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Probing the mystery of Edmonton's killing fields

Project KARE tackled dozens of seemingly similar homicides and disappearances. Discerning which crimes were truly connected, however, was never going to be easy

This article examines dozens of similar homicides involving female victims in Edmonton and the surrounding area during the last three decades. Project KARE, an Alberta RCMP-led task force into serial homicides, investigated many of these crimes.
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The newly commenced National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls will almost certainly explore long-standing concerns from indigenous communities about the police response to such cases. Yet, discussions are often complicated by the nearly impenetrable veil of secrecy surrounding most police investigations. The general public seldom sees a full accounting of steps police take (or don't take), their triumphs, omissions and errors, and the personal costs their work entails. On closer examination, however, at least some of these details can be discerned.

MISSING AND
MURDERED
Searching for the lost
This story is part of an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation into the hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.

Project KARE was an RCMP-led investigation into a series of seemingly related murders and disappearances in the Edmonton area. Since at least the late 1980s, women, many of whom were street-sex workers, had been found murdered in the forests and fields on the city's outskirts. A grossly disproportionate number of them were indigenous. Edmonton's large number of unsolved cases jumped out as The Globe and Mail built its database of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls last year. A product of the fallout from policing failures that allowed Vancouver-area serial killer Robert Pickton to murder undetected for years, Project KARE represented a concerted effort by multiple policing agencies to solve these crimes and apprehend the persons responsible.

To explore why KARE's investigators solved so few cases, The Globe compiled a database of as many Edmonton-area homicide cases as we could find since 1986 in which female victims of all ethnicities were found outdoors. (We found 49, many of which KARE investigated.) We interviewed former senior KARE investigators, and current officers from the RCMP and Edmonton Police Service. To better understand the geography of these homicides, we used the GPS co-ordinates in The Globe's database to locate several of the areas to Edmonton's east and south where human remains were found.

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We visited Edmonton's courthouse twice to study the handful of KARE cases that resulted in charges and went to trial. To witness firsthand the dynamics of Edmonton's street-sex trade, we joined social worker Kari Thomason of Métis Child and Family Services on one of her late-evening patrols of high-activity areas. We also spoke to the families and friends of a handful of victims to understand the extreme social costs that accompany these crimes.

Homicide count for females in Edmonton

We identified 49 such cases since 1986. Our collection is in no way representative of the larger number of female homicides in Edmonton during the same period, and we may have overlooked relevant cases. Nonetheless, these 49 cases shared striking characteristics.

Statistics Canada data showing homicide count for females in Edmonton from 1991-2014

15

12

9

The cases The

Globe and Mail

looked at

6

3

0

1987

1990

2000

2010

2015

Statistics Canada data showing homicide count

for females in Edmonton from 1991-2014

15

12

9

6

The cases The

Globe and Mail

looked at

3

0

1987

1990

2000

2010

2015

Statistics Canada data showing homicide count

for females in Edmonton from 1991-2014

15

12

9

6

The cases The

Globe and Mail

looked at

3

0

1987

1990

2000

2010

2015

Statistics Canada data showing homicide count

for females in Edmonton from 1991-2014

15

12

9

6

The cases The

Globe and Mail

looked at

3

0

1987

1990

2000

2010

2015


Ethnicity of the victims

Most of the homicides for which The Globe has data involved aboriginal victims. Yet, only about 5.6% of the city's female population is indigenous.

ABORIGINAL

CAUCASIAN

63.6%

22.7

13.6

NO INFORMATION

ABORIGINAL

CAUCASIAN

63.6%

22.7

13.6

NO INFORMATION

ABORIGINAL

CAUCASIAN

63.6%

22.7

13.6

NO INFORMATION

ABORIGINAL

CAUCASIAN

63.6%

22.7

13.6

NO INFORMATION

A striking pattern

Rumours of an Edmonton serial killer began in the winter of 1987 after the remains of three women were discovered within days of each other. Project KARE was formed after another spate of killings in and around Edmonton in the late 1990s and early 2000s. By then, a striking geographical pattern had developed. This map shows cases for which we had co-ordinates locating approximately where victims were last seen, and where their remains were discovered.

In many of these homicides,

the remains of women last

seen in Edmonton were

found in rural areas beyond

the city limits.

