for a body to be gradually exposed. The closer to the shore, this would become even more self-evident. Mistake #1 ? Perhaps.

It was late afternoon, as the body once brought to shore; was naked from the waist down while a horizontally striped sweater covered the upper torso. It was a similarly described sweater to the one that Heather had been wearing when she was last seen.

The young person’s face was now unrecognizable, water having its unkind way with human flesh as it always does;  both preserving and destroying certain parts of the body. The cold water would or could act as a preservative, but normal decay and the life in the lake could have the opposite effect, so they would work counter to each other, making trying to estimate the time in the water not an exact science.

The time of death would be hard to calculate with a degree of accuracy, and just as importantly, the actual “cause” of death, imperative to any “homicide”, may now also be hidden if not obliterated by this placid unassuming lake.  If this was Heather, and we were quite sure it was, then dental records were going to be needed.

As I learned the descriptors of the body, in its shape such as it was, I felt that I had to get hold of the parents regardless of whether positive identity had been made. They couldn’t be the last to know, so I stepped outside of the protocol, and called Pat. There was no way to get over there before the press otherwise.

Notifying someone of this type of information is gut churning,  followed by a feeling of emptiness, a feeling of uselessness, a time when you grasp for words, no matter how rehearsed. It is the hardest artificial human interaction. But, you are also responsible, you need to be the one that steps up, you owe it to them. After all, you told them that you would find their daughter.

Over the phone, Pat remained calm, or at least calmer than I would have been. However, twenty minutes after hanging up, I was alerted that we had had to send a couple of police in uniform to his house;  his girlfriend was calling saying Pat ” was going crazy”.  At last, at long last, he had broken, and his raw, abject misery was now on full display.

Mom was advised by the officers assigned to Jodie, Constables Helen Lavallee and Mike Wilson. I was not with her when she got the news, and for that I was thankful.

As Chris and I approached the Park gates it was six-fifteen, darkness had already fallen, and there was little we could do as a result. The media swarm had arrived, a few hours before us, with helicopters, and numerous reporters now being held back at the park gate.

There was nothing that could be done in the dark, so we agreed to assemble at the Maple Ridge detachment, to de-brief and prepare for the next day, and the further searching of the water and the Park that would be needed.

During the de-briefing, the attending officers described the media mayhem that they had faced. The intensity of days of pent up media demands can be overwhelming at times, and a media helicopter earlier in the day had to be forced out of the area, and a clear airspace established through Vancouver air traffic control. As it turned out, the helicopter had gotten so low to the half-submerged body, that the chopper blades were actually blowing the still semi-submerged body from its natural resting spot.

(The picture, or the “scoop” they obtained, was shown front page the next day; but it was a picture that angered many by its crassness and insensitivity; the Province newspaper lost 90,000 subscribers in the following days as a result.)

As decided the next day forty officers involved in the search were greeted with a bright and clear day, almost mocking the grim and painstaking task of walking arm in arm over the beach, looking for anything that could have belonged to Heather. If our theory was right, and Heather had been in the water for over two weeks, the water having retreated from the beach may mean that other belongings were actually on the stone beach, washed up.

After assignments were handed out, the searchers left City Hall the sight of our gathering, and began the process, aided by officers in boats, and a helicopter overheard.

Did I mention that within 20 kilometres of Alouette Lake there are six correctional facilities, three Provincial jails, two Federal prisons, and another for youth. At nearby Stave Lake there was a facility for convicted Sex Offenders. All of this adding to our list of things that needed investigative checking.

By this time, the investigative team was now working on over two hundred “persons of interest” as they say in the modern vernacular.

A few hours into the search, the officers on a skiff, located a large “hockey bag” submerged in 1.2 metres of water, but only a few metres from where Heather was floating. The lake was so clear, if you looked closely you could even see it in the notorious picture taken by the Province newspaper from the helicopter. The hockey bag had a broken zipper on the top, and it too looked like it had been in the water for quite some time. There was very little debris in the area underwater, other than the bag, and we began to immediately wonder if it had played a part in Heather being found in the lake. Had she been in the bag?

The search which also found a small hand made cloth bracelet on the rocky shoreline, near too where the body of Heather had been located. Later that afternoon, Heather’s mother Jodie, confirmed that in fact she believed that it did belong to her daughter, she had had made it herself. Another arrow through her soul and a death blow to her quickly waning optimism.

