DNA clears key suspect in murders

The Vancouver Sun
Friday, November 23, 2001

Lindsay Kines, Kim Bolan and Lori Culbert
Crime: Special Report

DNA testing has cleared the prime suspect in the murders of three women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside whose bodies were discovered in the Fraser Valley in 1995, The Vancouver Sun has learned.

The DNA results mean the real serial killer has gone undetected for six years and police say he could be responsible for some of Vancouver's missing women cases.

"He could still be doing it and disposing of the bodies efficiently," RCMP Constable Paul McCarl confirmed in a recent interview.

Police said in 1995 that they believed the same man killed Tracy Olajide, Tammy Lee Pipe and Victoria Younker, whose bodies were found that year near Agassiz and Mission. The three women -- like those who have disappeared since -- were all involved in drugs and the sex trade.

During the investigation, police developed a long list of possible suspects by reviewing serious sex assaults of women, especially prostitutes. The review led them to one particular suspect, who was identified in 1995 as Ronald Richard McCauley, a roofer from Mission.

One of the things that caught investigators' attention was that McCauley picked up a prostitute at Vancouver's Astoria Hotel in July of that year and drove her to Hemlock Valley, where she was beaten, raped and dumped from his truck -- just a few kilometres from where Olajide's body was later found.

The woman reported the incident to police and McCauley, who had a record of similar violent offences, was arrested in September 1995, convicted of rape in 1996, declared a dangerous offender, and jailed indefinitely.

"He surfaced pretty quick and he looked really, really good," said McCarl, who is the lead investigator on the Olajide and Pipe homicides.

The things McCauley had done to the victim in the rape case, were similar to what had been done to the murder victims, McCarl said. He also lived in the area, had a vehicle consistent with the suspect's, and he was known to frequent the Downtown Eastside and hire prostitutes.

In addition, McCauley once told a parole hearing that had he not been arrested for two rapes and attempted murders in the early 1980s, he "would have become a serial killer such as Clifford Olson."

"I thought we had the guy," McCarl said.

But despite the circumstantial evidence, police never had enough to lay murder charges against McCauley.

The semen recovered at the crime scenes in 1995 had been degraded by bacteria and police were initially unable to test it, McCarl said.

As the years passed and technology improved, however, the laboratory eventually used new techniques to re-test the samples and provide police with a DNA analysis.

The results confirmed that one person was "associated" to at least two of the women prior to their deaths. The findings also raised the possibility that two men might have been involved in the murders.

But, unfortunately for police, the results also confirmed that investigators had the wrong name at the top of their suspect list; Ronald Richard McCauley wasn't their man, after all.

"He looked the best, so we pursued him," McCarl said. "And when we found out it wasn't going to be him, we were all disappointed."

In fact, it was such a surprise to police, that investigators tried for a time to figure out whether McCauley might still have been involved, so convincing was the circumstantial evidence against him.

"But realistically, we decided it's not him, it's somebody else," McCarl said.

McCauley did not respond to requests for an interview, but his former lawyer, Susan Ludford, said she wasn't surprised by the RCMP's findings.

"He volunteered that DNA sample to clear himself," Ludford said. The RCMP didn't use a warrant to get it. "So I'm glad he's cleared; I didn't think he was guilty of that in the first place."

The DNA results were a significant turn of events for the RCMP, because investigators considered McCauley a suspect not only in the Olajide, Pipe and Younker homicides, but in the disappearances or murders of four other women as well.

Mary Lidguerre, Catherine Gonzalez, Catherine Knight and Dorothy Spence all vanished from the Downtown Eastside the same year as the Valley murders. Lidguerre's remains were found two years later in North Vancouver, but the bodies of Gonzalez, Knight and Spence have never been found, and their names are currently on the list of up to 45 women who have vanished from city streets over the past two decades.

The RCMP did not consider McCauley a suspect in the disappearances of women who vanished after September, 1995, because he was in custody from that point onward.

But now he has been cleared, it means the real killer could be responsible for the three Valley murders, Lidguerre's death and any number of the missing women cases as well.

"If you just look at some of them, you see there's some consistencies," McCarl said. "Where were they missing from? What were they doing prior to when they went missing? Who were their associates?

"There's got to be a couple more ... that the same person's responsible for.

"And my personal belief is that Vancouver isn't the only hunting ground. The person's probably hunting over on the Island, up in the Interior, and across the border."

Given that possibility, senior investigators met in Kelowna last year to discuss cases of murdered and missing sex trade workers from around the province. The Valley murders, Vancouver's missing women, and the murders of women on Vancouver Island and in the Interior were all part of the agenda.

