The RCMP is launching a special investigation into the women missing and murdered along Highway 16.
RCMP Superintendent Leon Van De Walle announced the investigation at the Highway of Tears Symposium at CN Centre, March 30-31. Van De Walle is a veteran investigator and heads up E’ Division major crimes unit.
“We have eight skilled investigators and this will be their only focus, their only job,” Van De Walle said. “In different phases we’ll bring in specialists in different areas.”
The review will be based in Vancouver, although officers will continue to investigate along the Highway 16 corridor, Van De Walle said.
All the information gathered on the cases will be compiled into a database, allowing officers to compare cases easily. Modern forensic science will be applied to the older cases in hopes of finding new leads.
“Science has come a very long way in crime investigation,” Van De Walle said. “But it’s still half science, half art form.”
The “art form” side of investigations still relies heavily on the investigators’ skill and intuition, he explained.
E’ Division’s unsolved homicide unit, the first in Canada, is a leader in solving “cold cases,” Van De Walle said.
“I’ve worked with Scotland Yard, I’ve worked with the FBI and I’ve worked with the New York State Police and the RCMP are as good as any of them better in some ways,” Van De Walle said. “We are some of the best at cold case investigations.”
RCMP investigators will be putting on four lectures for the FBI on their cold case techniques, he added.
“These crimes are never closed. A new team of investigators may look into it with new eyes,” Van De Walle said. “I can tell you that any of the RCMP in this room take this very seriously. I’ve investigated many, many homicides. I can’t remember all the ones I’ve solved, but the ones you can’t solve stick with you.”
Van De Walle said, as hard as it is, the families need to have faith in the skill of the investigators.
Not knowing what the police are doing to investigate the case is a source of frustration for many, he said. But often it is critical to a case to make sure some information remains secret.
“We need is to create new ways to communicate with families,” he said. “I know we haven’t always done a great job of that, but we are sure working hard to get better at it.”
The use of the Amber Alert system and rewards have to be used strategically in an investigation, he added.
Amber Alerts need to have immediate and very detailed information to be effective.
“Rewards are often looked at as an instantaneous way to generate leads. I don’t believe that is necessarily true,” Van De Walle said. “Just to put a reward out without strategic thinking often just hangs on the post office wall I know, I’ve made that mistake.”
Van De Walle said children do need to be taught about staying safe, and part of that includes using caution around both strangers and people they know.
“The offenders may not always be strangers they may not always be boogiemen,” he said.
RCMP Sgt. John Ward said the police are looking at the cases, “with an open mind.”
At this point the cases may or may not be linked, Ward said. The geography of the cases makes it difficult for police to make headway in investigations, he added.
“They are on a lonely stretch of highway, where no one is around,” Ward said. “No one is there to see what happened.”