A technicians strike at the Lab delayed positive dental confirmation, but it would  eventually come through. This was “our” Heather at long last. It caused us all to take deep breaths, even though we expected this result. It still caused a pause, an ugly affirmation of the task ahead of us, a deep sadness and a resolve intertwined in this death dance.

The background media noise, always present, swelled up once again, once again to a fever pitch.  The media scratching their journalistic heads, trying to figure out a possible connection to the Maple Ridge area.

And of course, our investigative approach now shifted, and greater attention needed to be given to anything that hinted at a connection to this area with that of the Cloverdale area. The tip line, which had been slowing, now re-erupted, having drawn in the interest of those living in this 2nd geographic area north of the Fraser River.

Running in the background, other tips were coming in or being uncovered. The proverbial white van now showed up in Golden Ears, at least according to one caller. A stolen vehicle had been recovered on October 9th from the boat launch area in the park. Just two of the items which were contained in our nighttime review of the files, some re-assigned for further inquiries, all proving to be joining the growing pile of “unfounded” files.

The search however was proving to be very productive. By the end of the day at the Park, the bracelet was confirmed, but more significantly the hockey bag had been more thoroughly examined; and in that hockey bag, some undergarments, and jeans that would have fit Heather were found. Her shoes mysteriously were never found.

Some rocks were also found in the bag, no doubt with the intention of weighing the bag down. The speculation was now that Heather had been in the bag at some point, and as the lake lowered, she began to float free of the bag; only possible because of the broken zipper on the bag.

In this CSI age, everyone points to DNA as the magic elixir. To find DNA in this particular bag would be optimum of course, however, if the bag had been in the water for that presumed length of time, it may have destroyed any chance of extracting it. Reality versus television.

So this black “Winwell” hockey bag, a relatively common item, was now the first item found, that we believed likely belonged to the “suspect”. Not just a person of interest, we finally had a connection to a real suspect. We also had a 2nd geographic area, that somehow the suspect was connected to, as well as being associated to the original Cloverdale area.

As to the actual suspect, all we knew was that “he” (statistically at least) probably played sports. Rationally, it didn’t narrow things down much, but we believed that we now had an illusory “something”.  We were heartened by the fact that we may be finally pushing the investigation at least in a forward direction. A slow grind for sure, but at least it seemed to be moving.

Unbeknownst to us, it would be only two days later, on October 24th, at four in the afternoon, that a Maple Ridge “connection” would in fact be revealed.

We were still unaware that this investigation and this team, was about to go into overdrive, and time would no longer be on our side. Time would be our enemy in fact.

We were about to get the “break” in the case, a break that would begin our descent into the abyss of pressure filled days, and anxious nights, but we would be in full adrenaline fuelled throttle. The hounds would finally be on the fox.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Courtesy of the Commons by Waferboard Some Rights Reserved

Merry Xmas to All….

To my few readers, first I wish to thank you for your interest and feedback over the last several months, as I indulge in this fantasy of trying to be a writer.

It has been a busy year, and like all of you I’m sure, one filled with the ups and downs of life. The good, the inconsequential, and the fearful, in this era of the Trump shadow. As Xmas day gallops toward us, for some reason it tends to make me look back with a poignant but peculiar nostalgia.

I always remember the Xmas’s lost, the Xmas’s where I worked, coming home to the kids, but sometimes coming home to an empty house.

The Xmas where I was the only officer in the town of Bella Coola, British Columbia, nestled in the middle of nowhere on the British Columbia coast. Rain poured in sheets, almost hurting as it hit the skin. I ate Xmas dinner with the only openly gay couple in town. They had recently purchased the local bowling alley, escaping and hiding from the city life they left in Vancouver. They took me in that Xmas, and served me a goose dinner in the attached coffee shop, while the rain lashed the windows in the restaurant while the dimly lit bowling lanes acted as a backdrop. It is a great and fond memory. I went home to the detachment, and then realized that the Xmas tree that I had cut was still on the back porch of the police residence, never making it into the warmth of the house.

There was the many Xmas’ working in uniform, where by three or four in the morning you found yourself parked along side another officer, smoking, or drinking coffee, yawning uncontrollably, and wondering how you were going to be able to stay up when you got home. Praying that there was not another call coming your way and you could bask in the nothingness of pre-dawn.

