VANCOUVER — Geographic profiler Kim Rossmo told the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Tuesday that his 1998 bid for a working group to investigate a possible serial killer was shot down in flames by a senior Vancouver police officer.
Former Vancouver Police Department Det. Insp. Rossmo, now an academic in Texas who consults for police agencies across the world, said mounting concern about the growing numbers of missing women led to a September 1998 meeting between himself, Vancouver Police Department frontline officers and Insp. Gary Greer, and RCMP officers from B.C.'s Fraser Valley, where three prostitutes had been found murdered.
Rossmo had drawn up a "blueprint" which he said aimed to determine if "reports of missing women represent a crime problem." He wanted to find out if the women should be considered victims of crime, if police should be looking at lists of sexual offenders and if the disappearances were linked to a particular known offender.
At the time the first police officer in Canada to earn a PhD, Rossmo said his focus was "environmental criminology," a discipline that studies links between crimes and locations. But his skills were not in high demand by VPD top brass, Rossmo testified, because finding a serial killer is challenging for a police force and requires a commitment of time and resources the force may not possess. Police typically don't want the public pressure and fear that comes from a police alert that a serial killer may be active, Rossmo added.
Rossmo suggested as early as fall of 1998 to VPD superior officers then that it might be a good idea to "inform the public" through VPD media spokeswoman Const. Anne Drennan that police were looking into the dozens of reported missing women and would be investigating whether a serial killer might be on the loose.
But the plan went awry at the second meeting of the missing women working group on Sept. 22, 1998, when senior Vancouver police Insp. Fred Biddlecombe, who had been on vacation during the first meeting, showed up and had a "temper tantrum," Rossmo said.
"He didn't believe the serial murderer theory and he was upset about the draft press release," Rossmo told the inquiry in direct examination by Commission Counsel Art Vertlieb.
Rossmo said Biddlecombe also accused him and frontline Downtown Eastside Const. Dave Dickson of "leaking" information to the media. "I found (him) to be inaccurate and quite inflammatory," said Rossmo, noting he didn't even possess the information Biddlecombe was accusing him of leaking to the press. It was also "embarrassing," said Rossmo, because officers from other agencies, including the RCMP, were present for the "tantrum."
VPD Insp. Gary Greer, who had supported the missing women working group, "folded like a house of cards" in the face of Biddlecombe's wrath, said Rossmo.
"There was no way we could continue without his co-operation," he added.
Rossmo said that he didn't believe, however, that Biddlecombe was "indifferent" or had a "negative attitude" toward marginalized or missing women — in fact, he said, Biddlecombe was "very dedicated and very compassionate" toward victims of violence.
"My opinion was he honestly believed there was no serial murderer and we were just wasting his people's time," said Rossmo.
Rossmo didn't give up, however. He co-operated with VPD Det-Const. Lori Shenher, who was working hard at the community and street level to find out what had happened to the missing women. Rossmo went to then-deputy chief Brian McGuinness. And when Shenher spoke to anxious and grieving friends and relatives of the missing women in early 1999, Rossmo asked for her data to prepare a profile of who was missing and what might have happened to them. He found a "bulge" of missing women in the late 1990s and agreed with Shenher that they were likely victims of foul play.
Rossmo concluded the women in the survival sex trade who had gone missing were not really "transient" as they didn't have cars or money for plane tickets and whatever they earned "went into their arm" since they were heavily drug-addicted. He concluded that someone who had the means or money to transport the women out of the Downtown Eastside had to be involved, since no bodies and no evidence of murder had surfaced.
But in December, 2000, the VPD refused to renew Rossmo's contract as a geographic profiler and offered him a reduced rank. Rossmo left, and since then has had a solid career as an outside and academic analyst of police behaviour.
Missing Women Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal served notice, however, that he will be focusing on "systemic failure" and the "inter-jurisdictional" breakdown in communication between police agencies.
"Sadly, grotesque serial crimes have happened before in B.C., in Canada and in many other countries, including the U.S. and the U.K.," Oppal noted in a brief address at the opening of the inquiry on Tuesday.
Quoting an Ontario public inquiry commissioner, Oppal noted: "Virtually every inter-jurisdictional serial killer case, including the Yorkshire Ripper . . . in England, Ted Bundy and the Green River killer in the U.S., and Clifford Olson in Canada, demonstrate the same problems and raise the same questions.
"And always the answers turn out to be the same — systemic failure."
Oppal pledged, however, that he will deliver some answers in his final report, to be handed in by June, 2012, that will make sure "what happened here must never happen again."
Hearings at the inquiry continue daily until the end of April.
There are now about two dozen lawyers representing the VPD, the Vancouver police board and union and several individual officers. The RCMP is represented by federal lawyers, with all of those lawyers being paid out of the public purse.
Community and women's groups have complained they were shut out of the inquiry due to lack of funding for lawyers, although independent lawyers Jason Gratl and Robyn Gervais are acting for Downtown Eastside women's and aboriginal groups.
Lawyers Cameron Ward and Neil Chantler represent the families of 25 women murdered by Robert Pickton, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of six women but claimed to have killed 49 in total.
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