UPDATE: Killer of teen in 1974 person of interest in two Kamloops slayings
DNA evidence has proven an American man who died in an Oregon prison six years ago is the man who killed 16-year-old Colleen Macmillen in 1974 — and, he is a person of interest in the murders of two Kamloops women.
At a news conference in Surrey on Tuesday, Sept. 25, RCMP Insp. Gary Shinkaruk said Bobby Jack Fowler worked as a roofer in Prince George during that decade and was known to travel extensively, using old cars. He also visited bars and picked up hitchhikers.
Of the 18 murdered women on the Highway of Tears list of unsolved slayings, including Macmillen, police say they believe at least three different men killed three different women.
"Without the assistance of DNA, we would not have solved this," Shinkaruk said of the Macmillen case, noting police are "not eliminating the fact someone may be responsible" for the remaining unsolved murders.
Shinkaruk said RCMP have three or four other strong suspects in the B.C. murders or disappearances after eliminating more than 80 per cent of the 1,400 persons of interest they've examined.
Police have taken more than 750 DNA samples of B.C. men as part of the investigation.
As for Fowler, Shinkaruk said it is "very conceivable" he has killed two or possibly more women. He has been ruled out in eight of the deaths."
Shinkaruk said Fowler is a person of interest in the murders of Kamloops women Pamela Darlington and Gale Weys, both 19 when they were slain within a month of each other in 1973.
Darlington's body was found partially clothed in the Thompson River at Pioneer Park in Kamloops on Nov. 7, 1973. She was severely beaten and the killer left bite marks on her skin. At dinnertime the previous night, Darlington finished her shift at Gondola Pizza, where she had started working four days previously, earlier, and returned to her apartment with her two roommates.
At 9:30 p.m. Darlington hitchhiked alone to the David Thompson pub and was last seen at about 11 p.m. walking to the back of the pub with a man described as standing five-feet, 10 inches tall, with scruffy blond hair almost to his shoulders.
Weys was living in Kamloops, but working at a gas station in Clearwater. On Oct. 19, 1973, Weys tried to hitchhike home to Kamloops, but she never arrived. Her naked body was found a few miles south of Clearwater on April 6, 1974.
Kamloops resident Frank Almond found Pamela Darlington's body while walking his dog in November 1973.
"I was walking my dog, still living at home with my parents," he said. "It was November, first snowfall on the ground. I noticed something in the water that didn't look right. I said, 'That looks like a body.'"
He went to his nearby home and told his father, Frank Almond Sr., who went to confirm it was a body.
Almond said Darlington's body was in Pioneer Park, where the boat launch is now.
"It's great," he said of news of DNA linking Fowler to at least one of the unsolved murders.
"There's been a lot of uncertainty about that."
The task-force probing the unsolved slayings is dubbed E-Pana, which includes the Highway of Tears murders on highways 5, 97 and 16.
RCMP now have what they call an incomplete timeline of Fowler's movements in B.C. and want public help in identifying where else he might have been in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Anyone who knew him during those years – people who socialized with him, worked with him or traveled with him – are urged to call 1-877-543-4822.
RCMP Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens said Interpol's successful link this spring of 40-year-old DNA to Fowler was the oldest such match in its history.
An earlier 2007 test had turned up an unknown male profile but officers, wanting to take advantage of improved technology, obtained a better sample that Interpol was this time able to match.
Shawn MacMillen, Colleen's brother, said his family is "stunned" by the discovery and grateful to investigators for the knowledge Fowler can never hurt anyone else, even though he was not punished for any B.C. murders.
"Colleen was a lovely, sweet, innocent 16-year-old kid and there are still not words in the world to express how terribly she was wronged," he said.
"For those remaining families whose daughters and sisters were also victims, we hope this means they may yet have their own answers.
Fowler is also a person of interest in connection to five unsolved murders of teenage girls in Oregon between 1984 and 1995.
Police say they are also looking at any links Fowler may have with the murders of Maureen Mosie and Monica Jack.
Mosie, 33, was thought to be hitchhiking when she was last seen on May 8, 1981, in Salmon Arm. Her body was found the next day 16 kilometres east of Kamloops, near the Highway 1 turnoff to Vernon.
Jack, 12, vanished on May 6, 1978 while riding her bike home along Nicola Lake near Merritt. Her remains were found on nearby Swakum Mountain in June 1995.
In 2000, officers investigating two cold-case murders in Abbotsford confirmed to the Abbotsford News the name of a suspect they believed may also have killed Jack.
The similarities in the murders, combined with the suspect’s criminal record — which included multiple rape convictions — left police thinking they had the right guy.
But, unable to prove anything, the suspect, in his 50s, was left to walk free and was last reported to be living in Ontario.
Meanwhile, the Abbotsford murders of Kathryn Mary Herbert (11 years old when murdered in 1975), Theresa Hildebrandt (15 years old when slain in 1976) and Jack remain unsolved, although their remains have since been recovered.
Mounties will be in Kamloops on Wednesday, Sept. 26, to hold a press conference to discuss the Kamloops connection to the probe.