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Gone Boys: Exploring the serial killer theory

Last Updated Mar 15, 2021 at 5:53 am PDT

If a killer is preying on vulnerable Vancouver Island men, what would be the motivation? And how would the crimes have gone undetected?

Fourteen-year-old Desmond Peter was last seen walking along the Trans-Canada Highway, away from his home in Duncan, towards Victoria. That was back in March, 2007.

Desmond Peter, 14, was last seen on Vancouver Island in March 2007. (Submitted)

Gone Boys is an in-depth series of stories examining the cases of men on Vancouver Island who, like Desmond, have vanished in recent years. The newest episode focuses on the serial killer theory, and delves into a possible motivation and modus operandi.

Rob Gordon is a professor in the school of criminology at SFU. After listening to the missing men’s stories, he offered up a working hypothesis:

“Let’s just say for the minute there’s a predator on the move. On the East side of Vancouver Island ranging from Duncan to Campbell river and then across occasionally on the highway that then links to Port Alberni. The predator is out there driving backwards and forwards, picking up young males,” he said.

Rob Gordon is a professor in the school of criminology at SFU. (Submitted)

If this theory holds true, the highway could be the link connecting some of the cases of missing men on Vancouver Island. Years ago, the FBI recognized that there was a certain type of offender that used the highways to prey on vulnerable victims on the roadside. The FBI’s Highway Serial Killer (HSK) Initiative has been helping to catch serial predators since 2004.

“The HSK investigations involve victims with the nexus to the highway, which means the victim’s body was recovered near a major holiday or state road,” explains Christine Depoyster, a crime analyst with the behavioural analysis unit based near the FBI’s Quantico headquarters in Virginia. “Typically, these areas are unlit, they’re isolated areas. So, the bodies are difficult to recover at times, and then witnesses typically aren’t available because it is so dark where these bodies have been found.”

As to why the highway itself plays an important role in the behaviour of this kind of serial predator, Depoyster says these areas can offer “some measure of anonymity to the offender.”

“Because they don’t have their employer in that semi-truck with them, the types of cases that we’re dealing with, it’s easy to escape from the scene. They’re able to put a lot of distance between the scene and the victim,” she explains.

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From the relative safety and anonymity of a vehicle, a serial predator is able to target vulnerable victims, Depoyster suggests.

“It’s kind of like, when you go shopping. If you go window shopping a lot, eventually you’re going to buy something, right? Because something is going to look good to you. So that’s where a criminal is going to try to focus on those high-risk victims, people who might not be missed, someone who’s very vulnerable,” she says.

Gordon agrees the highway could be a factor worth considering.

“It is a kind of a pattern of predatory behavior that we’ve seen before,” he explains. “It sounds very much as if, if there is a predator on the move, then they’re using a limited number of transportation routes. Linking these missing people to those routes helps you identify who might be responsible; somebody who travels those routes frequently who delivers or has a reason for traveling up and down and across the Island on a relatively regular basis.”

True crime podcast series ‘Gone Boys’ aims to draw attention to the missing men of Vancouver Island. Pictured are five of them. (From left to right: Kelly McLeod, Brandon Cairney, Desmond Peter, Ian Henry, and Daniel MacDonnell.)

Jim Van Allan trained as a criminal profiler with the FBI. He was with the Ontario Provincial Police Criminal Profiling Unit before moving to the west coast. The victimology of the cases of Vancouver Island’s missing men sounds familiar to him.

“Our experience in law enforcement confirms that some of these offenders do pick on, what we call high risk victims like this, because the crimes are harder to solve. They might not get the same level of investigative response. There’s no evidence. Serial killers target the underprivileged and these guys would make easy targets, easy victims for somebody that was inclined to do that,” Van Allan says.

He is cautious about jumping to the conclusion that a serial killer or killers could be responsible for the missing men. But if they are being targeted, he says the predator would likely be someone who preys on vulnerable individuals.

“He would be a loner type guy with a lot of time on his hands,” Van Allan says of a potential profile. “He would likely not be involved in heterosexual relationships of any kind, but certainly not of any substance or duration. He lives alone and has his own property. He doesn’t have many visitors. So he’s got his own house, a barn, and a vehicle. It would be something with a little bit more utility, lower end. You have to have resources if you’re going to have a car. So he’s probably going to have some form of occupation, but it wouldn’t be high-end technical. He wouldn’t be highly successful, probably semi-skilled at best or labour or something like that.”

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As for why any of the men could have possibly attracted the attention of a serial killer, Van Allan believes it could simply be about opportunity.

“Most select their victims based on age, gender, and availability. And in my experience, two out of three is not bad for some of these offenders,” he adds. “I know a guy who prefers women between the ages of 20 to 25. But because you’re here and I’ve got nothing else to do, I don’t care if you’re outside my ethnic preference or outside my age, preference, gender. He knows what he wants to do. He’s prepared to do it. So, he decides to do it right now.”

For now, the RCMP says it is not making connections between the cases of the several men missing on Vancouver Island. Desmond Peter’s missing person file, like those of the other missing men, remains open and, for now, unresolved.

Gone Boys is informed by the expertise of police, profilers, criminologists and coroners. They have brought their intelligence and their curiosity to the exploration of the missing men’s cases. Although the series raises questions about connections between the missing men’s cases, the experts do not have direct investigative knowledge of the files.

Listen to Gone Boys, a true-crime podcast part of the Island Crime series, for more on Vancouver Island’s missing men. Gone Boys drops a new episode every Monday. You can catch them on the Frequency Podcast Network.

Rogers Sports & Media is the parent company of this station and the Frequency Podcast Network.