There was the  Xmas in Newcastle New Brunswick where I answered the domestic disturbance call. I pulled into the driveway on Xmas eve, just as the overwrought husband through the Xmas tree through the front window, landing in the front yard still adorned with bulbs and lights. I arrested Dad, but I still wonder how and where those children are now, what kind of adults they became and I hope they are ok now.

Now that I think of it, I think I spent more Xmas’ with criminals. This is not intended to imply that this was always negative.  People seem to change a bit over the holidays, even the eight per cent of the population that we dealt with routinely as police officers.  A lot of laughs were shared over the cellblock counter, despite the often desperate situation they found themselves in, and it was not unusual to see goodwill extended to others while there. As they feasted on the government supplied meat pie, slice of white bread, and instant coffee they were pretty far removed from the turkey extravaganza but they seemed to appreciate you being there in some sort of misplaced way.

There  was also something emotional about being out in the middle of the night, patrolling, sometimes alone, standing herd over the darkened houses. It gave you a sense of real, measurable worth. Things always seemed pretty good.

So to those of you who find yourself sitting in those same police cars, biding time, counting the hours until dawn, sneaking into the radio room to scoff down Xmas cake and cookies brought by considerate dispatchers; enjoy it, as it is a fleeting feeling.  It is a Xmas not experienced by most, and it highlights the sometime and somewhat elusive purpose to your profession. Police officers in Toronto, in New York, and in Brandon, Manitoba are all having and sharing that same feeling, as they stretch, and look up at the brightening sky.

Then go home and hug your kids if you have them, if you don’t, hug someone else’s kids. Yours was the night, but now the day belongs to them.

Merry Xmas everyone….may you always come home to a full house….

Pete

Image Courtesy of Creative Commons by Coral Lacey entitled “Deerly beloved” Some Rights Reserved

Personal Story – “Heather” – Part III

It was now 0500 in the morning of the next day. So with the third or fourth coffee in hand, and we were back in the Surrey detachment main office, anticipating what was to come, somehow knowing that this office, this desk, and these walls could be my home for the foreseeable future.

Although it was distant from Cloverdale and the search areas, I also knew that this place, once daybreak arrived would begin to take on an atmosphere of its own. There is an ill-defined energy which any homicide generates in a police office. People coming and going in various stages of fatigue, an air of practised urgency, and every once in awhile it would be interrupted with sporadic shots of adrenalin due to some unexpected turn in the evidence.

This early inherent urgency, or drive, can sometimes be short-lived.  There seems to be a direct correlation between victim type and the length as to how long an investigator can keep a file moving.  In this case, a small girl was a possible homicide victim, and she was still missing, in some senses an investigators nightmare.  Twenty hour days would be the norm. There would be less bitching, more cigarettes, less week-ends off, less time with one’s own family, and pizza would be the culinary favourite.  It is not like the television shows in that it is not as emotional as some would like to portray it; it is more of a machine kicking into a higher gear, but like a marathoner, where one had to control pace, and hold focus.

This first quiet moment between Chris and I was therefore likely to be the last for awhile, just a momentary pause.

This of course was the “old days”. So this investigation done on paper.  Hand written reports, forms and notes, would become the 8″ x 10″ medium through which the investigation would take shape. Paper would be filling cardboard boxes, and those boxes would eventually take up spaces around us, giving a bit of a warehouse feel. Often Librarian skills would be more advantageous than investigative skills.

Each piece of paper being assigned a number, each piece of paper being a separate piece of information. If an officer filled in a report, and it addressed or revealed four pieces of other information, then four separate reports would then be generated, then all wold be put in four different folders pertaining to each item. Laborious? You bet. Efficient? We thought so. But of course the coming digital electronic age would make this all seem comically archaic.

For instance, if we had to  search for a single item. Well we had to remember where we had seen it, and in what folder. So, as an example, if someone mentioned a white Ford pickup, we would have to remember where we read it, and in what folder. It worked well when the file may be only a couple of hundred folders and a couple of hundred pages. It relied on a good memory and a concentrated effort.

However, when the file reached thousands of pages, as this one would, it became an exercise in re-reading, duplicated efforts, and it was often frustrating. Overlaying it all,  like Poe’s Raven, was the inherent fear of missing something key to the investigation.

