In The Mind Of A Mountie
Restoring RCMP Credibility
Excerpt from "In The Mind of A Mountie" by T.M. 'Scotty' Gardiner
Chapter 124: When Crime Remains Unsolved
Evidence! Evidence alone solves crime! Evidence is, in its single identity or by its accumulative strength -- through real objects, documentation, circumstantial, oral, witnessed or confession freely given -- the essential ingredient to solve crime. Evidence cannot be manufactured, it cannot be whimsical, it cannot be adulterated. Evidence must be pure, factual, understandable, direct and to the point. Those are the standards upon which the Canadian Justice system is based. Those are the standards by which all Canadian Courts administer justice. It is a point for which all Canadians should be grateful.
With that principle as the cornerstone of our justice system it is understandable not all crimes are solved. The reasons for this are many and they may result from a variety of circumstances. For example, evidence may be disturbed at the scene (recall the chapter titled The Suzanne Seto Murder), it may be lost at the scene (fire hoses eliminating evidence at burning scenes), or consumed by fire (the use of accelerant), it may go undetected or overlooked by investigators or simply the crime left no physical evidence. Examples in another area where crime may remain unsolved would include a victim's reluctance to report a crime through shame, embarrassment, fear, unfamiliarity with the justice system or simply because, such as with the elderly or those unsophisticated in financial transactions, they were unaware a crime had been committed against them. Delay that reduces or eliminates evidence may be encountered when human remains are found. This can be a period of years after a known or unknown disappearance occurred. Construction during land development where the land surface is altered, or a climatic effect of snow, ice, rain, wind or sun, each aspect may contribute to the lessening of value or total loss of evidence. Deterioration through normal handling and processing of documentation can be another cause. Society's freedoms, mobility and rapidity of travel, all available to an offender may also apply.
This absence of evidence is one thing every investigator must be prepared for. But it is crucial to avoid a 'mindtrap' philosophy that evidence does not exist and let that consume the investigator from the outset of the assignment. Each task must be as aggressively and thoroughly pursued as if it were one where success appeared apparent from the start (recall the chapter titled The Fuchsbichler Murder). Another point which I practiced personally and instructed investigators on throughout my entire career, was not to wait for or dwell upon the illusionary 'element of luck.'
To emphasize my point, I would say, "There is not luck, there is preparation and opportunity -- prepare yourself and you will be ready when the opportunity presents itself. That is NOT luck."
Police men and women are human and have failings. I preface this paragraph with that statement for good reason -- the potential frustration experienced when one's investigation goes unsolved and where that can lead. An investigation is in one sense a challenge of wits, and in any challenge victory over the opponent is the goal. When operating against one committing anti-social behaviour, in particular when vicious acts are committed against the innocent, temptation can arise for a 'conviction at all costs' atmosphere to develop. In other words, a suspect is identified and a case is made against that suspect. That is wrong. The correct process is the reverse -- locate the evidence, define it, analyze it, apply it, present it and let it ensnare the perpetrator. Frustration cannot and must not be allowed to colour or subvert any aspect of the evidence, even if the result is an unsolved crime, or where the offender is identified but evidence is insufficient to convict.
It is difficult for an investigator when it must be accepted a crime will, at least for the present and may forever, remain unsolved. I faced this personally and also as a Commissioned Officer directing those investigators under my command. Some comfort can come from the ever-present if lingering hope that evidence will surface at a future date. One of my first exposures that typified this 'lingering hope' was when working with Sgt. Luross in 1956 in the Winnipeg CIB. A murder had been committed some ten to 15 years earlier. The suspect's lifestyle was reviewed annually to determine if a confession would be forthcoming. As with many facets of life, advancements have been made that assist the investigative process. During my recruit training, now 59 years ago, strong emphasis was placed on fingerprinting, tool-marks, footwear and automobile tire-track impressions and photography as mainstay procedures specifically at the immediate area of the crime scene. This was all very important. It still remains important to present-day investigations.
