SURREY (NEWS1130) – RCMP confirm a violent, transient American roofer murdered one of the 18 women killed or missing in BC’s so-called Highway of Tears case, and he may have killed more.
Earlier this year Bobby Jack Fowler, an American labourer who has since died, was linked through DNA to the death of 16-year old Colleen MacMillen, who vanished after trying to hitchhike on Highway 97 in Lac La Hache in the BC interior in 1974.
She was found murdered shortly after.
“Based on what E-PANA investigators know today, Fowler is responsible for the murder of MacMillen,” says RCMP Inspector Gary Shinkaruk.
Shinkaruk says police believe Fowler may also have murdered Gale Weys in Clearwater in 1973 and Pamela Darlington in Kamloops that same year.
“There is a tremendous amount of evidence that leads us to have Fowler as an incredibly strong suspect in those two other homicides,” adds Shinkaruk.
Project E-PANA was launched in 2006 to investigate the disappearance or murder of women along three highways in BC, from 1969 to 2006.
Of the 18 women in Project E-PANA, police say 15 have been murdered and five are missing.
Investigators believe they don’t believe a single serial killer is responsible for the women’s murders.
Shinkaruk says they’ve learned Fowler worked as a roofer around Prince George in the 1970s, was an alcoholic, used drugs, had a violent history but could be charming, and was known to pick up women hitchhikers.
“He was of the belief that a lot of the women that he came in contact with, specifically women that hitchhike and women that went to taverns and beer parlours and drank, that they had a desire to be sexually assaulted,” says Shinkaruk, noting a number of living victims of Fowler told police they believed he planned to kill them.
Police are now pleading with anyone who remembers Fowler or had anything to do with him from the 1970s to the 1990s in BC to call them.
“We believe there are people out there who employed Fowler, socialized with him or even waited on him while he was in British Columbia.”
Police say they have three to four strong suspects in Project E-PANA, but Fowler is the only one they can confirm so far.
“We believe that we’ve identified, with Fowler, three individuals that are responsible for three murders,” adds Shinkaruk. “Two of those murders, we have no reason to believe that they’ve done any more than the one homicide. Fowler, we think it’s conceivable he’s killed two, possibly more.”
Colleen MacMillen’s brother Shawn is grateful this case has finally been solved, “we are simply stunned and grateful for all of their hard work.”
He says he and his family have waited a long time for answers.
“And although this is somewhat of an unsatisfactory result because this individual won’t have to stand trial for what he did, we are comforted by the fact that he was in prison when he died and that he can’t hurt anyone else.”
He remembers a lovely, innocent, sweet kid and he says there are no words to express how terribly she was wronged.
They hope others will have their own answers soon and be able get some closure.
The RCMP says there are 3 or 4 strong suspects in other unsolved cases and investigators believe they are dealing with several killers, not a single person.
As part of Project E-PANA, more than 2,500 people have been interviewed and 1,400 hundred persons have been identified.
Fowler has been named as a person of interest in 19-year-old Pamela Darlington’s death, and 39 painful years later, her cousin Sharon hopes closure is coming.
“I think that would be huge for all of us because it’s been sad, it’s been a long time, certainly, the family has all gone on, but I think about her, I’ve dreamt about her, so yes, I hope so.”
Police would like to speak with anyone who might have worked with, socialized with, or waited on Fowler.
Sharon says Pamela Darlington was a waitress in Kamloops and believes she was working the night her death.
“I believe the night she went missing she was working that evening, and she was basically found the next day.
Pamela’s body was found on November 6,1973 next to the Thompson River.
Fowler was serving a 16-year sentence in a US prison for a kidnapping and attempted rape case in the mid 1990’s.
A woman escaped from Fowler by jumping, unclothed and with a rope tied around her ankle, out of the second story window of a hotel room in Newport, Oregon.
Fowler died of lung cancer while he was in custody.
He is also being investigated for the murders of several teenagers in the US.
Sally Gibson’s niece went missing after a party in Terrace on October 7th, 1995. She remembers when Lana Derrick, 19 at the time, vanished.
“We just kept searching; even after police told us to go home and just wait for them to call us when she first disappeared, we just kept on going,” says Gibson.
She tells us the passing of time doesn’t make it any easier. “We’re just living day by day, hoping we hear something… anything. That’s our hope, that’s always been our hope… and all we’ve ever maintained is that she’s missing.”
Gibson gets in touch with the RCMP every year to see if there are any updates on Derrick.
BC Private Investigator Ray Michalko has been looking into the Highway of Tears disappearances since 2005. “Most were just young women at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
He believes there were several suspects involved. “There may be a couple [of cases that were] connected, but certainly no more than that. I just don’t see that 18 cases are connected,” he tells us.
Michalko had been warned by Mounties to stay away from the case in the past, but was invited to meet with the new folks in charge of E-Pana about a month ago. He adds he will continue to look into the case.