Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Pickton: The Vancouver Missing Women

Predators

Because the Downtown Eastside disappearances spanned nearly two decades, Vancouver police had to consider the possibility that some sexual predator identified with other crimes might be responsible for some of the earlier cases. Unfortunately, in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest generally, there was no shortage of serial killers competing for attention.

Gary Leon Ridgway
Gary Leon Ridgway

First among equals in that respect was Seattle's elusive "Green River Killer," blamed for the death or disappearance of 49 women--mostly prostitutes or runaways--between January 1982 and April 1984. The "River Man" was also suspected of 40-plus slayings in neighboring Snohomish County, but his murder spree had ended with a whimper, leaving police and FBI profilers wringing their hands in frustration. Finally, on November 30, 2001, DNA evidence led to the arrest of 52-year-old Gary Leon Ridgway, charged with murder in four of the Green River slayings. Vancouver police acknowledged reports that Ridgway had visited their city, but no evidence surfaced connecting him to Low Track's missing women.

Dayton Leroy Rogers
Dayton Leroy Rogers

Another long-shot candidate was Dayton Leroy Rogers, a sadistic foot fetishist dubbed the "Molalla Forest Killer, who began stalking prostitutes around Portland, Oregon in January 1987. By August of that year he had claimed eight lives and injured 27 other victims, identified after he carelessly performed his last killing before multiple witnesses. Incarcerated since August 7, 1987, Rogers was examined and finally rejected as a possible suspect in the Vancouver abductions listed before that date.

Keith Hunter Jesperson
Keith Hunter Jesperson

Keith Hunter Jesperson was a British Columbia native, born in 1956, who washed out of training for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after an injury left him unfit for active duty. Instead, he hit the road as a long-haul trucker, traveling widely across North America--and murdering various women in the process. Nicknamed the "Happy Face Killer," for the smiling cartoon signature on letters he sent to police, Jesperson was jailed for a Washington murder in March 1995. At one point he claimed 160 slayings, describing his female victims as "piles of garbage" dumped on the roadside, and while he later recanted those statements, convictions in Washington and Wyoming removed him permanently from circulation. Once again, however, no link could be found between "Face" and the vanished Low Track hookers.

Robert Yates
Robert Yates

Other prospects were considered and rejected in their turn. George Waterfield Russell, sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders of three Bellevue, Washington women in 1990, was discounted because he enjoyed posing his mutilated victims, putting them on display after he slaughtered them in their own homes. Robert Yates, convicted in October 2000 of killing 13 prostitutes around Spokane, Washington, suspected of two more murders in a neighboring county, could not be placed in Vancouver for any of the local disappearances. John Eric Armstrong, a US Navy veteran arrested in April 2000, confessed to slaying 30 women around the world, but his statements excluded Vancouver and no evidence was found to contradict him.

John Eric Armstrong
John Eric Armstrong

In Vancouver itself, police cast an eye on twice-convicted rapist Ronald Richard McCauley. Sentenced to 17 years in prison on his first conviction, in 1982, McCauley was paroled on September 14, 1994. A year later, in September 1995, he was charged with another assault, convicted and returned to prison in 1996. While never formally charged with murder, he is described by police as their prime suspect in the slayings of four Low Track prostitutes killed in 1995 and early 1996. Three of the victims were dumped between Agassiz and Mission, where McCauley resided; the fourth was found on Mt. Seymour, in North Vancouver. Besides those cases, in July 1997 Vancouver police declared McCauley a suspect in the 1995 disappearances of Catherine Gonzales, Catherine Knight and Dorothy Spence. No charges were forthcoming, however, and McCauley was forgotten four years later, as the spotlight focused on another suspect.

This one, too, would be familiar to detectives from the early days of their investigation--and their belated reconsideration would cause no end of grief for the authorities.

 

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