Bobby Jack Fowler, dead U.S. sex offender, linked to three B.C. ‘Highway of Tears’ murders


The RCMP say a suspected American serial killer is responsible for the death of at least one woman, and possibly more, killed along the Highway of Tears in northern and central B.C. nearly 40 years ago.

At a news conference this morning, RCMP investigators confirmed they have linked slain teenager Colleen MacMillen through DNA testing to Bobby Jack Fowler.

The Oregon man, convicted of kidnapping, attempted rape and assault is linked to the deaths of four teenagers in the U.S., according to the district attorney's office in Lincoln County.

RCMP sent a male DNA sample obtained from MacMillen's body to the lab for more modern DNA testing earlier this year, and the details were sent to Interpol police agencies.

In May, Oregon police indicated it matched Fowler.

"Fowler is responsible for 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen's murder," Insp. Gary Shinkaruk said.

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Fowler was convicted in 1996, after an incident at a motel in which a woman escaped from Fowler by jumping, unclothed and with a rope tied around her ankle, out of a second-story window, said district attorney Rob Bovett.

He was sentenced to 16 years in prison and died there at age 66 of lung cancer.

At the time that MacMillen was killed in 1974, Fowler worked at a Prince George roofing outfit called Happy's Roofing, a company which no longer exists.

Shinkaruk said Fowler was transient and travelled between U.S. states and countries, sometimes in a single day, working odd jobs in areas like roofing and general labour.

"He stayed and lived in motels or rented, and liked old cars that he drove until they quit," he said. "He frequented bars and restaurants and was violent toward men and women and picked up hitchhikers."

Fowler has been eliminated in eight of the Highway of Tears files, which includes victims who vanished from B.C. highways 16, 97 and 5 between 1969 and 2006.

He remains a person of interest in the rest, in particular that of Gale Weys and Pamela Darlington.

Police have long said that Weys, last seen in Clearwater in 1973, and Darlington, last seen in Kamloops in 1973, could be linked to the MacMillen case.

Police said "similar circumstances" connected the three cases, and added Fowler had a car similar to one believed involved in one of the MacMillen. Weys and Darlington cases.

However, while Fowler is a "strong suspect" in the Weys and Darlington cases, police don't have the DNA evidence to concretely link him to those cases. Police are appealing to anyone in BC, the rest of Canada and the US who may have worked or been friends with Fowler, so they can track his movements and possibly collect more evidence for any unsolved murders.

Earlier at the news conference, RCMP Staff Sgt. Wayne Clary said police don't believe one killer is responsible for all 18 cases.

He said police have "strong suspects" in three or four of the victims, but don't believe any of those are linked to the other girls and women.

They continue to investigate a killer or killers for the other files as well.

The Highway of Tears investigation, dubbed Project E-Pana, has 50 full-time staff, including investigators, forensic experts and support staff, he said.

The project has several investigators based in Prince George.

He said investigators continue to speak to police departments outside BC in relation to "persons of interest" in this case.

Clary, who headed the Robert Pickton missing women case said the Highway of Tears cases is one of the biggest and most complicated in B.C. history.

"This is huge. This is tough. We have people who are deceased. We have witnesses who are deceased. We have people who we believe may be responsible who are deceased," he said.

Fighting back tears, MacMillen's brother Shawn thanked police at the news conference.

"We are simply stunned and very grateful for their hard work," he said.

Shawn said it frustrating that Fowler will never face a trial, but added the family is comforted by the fact he died in prison in 2006 and "can't hurt anyone else."

He said Colleen was an innocent "sweet kid" and that there were no words to express how terribly she was wronged.

MacMillen disappeared on Aug. 9, 1974 after deciding to hitchhike to her girlfriend's house in the town of Lac La Hache, about six kilometres from where she lived. She never arrived.

The frantic family had no answers until one month later when her body was found beside a logging road about 25 kilometres south of 100 Mile House.

Weys, 19, was last seen on Oct. 19, 1973 in Clearwater, B.C. She was believed to be hitchhiking to Kamloops. Her body was found April 6, 1974 off the Yellowhead Highway.

The nude body of Darlington, also 19, was found at the edge of the Thompson River in 1973 with bite marks on her body.

Project E-Pana began in the fall of 2005 when the Unsolved Homicide Unit was tasked with reviewing three homicide cases — those of Alishia Germaine, Roxanne Thiara and Ramona Wilson — in which behavioural sciences experts, known as profilers, had found some commonalities.

The investigation involved as many as 75 people, including retired homicide detectives working on contract.

At the end of 2009 RCMP Staff Sgt. Bruce Hulan, the officer in charge of B.C.'s Unsolved Homicide Unit and team commander of Project E-Pana, told The Sun that it could take investigators five years to winnow down a list of up to 5,000 possible suspects.

Investigators have previously considered American suspects in the homicides, even probing links to infamous serial killer, and one-time Seattle resident, Ted Bundy, who had been known to visit Canada.

E-Pana by the numbers:

— 726 boxes of evidence to that was thoroughly search for the 10 cases

— 1,413 persons of interest investigated, and almost 90 per cent have been eliminated as suspects

— 750 DNA samples collected

— 100 plus polygraph tests conducted

— 2,500 people interviewed

— 17,984 investigative inquiries to pursue: 75 per cent of those have been done.

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Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016