Dozens of young, healthy men have mysteriously vanished in southwestern B.C. in recent years. Many of their families suspect the disappearances are connected--police say no.
Sandra Thomas, Vancouver Courier
Published: Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Chilliwack resident Michael Scullion, 30, last seen in Agassiz April 10, 2008. Burnaby resident Kellen McElwee, 25, last seen in Langley March 19, 2008. Langley resident Derek Kelly, 32, last seen at Bridge Lake Jan. 1, 2008. Langley resident John Kahler, 29, last seen at Stave Lake Nov. 2, 2007. Burnaby resident Brian Braumberger, 18, last seen June 1, 2007.
The day after Mother's Day, Jane Kahler is missing her son John. He was healthy, sociable and had no known connection to crime. He vanished last fall in a case that baffles police. And as too many families in the Lower Mainland believe, he is part of a growing list of painfully mysterious missing person cases. More than one parent wonders if their disappearances are connected. "Too many mothers are missing their sons," says Jane during an interview from her Langley home.
May 25 is National Missing Children's Day in Canada, but some groups are using the date to call attention to all missing persons, regardless of their age. In the past several years much media attention has deservedly been given to missing women in B.C. Besides the missing and murdered women of the Downtown Eastside, and the subsequent trial and conviction of serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton, B.C. is home to the "Highway of Tears," a stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert. Initially, nine women were listed as having gone missing or were found murdered along the stretch of highway since 1989.http://www.canada.com/vancouvercourier/new...ercourier/news/
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Dozens of young, healthy men have mysteriously vanished in southwestern B.C. in recent years. Many of their families suspect the disappearances are connected-police say no.
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Last year police expanded their investigation and added another nine names to that list. But some families want attention paid to the dozens of men who've gone missing in the past four years in southwestern B.C. Using archives from B.C. newspapers, the Courier began with a list of almost 60 missing men. Men with possible explanations for their disappearances, such as serious mental or physical health problems, seniors in frail health, probable suicides and those known to police for links to gangs or drugs were eliminated, leaving a list of almost 40.
The Courier cross-referenced the remaining names with 15 RCMP and municipal police detachments, follow-up newspaper articles and the Crime Stoppers' website to determine if any of the remaining men had been found--dead or alive. In total, about a dozen have been located, but unfortunately less than a handful of these men are alive. There are more men missing, but because the Courier could not confirm their status, they're not named in this article.
The remaining 22 healthy, apparently happy, men from southwestern B.C. have simply vanished. Rumours of a possible serial killer at work are growing, but police departments discount any connections in the cases.
Vancouver resident Richard Tamassy, 42, last seen April 15, 2008.
Vancouver resident Greg Cyr, 43, last seen Oct. 26, 2003.
Vancouver resident Ron Carlow, 38, last seen June 20, 2007.
North Vancouver resident Matthew Price, 22, missing since July 15, 2004.
North Vancouver resident David McMorran, 45, last seen Feb. 14, 2005.
Randy Kahler says as far as he knows his son John didn't work with, or frequent the same places, as the other young men who've recently gone missing in the Lower Mainland. The similarities lie in their appearances. John Kahler, Derek Kelly, Michael Scullion and Kellen McElwee are white, young, clean-shaven muscular men with short hair who sport tattoos. Bryan Braumberger has a similar look, but no tattoos.
Each of the men was last seen eating or drinking with friends. The vehicles of Kahler, Braumberger and McElwee were found abandoned with no sign of foul play.
Kelly is from Langley. McElwee's parents live in Fort Langley. Kahler lived in Langley until just before his disappearance; his parents still live in Langley. Kellen McElwee is from Burnaby. Braumberger lived in Burnaby with his parents prior to his disappearance. Scullion is from Chilliwack.
These guys are all in great shape. And they're all gone," says Randy.
Kahler's mother Jane wonders if a woman is involved in the disappearances. "But I don't know. The hardest is not knowing."
Kahler was attending a 4x4-truck festival at Stave Lake, located between Maple Ridge and Mission, Nov. 4, 2007, when he disappeared. Kahler, who'd been living in Whistler for six weeks before he disappeared, was last seen partying with friends at 4 a.m. Hours later his white Ford F-150 was found stuck in a sinkhole. The truck was running, the windshield wipers were operating, the radio was on, the doors were open and Kahler's cellphone was inside. There has been no sign of him since.
