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An image taken from the Vancouver Police Department website dedicated to soliciting tips from the public on unsolved cases. (vpdcoldcases.com)
An image taken from the Vancouver Police Department website dedicated to soliciting tips from the public on unsolved cases. (vpdcoldcases.com)

No lead too small, VPD says in unveiling cold case website Add to ...

Thirty-two years ago, a woman packed all she could fit inside a suitcase and set off to find a haven after being kicked out of a low-rent Vancouver apartment building in the middle of the night.

She didn’t get far. Kristin Gurholt’s body, naked with her skull fractured, was found nearby in a dirty alleyway on Sept. 4, 1981. Police have never made an arrest.

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Details of Ms. Gurholt’s 34-year life and her ghastly death, some never revealed publicly before, are posted on a new website that the Vancouver Police Department hopes will shut the file. It joins seven other murders, found at vpdcoldcases.ca, that remain shrouded in mystery while family members still look for answers.

“For them, the memories of the sweet little girl who filled their house with music have been forever tainted,” says the case overview for Ms. Gurholt, who grew up in Dartmouth, N.S., where she loved to read and play piano.

Without justice, the site says, the family holds only “the painful knowledge of how her life ended and the fact that no one has been held accountable.”

The website was launched Tuesday as an additional effort by the force to crack 313 unsolved homicides that have stacked up over the past 40 years. The eight cases online span between 1981 and 2008, and the force plans to add more over time.

“We just want to breathe some life back into these cases,” Deputy Chief Constable Adam Palmer told reporters, explaining he hopes the files, maps and photographs refresh memories.

“Get them to recall things they may have been uncomfortable talking about at the time – either witnesses who may have seen something or heard something … but now with the passage of time, they realize they may not be in any peril or it may be the time to step forward and do the right thing.”

The other cases involve six women and two men, and include details about the death of 61-year-old Cathy Berard, who was assaulted and left on the grounds of an east Vancouver high school in 1996. Another reveals that an anonymous letter was sent to police confessing to the killing of Danielle Larue in 2002. Her body has never been found.

Families of the victims support the website approach, said Constable Palmer, which the force believes could garner tips from a large public audience. Often a small lead, perhaps chatter along the grapevine, could be all that’s necessary to reactivate a case, he said.

“Armchair detectives” are encouraged to scroll through the files, he said.

The concept already exists. The Toronto Police Service and national RCMP also post cases, as do many forces in the U.S., though most are not nearly as interactive or visually appealing as the site that cost the Vancouver force less than $10,000.

The San Diego Police Department began posting its cold-case homicide information online within the past 10 years as a supplement to other lead generators such as Crime Stoppers, said Detective-Sergeant Frank Hoerman.

Every year his team closes a couple among the thousand-or-so unsolved cases dating back to the late 1800s, he said.

He believes the Internet’s vast reach, along with other technological advances such as DNA testing, are driving new momentum in solving crime.

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