As the days came and went, in amoebic fashion the paper would grow, taking on a life of its own. Everything found, every person spoken to, every news item mentioned, every tip called in would need to be read, documented and filed. It was a mind numbing process and complacency was the enemy. Any follow up was hand-written and forwarded to the individual investigators. An increase in investigators naturally led to an increase in paper, the Catch-22 of police bureaucracy. In a few short days, the investigative team would grow from two of us to over forty or fifty individual investigators, borrowing from Robbery, Serious Crime, and other sections within the detachment.

Decisions big and small, would need to be made as fast as the questions could be uttered, answered more by instinct than a layered thought process. There would be no time for routine debate, or second-guessing, hoping beyond hope that somehow we had learned something over the years that would not let us down, or cause us to overlook something in our needed haste.

And of course there was numerous calls from the general public, which led to the establishment of a “Tip Line”. My immediate boss, Sgt. Mel Trekofski, wanted to pitch in, and offered to take up the monitoring of the tip line, a thankless task at the best of times. It required “carding” each individual, call-backs to verify the information, and therefore seemingly endless conversations with persons, some good, some ridiculous.

As the file went on, over five thousand tips would eventually be received, with over forty psychic callers alone. The self-described “professional” psychics would all offer up where the body of Heather could be found. So you heard the “Woods”, the “water”, and “buried in a shallow grave”. There were many calls where they went on to say who was responsible,  and in many instances it was “the father”.  But, if not then a “white individual” who “worked with his hands.”  Some even offered to take investigators to the body, something we couldn’t ignore, but of course these did not pan out, but did extend my belief that there were a lot of “crazies” in the world. I never had a paranormal observer, if Im being kind, solve a file for me, and this wasn’t going to be the first.

The logistical jigsaw puzzle continued as we needed to address staffing issues and all the usual secondary administrative issues, at times like a Rubik’s cube, multi-dimensional, spinning on the singular axis of trying to keep the investigation on track.

As the searches ended, the neighbourhood inquiries continued in earnest, as did the forensic examination of objects which had been found. Investigators were assigned to each parent, and other investigators began criminal record checks, as well as local police record checks, on all individuals spoken with or identified as part of the investigation.

Panties, jeans, shirts, jackets, socks, sandals, some of which were in dumpsters were shown to the parents in the event that they had belonged to Heather, and if not, catalogued and maintained in any event.

Neighbourhood personalities, like “Pedophile Darcy”, surfaced through the townhouse inquiries as we began to dredge through the individuals in the Cloverdale complex, and the other people in the neighbourhood. “Darcy”, was typical of the type who surfaced. Darcy, of course, drove a white van, and in his past had been caught masturbating on a child’s  bed, and had a record of sexual assault. So he became a subject of our surveillance team, and in the end we were able to eliminate him from any involvement. There were others similar to Darcy, and each took time, each tip had to be ground out, and it took several days to eliminate Darcy and the other archetypes as they surfaced.

Checks through our VICLAS (An RCMP victim Classification software) system for this area of Cloverdale surfaced a possible fifteen individuals of interest because of their sexual predations. Each of these individuals would be located, interviewed, and reported on. Each would need to provide an alibi.

Checks of all those with criminal records for sexual assault and now free in the broader City of Surrey of which Cloverdale was just a suburb, revealed another five hundred possible “individuals of interest”. It would take years to eliminate that many so we had to narrow the search, at least in the short term, to just those that had violently offended on pre-pubescent children living in the Cloverdale area. This still gave us twenty-seven names. Investigators were assigned to each.  It may surprise some to realize that in most cases these individuals co-operated, and were expecting us. When the investigators arrived some had even already prepared their statements and had their alibis in order.

Others, of course would try an investigators patience, testing their emotional mettle, and you could not help but be pulled you down into the dark reaches of sexual perversion.  In matter of fact voices, they would describe how it couldn’t be them involved, as their method was different in terms of the suffering they would inflict in their need for sexual satisfaction. Some described why she could be alive, to be kept as a sexual play toy.  Any killing of her would have be only to get rid of the evidence, and a “waste”,  and any killing of her would be a signal that things must have gone wrong. This insight would later prove to be accurate.

