BRITISH COLUMBIA

Hunting the Highway Murderer(s)

MALCOLM GRAY November 30 1981
BRITISH COLUMBIA

Hunting the Highway Murderer(s)

MALCOLM GRAY November 30 1981

Hunting the Highway Murderer(s)

BRITISH COLUMBIA

They came with their files, photographs and hunches, 45 policemen from across British Columbia and Alberta, heading for an unprecedented three-day rendezvous in the dry B.C. Interior. Mostly they brought with them their hopes that by getting together and sharing information they would force some breaks in a frustrating series of unsolved killings known as the “Highway Murders.” The police themselves are not entirely comfortable with that nickname, preferring to stress merely that a vehicle was used in almost all of the deaths. But they do not argue over the number of murder cases they are studying—33, all but one victim a woman, and the single male a transvestite dressed as a woman. Most—but not all—were killed along the highways of the two provinces. Many of the victims were last seen hitchhiking and many were raped before their nude bodies were dumped at the side of the road.

By the time the conference had ended last Thursday in Kamloops there were definite plans for the arrest of a suspect in a double slaying, and the investigators had decided that they were looking for a total of 17 or 18 killers for all 33

cases. But they were also adjusting to the raised expectations produced by their dramatic conference, which in fact dealt with cases that have gone unsolved for up to 12 years. “Everyone is expecting arrests right away,” said RCMP Col. Frank Burylo, from Vancouver. “This conference didn’t produce any new evidence but it allowed 50 people or so to question an investigator about his methods. Everyone left with new information, new avenues of investigation.” Burylo is now fairly sure that four murders he has been working on were committed by one person. All occurred in a rough triangle between Calgary, Banff and Revelstoke, beginning in 1976. The victims—all women around 19 years old who were working in hotels and motels—were sexually attacked, had last been seen alive hitchhiking and were strangled with a cord or rope.

Burylo was able to link the four killings because of a tip passed along by a Montreal woman who had heard about the conference. She telephoned police at the meeting to say she had been attacked near Banff in 1977 but had never reported it. “A man attacked her, choked her unconscious with his hands, and when she woke up he was standing

over her with a rock,” Burylo said. For some reason her attacker then fled. “She was lucky to escape.”

Since then, calls have come in from across the country offering encouragement and some new information. That’s more than Mike Eastham expected when he decided to call the meeting last spring. An RCMP sergeant stationed in Kamloops, Eastham had been getting nowhere on four cases in his area. His original plan was to compare notes with about 10 other detachments. But the meeting had to be postponed when he was called away from a backyard barbecue on May 9 to open a new file: the body of another “Highway Murder” victim had been found 25 km east of Kamloops. Maureen Mosie, 33, had been seen hitchhiking out of Salmon Arm, B.C., the day before, and another witness remembers seeing her standing near the dusty intersection where her battered body was found.

The 39-year-old Eastham, a tall, lean man who has worked on 100 homicide cases in the past 20 years, has sometimes resorted to offbeat methods such as hypnosis or the services of psychics. Once he even hid at the site of a murder during a full moon hoping the murderer would return to the scene of the crime. No one did and, although no cases have yet been closed because of last week’s meeting, he remains optimistic.

“Everyone who came here went away with something that will help him,” Eastham says. Sometimes it was just getting to meet another investigator who until then had been only a voice on the phone or a name typed at the bottom of a report. “We have systems to pass information back and forth, but if you had to sit down and read through all the material on these 33 cases at once your mind would get tired fast,” adds RCMP Insp. Robert Fullerton. “There’s no better way of exchanging information than face to face. Now someone can pick up the phone and know what the guy on the other end looks like.”

Most of the investigators came from RCMP detachments in Alberta and B.C., although the Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary municipal forces sent delegates as well. All were convinced that the murder summit made sense, but its real value won’t be determined until all the new leads, tips and information have been checked out. There will be smaller meetings among investigators working on killings apparently committed by one person. But Eastham doesn’t want to see a conference as large as this again because, as he says, “That would only be necessary if we had another 33 unsolved murders.”

-MALCOLM GRAY

Janis Hoss