U.S. convict responsible for B.C. teen's murder, suspect in 2 others: police
Published Tuesday, September 25, 2012 11:37AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 25, 2012 8:37PM EDT
The RCMP in British Columbia announced Tuesday that they believe a now-dead U.S. convict is responsible for the 1974 murder of a teenaged girl, a significant break in the force’s investigation into 18 missing and murdered women in the province.
B.C. Mounties identified Bobby Jack Fowler as their suspect in the death of 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen. MacMillen was last seen in Aug. 1974, when she set out to hitchhike along Highway 97 to see friends. Her body was later found on a logging road south of Prince George.
Police said they also consider Fowler a “strong suspect” in the deaths of two other B.C. women, Gale Weys and Pamela Darlington, who were killed in the mid-1970s.
Police made the announcement at a news conference to update the public and the media on its E-PANA investigation, the code name given to the probe into the province’s missing and murdered women.
Insp. Gary Shinkaruk said Tuesday police matched a DNA sample found on MacMillen’s body to Fowler, who died in a U.S. prison in 2006.
Police said Fowler spent much of his life in the United States, where he was convicted in several states for crimes ranging from firearms offences and arson to attempted murder and sexual assault. He had no criminal record in Canada.
Fowler was serving a prison sentence for kidnapping and attempted rape in Lincoln County, Oregon, when he died at the age of 66.
Police said Fowler worked at a roofing company in Prince George in 1974. However, the company no longer exists and little is known about his time in the city.
Police appealed for help from local residents in the hope of learning more about Fowler’s time in the province.
Project E-PANA began in 2006 in response to a public outcry about the missing and murdered women.
Shinkaruk told reporters that in June 2007, the RCMP forensic lab in Vancouver identified a DNA profile for an unknown male in relation to the MacMillen case.
In 2012, investigators requested a re-examination of the profile, and a higher quality DNA sample was developed and submitted to Interpol, which gave police access to foreign DNA databases.
On May 3, 2012, the Oregon state police forensic lab indicated it had a match for the DNA sample: Fowler.
“Fowler is responsible for 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen’s murder,” Shinkaruk said.
MacMillen’s brother Shawn briefly addressed Tuesday’s news conference on behalf of his family, who he described as being “stunned” but “grateful” by the news.
It has been a long wait for answers,” MacMillen said. “And though it is a somewhat unsatisfactory result because this individual cannot stand trial for what he did, we are comforted by the fact that he was in prison when he died and that he can’t hurt anyone else.”
Some of the homicides that police have been investigating date back to the 1970s, and include disappearances along the “Highway of Tears,” the stretch of Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George where some of the victims’ remains have been discovered.
Sally Gibson, aunt to Lana Derrick, who went missing in 1995, said she heard about Tuesday’s announcement from the media. The RCMP did not made contact with her, she said.
"My heart was beating down by my toes at that part," she told CP before the press conference.
While the DNA match in MacMillen’s case was a huge break for investigators, the RCMP cautioned that solving the remaining cases has been, and continues to be, a difficult task.
"Will we solve the remaining 17? I'm not certain," Shinkaruk said.
"Until we solve the cases that we're investigating, we cannot say who's responsible or how many people they've killed," he added.
"What I can say is that we strongly believe there is not one serial killer responsible for the 18 (women)."
With files from The Canadian Press