2012-09-25 12:00 PDT

Statement by: Insp. Gary Shinkaruk, Officer in Charge of BC RCMP Major Crime, Special Projects Unit

The map highlights the various areas in the province from which the women went missing or were found murdered.  It includes Prince Rupert, Terrace and Prince George along Highway 16; Williams Lake and Hundred Mile House along Highway 97; and Merritt, Kamloops and Clearwater along Highway 5. Thank you for coming. I am Insp. Gary Shinkaruk, the Officer in Charge of BC RCMP Major Crime, Special Projects Unit.

We are here today to announce a significant development in the E-PANA investigation along with a request for your help.

Project E-PANA began in the fall of 2005. The Task Force was created as a result of the BC RCMP Criminal Operations ordering the review and investigation of a series of unsolved murders with links to Highway 16. The goal of the Task Force is to determine if a serial killer, or killers, is responsible for murdering young women traveling along major highways in BC.

Project E-PANA is comprised of 18 cases involving 13 homicides and 5 missing women investigations. The cases range in date from 1969 to 2006 and involve women and girls who were involved in activity like hitch hiking and were last seen or were found within a mile from three BC Highways – Hwy 16, Hwy 97 and Hwy 5.

Over the years investigators have re-examined past investigative findings, re-interviewed witnesses, followed up on new leads or tips, and re-examined or submitted exhibits. It is those efforts that have led us here today to announce a significant break in at least one and possibly more E-PANA files

The break has to deal with 1974 disappearance and murder of sixteen year old Colleen MacMillen. Colleen lived with her family in Lac La Hache, BC. She was shy but friendly, level headed and dependable. On August 9, 1974 Colleen left home with the plan to hitchhike to a friend’s house nearby. She walked up to Highway 97 and disappeared. She was found murdered off a logging road 46 kilometres south of where she was last seen. Investigative efforts began the moment she was reported missing and have continued over the years. Colleen is part of the E-PANA investigation.

In June of 2007, E-PANA investigators re-submitted exhibits from Colleen’s case to the RCMP Vancouver Forensic Lab for DNA analysis. A DNA profile of an unknown male was identified from Colleen’s case. It was submitted to the National Crime Scene Databank. There was no match.

In 2012 with the advances in DNA technology, E-PANA investigators requested a re-examination of the profile. That resulted in a higher quality sample being developed which allowed it to be submitted to INTERPOL that includes access to foreign DNA databases.

On May 3, 2012 the Oregon Department of State - Police Forensic Laboratory obtained a CODIS DNA match. The DNA match was to US citizen Bobby Jack Fowler. Based on what E-PANA investigators know today – Fowler is responsible for the murder of 16 year old Colleen MacMillen.

 

Bobby Jack Fowler, who was born and spent most of his life in the US, has an extensive violent and criminal history with convictions in several American states for crimes including, attempted murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, sexual assault, arson, kidnapping, attempting sexual assault and firearm offenses. His last conviction was in Newport, Oregon for a1995 violent attack against a woman where he served 10 years and died of natural causes while in custody in May 2006 at the age of 66. He has no Canada criminal record.

Since we received confirmation of the DNA hit, investigators have been actively pursuing and following up on Fowler’s history and movements over the past four decades. We have met with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), contacted 31 US Law enforcement agencies and 11 State or Correctional Departments; have traveled to Washington State, Texas and Oregon, spoken to family, associates and former cellmates all in an effort to further the investigations. We have been able to create a timeline for Fowler’s movements over the past 40 years – but it is not complete. Our challenge has been determining with certainty Fowler’s history here in British Columbia.

We know that Fowler worked in the Prince George area in 1974 for a roofing company called Happy’s Roofing – a company no longer in business and their records no longer exist. While there are many things we don’t we know – what we do know is that he was transient and traveled between US states and even countries in a day. He worked odd jobs in areas like roofing and general labour. He stayed and lived in motels or rented, and liked old cars that he drove until they quit. He frequented bars and restaurants and was violent toward men and women and picked up hitch hikers.

Photo of one similar 4 door Chrysler vehicle.

 


In order to help us determine Bobby Jack Fowler’s movements we need the public’s help. We are releasing photos of Fowler over the years and a video in order to assist our efforts.

Bobby Jack Fowler - 1972 Bobby Jack Fowler - 1982 Bobby Jack Fowler - 1989 Bobby Jack Fowler - 1994 Bobby Jack Fowler - 1995

We believe there are people out there who employed Fowler, worked with him, socialized with him or even waited on him while he was in British Columbia. We are asking you to think back to the 70’s, 80’s and 90's – and your own memories of that that time period, then have a look at his photos, and please call us with any information you may have about him.

Fowler has been eliminated from as a suspect in eight of E-PANA files, however he remains a person of interest in the remaining cases.

In particular cases such as a 19 year Gale Weys who was last seen hitchhiking from Clearwater, BC on October 16, 1973 and was found murdered 6 months later. And 19 year old Kamloops resident Pamela Darlington who was murdered and found in Pioneer Park on November 7, 1973. These are just two of the cases we are looking for connections to but we are fully open to the possibility that FOWLER committed other violent offences against women that may or may not have been reported to police.

The E-PANA tip line is active and investigators will be taking in the information and following up on it. If you have any information please call 1-877-543-4822. You can also contact Crime Stoppers in your local area.


Statement by: Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens, Commanding Officer of the RCMP in British Columbia

Good morning, I am Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens the Commanding Officer of the RCMP in British Columbia.

Today’s announcement and public plea for assistance is a significant milestone in our commitment to solving a series of missing and murdered women investigations in British Columbia. I want to acknowledge the families affected and thank them for their support and understanding.

Our sympathies and thoughts go out to those families who continue to relive and deal with the devastating loss of their mothers, aunts, daughters or sisters as they continue to wait for answers.