Mission RCMP Sgt. Greg Pridday says police thoroughly searched the area for Kahler, but with no luck. "It's strange," he says. "We've searched up and down and followed up on leads, but we've reached a dead end."
The family keeps in regular touch with the RCMP, but there are no new leads in their son's disappearance. Jane and Randy spend most weekends at Stave Lake searching for him. "We put up posters and talk to people," says Randy. "It's all we can do."
The couple says so many people attended the annual King of the Pit festival that weekend they're convinced somebody must have seen something. "We just don't know why they won't come forward," says Randy. The Kahler family posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to John's exact location. Crime Stoppers offers a $2,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.
Burnaby resident Patrick Ratto, 43, last seen July 25, 2006.
Burnaby resident Terry Beckett, 55, last seen April 21, 2008.
Burnaby resident Asim Chaudhry, 24, last seen July 20, 2007.
Coquitlam resident Kenneth Shigehiro, 46, last seen March 4, 2008.
Len McElwee pins a missing poster to the bulletin board of a coffee shop located in Walnut Grove near Langley. The weather outside is sunny. The poster, asking for information about his missing son Kellen, goes up next to a missing poster for Derek Kelly.
McElwee does not miss the physical similarities shared by the young men on the posters.
"If you put their pictures side by side with a picture of Bryan [Braumberger] they have the same look," says McElwee. "They're all young men and they're all well built. But I've been assured by the Burnaby police that as far as they know, there's no connection."
McElwee says his son's case, as with the Braumberger and Scullion cases, has been transferred to the RCMP's Integrated Homicide Investigative Team.
Kellen was last seen March 19 having dinner at the Keg Steakhouse at the 200th Street overpass near Langley. After dinner Kellen and his friends went their separate ways. When Kellen didn't show up to work the next day at a Rogers call centre where he worked as a trainer, he was reported missing. His car, a bronze-coloured 2006 Honda Civic, was found March 26 on a quiet street kilometres from his apartment. The car was released to his parents after police searched it for clues and fingerprints.
"They found nothing," says McElwee. "It was the same with the neighbourhood where the car was found. We organized a search, but didn't find anything."
The same night Kellen disappeared, a man was caught on a security camera in his apartment building.
The man, not a resident of the building, wore a distinctive silver winter jacket with the hood pulled up to obscure his face. Police consider the man a person of interest in the case.
McElwee says as far as he, or anyone close to Kellen, knows, the 25-year-old had no ties to drugs or gangs. As McElwee speaks, his eyes occasionally well up with tears.
"When I heard a body had been found under the Knight Street Bridge, I felt sick, but it wasn't Kellen," he says. "It's like a bad dream that won't go away, but I won't entertain the thought he's not coming home. It's only been seven and a half weeks."
As with John Kahler's parents, McElwee and his wife Paula are convinced someone must have seen something. If Kellen's friends and acquaintances have any information, including details his son might not be proud of, McElwee wants them to come forward. A $50,000 reward has been offered for Kellen's safe return. "If anybody knows anything I want to ask them to please call Crime Stoppers. It's anonymous," says McElwee. "All we can do now is keep our fingers crossed."
Derek Kelly's sister Leeanne Kelly, revisits the places she's postered with pictures of her brother. "I want to keep them fresh, because one month went by, then two months, then three months and now four months," she says, fighting back tears.
Like the other families, Kelly sees the physical similarities in the missing men, but can't find any other connection. She also can't believe these men all literally vanished with no sign. "These days, you can't even drive through a red light without it taking your pictures. How can these boys just disappear with no sign?"
She adds in the case of her brother, no one attending the New Year's Eve party at Bridge Lake reported him missing. "The person he drove up with came back without him," she says. "And he still didn't report him missing."
She adds that, tragic as a car accident or a drive-by shooting might be, at least there would be a body and with that some closure.
"Every one of these boys are big, big parts of families and every one of them is unique," she says. "They're a huge missing piece in each of these families."