A crack dealer living in the complex, who had been described by persons in the complex as coming and going in another  “white van”  became an obvious possible suspect. Once identified, he admitted to dealing drugs, and offered up his sales notations, his “crib” sheets as evidence of where he was at the time of Heather’s disappearance. No “normal” criminal he explained likes sex offenders; whether in jail or on the street and the drug dealer wanted to help.

As the investigative team grew, briefings, and de-briefings were our life-blood. Every morning at about 0630 I would brief upper Surrey detachment management, and then at 0730 I would brief the investigative group as to any developments or any change in focus. At 4:30 in the afternoon a de-briefing would be held with these same officers to learn of any highlights. In between of course there was the media to deal with; calls dealing with expenses, computer check results, surveillance assignments, tip line results, and other more sundry items.

By 6:00 pm, as things slowed a little, I would sit in front of a stack of reports, about 2′ high, and begin reading. Chris would then read the same paper after me, just to insure there were a second set of eyes. We would check for any cross references, then the paper would be filed, new follow ups drafted and assigned. Coffee was my particular drug, and stretching for the long walk to the bathroom began to be a highlight which broke up the trance like nature of our task.

Three or four hours fitful sleep a night would be our routine.  Upon returning to work, the process started again. Days drifted into nights. Nights became sunrises.

Suspects surfaced and then drifted away after examination; mounds of dirt reported as shallow graves were examined and dug out; clothes continued to be turned in; suspect vehicles were identified from having been seen in the area; and the psychics from around the world persisted on being heard, each with their own, but similar investigative theories.

Americas Most Wanted called wanting to profile the case. That in turn generated two tips that proved of no value. Europe, and parts of North America were all now paying attention.

We read, often re-read, re-shuffled, and then sometimes re-assigned.

And of course, there was the ever present media, their trucks stationed inside the complex itself,  giving nightly broadcasts and voicing the concerns of the general public. With Halloween getting near, they often regurgitated the growing parents concerns with a killer “on the loose” and asking whether they would let their children go out trick or treating.

As the investigation wore on I kept remembering how I was once told (by who I can not remember) that in every murder there are five mistakes made, its just a matter of finding out those mistakes. Simple really.

Of course every murder is different, every set of circumstances different. In this case we believed that this had been an “opportunity killing” by a stranger, and likely sexually motivated. Statistically, at least, the most difficult of all types of murders as these things go. Many remain unsolved. For instance, in 1996 only 14% of homicides were committed by a stranger. In 1976 it was only 18.4%, and in 1985 17.3%. Consistently low numbers.

If you looked further, and included the age of the victim, in a U.S. study only 3% of homicides were committed by strangers of victims under the age of 12. When a sexual related offence was the motivation, it drops even further down to 1% of the cases.

In checking with the FBI on this case, we learned that there had been only 4 or 5 of these cases in Western North America at the time of Heather’s disappearance in the year 2000.  So although abduction of a child is a parents greatest fear, it is actually an extremely unlikely event. Patterns are harder to detect, as there is insufficient historical data. A serial offence on children was almost unheard of, but of course none of the statistical data, or lack of data was of much consolation for the mother and father of Heather.

Investigative pressure does grow, from the public and from within. Maybe not at the levels of the tv drama series, but it is there. The greatest pressure is put on by the investigators themselves. At some point you begin to realize, rightly or wrongly, whether solved or unsolved, that this investigation will be attached to your name, especially in police circles. You will be perceived in a different light in the future.

A sense of pride takes over, the not wanting to be beaten. The emotions shut down, as the  constant images of the victim is too disarming, too distracting. One could not function coherently if you allowed yourself to become fixated on the depravity of it all, the senselessness of it all, the speculation as to whether Heather was alive or dead. To contemplate her alive and being held was in some ways an outcome that could be worse than death.

As a bit of an escape, a need at the very least to breathe fresh air, both Chris and I took a few hours on a Sunday to step away from the office. It was day twenty-two, and I decided to drive up the Coquihalla highway, a lonely stretch of highway in the middle of British Columbia, surrounded only by trees and rivers, just in an effort to clear the fog which had permeated my nerve endings. I stopped at the only rest stop, perched at a 3000′ elevation, three hours from Surrey. It was cold and gloomy, but I went into the darkened men’s washroom in this remote part of British Columbia. There at the urinal, staring at me was the Missing poster of Heather, eye level. I had always taken pride in my ability to disassociate from files when away from work. But clearly, this file was not going to let me do that. There could be no escape, not now anyways, so I decided to head back.