Often historical cases are referred to as Cold Cases, but to the RCMP, there is no such thing as a cold case. Our investigators approach every unsolved case as an active investigation, which requires us to review past findings; challenges investigative approaches, re-interview witnesses and persons of interest, follow up on tips and leads and remain current on forensic tools and techniques.

Personally, I have been involved in cases that have spanned many years and even decades and was an investigator on the Pamela Darlington homicide when I worked in Kamloops in the late 90’s. The work done by the original investigators as far back as the 70’s in Pamela's and the other cases supported the developments announced today.

I thank them for their work and efforts and know that the news of this DNA match and the identification of a suspect has been well received as these cases often stay with investigators long after they have left the RCMP.

I would like to take this time to acknowledge the efforts of the Major Crime investigators and specialized support staff – including the RCMP Vancouver Forensic Lab, which continues to be invaluable in our efforts to determine the truth.

Their perseverance and knowledge allowed us to have a valuable DNA profile developed and submitted to INTERPOL. RCMP members and employees persistence resulted in the oldest DNA match in INTERPOL’s history.

As you heard, since the DNA match, investigators have been actively working to establish a timeline for FOWLER’s movements and activities. Those efforts have been encouraging due to a series of strong partnerships and relationships.

I would like to thank all of the US agencies that provided information on Bobby Jack FOWLER including the FBI, the Freestone County Sheriff’s Office in Texas, the Newport Police Department in Oregon, and in particular the Oregon Lincoln County District Attorney’s Office and Ron Benson– who is here today in support of our efforts. They have worked tirelessly with our investigators from the onset.

While we are working to gather as much information as we can, the need for information from the public cannot be overstated. I know these incidents occurred 30 and 40 years ago, but no piece of information is too small. The same can be said with any missing person or murder investigation.

The need to call is also critical at the very moment someone disappears - as it often launches police efforts.

There continues to be misinformation about when to report missing people so we want to take this opportunity to clarify that there is no time limit or waiting period to report someone missing. Call the police immediately if you become aware that someone has not returned home or reached their destination.

Our commitment has not waivered when it comes to missing or murdered investigations. Resources and protocols are in place and we remain committed to seeking justice for the victims and the much needed answers for their families.


Statement from MacMillen Family

Hello. My name is Shawn MacMillen, Colleen’s brother. I am here today to represent my family and make a statement.

The MacMillen family would like to thank the RCMP and in particular the E-PANA investigators for their success in identifying Colleen's killer. We are simply stunned, and very grateful for their hard work. It has been a long wait for answers, and although it is a somewhat unsatisfactory result because this individual won't have to 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 ever hurt anyone else.

Colleen was a lovely, sweet, innocent 16 year old kid, and there are still not words in the world to express how terribly she was wronged. For those remaining families whose daughters and sisters were also victims, we hope this means they may yet have their own answers.

The Family requests that the media respect our wish for privacy and to direct any questions to the E-PANA investigative team.


Statement from Weys Family

Hello,( I am) Denice Weys and (I am)Dianne Weddell and Gale was our older sister. We have a statement to read on behalf of our family.

Second in a family of 9, Gale was the quintessential older sister, always supportive and protective of her younger siblings. She was a tomboy, fiercely independent and enjoying all types of outdoor adventure and activities, dragging us, her siblings and friends along for the fun. Whether it was teaching us to ride a bike, how to swim, or organizing a hike and exploration of the surrounding hills it was an all for one and one for all attitude. With an infectious laugh and sharp sense of humour she was a natural leader and challenged others to go beyond the limits they had set themselves. She loved amusement park rides and at the local fair or the PNE always cajoled others onto the fastest, highest, scariest rides. Achieving high grades in school, she enjoyed learning and in turn tutoring her younger siblings including teaching them to read before even entering school. A childhood spent in first Brownies, Guides, then Rangers culminated in becoming a leader herself. As a teenager she earned her National Lifeguard Certificate and taught swimming lessons. As a volunteer she worked with and taught special needs children.

Within the Guiding organization Gale traveled a number of places, Expo 66, the Northwest Territories and Mexico City creating a desire to explore more of the world. It was during that trip to Mexico that Gale’s sensitive and compassionate nature became aware of the stark poverty and suffering that exists in the world and instilled a desire to somehow help alleviate it.

Having just moved away from home Gale was living and working in Clearwater exploring a newly independent stage of life as a young adult.

She was working two jobs to save money for a trip to Mexico but always knew that the role of motherhood; her strongest aspiration, was what the future held for her.

These dreams and many others yet to be created were never fulfilled as life was taken from her, and she from us, violently, painfully and abruptly.

As a family we truly never thought this open wound would be resolved in any way; we had given up hope. We are grateful for the ongoing work by the police over the years on Gale's behalf and this new development that offers some answers and relief. Unfortunately, as the police have stated this compelling evidence is not definitive proof. To that end we, Gale's family, are asking people to think back to that time in the early 70's.

If you have any memories of this man Fowler or recollections of these events please contact the police tip line or crime stoppers. Perhaps you found her clothing and didn't understand what you had found; perhaps you met or worked with this man. Perhaps he assaulted you in some way, made you feel uncomfortable or maybe he was involved in a bar fight. Anything could be hugely helpful, even if you are not 100% certain it's truly related, or you think it's just trivial. If fear has kept you silent, Fowler can no longer hurt you in any way, so please come forward. For our family and other families that are going through the loss of a loved one there is still that uncertainty of not knowing; questions and emotions left hanging. If you can help in any way please do so for Gale and all the other women.

This is all we wish to say at this time, we ask if you have further questions please direct them to the police and respect our family's privacy.

Email: bcrcmp@rcmp-grc.gc.ca

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