CANADA

Suffer the little children

They were nice kids who went missing. And then they started to turn up dead

Malcolm Gray August 17 1981
CANADA

Suffer the little children

They were nice kids who went missing. And then they started to turn up dead

Malcolm Gray August 17 1981

Suffer the little children

CANADA

They were nice kids who went missing. And then they started to turn up dead

Malcolm Gray

Fear and outrage settled firmly over usually placid suburbs near Vancouver as the decomposed body of a third murdered teen-ager was found in the Fraser Valley last week. As 24 members of the RCMP, backed up by four tracking dogs, a helicopter and six members of an elite anti-crime squad (also Mounties) continued to search the wooded area near Weaver Lake, 120 km east of Vancouver, the parents of five other children who have gone missing over the past four months waited in hope. But there was no such consolation for the family of 15-year-old Raymond King, who disappeared July 29 after leaving his parents’ home in New Westminster to look for a summer job. His body was found in the bush near a B.C. Forest Service campsite after a camper noticed a strange odor coming from the woods. The remains were found only 1.5 km from the spot where the similarly decomposed body of Judy Kozma, 14—another New Westminster teenager-had been discovered July 25. She had last been seen 16 days earlier standing at a bus stop, and her body bore 19 stab wounds. Daryn Johnsrude, 16, a visitor from Saskatoon, was found dead with a fractured skull near Mission on May 2 after leaving his relatives’ home two weeks earlier.

The discovery of King’s body gave a grim emphasis to a growing demand for more police action from the families of three of the missing children. They had grouped together to put out a poster with pictures of King, Simon Partington, 9, of Surrey, who was last seen talking to a man in a shopping centre near his home on July 2, and Louise Marie Chartrand, 17, of Maple Ridge. She was last seen hitch-hiking to work on July 30. Volunteers had to wait a while before they distributed 10,000 copies with the warning OUR CHILDREN ARE MISSING-YOURS COULD BE NEXT. A change had to be made to the poster, which is being displayed in hotels, bars, restaurants and bus terminals across the Lower Mainland; “murdered” has been written across Raymond King’s picture.

“The police are moving on this with the speed of turtles on Valium,” said Christopher Burgess, a friend of the King family, who has become the

spokesman for the parents of the missing children, neglecting work at his record-producing studio to push for a national inquiry. “We’re dealing with a homicidal maniac here and we have to stop him before he acts again, for he will,” Burgess warned. There is no doubt in his mind that the disappearances are connected, a conclusion the police have so far been reluctant to confirm, while admitting privately that there are “common elements” in what are still being treated as separate cases. “The last four children to go missing [Chartrand, King, Kozma and Partington] all disappeared on a Thursday,” said RCMP Inspector Larry Proke. Even as his crime unit feeds similarities between the incidents into a computer, though, he is reluctant to say that the disappearances and killings are all the work of one person. “We approach each case individually and investigate it throughly, trying not to overlook anything,” he said. “It would be unwise to start drawing conclusions at this stage.”

That isn’t good enough for Burgess and the parents for whom he speaks. He

is critical of the lack of co-ordination among the police as each RCMP unit continues to investigate the disappearances in its area. “I want to see the same kind of effort the federal government is putting forward looking for these three civil servants,” said Burgess, referring to an intensive search along the coast for a float plane that disappeared two weeks ago with six people on board—a search that will cost $50,000 in aerial photographs alone. To that, Proke replies that there are between 80 and 90 members of the RCMP working on the murders and disappearances now, and since all belong to the same force the problem of co-ordination isn’t serious.

“Five of the kids disappeared in broad daylight at busy intersections,” Burgess said. “They’re all clean-cut, not street-urchin types, with fair hair and fair complexions. All are relatively small and don’t look their age.” All the children disappeared within a 16-km radius, and the parents believe they were snatched by someone using a van. “How else could he have scooped them off the street without being seen?” Bur-

gess asked. As the parents met to organize their own search of the area between Agassiz and Mission, Proke admitted he had never seen a similar case during almost 23 years of police work. “Eight children who don’t fit the profile of runaway children have gone missing in a short period of time and now three of them are dead.” Left unspoken is the implication that the children still missing are also dead. Articles of clothing found one day before King’s battered body was discovered have been tentatively identified as belonging to Louise Chartrand.

So far there has been only one description of a suspect released: a wellbuilt man with blonde hair who was seen talking to Simon Partington before he disappeared. Since then the strained faces of Simon’s parents, Stephen and Margot, have appeared several times on television broadcasts to plead for their son’s release. “It’s not too late. Just let him go near a busy intersection where he can be found,” Margot Partington has said. She voiced the feelings of tj?e parents of Sandra Wolfsteiner of Langley, who was last seen hitch-hiking on the Fraser Highway on May 19. Verna Bjerky, 17, another missing teen-ager, was last seen hitch-hiking from her home in Hope to Kamloops. And Anita Court, 13, of Burnaby, disappeared after baby-sitting in Coquitlam.

The police don’t want to start a public panic by prematurely linking all the cases, but they are warning children not to hitch-hike. That isn’t enough for Christopher Burgess. He wants a public panic: “I think it’s the only way we’re going to get some action.”