Police say he was a master of deception for 12 years, until one of his most basic traits gave him away.
When Ninderjit Singh fled Vancouver just hours after his ex-girlfriend was slain in 1999, he was a clean-shaven, slender and muscular young man.
But there were no doubts from investigators after they spotted the truck driver in Southern California last Friday, weighing a hefty 300 pounds and sporting a large and bushy beard.
Thumbprints gathered by a highway patrol officer – who had been dispatched as part of a sting operation to pull over the man’s big rig and to issue a ticket – confirmed the 33-year-old man’s identity.
He was the long-sought suspect in the shooting death of 18-year-old Poonam Randhawa, whose body was found in a laneway near her high school.
“When shown his original picture to his wife, she said, ‘Well, that’s not my husband,’ ” Inspector Brad Desmarais, with the Vancouver police force, told a news conference on Tuesday. “But it is, because fingerprints matched.”
Mr. Singh was arrested as he was driving away from his home in Riverside County, Calif., along with his wife and two young children.
Police said he had used several aliases over the years since a warrant was put out for his arrest in connection with Ms. Randhawa’s slaying. They said he used a fake identity to acquire a U.S. Social Security number.
He was featured on the television show America’s Most Wanted more than a decade ago.
Yet when police tracked him down last week, he “immediately confirmed” his real identity and stated he was aware he was wanted on first-degree murder charges in Canada, Insp. Desmarais said.
Mr. Singh’s capture concludes one of the longest manhunts in the force’s history, he noted.
“This was a very, very targeted investigation. We weren’t sitting on our hands waiting for a lucky break, we were actively hunting this guy.”
Ms. Randhawa was found shot in the head two days after her 18th birthday. Police allege she had been stalked by Mr. Singh, and had even transferred schools to escape his advances.
“This has been an extraordinarily difficult decade for the family,” Insp. Desmarais said, noting the woman’s parents had lost a son to illness just three years earlier.
She was described as having a bright smile and bubbly spirit.
“The family is still in a state of grief and we’re respecting their wish for privacy. But they are relieved.”
Police say the man flew from Seattle to Los Angeles, where he had family connections, on the same day the woman was slain.
They were certain they had caught up to him in a San Jose apartment in 2000, but believe he realized he was being watched and fled before arrest. On several other occasions they were narrowly out-manoeuvred.
U.S. Homeland Security agents moved in again about two weeks ago, after getting information from Vancouver homicide detectives.
“I can’t remember when any announcement has ever given me this much pleasure,” said Deputy Chief Warren Lemcke. “We got him.”
Police wouldn’t describe exactly what information led them to discover Mr. Singh’s hideout because the case will be going before the courts. However, they alleged the man’s family – who live in both Canada and the United States – helped him “evade justice.”
Police are still examining whether any charges are warranted against those individuals, Insp. Desmarais said.
“Right now we’re kind of basking in the glow of having this guy back in Canada.”
The investigation has cost the force more than $500,000.
Mr. Singh is now in custody awaiting extradition from Los Angeles.