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Police set to link deceased man to B.C.’s ‘highway of tears’ case

Bobby Jack Fowler, 1995.

Lincoln County District Attorney office.

RCMP will announce Tuesday that it has linked a deceased U.S. sex offender to at least one of the 18 cases of women who were murdered or vanished along British Columbia's northern "highway of tears."

An American prosecutor has confirmed to The Oregonian newspaper that Canadian authorities have DNA evidence connecting an American inmate, Bobby Jack Fowler, to the death of 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen of 100 Mile House, whose body was found in northern B.C. in 1974.

Mr. Fowler, who died in custody in 2006, is also emerging as the suspect in the 1995 killing of two teenaged girls in Oregon, District Attorney Rob Bovett told The Oregonian.

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Investigators are also re-examining evidence in the killing of two other teenaged Oregonian girls in 1992.

Mr. Fowler was held in Oregon's Snake River Correctional Institution after he was convicted in 1996 on charges of kidnapping, attempted rape, sexual abuse, coercion, assault and menacing a woman he met in a motel bar.

According to U.S. court records, Mr. Fowler argued that the conviction was illegal and violated his civil rights because his motel room "was certainly a place where one would expect to find [the victim]" after she had been drinking and playing the poker machine with him in a bar.

Mr. Rob Bovett, the district attorney for Lincoln County, in Newport, Oregon, said Mr. Fowler had tied up his victim and she escaped by jumping out of a window, naked, with a rope tied to her.

"This guy was a violent, violent, nasty guy. Horrible," Ron Benson, a Lincoln County district attorney's investigator told The Oregonian.

RCMP from the Project E-Pana unit that has been investigating the case say, in a statement, that they will announce a "significant development" in their continuing efforts to solve the cases.

Police and a family member will speak at the briefing, but the statement also says a representative from the United States will talk about the case.

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The RCMP also said it will be making a "plea for assistance" from Canadians and Americans.

Police said they have contacted all of the families of the victims in the case.

No other details were provided. Police say they are withholding comment on the developments pending a technical briefing and news conference Tuesday.

Since the late 1960s, more than two dozen women have been killed or gone missing in Northern British Columbia, many of them along an 800-kilometre stretch of Highways 5, 97 and 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert – a region dubbed the "highway of tears."

Project E-Pana, launched in 2005, has been investigating 18 of the cases. There have long been suspicions among family members that a serial killer was involved in the cases.

Rob Gordon, the director of the criminology school at Simon Fraser University, said the "highway of tears" matter has become entangled in the question of society's treatment of vulnerable women because many victims were from native communities.

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Also, he noted that many murders have been linked to the file, whether or not they were actually connected. "It was a confounding factor in many investigations," Dr. Gordon said.

"[The highway of tears] has been a festering sore for several years. Hopefully now, some balm will be applied which could ease the situation in Northern B.C."

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About the Authors
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More


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