Chilliwack resident Brandyn Thomas Dirienzo, 20, last seen Oct. 4, 2006.
Abbotsford resident Beric Bason, 26, last seen at Loon Lake July 25, 2007.
Surrey resident Ranvir (Ron) Atwal, 28, last seen April 5, 2004.
White Rock resident Wade MacKenzie, 23, last seen in North Delta Jan. 16, 2008.
Kim Rossmo, one of the leading forensic profilers in North America, says an increase in missing men in B.C. would be hard to determine. "The interest could fluctuate by what's being covered in the media," says Rossmo, a former profiler with the Vancouver Police Department who now leads the Texas State University Center for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation.
Rossmo sounded the alarm that a serial killer was at work in the Downtown Eastside and is considered a leading expert in geographic profiling and environmental criminology. Rossmo, who left the VPD in 2000 after his contract wasn't renewed and unsuccessfully sued the department for wrongful dismissal, has consulted on more than 200 serial crime cases around the world, involving almost 3,000 crimes. His high-profile cases include the Washington D.C. sniper, the South Side Rapist in Lafayette, Louisiana, and one of the largest manhunts for a serial rapist in Great Britain's history. The pilot for the TV series Numb3rs, was based on Rossmo's work. Rossmo also created a geographic profile for the 2007 movie Zodiac. The thriller is based on a string of unsolved murders in the 1960s that took place in the San Francisco Bay area.
Rossmo says 90 per cent of missing people are found within three weeks, and 98 per cent are found within two months. After that the chance of finding a missing person decreases.
Rossmo says the work of a serial killer in one area of the Lower Mainland could go unnoticed because of the "washout effect."
He explains if you compare a base rate, for example the number of missing men from Burnaby in 2007, to the number in previous years, it might show an increase. But if the base rate is too large, for example the number of missing men in Burnaby in 2007 compared to the average for the province, it will obscure or "wash out" any actual change. "This is because you have included too much of the population unaffected by your agent of change--for example a killer," explains Rossmo. "Just like a disease outbreak may show up on a local level with too many reported cases, the epidemic will disappear if you were examining cases on a national level because the number of local cases is small compared to all the cases in the country."
Rossmo says serial killers typically work close to home. If they kill across a long distance, they have a reason to be in those areas, he adds.
"You should start to see a pattern," he says. "If a serial killer is at work in the Lower Mainland, that's where they'd dump the bodies. But if there are no bodies you don't know that. You have to put on the serial killer's hat and look at this from his perspective, starting with how would you acquire your victi
Rossmo says it's unusual for a serial killer to target young, healthy, heterosexual, middle-class men. Serial killers tend to choose marginalized victims who are easy to abduct or overcome, such as prostitutes or homeless people.
"Prostitutes are fantastic as far as serial killers are concerned because they get in the car and they drive off," says Rossmo. "The same with a skid row bum. The killer simply offers them booze and then gets them into an area where they can take control of them. Children are usually protected, but they're easy to physically overcome if they're not."
Rossmo cites Jeffery Dahmer as an example of a stealth killer. Dahmer picked up men from gay clubs in Milwaukee and dismembered their bodies in his apartment. He also targeted young boys. Rossmo says female serial killers are extremely rare unless they're a custodial killer, such as a woman helping her husband or boyfriend. Examples would be nurses who become killers, or Karla Homolka, who assisted her husband Paul Bernardo in the rape and murders of two teenage girls in Ontario. Homolka and Bernardo were also found responsible for the rape and death of Homolka's sister.
You have to look at the examples and ask, 'Do they fit a pattern?'" says Rossmo. "You have to look at these cases from a hunter's prospective."
Rossmo discounts recent media reports about a possible group of serial killers operating across the U.S. dubbed the Smiley Face Killers. Earlier this year two retired New York police detectives, Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte, went public with their theory that the drowning deaths of 40 young healthy men in the U.S. could be the work of a nationwide organization of serial killers. One theory is the killers possibly met online.
