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Dead man tied to B.C. slaying

Highway of Tears case linked to Oregon inmate

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SURREY, B.C. -- RCMP say they believe a deceased Oregon inmate is responsible for at least one of the slayings in British Columbia's so-called Highway of Tears investigation.

Bobby Jack Fowler is believed to have killed 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen in August 1974. She was last seen leaving home to hitchhike to visit a friend near Lac La Hache, about 300 kilometres south of Prince George in northern B.C.

Although Fowler is also believed to have been responsible for at least two other homicides and potentially more, police say they know he isn't the sole culprit involved in the disappearances and killings of 18 women in the region of the dreaded stretch of isolated roadway.

"Will we solve the remaining 17? I'm not certain," said Insp. Gary Shinkaruk, one of the lead investigators with the RCMP's E-Pana probe.

Shinkaruk said Tuesday in two other E-Pana cases, police have isolated the DNA of two separate offenders, both now dead. Shinkaruk did not name them.

He said police have very strong persons of interest in a few other files, but are not yet able to bring evidence forward.

Police say Fowler was a transient labourer with a long criminal record for violent offences in the United States and he worked in Prince George in the 1970s as a roofer and labourer.

Fowler died in 2006 in an Oregon prison, where he was serving time for kidnapping and attempting to rape a woman.

The news of his DNA being linked to MacMillen was bittersweet for her family.

"Although this is a somewhat 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," MacMillen's brother, Shawn, said at a news conference.

Shinkaruk said DNA samples from the MacMillen case were sent for re-testing in 2007 and the profile of an unidentified man turned up.

A link with Fowler was found earlier this year after the samples were matched against Interpol's data bank.

Shinkaruk brushed aside suggestions police should have considered Fowler as a suspect earlier.

He noted Fowler did not have a criminal record in Canada and although the police work done on the file at the time of the slaying was excellent, policing techniques and science have evolved considerably.

As well, he said records of people travelling back and forth across the border before the 9/11 terrorist attacks are considerably less helpful than those after the attacks.

"We have not been able to find (Fowler) in Canada. We've sent his fingerprints to Ottawa to see if he was living (under) a assumed name," Shinkaruk said, but nothing came up.

"Without the assistance of DNA, we would not have been able to solve this."

Police are hoping for the public's help in finding out more about Fowler's time in Canada, where he did not have a criminal record. Investigators believe he worked at a Prince George roofing company in the 1970s.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2012 A9

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