In the end, McCarl said investigators agreed on the need for a joint forces team assigned exclusively to those files. The feeling, he says, was that "they shouldn't work on anything else and that way they can stay focused and pursue it until they conclude it."

Earlier this year, the RCMP and Vancouver city police moved to set up just such a team, which now has 16 people doing a review of missing and murdered sex trade worker files from around the province.

Interestingly, the person selected for the file coordinator's job on the task force, also has a direct link to the Valley murders; Sergeant Wayne Clary attended the scene where Younker's body was discovered in 1995 and he also attended the autopsy.

Clary acknowledges the possible link between the missing women cases and the Valley murders, but said it's strictly a coincidence that he has worked both files. His involvement in the Valley murders was limited to attending the crime scene and the autopsy on the Younker case, he said.

Still, McCarl said it will work to the Crown's favor if both he and Clary are still involved in the cases when they go to court. "Those are our gold cards when it comes to a prosecution."

It's also helpful for the families, he said. "It's nice to have some continuity with the cop that was at the scene and found their daughters or sisters."

The Sun contacted the families of Pipe and Olajide for this article, but they chose not to comment.

McCarl said he continues to stay in contact with family members. "We call them, they don't call us. That makes me think that they must be satisfied in knowing that we haven't rolled over -- we never give up."

After the RCMP realized McCauley wasn't their man, investigators on the Olajide, Pipe and Younker files began compiling long lists of other possible suspects, McCarl said.

One of the theories is that the killer had either lived in the area, was a logger, fisherman or hunter familiar with the region, or perhaps had been incarcerated at one of the correctional facilities in the Fraser Valley and became familiar with the area while on a work-release program.

McCarl said investigators hope to find a way to use computers to combine police, prison and parole records with lists of voters, hunters, fishermen and loggers in the region.

"Anything electronic that we could get was going to get pulled and sorted. And then we would try and give it parameters and see whose name comes up the most frequently ... whoever comes up the most frequently gets targeted first.

"And that's what we're looking at now, is basically creating a list of the best people to look at and going and finding them and trying to follow up with them."

The problem is that a computer program has yet to be developed that could handle such massive amounts of information. RCMP Inspector Keith Davidson, a psychological profiler who helped develop the RCMP's computer system for tracking serial offenders, confirmed he is currently trying to find a way to use computers to assist in the investigations of the Valley murders and the missing women.

McCarl also said the RCMP recently brought profilers from Ottawa and Winnipeg, to visit the Mission and Agassiz crime scenes. This was done to "give a better idea of what type of person we should be looking for and make sure that we have covered off all the lists of possible suspects."

McCarl said he's in regular contact with the missing women task force, which has been reviewing all sexual assaults, attempted murders and murders of women in the sex trade around the province. So far, the review has turned up a list of more than 600 potential suspects.

"They're doing the complete review and then they'll see who they want to target," McCarl said. "And then they'll go out and find these people or then try and eliminate them or see whose name shows up most frequently.

"It's a very methodical, well-considered plan to follow up on these investigations. I think it's going to work. But it's not a quick fix and it will take lots of time and they'll have to keep those people working on that file.

"They're looking at two years and, in all likelihood it probably could be more like four. Once a potential suspect is identified, then that will be the focus of the investigation."

McCarl rejected criticism that has been levelled at police -- particularly in Vancouver -- that they don't care about the murders and disappearances because the victims are marginalized women involved in drugs and the sex trade.

"The cops cared on this file, and the guys that really care are the ones that are on this task force right now," he said. "There's not one person down there that I don't have 100 per cent respect for ... they are generally the best in their field and that's what you need."

McCarl said police recently thought they had a good suspect in the Valley murders, and the force pulled out all the stops to find the best people to handle wiretap and undercover operations.

"The best people for the jobs were all identified and contacted and willing to participate and I see that happening with the group of people they've got [on the task force]. Anything that they identify, it'll come to pass ... they're not going to roll over until they know who is responsible."

Nor, he says, will he.

"Six years down the road, we're still spinning wheels, saying, 'Whodunit?' he said. "But I feel confident that, eventually, it will be successfully concluded -- that we will find out who it was."

How the investigation was flawed-Sept 22, 2001
DNA Samples not used-Sept 24, 2001
Police didn't pick up suspect who later murdered-Sept 25, 2001
B.C. slow to adopt lessons from Bernardo case-Sept 26, 2001
A killer's slip-up gave police a break-Sept 28, 2001
Sexual predator case prompts review-Sept 28
The lesson is: every human life matters-Sept 27, 2001
Police build a bridge to families-Oct 4, 2001
600 Suspects in missing women case-Oct 15, 2001

Police first suspected Pickton in 97-June 25, 2002



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

Updated: August 21, 2016