GIBBONS

MORINVILLE

FORT

SASKATCHEWAN

SHERWOOD

PARK

STONY PLAIN

EDMONTON

Cooking Lake

DEVON

Person last seen

Remains found

CALMAR

LEDUC

0

10

KM

GIBBONS

MORINVILLE

FORT

SASKATCHEWAN

Lac Ste. Anne

ONOWAY

In many of these homicides,

the remains of women last

seen in Edmonton were

found in rural areas beyond

the city limits.

SHERWOOD

PARK

EDMONTON

Cooking Lake

DEVON

Beaverhill Lake

Person last seen

Remains found

CALMAR

LEDUC

0

10

KM

In many of these homicides,

the remains of women last

seen in Edmonton were

found in rural areas beyond

the city limits.

GIBBONS

MORINVILLE

FORT

SASKATCHEWAN

Wabumun Lake

SHERWOOD

PARK

STONY PLAIN

EDMONTON

Beaverhill Lake

Cooking Lake

DEVON

Person last seen

Remains found

CALMAR

LEDUC

0

10

KM

GIBBONS

MORINVILLE

FORT

SASKATCHEWAN

Lac Ste. Anne

ONOWAY

In many of these homicides,

the remains of women last

seen in Edmonton were

found in rural areas beyond

the city limits.

SHERWOOD

PARK

Wabumun Lake

EDMONTON

Beaverhill Lake

Cooking Lake

Beaverhill Lake

DEVON

Person last seen

Remains found

CALMAR

LEDUC

0

10

KM

Remains often lay undetected for months, even years. That greatly reduced the likelihood investigators could solve these cases, in part because memories of potential witnesses degrade quickly, as do certain types of forensic evidence. In a few instances, remains were undiscovered for many years.

DELORES BROWER

Was last seen in May of 2004 but her remains were not found for another 11 years.

LAST SEEN

1987

1990

1995

2000

2010

2015

1987

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

REMAINS FOUND

DEANNA BELLEROSE

The older sister of another murdered sex worker, she was last seen in September of 2002. Remains discovered in May, 2012.

RENE GUNNING AND KRYSTLE KNOTT

Told someone they planned to hitchhike to B.C. in 2005. Their skulls were found 60 km south of Grand Prairie in 2011. Precisely what happened to the women remains unknown.

DELORES BROWER

Was last seen in May of 2004 but her remains were not found for another 11 years.

LAST SEEN

1987

1990

1995

2000

2010

2015

1987

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

DEANNA BELLEROSE

The older sister of another murdered sex worker, she was last seen in September of 2002. Remains discovered in May, 2012.

REMAINS FOUND

DELORES BROWER

Was last seen in May of 2004 but her remains were not found for another 11 years.

LAST SEEN

1987

1990

1995

2000

2010

2015

1987

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

REMAINS FOUND

DEANNA BELLEROSE

The older sister of another murdered sex worker, she was last seen in September of 2002. Remains discovered in May, 2012.

RENE GUNNING AND KRYSTLE KNOTT

Told someone they planned to hitchhike to B.C. in 2005. Their skulls were found 60 km south of Grand Prairie in 2011. Precisely what happened to the women remains unknown.

DELORES BROWER

Was last seen in May of 2004 but her remains were not found for another 11 years.

LAST SEEN

1987

1990

1995

2000

2010

2015

1987

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

REMAINS FOUND

DEANNA BELLEROSE

The older sister of another murdered sex worker, she was last seen in September of 2002. Remains discovered in May, 2012.

Ground zero

Many (but not all) victims were sex workers, last seen along streets and avenues where such activity is known to occur frequently. Three victims were last spotted near the intersection of 118th Avenue and 95th street, for many years the epicentre of the city's sex trade.

Street-sex work is associated with numerous hazards, ranging from frequent assaults to homelessness and lasting psychological trauma. Perhaps the most extreme manifestation of this is that sex workers figure prominently among the victims of known serial killers.

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Locations where

victim was last seen

216

15

16

Areas known

as sex-work

strolls

118th AVE

95 ST

124th ST

107 AVE

75TH ST

STONY PLAIN RD

EDMONTON

Locations where

bodies have

been found

0

1

2

KM

216

Locations where

victim was last seen

15

16

118TH AVE

95 ST

Areas known

as sex-work strolls

124TH ST

107 AVE

STONY PLAIN RD

EDMONTON

75TH ST

Locations where bodies

have been found

0

1

KM

Locations where

victim was last seen

15

16

118TH AVE

Areas known

as sex-work strolls

95 ST

124TH ST

107 AVE

75TH ST

STONY PLAIN RD

EDMONTON

Locations where bodies

have been found

0

1

2

KM

28

Locations where

victim was last seen

15

16

118TH AVE

95 ST

Areas known

as sex-work strolls

124TH ST

216

216

107 AVE

STONY PLAIN RD

EDMONTON

75TH ST

Locations where bodies

have been found

0

1

KM

No simple task

Just because homicides coincide in space and time or bear other similarities doesn't mean they're connected. Once an area becomes notorious as a dumping ground, for instance, it may attract diverse offenders seeking to dispose of human remains.

