Do you remember this man? Bobby Jack Fowler may be linked to seven other Highway of Tears cases.
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The RCMP said Tuesday investigators had linked at least three “Highway of Tears” murders to a U.S. serial killer who died from lung cancer in 2006 while serving time in an Oregon prison.
Investigators with the RCMP’s Project E-PANA, the British Columbia-based task force probing Highway of Tears cold cases, said Bobby Jack Fowler murdered a 16 year-old girl and was strongly suspected of killing two 19 year-olds in the province during the 1970s.
The investigators said they suspected Fowler could also be linked to seven other case involving murders and disappearances of women from Highways 97, 16 and 5, in the B.C. interior between Prince George and Prince Rupert.
The Highway of Tears investigation is focusing on a total of 18 cases ranging from 1969 to 2006 which are all linked by their close proximity to the three highways. The cases involve 13 murders and five missing women investigations. The majority of the cases involve First Nations women.
The RCMP said a second serial killer may also be responsible for some of the murders. Investigators have identified three suspects in connection with three murders. In at least two of the cases the RCMP believes the linked suspects killed only once.
It took a world first in police investigations for the RCMP to link Fowler with the 1974 murder of Colleen MacMillen, a 16 year-old from Lac La Hache, B.C.
MacMillen was last seen hitchhiking on Hwy 97 on Aug. 9, 1974. She was later found murdered off a logging road about 46 kilometres south from her last known location.
Earlier this year, as a result of new DNA identification technology, the RCMP submitted the DNA of an unknown male that had been isolated in MacMillen’s case to Interpol’s foreign DNA database. On May 3, Oregon State Police made a match, the oldest DNA match in history.
The RCMP also believes that Fowler is linked to the 1973 murder of Gale West, 19, and the killing of Pamela Darlington, 19, that same year. He was known to travel Hwy 16.
“These are just two of the cases we are looking for connections to, but we are fully open to the possibility that Fowler committed other violent offences against women that may or may not have been reported to police,” said Ins. Gary Shinkaruk, officer in charge of the B.C. RCMP Major Crime, Special Projects Unit.
The RCMP, however, would not reveal how Fowler killed his victims.
Fowler died at age 66 in prison while serving time for the 1995 kidnapping and attempted rape of a woman who fled from his grasp by jumping out a second floor window at the Tides Inn Motel in Newport, Oregon, naked, with a rope tied to her ankle.
Oregon authorities have linked Fowler to at least four unsolved murders of teen girls.
A drifter, who did odd jobs, drove old cars into the ground and moved between U.S. states and across the international border, Fowler had an extensive, violent criminal history in the U.S. but left barely a trace during his time in Canada.
Shinkaruk said the U.S.-born Fowler had criminal convictions spanning several states that included attempted murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, sexual assault, arson, kidnapping and attempted sexual assault.
Fowler had a deceptively charming and disarming personality which could darken on a moment’s notice and would then become extremely aggressive and violent with often deadly aims. He often acted under the twisted belief that women who hitchhiked, went to taverns or bars desired to be violently sexually assaulted.
“A number of living victims that provided information to us…that is disturbing and graphic in nature,” said Shinkaruk. “Some living individuals stated that his intention was to actually kill them.”
The RCMP teamed up with the F.B.I., 31 law enforcement agencies and 11 state correctional departments, in the investigation into Fowler that led all the way to Texas where he once killed a man in 1970 but escaped conviction on the death.
The RCMP interviewed Fowler’s family in the U.S., who suspected him of murdering one of their own, associates and cell mates in hopes of uncovering bits of information that would shed light on the killer’s time in Canada.
RCMP investigators managed to create a timeline for Fowler’s movement spanning the last 40 years, but still faced extensive gaps from his time in B.C..
“Our challenge had been determining with certainty Fowler’s history here in British Columbia,” said Shinkaruk.
Despite his vicious criminal history in the U.S., there is no trace of Fowler in Canadian police databases. Investigators uncovered that he worked for Prince George roofing company, Happy’s Roofing, in 1974. The company’s records now no longer exist.
Shinkaruk said the RCMP was releasing photos of Fowler and a video in hopes of stirring the memories of residents in the area.
“We believe there are people out there who employed Fowler, worked with him, socialized with him or even waited on him while he was in British Columbia,” he said. “We are asking you to think back to the 70s, 80s and 90s, and your own memories of that time period, then have a look at his photos and please call us with any information you have about him.”
Shawn MacMillan, Colleen MacMillan’s brother, said news that the RCMP finally found his sister’s killer was bitter-sweet at best.
The RCMP is also exploring whether Fowler travelled in the neighbouring province of Alberta or up in the Yukon or Northwest Territories.
“It has been a long wait for answers and though as a somewhat unsatisfactory result because this individual won’t stand trial for what he did, we are comforted by the fact that he was in prison when he died and he can’t hurt anyone else,” said Shawn MacMillan. “Colleen was a lovely, sweet 16 year-old kid and there are no words to express how terribly she was robbed.”