Jun. 18, 2005. 08:26 AM
Hunt on for a serial killer
`Someone's neighbour, friend, brother'

At least 12 Edmonton prostitutes slain


Police investigating the murder of at least a dozen prostitutes in the Edmonton area since 1988 say they think a serial killer is at work.

Investigators says the person responsible for the slayings is likely an outdoorsman driving a well-travelled but well-kept truck, van or SUV he cleans inside and out at unusual times.

Confirming what has long been suspected by police, sex-trade workers and their advocates, Alberta RCMP yesterday offered a partial profile of the suspect and a $100,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the case.

"Someone out there holds the key information for the successful resolution of these homicides," Constable Tamara Bellamy of the RCMP's Project KARE told a news conference. "The offender is someone's neighbour, friend, brother or son.

"But he will likely not look like the monster that we see in the movies."

Bellamy said in an interview investigators are appealing to the public for help.

"We truly are one phone call away from an arrest," she said.

The task force, set up in the fall of 2003, is reviewing dozens of cases of murdered or missing women across the Prairies and Northwest Territories. Each led what police describe as "high-risk lifestyles" a euphemism for drug addiction and the sex trade.

A total of 12 women fitting that profile have been found dead in the Edmonton area since 1988, typically dumped in a rural field or beside a stand of trees off a secluded road.

For more than a year, police have said the deaths might be the work of a serial killer. But yesterday marked the first confirmation of that theory and glimpse at personality traits.

The announcement by Alberta RCMP is in marked contrast to the case of Vancouver's missing women. Despite dozens of drug- addicted prostitutes vanishing from the city's downtown eastside as far back as the late 1970s, police consistently refused to admit it could be the work of a serial killer even though one of their profilers suggested it was.

In February 2002, Robert William Pickton was arrested. He now faces 27 counts of first-degree murder in connection with women missing as far back as 1995. His pig farm in the suburb of Port Coquitlam was the centre of Canada's largest serial murder probe.

Bellamy told reporters yesterday that police would not normally release details of a profile in a serial murder case.

But, she added, the RCMP's behavioural sciences branch, which came up with these traits based on the victims, crime scenes and evidence collected in the investigation, concluded "there are people in the Edmonton area who know this offender and may even suspect that he is responsible for the deaths of these women."

Bellamy said criminal profilers define a serial killer as "someone who is responsible for more than one murder with a cooling-off period in between those murders."

The bodies of the 12 prostitutes have been found between September 1988 and last month, nine of them in the past five years. Two other women, both of whom worked on the streets of Edmonton and were last seen in 2004, were recently listed as missing.

Bellamy said RCMP profilers believe "that one person is responsible for more than one offence but not necessarily for all of these murders."

The traits RCMP attribute to the possible serial killer include:

  • Has a truck, van or sport utility vehicle and is comfortable driving in rural areas.

  • The vehicle has "a significant amount of mileage" but is clean and reliable.

  • He may participate in outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing and camping.

  • Has a past connection to communities south of Edmonton, having perhaps worked or lived in the area, visited family or used them for recreational purposes.

  • Cleaned the vehicle inside and out at unusual times for him.

    JoAnn McCartney of the Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation of Edmonton said she's not surprised a serial killer may be at work, noting the profile may make women more wary of getting into an SUV with a john.

    The news also might mean an arrest is close and the reward may be the thing that makes someone offer a tip, she said.

    "Maybe that'll make somebody call," McCartney said. "It's always that one phone call, that one piece of information that makes the difference, whatever that might be."

    In the Pickton case, the pig farmer was charged in 1997 with attempted murder and aggravated assault after an alleged knife attack on a prostitute at the farm. Those charges were stayed the next year.

    In 1999, Vancouver police and the provincial government offered a $100,000 reward. At that time, 31 women were considered missing. That list now contains 68 names.

    Families of Vancouver's missing women, who have long demanded a public inquiry into police handling of the early stages of the investigation, were unsettled by yesterday's development but applauded Alberta RCMP for being proactive in the case.

    "It hits you right between the eyeballs," said Marilyn Kraft, whose stepdaughter, Cindy Feliks, went missing from Vancouver in 1997 and is one of Pickton's alleged victims.

    "But at least we don't have the cops saying: `We have no proof of a serial killer'," Kraft said in interview from Calgary. "They have bodies. They've made the link.

    "My God, it looks like they (police) might have learned from their mistakes."

    Wayne Leng, who runs a website dedicated to Vancouver's missing women and is a friend of Sarah deVries, another of Pickton's alleged victims, called the similarities between the two cases "absolutely mind-boggling."

    Leng said in an interview that Edmonton's proactive response to the murdered and missing women underscores the need for a probe into police actions in Vancouver.

    "The families have to know what happened," he said.

    Bellamy wouldn't comment directly on suggestions there were mistakes made in Vancouver, but said Alberta RCMP definitely paid attention to the investigation there.

    "We learn from what comes before us and others will learn from us, too," she said.

    With files from CP

    Additional articles by Daniel Girard

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