As I drove down the steep decline through the highway snow-sheds, once again I began to fruitlessly re-trace all that had been done, despite my blaring radio trying to change my obsessed thought process. I kept coming back to the fact that we needed to find one of those proverbial “mistakes”. I was not greedy, not all five, just give me one.

As I approached the Detachment in the darkening hours of the afternoon, just to check in, that I got a phone call. I needed to get back a little faster, because they think they had “found” Heather.

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons by TrixSigio Some Rights Reserved

Personal Story – “Heather” Part II

The Search and Rescue encampment at two o’clock that morning was across the street from Heather’s townhouse complex; in the parking lot of the Cloverdale Race Track, which only hours before had hosted a few hundred people attending either the harness racing, or the weekly flea market that was encamped there every Sunday.

It now had gone into night time mode, a few persons walking in and out of darkness, three or four vehicles, lit by headlights,  and some tents with hanging lanterns. A quiet had settled in, a quiet amplified by the surrounding darkness, and it was here that I dropped off Pat Thomas. As I drove away I saw him receiving some hopeful assurances from those search leaders that had remained to organize for the coming morning. He looked alone, impenetrable, in a haze which could not be dispelled by any spoken words.

As we drove out and headed back to the office, the size of the search, and the undertaking we were going to embark on, began to take shape. After discussing the matter with the search masters, we had decided to organize and plan for a one mile radius search pattern, with the townhouse complex being the epicentre; a circular mile in all directions. At first blush that does not seem very big. We were a touch optimistic and naive.

This would include, earthen ditches and metal culverts, smith rites, overgrown brush, playgrounds, residential yards, businesses large and small, under houses and sheds, and hundreds of garbage cans. Any receptacle or place that could hide a small 10 year old girls body, and any clothes or objects that could belong to that young girl.  A search of this intensity turning up all sorts of detritus, that may or may not relate to Heather, and each piece of “possible” evidence had to be screened by investigators, catalogued, and eliminated or confirmed.

We were also very close to the centre of the village of Cloverdale, and 176th St which was the main thoroughfare to the U.S. border which  just a few miles away. The thought of having to search the farmland, every street which was interlaced with eight foot deep ditches, as well as the public parklands, and the myriad styles of condo and single family  residences was daunting.

In the back of our minds, there was an omnipresent uneasiness, that maybe this was all for nought. Maybe Heather had been put in a car or truck and may have been literally out of Canada in thirty minutes.

The hub of the investigation, and what had to be at the centre of our concentrated search was the townhouse complex itself. About fifty residences, with an unknown number of occupants in each, children, teenagers, and adults. Parents that could be uncooperative at times, overly cooperative at other times.  Adults from all cultures and levels of socio-economic status. Some may be unwilling to point to anything suspicious either to safeguard their neighbours, or to hide something else that may be going on in their own sphere. And canvassing and seeking the help of all would be voluntary on their part. There were no evidentiary grounds to get warrants for individual residences. Each residence had the potential to be hiding Heather, dead or alive.

By five in the morning, now back at the Detachment, fresh coffee in hand, Chris and I began to organize the file, and prepare for the oncoming police shifts. The night had provided us some privacy, and gave us a false sense of quiet.  Daylight we knew would bring chaos, and awaken the RCMP policing giant which would demand and need to be force fed the “latest” information; so they could in turn feed others in the police food chain. Briefings would become part of my core existence, often taking away valuable time, maybe relevant, but never usually forwarding the investigation, and sometimes it seemed only to feed the voyeuristic nature of police command.

As the sun rose, the search groups went into full throttle, and vehicle after vehicle started to become part of the encampment in the parking lot, taking on the air of an  invasion group. The nearby 7-11 convenience store would draw numbers like a WalMart, all manners of uniform, buying the staples of policing; coffee, sunflower seeds, chocolate bars and pepperoni sticks.

Over the next three days, the searches would grow to over ten different Search and Rescue and Police Agencies. They came from Vancouver, Washington State, Squamish, North Vancouver, Coquitlam, Burnaby, and all points in between. Many of the police and fire that showed up were off duty and were also volunteers.

