A major victory today for Abbotsford Police, as investigators cracked a 16-year-old cold case.
But victories of this kind are rare, and Metro Vancouver, like any big city, has a checkered past with plenty of restless ghosts.
Eve Lazarus is the Vancouver based author of Cold Case Vancouver: The City’s Most Baffling Unsolved Murders and who has started a Facebook page to try and keep those murders alive.
She says even when no arrest is made, police often have a hunch about who is responsible.
“While a murder might be unsolved, it’s not necessarily unresolved.”
But she says there are many reasons they can’t close the case. Sometimes the killer is already dead or in jail – other times, there’s just not enough evidence.
Today she shared three chilling unsolved cases that had caught a hold of her while researching her book.
Babes in the Woods
It started in 1953, when a worker who was clearing brush in a remote part of Stanley Park stepped on a skull.
When police arrived, they realized it was two full skeletons under an overcoat. The victims were children – but police made a key mistake. They concluded the skeletons belonged to a boy and a girl, siblings.
“It was unfortunate, because back then you didn’t have the forensic toolkit that we do now. Where you lock down a scene for days and days. In those days you took a couple of photos, threw the bones in a box, and moved on to the next one.”
Police focused their hunt on a missing brother and sister, but came up empty handed. It wasn’t until the 1990s, when DNA testing came along, that they realized the mistake. The victims were an unrelated pair of little boys.
Lazarus says the case haunted investigators – one officer she spoke to, who’d picked the case up in the ’90s, still couldn’t let it go.
“Even into retirement, he has taken it with him – when I spoke to him last year he was still hunting down leads.”
The Good Earth
40 years ago, 38-year-old Brenda Young was a mother of four living in North Vancouver.
She was well known as the outgoing owner of an esoteric hippy shop called the Good Earth.
But the community was scandalized when she was found strangled and stabbed to death in her own store.
Police found no evidence at the scene. As the investigation dragged on fruitlessly, Lazarus says one North Vancouver RCMP detective developed a hunch about who might be responsible – a serial killer who was by then already in prison.
But she says fate intervened to keep the case unsolved.
“When he went to fly off to interview [the suspect], he had died in the interim. And they had no DNA, they had kept nothing from the murder.”
The house party
Just six months after Brenda Young’s murder – North Vancouver faced another horrific shock when a 16-year-old girl was murdered. She too was strangled, setting off fears of a serial killer.
Rhona Duncan had been at a teenage house party. She left with her friend and their boyfriends. The pairs separated on the way home so the girls could talk – and then she parted with her friend as they approached their houses.
Somewhere in those last few blocks, Lazarus says tragedy struck.
“She was killed within sight of her house.”
Lazarus says the case left a lasting toll on Duncan’s 16-year-old boyfriend who was initially the prime suspect – and who she says carries guilt to this day.