As recruits, we received instruction from our Regina Crime Laboratory staff about the physical matching of fibres and of human hair, including the ability to identify a person from an examination of minute fragments of shaved hair removed from an electric razor. When those same scientific fellows explained they foresaw the day when identification would be possible from saliva extracted from a discarded cigarette butt, the investigative impulses within us accelerated rapidly. In retrospect, I give credit to those laboratory staff instructors for igniting possibilities, possibilities that were to become prophetically true! The value of DNA! Akin to this was the discussion about the possibility of confirming one's presence at a crime scene by lingering human odour.
The passage of time introduced factors that forced some crime to be left unsolved, not left by design but by pure necessity. Playing a part in this was first, an increased work-load and second, public opinion. Imperceptibly the combination of population increase, a less serious public view of petty crimes which before had always received equal police attention to that given other offences, and the Courts' recognition of the latter all came into play. Examples would be fraudulent cheques of low monetary value, and wilful but minor damage to properties. Time and human resources necessitated they be given little or no attention. Unfortunately there developed an attitude which allowed in certain cases, for a written entry in the police complaint records 'reported for insurance purposes only.' This does little to truly act in the public interest.
Understandable as all that was, it came with a price. For the offender, the collective result of repeated minor offences could be lucrative. For society, insurance rates could be influenced upwards. For the investigative beginner, tackling something simple developed expertise and confidence which went step-by-step with the more exacting evidence increasingly required by the Courts. This investigative learning gap was narrowed, in my opinion not eliminated, by more sophisticated instruction and supporting computerized equipment.
In about 1977 I was having one of my many discussion with Staff Sergeant Ward Bertram who was then In-charge of the Province's Identification Branch. We were reviewing those minor crimes to which we could no longer devote full investigative time and which gave reasons for some unsolved offences. From our conclusions arose the opinion assaults against the person must and would always be a high investigative priority. With the probability of blood at assault scenes, Ward and I concluded our abilities to analyze blood stains should be improved. Our existing manuals and practices were becoming out-dated.
From this Ward identified an instructional course on blood-stain analysis given in the eastern USA. The course material appeared beneficial. For attendance at this course I assigned our Corporal [later Inspector] Herb LeRoy (B. Sc.) who at the time was a member of our Kamloops Sub-division Identification Branch.
Inspector LeRoy became the Mounted Police Blood Stain Analyst expert. Adding to the accepted value of the medical standard blood groupings, a structure Herb developed was for blood left at a scene to fall into four main categories: 'misting' as from a gun shot wound, 'drops' as those heart-pumped from a bleeding wound, 'spillage' from a knife or similar wound where blood would pool in clothing and then spill out, and finally 'smudging' which was the physical disturbance of the boundaries of a blood stain.
The instruction determined such factors as blood hitting vertical or sloping (e.g. walls) or horizontal (e.g. floor or ground) surfaces, the type of those surfaces, paint, metal, board, paper, tile, carpet and the host of building materials available, then determining that blood's reverse travel to the position of the wound when blood pumped from it. Such analysis could provide substantial evidence.
Within a matter of months Inspector LeRoy's evidence amazed the Courts, Prosecutors, Defence Lawyers and Judges alike. This became apparent by requests from these officials for group lectures. One early example was a case that removed the sympathy initially given to a son for the reported suicide of his mother. Herb's analysis of the body's position, the gunshot wound and the blood stains themselves, proved the intended killing by the son.
Inspector LeRoy's work also awakened the interests of the Force. Training was immediately given to other Identification Branch members with the goal being to have one Blood Stain Analyst in each Province. The development of the programme brought improved investigations. It is to Inspector LeRoy's absolute credit that even with other analysts trained, Headquarters in Ottawa assigned him to conduct blood stain work at the scene of a horrendous, cruel murder of a physically handicapped son of a mildly prominent family.
