Tuesday, September 25, 2012

American Named in Highway of Tears Serial Killer Case

Bobby Jack Fowler, an Oregon man who died in prison in 2006 while serving a 16-year sentence for kidnapping and attempted rape, was named as the killer behind a nearly 40-year-old cold case that's part of British Columbia's infamous Highway of Tears.

In August 1974, 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen left her home in Northern BC to go to a girlfriend's house. She walked out to the main road and stuck out her thumb -- hitchhiking is still a common way for young people to get around the rural area where she lived, and was even more common back in the 70's.

When Colleen was late getting home, her parents began searching for her. It wasn't until September, though, that her body was found ditched on a logging road.

Colleen's murder is just one of dozens of cases of girls and women killed or gone missing along three lonely highways that run through Northern British Columbia. Several times over the past decades, the Canadian police have created special units to investigate whether a serial killer -- or serial killers -- could be involved. They've looked at American suspects before, including Ted Bundy, the psychopathic necrophiliac who, during the 70's, lived and hunted victims in Washington State and was known to visit Canada. However, no firm connection could ever be made to any suspect in a Highway of Tears case, until just recently.

RCMP officials say that it was DNA preserved from Colleen's crime scene that finally broke the case when it matched DNA that had been collected from Fowler and held in a database of known offenders. Officials in Oregon now say they're looking at Fowler as a potential serial killer on the US side of the border as they try to tie him to the 1995 deaths of two teen girls in Oregon.

The good news from the Canadian side comes from the latest special unit to tackle the highway murders: the RCMP's E-Pana. For the complete story of E-Pana and the Highway of Tears, see my feature The Vanishing in Outside Magazine. If this information holds true (and the RCMP sound very confident that it will) this will be the first success in a high-profile series of cases. E-Pana has spent more than $20 million on their investigation of 18 of the highway murders since 2005. Those specific cases were chosen because police felt they were potentially similar enough that there could be at least one serial killer involved.

With police now saying that Bobby Jack Fowler was indeed hunting for teenage girls along Canada's roads, the question now is whether he can be linked to any of the other cases -- or even more unsolved cases in the US.  

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