CANADA

‘This person is sick’

B. C. police fear a brutal killer could strike again

ROBIN AJELLO in Abbotsford November 6 1995
CANADA

‘This person is sick’

B. C. police fear a brutal killer could strike again

ROBIN AJELLO in Abbotsford November 6 1995

‘This person is sick’

CANADA

B. C. police fear a brutal killer could strike again

Tony de Wit was at his usual post last week, standing in the rain under a red-and-white umbrella outside Abbotsford Junior Secondary School. Every lunch hour, principal de Wit stations himself in the parking lot to keep an eye on his students and to scan passing cars on Bevan Avenue for potential troublemakers. These days, de Wit has reason to be more vigilant than usual. On Oct. 14, two 16year-old girls were attacked outside his school—and only one lived to tell the tale. By late last week, the girls’ assailant remained at large. But a man whom investigators believed was responsible for the attack had telephoned police in Abbotsford, a farming community 70 km east of Vancouver, vowing to kill again. The police, in turn, issued a stern warning, asking Vancouverarea residents—especially young women— not to walk the streets at night until the killer is apprehended. “This person is a very sick individual,” said Abbotsford police Const. Elly Sawchuk, “and there’s no saying who his next target will be.”

The fear that a serial killer could be on the loose began to take shape in the early hours of Oct. 14, when a badly beaten teenager, Misty Cockerill, staggered into the emergency room of an Abbotsford hospital. After attending a party the previous evening, Cockerill and her friend, Tanya Smith, had been dropped off near the school, where they were attacked by a man whom Cockerill later described as tall, slim, and in his 30s with reddish hair and a bald spot. Three hours after Cockerill arrived at the hospital, Smith’s naked body was found in the Vedder River in Yarrow, a small farming community just outside Abbotsford. Though Smith had suffered head wounds from a blunt object, an autopsy later revealed that she had drowned.

Shortly after the attack, an unidentified

man made the first of three calls to Abbotsford police. Disclosing information that police say that only the killer could know, the man chided investigators about their failure to crack the case. One police psychologist who analyzed tapes of the calls said that the killer was clearly deriving a twisted pleasure from taunting the officers. Then, five days after Smith’s murder, a man matching the suspect’s description tried to drag a 28-year-old woman off an east-side Vancouver street. She managed to escape and call police—who responded by issuing their public warning.

The crimes shocked many residents of Abbotsford, which has seen its population swell to over 100,000 in the past decade as Vancouver’s population boom spread through the Fraser Valley. “The more people you get,” said Abbotsford Mayor George Ferguson, “the more people problems you get.” At the same time, Ferguson said residents are determined that they will not be held hostage in their own community. In fact, while more parents than usual were driving their children to school or part-time jobs in Abbotsford last week, many youngsters still wandered the streets. The shopping malls were also clogged with customers. “People aren’t locked in their houses,” said Ferguson. “This is not a ghost town.”

Those who live near the scene of the attack against Cockerill and Smith are not so sanguine. One such resident, 19-year-old Jennifer Oliver, organized a ‘Take Back Our Streets” rally to coincide with a vigil held for Smith on Oct. 27. “It’s spooky out there,” said Oliver, adding that fear has transformed her community. “The guy had no right to take our freedom away. Besides remembering Tanya, I’m hoping we can help the community live again.”

ROBIN AJELLO in Abbotsford