A joint police task force has narrowed down the list of murdered or missing Manitobans it is investigating to 28 people – including one man.
Project Devote, the RCMP and Winnipeg Police Service task force, issued an update on the probe that began in May, 2011.
The task force reviewed 84 investigations of missing and murdered women and 112 men, and narrowed down the investigation to 27 women and one man who were linked by all being at high risk of becoming victims of violent crime. Police contacted their families before announcing today the 20 slain and eight missing Manitobans whom Project Devote will focus on.
Each were "at-risk" people – they may have had substance or alcohol abuse issues, were transient, had mental health issues or were sex trade workers, said Project Devote spokesman Cpl. Miles Hiebert. The list includes 27 women ranging in age from 15 to 43. The oldest subject of Project Devote is a man, 46-year-old William Weinbender.
The head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says the task force needs to focus more on aboriginal women.
"Project Devote needs to engage First Nations and as such we are looking for seats at the Executive Steering Committee of Project Devote, given at least 18 of the 28 women are of First Nation and Aboriginal descent," Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said in a press release.
The police probe is limited in scope and "does not directly address the epidemic of missing and Murdered Indigenous Women," it said.
"Given First Nations and Aboriginal people are over-represented in the investigations, linkages between First Nations and Project Devote need to be created so that there is identification of issues in order to create a better system, with accountable outcomes back to families and communities," Nepinak said in the release.
The spokesman for Project Devote said the investigation is not focusing on sex and race.
"Gender and ethnicity are not the issues here," said Hiebert with Project Devote, which maintains the link the victims shared was their high risk to become violent crime victims.
The police say the task force dedicated to solving the crimes has tripled with the addition of 15 people, and is made up of 18 police officers – 10 Winnipeg police and eight RCMP, two civilian RCMP analysts three RCMP data personnel and one RCMP administrative support person. But, to date, there have been no arrests.
After analyzing thousands pieces of evidence and going over 140 DNA samples, at this point in the investigation there is nothing to indicate a serial killer is responsible, said Hiebert.
"At this point, we have no physical evidence to link more than one person to these crimes."
Anyone with information is asked to contact Project Devote tip line at 1-888-673-3316.