Canada: Murder meeting drew investigators

VANCOUVER SUN
Monday, December 14, 2009
Neal Hall
p. A9.

About 40 detectives turned out to compare notes on Highway Murders in
B.C. and Alberta

In 1981, a Kamloops RCMP investigator named Mike Eastham organized a
conference to compare notes on the growing number of unsolved female
homicides along highways in the Interior of B.C. and into Alberta.

[photo caption]
VANCOUVER SUN FILES
Sgt. Mike Eastham of the Kamloops RCMP detachment (left) discusses
information on unsolved slayings of 28 women on B.C. and Alberta
highways with Cpl. Ray Munroe of Edmonton and Cpl. Dwight Hoglund of
Calgary in Kamloops, on Nov. 18, 1981.

They were dubbed the Highway Murders because the bodies were found
near major highways or the person was last seen along a highway, often
hitchhiking.

Eastham thought the conference would attract maybe a dozen
investigators. About 40 detectives showed up, including some from
Alberta, making it the biggest meeting of its kind at that time.

What detectives found were similarities in cases, including reports of
suspicious vehicles and even the names of persons of interest in boxes
of paper files — this was well before computers, the Internet and
e-mail.
Investigators then believed there were common factors in four cases,
including the unsolved Alberta murder of Melissa Ann Rehorek and the
B.C. case of Oanh Ngoc Ha.

Ha — a 19-year-old Vietnamese refugee — was found on Feb. 28, 1981,
near Golden. She had been raped, strangled and her body mutilated
after death.

The shy teen had come to Canada seven months earlier and landed a job
as a chambermaid at a Banff hotel. Her body was found face down in the
snow, a few metres from the Trans-Canada Highway, about 80 kilometres
west of Golden, on the road to Kamloops, and 200 kilometres from
Banff.

The fully-clothed body of Melissa Ann Rehorek, 20, was found Sept. 16,
1976, in a ditch along a gravel road about 20 kilometres west of
Calgary near the Trans-Canada Highway. She had been strangled.

She was last seen leaving the Calgary YWCA, where she lived. She was
planning on hitchhiking out of town for her two days off work from her
job as a chambermaid at a local hotel.

RCMP investigators also suspected her killer might be the same man who
strangled Barbara Jean MacLean five months later.

The night of Feb. 26, 1977, 19year-old MacLean had argued with her
boyfriend and decided to hitchhike home.

The following morning, a man walking his dog discovered Barbara’s
fully-clothed, strangled body beside a gravel road near 80th Avenue
and 6th Street N.E. in Calgary.

Police traced her movements the night before to the Highlander Hotel
tavern, where she and her boyfriend had argued after closing time.

The daughter of a retired physician, MacLean was originally from Nova
Scotia and had moved to Calgary, where she worked at the Royal Bank,
the Calgary Herald newspaper reported after the murder.

A person of interest in MacLean’s murder was sex offender Gary
McAstocker, 34. McAstocker hanged himself in 1994 in his Edmonton home
hours before he was to be questioned by police in the suspected murder
of a 14-year-old Edmonton girl, Tina McPhee, who disappeared a month
earlier while walking to school.

He had just been released from prison after serving his full 11-year
sentence for a 1982 rape and a subsequent 1988 sexual assault
committed while on parole.

McAstocker was also reportedly the prime suspect in the 1976 murder of
an Edmonton teenager, Marie Judy Goudreau, 17, who disappeared Aug. 2,
1976 on the way home to her family’s farm on the edge of Edmonton. Her
body was found two days later near Devon, southwest of Edmonton.

MacLean and Goudreau were both strangled and sexually assaulted.
McAstocker had been working for an Edmontonbased moving company and
was in Calgary at the time MacLean was killed.

The firm’s employees often stayed at the Highlander while on Calgary
business, the Herald reported.

Another similar Alberta case police looked at during the 1981 homicide
conference was the murder of Pauline Brazeau, 16, who had moved to
Calgary from Yorkton, Sask., in search of a new life for her
nine-month-old daughter.

A month after her move, she and a friend visited a nearby pizza
restaurant, departing about 2:30 a.m. But Brazeau returned alone to
the restaurant 15 minutes later to retrieve a pair of gloves she left
behind.

Her partially clothed body was found about five hours later on a
forestry road near the Jumping Pound Airstrip, about 40 kilometres
southwest of Cochrane. She had been stabbed to death.

Police believed she had either hitchhiked or was picked up by someone
after leaving the restaurant.

The other Alberta case probed as having possible links with B.C. cases
was that of Tara Jane White, 18, who was last seen July 1, 1976 in
Calgary. White was heading to Lake Louise, where she had a summer job
as a dining room waitress. She was a second-year science student at
the University of Calgary.

Her skeletal remains were found almost five years later, on Mar. 24,
1981, in a shallow grave in a wooded area about 60 kilometres west of
Calgary. Police believe White either accepted a ride to Banff/Lake
Louise at the bus depot or she was picked up hitchhiking.

At the time, Golden RCMP Cpl. Blair Schaufele suggested the same
person who killed White might be responsible for the death of Ha and
other “highway murders.”

” There’s a possibility we’re dealing with an individual that may be a
bad guy that’s in prison for a while, then gets out,” he said.

Serial killer Clifford Olson at one time claimed to have “personal
knowledge and information” about the unsolved murders of Ha, Pamela
Darlington of Kamloops and others, but police dismissed the claims as
bogus.

“At one time, he [Olson] was confessing to everything,” recalled
retired senior Mountie Fred Bodnaruk, who initially headed the
Darlington investigation. “He was playing games.”

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