Man charged with murder of Alberta sex-trade worker

Last Updated Wed, 10 May 2006 10:52:23 EDT

CBC News

Police investigating a series of prostitute killings in the Edmonton area have charged a northern Alberta man with second-degree murder in the death of a sex-trade worker.

RCMP Cpl. Wayne Oakes would not say whether the man charged, who is known to police, has been linked to any other cases. (CBC)

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Thomas George Svekla, 38, of High Level has been charged in the death of a 36-year-old woman, the joint RCMP-Edmonton city police task force known as Project Kare announced Tuesday. Her body was discovered in a Fort Saskatchewan residence on Sunday.

Police have not released her identity, pending notification of next of kin.

Cpl. Wayne Oakes would not say whether Svekla, who is known to police, has been linked to any other cases.

"At this point in time, we have one person charged in one death," he said.

Police said Svekla is known to have recently been in the High Level to Peace River region of Alberta before arriving in Fort Saskatchewan.

Project Kare members are investigating more than 80 cases of missing and murdered women living high-risk lifestyles in Alberta.

Last June, the task force said a serial killer was likely responsible for more than one of those deaths.

Copyright ©2006 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - All Rights Reserved

Police identify dead prostitute
Found in Fort Saskatchewan home

Canadian Press

May 10, 2006

A prostitute whose body was found inside a home near Edmonton after she was allegedly killed 700 kilometres away has been identified.

Police say Theresa Merrie Innes, 36, of Edmonton was last seen alive in High Level, Alta., last August.

She was reported missing to the Edmonton Police Service on March 16.

Thomas George Svekla, 38, of High Level is charged with second-degree murder and interfering with a dead body.

Court documents allege he transported the woman’s body from High Level in northern Alberta to Fort Saskatchewan, just northeast of Edmonton, in a hockey bag.

Svekla is scheduled to appear in court in Fort Saskatchewan on Thursday.

His arrest is the first announced by Project Kare, a joint police task force that has spent more than two years investigating the deaths of dozens of Alberta women, many of them involved in the sex trade.

The RCMP said Wednesday that Innes may also have been known as Theresa Goodwin or Terri. She was described as five feet tall and 100 pounds, with reddish-brown or brown hair and brown eyes.

Police are asking anyone who may have seen or had contact with Innes to get in touch with investigators.

"There is right now a huge gap that we are hoping to be able to fill in somewhat to give us an indication of where she may have frequented, friends and contacts that she may have had, activities within her life," said RCMP Cpl. Wayne Oakes.

"All of that would be important information for the investigators to have access to." There was no further update on an autopsy done Tuesday by the medical examiner.

Edmonton investigators announce murder charge in death of sex-trade worker

Jim Macdonald
Canadian Press

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

EDMONTON (CP) - A special police team that has spent over two years investigating the deaths of dozens of Alberta women has laid one murder charge, but won't say whether it's related to any other cases.

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Wayne Oakes said Thomas George Svekla, 38, of High Level, Alta., is charged with second-degree murder in the death of a woman whose body was found Sunday in a home in Fort Saskatchewan, on Edmonton's outskirts.

The name of the victim would not be released until her relatives could be notified, possibly Wednesday, Oakes told a news conference. He described her only as a 36-year-old sex-trade worker who had been reported missing to Edmonton city police.

The accused, he said, was known to police, but he wouldn't say how.

"We are very mindful of the fact that we have a number of outstanding deaths," Oakes said.

"At this point in time we have one person charged with one death."

"It would be very unfair and potentially wrong to jump to a conclusion before investigators have had a chance to go over the investigation to examine all the details and to in fact complete the investigation process."

The case is being investigated by Project Kare, a joint Alberta RCMP-Edmonton city police task force looking into the deaths and disappearances of dozens of people who led what police call high-risk lifestyles. The team is currently working on the cases of 26 people who have died since 1975 and has said a serial killer may be responsible for some of them.

Oakes said the latest victim was not among the more than 400 Edmonton-area sex-trade workers who have registered with Project Kare and provided DNA samples to spare their families the anguish of uncertainty should they suddenly disappear.

"The RCMP are respectful of the fact that every family with a missing female member of their family will experience overwhelming emotions upon hearing this news," Oakes said.

"For this reason investigators delayed the release of information in an effort to establish identity through missing persons reports, post-mortem examination or other forensic avenues."

A reward of up to $100,000 has been offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a person responsible for any of the deaths. Oakes would only say that a reward payout is a possibility in the Fort Saskatchewan case.

JoAnn McCartney, a former vice cop who now works with the Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation, welcomed news of the arrest.

"You can only hope that solving one is going to solve more and that it's going to provide a key," McCartney said.

Kate Quinn, executive director of the foundation, warned that even if a serial killer is found, it won't mean women on the streets are safe.

"Probably none of us should jump to any conclusions until we have a bit more information," she said.

In Vancouver, it took years for investigators to admit they were looking for a serial killer after the disappearance of 68 women, mostly sex workers from the tough and impoverished Downtown Eastside.

Robert William Pickton was eventually accused of killing more than two dozen of those women and is currently awaiting trial.

Police in Edmonton have appealed for help from anyone who has dealt with Svekla. The accused is known to have been in the High Level to Peace River region of northern Alberta before recently arriving in Fort Saskatchewan, Oakes said.

Svekla is scheduled to appear in Fort Saskatchewan provincial court on Thursday.

© The Canadian Press 2006

Families of missing pleased with arrest


May 10, 2006

Jo Ann McCartney with P.A.A.F.E. (left) speaks with Kate Quinn, Executive Director of P.A.A.F.E. (right), during a press conference at "K" Division in Edmonton May 9/06 afternoon regarding the investigation into the death of a female in Fort Saskatchewan. The R.C.M.P. currently have Thomas George Svekla in custody in connection with the case and so far are only releasing that the woman is believed to have been involved in the sex trade in Edmonton. (Edmonton Sun Photo by Brendon Dlouhy)

As Project KARE officers begin a new investigation into the murder of a sex-trade worker in Fort Saskatchewan, families grieving the loss of slain and missing loved ones say the arrest of Thomas Svekla is still encouraging.

"I'm pleased there's been an arrest so quickly, but that might mean this (killing) is not related to the others," said Kathy King yesterday.

Project KARE is still investigating the disappearances of sex-trade workers Corrie Ottenbreit, Maggie Lee Burke and Delores Dawn Brower.

Ottenbreit, 27, was last seen in Edmonton on May 9, 2004. Burke, 21, was last seen Dec. 9, 2004, and Brower, 33, was last seen May 13, 2004.

King's 22-year-old daughter, Cara, was found slain in a canola field near Sherwood Park in the fall of 1997.

"A number of the women ... grouped as victims of a possible serial killer were found outside the city," King said.

Svekla was charged after a woman's body was found in a residence.

Kate Quinn, head of the Prostitution Action and Awareness Foundation of Edmonton, said the families of Brower, Burke and Ottenbreit are all still in anguish.

"They're waiting for news, whether it's sad news or good news," she said.

Former vice cop JoAnn McCartney, who now works with sex-trade workers charged with prostitution, said she hopes the bodies of Brower, Burke and Ottenbreit are found soon.

"Or if by some stretch I can remain hopeful that maybe at least one of them is still alive," said McCartney.

"I'm really glad to see some progress. I'm glad to see someone charged and held accountable.

"But there's a lot of other murders that need to be worked on."

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Updated: August 21, 2016