Dive teams would eventually swim the ditches, feeling for or hoping to bump into something solid, as in the mud filled waters, visibility was zero. Bloodhound dogs were in boats on the water areas, able to smell below the surface. Our own police dog services checked yards and fields incessantly.  The constant whirring of helicopters overhead was endless, as they supported the ground searchers, creating a sense of dramatic urgency.

A call went out for volunteers from the community to assist the other searchers as the geographic size of the search began to hit home.  By day three, 1200 volunteers from the community would show up. Even more were turned away. It was amounting to one of the largest searches ever conducted by the RCMP in Canada.

Could the suspect be in amongst the volunteers? Watching, keeping track of the investigation, or getting some sort of adrenaline rush. Maybe.

Upwards of 1500 people were walking through the wet fields, an arms length separating them. Some were carrying sticks and prods, to poke at anything underfoot. All walking in line, covering a mapped out grid, a human wave slowly rolling over the centre of Cloverdale.

Nothing is too small to be interpreted as evidence, especially with the voluntary searchers who intensely wanted to be part of a solution to Heather.  They uncovered and pointed out sanitary napkins, clothing, footwear, letters, anything and everything that  could be left or thrown to the ground. Garbage cans were emptied, leftover food, bottles, papers, baby diapers covered in ashtray refuse, were all dumped on the ground and then sorted by hand, letting the debris fall through ones fingers to act as a rudimentary screening device . Your olfactory organs were tested, but by the end of the day your senses became numb to the stench. Hundreds of items were seized for further examination.

For the first few days, the media scope and attention grew, daily leading most newscasts on the three television networks; now being spurred by international attention in the U.S and Europe. All started with the picture of Heather, the pretty girl in her school photo who with her staring eyes reflected your typical pre-teen, anyone’s daughter. Her photo was everywhere, stacks of her posters always on our desk, always watching over your shoulder, and as the clock ticked away, and days and nights were less discernible, it seemed to me to became more personal.

As we entered day three, the media broadcasts which had initially focused on the need to “find” became more sombre, there was a shift in tenor, the term “hope” was less used. They interviewed every passing person, child or adult, especially those who lived in the complex who would be willing to say a few words to the camera and the desperate nature of the search.

Still no tangible sign of Heather. The bike used by Heather which was found by neighbours within minutes of her disappearance was still the only single piece of evidence we could tie to Heather. There was no suitable DNA or fingerprints on the bike. On one of the days, in order to both keep up the public interest in the search and to help feed the media, I brought out the bike to be viewed by the news groups and to answer questions. Every 6 o’clock news broadcast led with the story of the search for Heather Thomas, as it would for the next several weeks.

One of the investigative thoughts was the possibility that if this had been an “opportunity” type offence, then maybe the suspect had her hidden, but not in a spot with which he or she was comfortable, and would therefore, when the neighbourhood scrutiny died down, the suspect would move the body to a better hiding spot.

So, in an effort to prompt the suspect to move the body, after three days of searching, we officially cancelled the Search, much to the dismay of the general public who inundated our office with frustrated messages. But then, after waiting a few days, letting a form of normalcy to return to the complex, we re-organized another search day to go over the same ground near the complex. It too was to no avail.

A sex related homicide was now, statistically, becoming more of a real and eventual outcome. A dark outcome for sure. We had also spent a great deal of the crucial hours and days on the search, that first 48 hours, without anything to show for it.

Hundreds of items had been seized, checked and eventually discarded as not belonging or related to Heather.

Hundreds of people from the community went home each night a little more discouraged with their search efforts.

It wasn’t for lack of trying, or for a lack of attention as every post or hydro pole in Surrey had stapled to it a picture of the missing Heather. Heather was now known to the community and the City, her fame though not wanted by any parent. A parents purest form of mental hell.

Admittedly, in the few quiet thoughtful moments, which were getting rare, I just wished that Heather would walk through the door, apologizing for running away, worried only about facing the wrath of her parents.

Did I mention that I was a single parent with an eight year old daughter at home? Always late getting home, I would visit her in her bedroom where I would always find her sleeping peacefully, her chest rising easily with each breath, thankfully oblivious, thankfully warm and dry.

 

Photo Courtesy of Chris at Creative Commons Some Rights Reserved