In most of the cases the men had been out drinking before they disappeared, each was found in or near water and each case was initially ruled as an accidental drowning. In 2002 the case of victim and Minneapolis, Minn. resident Chris Jenkins was re-opened. Authorities concluded he'd been abducted in a van and tortured before being thrown in the Mississippi River. His death was initially called an accidental drowning. The detectives reported finding a smiley-face drawn near where some of the bodies were found, leading the media to dub the possible murderers as the "Smiley Face Killers."
In Metro Vancouver a number of missing men have been found deceased in and around water in the past several years, and their deaths were deemed suicide or accidental. On May 8 the body of a 22-year old Vancouver man, missing since March 28, was found in the Fraser River.
VPD Const. Tim Fanning, says none of those deaths appear suspicious.
"And our forensics are pretty good," he says. "There's been nothing to raise our suspicions."
Terry Foster, spokesperson for the B.C. Coroner's Office, says there is no news on the mystery of three severed right feet, belonging to men, washed up on the Gulf Islands between August 2007 and February of this year.
Last August a foot was found washed up on the shore of Jedediah Island, the second was found a week later on Gabriola Island and the third was discovered on Valdes Island in February. All the feet were found in sneakers--the first two were size 12.
At the time investigators were trying to determine if the feet were severed using a tool, which would indicate a human was responsible for their removal.
The feet also could have been cut off during a boating accident or naturally detached through decomposition. "The investigation is ongoing," says Foster.
Rossmo advises a pattern or trend in the disappearances of the missing men could point to a serial killer, but until he sees the evidence, he's doubtful. He does note it's unusual no bodies have been found in these recent cases.
"The chances of being killed by a serial killer are smaller than being struck by lightning," says Rossmo. "If you're a prostitute your risk is much higher, but for most people their chance of becoming a murder victim is low."
Kelowna resident Aaron Derbyshire, 22, last seen Sept. 30, 2006.
Kelowna resident Michael Bosma, 26, last seen Jan. 9, 2006.
Kelowna resident John Ernest Patrick, 40, last seen March 21, 2008.
Greenwood resident Gary Hansen, 52, last seen May 27, 2005.
As the June 1, one-year anniversary of her son's disappearance draws near, Janice Braumberger says the grief she feels is as strong now as the day Bryan went missing.
"People think it gets easier with time, but it doesn't," says the Burnaby resident. "I find it unbelievable that that amount of time has passed. For us it doesn't feel like that."
Braumberger wonders about the similarities between her son, McElwee, Kahler and Derek Kelly.
"But there's no way of me finding out," she says. "I'm not about to start contacting those parents because it's really difficult to speak to someone going through the same thing you are. It's tough. But I've looked at the pictures, I've looked at their age and the fact they're all males. I keep thinking there has to be some type of connection."
Braumberger closely follows all media reports related to the other missing men in hopes she'll hear something that could lead to a connection, such as a common interest.
"I keep waiting for one of their friends to say, 'I know that guy,'" she says.
Braumberger often searches the area where her son Bryan's car was found. Close friends also search the area when they have time. They continue to look despite a thorough police search with dogs immediately following the discovery of the car turning up nothing.
"There was nothing in the car. There was nothing around the car. There was no sign of a struggle. There was no blood. There's nothing. Just his car," says Braumberger. "I don't think we're missing anything, but it's as if the earth opened up and swallowed him. It's hard to believe none of these men have been found. Why aren't there any bodies?"
Like the other parents, Braumberger is convinced somebody knows something. She pleads with anyone with information to come forward. Even if they're responsible for Bryan's disappearance, she adds, she wants them to know there are many ways to offer information anonymously. A $30,000 reward is being offered for information regarding Bryan's whereabouts.
"At least give us that," she says. "Dealing with it the way it is now, some days I think, 'My God, I'm going to go crazy.' No one needs to know where the information is coming from. I just hope that someone will eventually have some kind of conscience and say, 'Enough is enough. We can't keep doing this to these people.'"
Anyone with information on these or anyother missing persons cases is asked to call the 24 hour Crime Stoppers toll-free line at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Crime Stoppers tipsters are guaranteed they will not have to give their name, be identified or testify in court. Because of this, Crime Stoppers gets valuable information that might not otherwise be provided. Crime Stoppers tipsters could be eligible to receive cash rewards of up to $2,000 upon an arrest and charge on a tip they provided.