Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Major Success in Highway of Tears Serial Killer Case

Bobby Jack Fowler circa 1972

Good police work by the persistent Mounties in the Vancouver forensics lab resulted in the oldest DNA offender hit in INTERPOL history and the solving of a terrible crime that happened nearly 40 years ago.

According to RCMP Inspector Gary Shinkaruk who heads the Special Projects Unit in Northern British Columbia, in July of 2007, technicians were able to sequence DNA from evidence found with the body of 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen who’d been murdered and dumped on a logging road back in 1974.

The results, though, didn’t match any of the DNA profiles in the Canadian databases. Early this year, they decided to try again, this time using a more advanced sequencing technology that allowed them to run the profile with INTERPOL (the international organization which connects police forces from 190 countries, allowing them to cooperate on investigations). Interpol, in turn, ran the profile with the FBI’s CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), which connects samples from federal, state and local US police forces. And that’s when bells started ringing.

Down in Oregon, they had the DNA profile of a monster named Bobby Jack Fowler. Fowler was a rapist, kidnapper, arsonist, alcoholic bar-brawler, and all-around asshole who drifted from state to state and up into Canada working as a roofer and at other blue collar jobs. He was serving time in an Oregon prison for rape and kidnapping when, in 2006, lung cancer cheated the lethal-injection needle Fowler might have gotten if Oregon prosecutors could nail him for as many as seven murders – including four teenage girls –they now believe he committed.

Fowler’s history of violent sexual attacks, his MO of hunting female hitchhikers (all four of the Oregon girls were taken from roadsides), and his timeline that puts him in Canada in the 1970s – and of course now the evidence that he killed 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen – has the RCMP’s E-Pana Unit looking at him as the lead suspect in at least two more of their Highway of Tears cases – and there are another seven where he hasn’t yet been ruled out as the killer.

The two cases they believe show strong links to Fowler are the murders of Pamela Darlington and Gale Weys, both 19 years old when they were last seen hitchhiking along one of BC’s desolate, rural highways. In November 1973, Darlington was beaten to death and later found at a park near Thompson River, partially clothed with bite marks on her body. At the time, a train crew passing through Kamloops noticed a man in a 1950s Chrysler driving suspiciously, trying to race the train to first one then another crossing. Fowler, police say, is known to have preferred old cars, beaters, that sources report he drove until they died.

Gale Weys was last seen at 9:30PM on an October night in 1973 when she left her job at a service station and walked out to the road to hitchhike home to her parents’ house in Kamloops, BC. Her nude, decomposed body wasn’t found until a year later.

Fowler was arrested in 1995 when he beat a woman and attempted to tie her up after telling her that he knew women liked to get raped. She escaped by jumping naked from a motel room’s second story window. Fowler died in jail at age 66 while serving time for those charges.

With two 19-year-old girls taken within a month in 1973... then Colleen MacMillen murdered less than a year later... And four Oregon teenagers in the 1990s… These crimes could just be the beginning of the horrific story of Bobby Jack Fowler.  

Seeing as serial killers are usually at their most prolific during their 20s and 30s, and Oregon investigators convinced that this sadistic psychopath was still murdering girls in his mid-50s, you have to assume that there are an awful number of cold cases going back to at least 1960 that police across the U.S. and Canada will be reviewing very closely to see if there are any links to Bobby Jack Fowler. 


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.