Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officials in Vancouver held an international news conference this morning to announced that murders committed in the 1990’s in the Newport area are likely linked to up to 15 or more murders in British Columbia and three more in Oregon- all young women and teenagers. Advanced DNA testing of evidence, that wasn’t as accurate or as readily admissible in court as it is today, has made those links. RCMP officials suggested today that suspected serial killer Bobby Jack Fowler was operating on both sides of the Canadian/U.S. border and that more than twenty young women may have died at his hands. Here’s some video on how the news conference went.
UPDATE: TUESDAY NEWS CONFERENCE IN VANCOUVER B.C.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a detective of the Lincoln County District Attorney’s office told reporters that Bobby Jack Fowler is likely responsible for murders in both British Columbia, Canada and Lincoln County. There may be others. Victims were mostly young women who hitchhiked. They’re asking everyone on both sides of the border to call local authorities if they knew Bobby Jack Fowler, had seen him, or worked with him. He was a construction laborer and roofer who, according to Detective Ron Benson, worked on the construction of the Hallmark Resort Hotel in Newport and the WorldMark resort in Depoe Bay. Fowler died in an Oregon prison in 2006 from cancer at the age of 66.
Recent advancements in DNA testing and other forensic tools are helping to shed light on four unsolved murder cases in Lincoln County. Two of the murders involve Sheila Swanson, 19, and Melissa Sanders, 17, in early May of 1992. They were last seen near Beverly Beach State Park. Their bodies were discovered five months later in the woods near Eddyville. The other two young women were Jennifer Esson, 16, and Kara Leas, 16, who were last seen walking on NW 56th Street in Newport heading for Highway 101. Their bodies were found two weeks later in the woods north of Newport.
Lincoln County District Attorney says that Canadian authorities have used advanced DNA techniques to link a convicted kidnapper and sex abuser, Bobby Jack Fowler, who was sent to an Oregon prison in 1995 following an incident that involved a woman who jumped out a Newport motel window with a rope tied to her ankle. The woman lived to tell her harrowing tale of what Fowler did to her in the room. Canadian authorities are expected to announce at a news conference Tuesday in Vancouver BC, that Fowler is linked to 18 murdered or missing young Canadian women from the 1970s to the 1990s, according to Lincoln County District Attorney Rob Bovett. Bovett reports that his investigators are working with Royal Canadian Mounted Police to help determine that DNA evidence derived from victims in Canada make Fowler a suspected serial killer in British Columbia and Lincoln County.
Fowler died in prison in 2006 from lung cancer. Law enforcement agencies around the world are re-opening old murders and other serious criminal cases by applying high tech tools to get convictions that could not be accomplished at the time of the crimes. Prosecutors have repeatedly said that solving old cases using advanced evidence processing technology gives victim families emotional closure even if those responsible for the crime(s) have already died. And of course, it brings others still alive to justice.
Several years ago a Trinidad immigrant to the U.S. was convicted of killing a beauty queen in northern Nevada twenty years earlier. In a re-opened case that hit pay dirt with advanced DNA testing, David Winfield Mitchell was extradited from his Caribbean home back to Carson City and was convicted of the murder and sent to prison for life. The evidence that was processed through DNA verification technology was from samples of Mitchell’s hair and saliva found on the victim’s body and clothing. At the time, DNA testing was not quite advanced enough to be admissible in court but has since become the gold standard for evidence verification. These instances of going back into the evidence vaults of unsolved cases clearly demonstrates that evidence must be obtained professionally and preserved effectively in what’s called a “chain of custody.” This “chain of custody” protocol verifies that specific evidence has been stored properly and securely and that no one has had possession of it other than by those connected with an investigation whose contact with the evidence is accurately described and verifiable under secure written documentation and sworn testimony.