The deceased maintained his own residence and he accommodated, in a form of rehabilitation, two fellows with criminal backgrounds. In casual discussion the deceased told these two men he was to drive his parents to the airport. He left his residence. Arriving at the airport the parents had some reason for their son to return to the parents' home to attend to some forgotten thing. When he returned to his parental home the deceased found the two criminals there, ransacking the parents' home. (They had acted upon the knowledge from the son the home would be vacated.)
To avoid being identified the two tried to kill the son and, believing the blood-letting wounds inflicted were insufficient to cause death, they ended their gruesome act by hanging him. Inspector LeRoy's evidence assured convictions, confirmation of the value of this investigative process. Had there been a lack of this exacting blood-stain evidence, these two killers may have gone free, leaving the crime categorized as 'unsolved.'
Within a few years Inspector LeRoy's blood stain analyst work gave way to what must be one of the most beneficial advancements in criminal investigations, the acceptance and the unquestioned accuracy of DNA findings. I remain of the opinion the blood-stain work retains its importance because it, not DNA, can physically recreate a blood-letting assault scene. From my retirement position I envision the combination, blood-stain and DNA, creates a formidable investigative tool.
It was always difficult for me to have an unsolved investigation. Note I say 'unsolved' as opposed to 'unsuccessful.' I do so because some value may be gained from every investigation and I, with a conscious realism, saw an unhealthy connotation in the word 'unsuccessful.' I recall during my early years in Victoria, in about 1975 through 1977, three or four murders of young females believed to be hitchhikers, took place along the highways in the interior of British Columbia. The most aggressive investigative effort left those murders unsolved. My own pleas on television for young women not to hitchhike appeared to be ineffective, crimes still took place and remained unsolved.
That series of murders then stopped, at least it stopped for a number of years. Now in the 2006 to 2009 period, the news media report a somewhat similar series of murders in the Prince George area, even naming the area where the bodies are being found the 'Highway of Tears.' Without having the details of these crimes, and I make no connection between these two series of murders, I can relate to the investigators' difficulties -- the lack of evidence which is necessary to first identify the suspect and just as importantly, connect that person to the crime. The case remains unsolved at this time, maybe not so at some future date.
In retirement I have learned through news media releases of one dramatic change in the justice system. This change may contribute to crimes being classified as 'unsolved,' or classed as solved with an explanatory asterisk: offender identified, insufficient evidence to prosecute. This happens when the Court rejects seized evidence obtained, in the Court's opinion without the investigator having 'reasonable and probable grounds' to make the search of the person, automobile or dwelling in the first place. Previously evidence thus seized was admissible. In my opinion an argument may be made that if an investigator legitimately encounters evidence before her/him and the leaving of that evidence to get documentary authorization to class the seizure 'legal' allows time for the destruction or disposition of that evidence, the public interest is not well served. That, of course, opens another aspect of policing.
In support of seizing evidence legitimately encountered, when Sir Robert Peel inaugurated the Constabulary in England their primary function was to aid the citizenry in the 'prevention of crime.' That was the first of Peel's Nine Rules. It remains a basic responsibility for law enforcement today. Following that principle, if an enforcement Officer finds reason from a position of prevention, to check upon some out-of-the-ordinary activity, or stops a car at a drunk or impaired driving check point and thereat discovers evidence of an unrelated crime, it is unproductive to require the preparation of documentation to effect the seizure of that evidence. And if that evidence is destroyed in the interim, a crime can remain unsolved!
It is when prevention fails that the trained investigator assumes the task of solving the crime. If the crime is solved and the offender is brought to and processed through the justice system, there can still be a measure of 'prevention' involved -- restitution, counselling, rehabilitation, the imposition of a fine or incarceration for a period of time may prevent repetition by that offender.
To see prevention in any way in an unsolved crime is difficult. There remains that one possibility, slight though it may be, that the offender realized the investigation came so close to identifying her/him that an intended life of crime was abandoned.
Unsolved crime, the investigator's annoying burden -- his lingering hope one day it will be solved.
Copyright 2010, T.M. Gardiner
Read an excerpt: Chapter 125: One Long Distance Interrogation.