Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Ten years ago, under immense pressure from the communities along Canada's Highway 16, the RCMP created E-Pana, a special police unit dedicated to solving murders along this infamous stretch of British Columbia.
Locals say at least 50 women and young girls have gone missing or have been found murdered along what they began calling the Highway of Tears. The police sifted through those cases and chose 18 to concentrate on.
At its height, E-Pana had 70 investigators and staff working the cases. And after stuffing all the details from each murder into a crime computer, they announced they had thousands of suspects--creating their own haystack they then tried to search for needles.
Using modern DNA techniques not available at the time of the murders, they connected one victim, 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen, to a US serial killer named Bobby Jack Fowler. Fowler, though, had already died in prison.
Currently, a Canadian serial rapist is being held in connection with the murders of two BC girls including the Highway of Tears case of Monica Jack, who was 12 at the time she was taken, though her body wasn't found for nearly 17 years.
Other than those two cases, however, there's been no resolution for the victims' families and the communities along Highway 16 that are still afraid that killers are stalking their daughters. After exhausting every new clue they could find, E-Pana has now scaled back to eight investigators.
In an interview during a town hall meeting about the investigations, RCMP Sgt Wayne Clary admitted that he's told families that the rest of these crimes may never be solved.
One thing that does help move the cases is pressure on the police from the community and the media, which is why they formed E-Pana in the first place. For many of the rest of these murders, it appears that the only way they'll be solved is by people in the local communities finally coming forward with more information.
As Clary said of the police effort, "We've turned over every stone we can."
For background on the Highway of Tears murders, you can read my story, The Vanishing, in Outside magazine.