For instance, in April, 1997, Connie Grandinetti, 38, was shot to death and dumped in a ditch south of Fort Saskatchewan, just kilometres from sites where other women's remains were discovered that same year. Yet from the outset police suspected her nephew, Cory Howard Grandinetti, for the crime. At his trial, the Crown alleged he'd killed his aunt in exchange for $10,000, fallout from a bitter family feud. In 2000 he was convicted of first-degree murder.

THERESA INNES

2006

10km

EDMONTON

5km

BONNNIE

JACK

2006

CONNIE GRANDINETTI

Nine other bodies were located within a 10 km radius from the location where Connie Gradinetti was found in 1997

MONIQUE

PITRE

2003

RACHEL

QUINNEY

2004

ELLIE MAY

MEYER

2005

BRIANNA

TORVALSON

2008

BERNADETTE

AHENAKEW

1989

CARA

KING

1997

MELISSA MUNCH

2003

THERESA INNES

2006

10 KM

5 KM

EDMONTON

BONNNIE JACK

2006

MONIQUE PITRE

2003

CONNIE GRANDINETTI

Nine other bodies were located within a 10 km radius from the location where Connie Gradinetti was found in 1997

RACHEL QUINNEY

2004

ELLIE MAY MEYER

2005

BRIANNA TORVALSON

2008

BERNADETTE AHENAKEW

1989

CARA KING

1997

MELISSA MUNCH

2003

THERESA INNES

2006

10 KM

EDMONTON

5 KM

BONNNIE JACK

2006

RACHEL

QUINNEY

2004

MONIQUE

PITRE

2003

CONNIE GRANDINETTI

Nine other bodies were located within a 10 km radius from the location where Connie Gradinetti was found in 1997

ELLIE MAY MEYER

2005

BRIANNA

TORVALSON

2008

BERNADETTE AHENAKEW

1989

CARA KING

1997

MELISSA MUNCH

2003

THERESA INNES

2006

10 KM

EDMONTON

5 KM

BONNNIE JACK

2006

MONIQUE PITRE

2003

CONNIE GRANDINETTI

Nine other bodies were located within a 10 km radius from the location where Connie Gradinetti was found in 1997

RACHEL QUINNEY

2004

ELLIE MAY MEYER

2005

BRIANNA TORVALSON

2008

BERNADETTE AHENAKEW

1989

CARA KING

1997

MELISSA MUNCH

2003

A frustrating lack of success

Just two of the 49 homicides were ever formally linked by way of court convictions. Joseph Laboucan received separate first-degree murder convictions for the 2005 slayings of Ellie May Meyer, 33, and Nina Courtepatte, a 13-year-old child. Although these crimes occurred just days apart, they were separated by nearly 40 kilometres.

NINA COURTEPATTEBody was found at Edmonton Springs Golf CourseKM020ELLIE MAY MEYERBody was found by a farmer months after she was murdered

Many of the 49 cases the Globe examined remain unsolved, with only 11 resulting in criminal charges. That's a rate of just 22 per cent; in 2014, the RCMP indicated nearly 90 per cent of female homicides across Canada occurring between 1980 and 2012 were solved.

IN THE COURTS 1

NO CHARGES LAID 38

NOT GUILTY 1

MANSLAUGHTER 3

SECOND DEGREE MURDER 3

FIRST DEGREE MURDER 3

IN THE COURTS 1

NOT GUILTY 1

MANSLAUGHTER 3

NO CHARGES LAID 38

SECOND DEGREE MURDER 3

FIRST DEGREE MURDER 3

IN THE COURTS 1

NOT GUILTY 1

MANSLAUGHTER 3

NO CHARGES LAID 38

SECOND DEGREE MURDER 3

FIRST DEGREE MURDER 3

IN THE COURTS 1

NOT GUILTY 1

MANSLAUGHTER 3

NO CHARGES LAID 38

SECOND DEGREE MURDER 3

FIRST DEGREE MURDER 3

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