The RCMP say they have linked DNA collected in the investigation of the Halloween killing of 18-year-old Taylor Van Diest of the Okanagan community of Armstrong to the unsolved 2005 sexual assault of a Kelowna escort agency employee.
“Based on this DNA evidence, we believe that the man who killed Taylor Van Diest is the same man who sexually assaulted a Kelowna woman in April of 2005,” RCMP Corporal Dan Moskaluk told a news conference in Vernon on Wednesday.
But the suspect DNA is not in any known DNA offender bank, which means the suspect remains unidentified, Cpl. Moskaluk said.
For that reason, he said, police are releasing the new information to the public in hopes people may recognize behaviour or clues in someone they know that would help the investigation.
“There is a danger to the public in the sense that we have an unsolved sexual assault that has been linked to a recent homicide case,” Cpl. Moskaluk said in an interview. “Certainly, with this person not being in custody, arrested and identified, there is a certain degree of risk to the public. That’s why we are working hand-in-hand with the community to remind them to maintain their vigilance.”
The victim of the 2005 assault was an employee of the Garden of Eden Escort Agency, who was attacked at the company’s downtown Kelowna office. Cpl. Moskaluk said police are not releasing any further details, such as the victim’s job at the agency.
The RCMP say they believe Ms. Van Diests’s killer is a resident of the Okanagan Valley, and was a resident on Halloween night of this year.
That’s when members of Ms. Van Diest’s family found her severely beaten and unconscious after she headed out for a Halloween party in Armstrong, a community of about 5,000 people located 300 kilometres east of Vancouver in the north Okanagan.
Ms. Van Diest was rushed to hospital but died of her injuries.
Shortly before she was attacked, Ms. Van Diest sent a text to her boyfriend in which she said she was “being creeped,” but provided no other details, according to her best friend.
In mid-November, the RCMP released an anonymous letter from an individual who claimed responsibility for Ms. Van Diest’s killing, and threatened further violence against women.
But Cpl. Moskaluk said Wednesday it remains unclear whether the letter is from the killer.
“[Investigators]are still in the same position as we stated before, that given that it had limited details of the crime in it, it’s made it difficult for us to determine whether in fact it is written by the perpetrator of the crimes,” he said.
The RCMP have released a sketch of the suspect in the 2005 attack, which shows a Caucasian male thought to be 19 or 20 at the time.
Cpl. Moskaluk said police are asking Okanagan residents to think back to the days after Ms. Van Diest’s death to recall visible scratches on the face, neck or arms of any young men they might know as well as changes in routine.
“Although we believe he is a resident of the Okanagan, he may have made an unplanned, sudden or unexplained departure from the area shortly after the murder on Halloween night of this year in Armstrong,” he said.
He said it is possible the killer lived outside the region between 2005 and 2011.
Residents of the central and north Okanagan are being encouraged to take extra personal safety precautions, such as travelling in groups and asking parents or friends for rides, he said.