The RCMP have linked the 1974 murder of 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen to Bobby Jack Fowler, who died in a U.S. prison in 2006.
Colleen, who was living with her family just north of Lac La Hache, disappeared while hitchhiking on Highway 97 near Lac La Hache on her way to a friend’s house on the Timothy Lake Road.
“She was last seen about 8 p.m. on Aug. 9 and reported missing on Aug. 11 when it was realized she had not reached her destination,” the Tribune reported on Sept. 5, 1974.
An American tourist, upon finding her clothing intact at 102 Mile House, reported the findings to the 100 Mile House RCMP.
Her body was later found beside a logging road off the Davis Lake Road, 46 kilometres south of where she was last seen.
Investigators from the RCMP’s Project E-PANA, which is investigating the Highway of Tears murders, held a press conference earlier today to make the announcement.
Insp. Gary Shinkaruk, officer in charge of the B.C. RCMP Major Crime, Special Projects Unit, said: “In June of 2007, E-PANA investigators re-submitted exhibits from Colleen’s case to the RCMP Vancouver Forensic Lab for DNA analysis. A DNA profile of an unknown male was identified from Colleen’s case. It was submitted to the National Crime Scene Databank. There was no match.”
“In 2012 with the advances in DNA technology, E-PANA investigators requested a re-examination of the profile. That resulted in a higher quality sample being developed which allowed it to be submitted to INTERPOL that includes access to foreign DNA databases.”
On May 3, 2012, the Oregon Department of State – Police Forensic Laboratory obtained a CODIS DNA match. The match was to U.S. citizen Bobby Jack Fowler.
“Based on what E-PANA investigators know today, Fowler is responsible for the murder of 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen,” Shinkaruk said.
Colleen was the daughter of Shirley and A.V. MacMillen.
A.V. used to be the principal at Columneetza high school between 1966 and 1972. At the press conference Colleen’s brother Shawn MacMillen described Colleen as an innocent and sweet kid, and said the family was stunned and grateful for the news.
“It’s been a long wait for answers,” he said, adding it’s an unsatisfactory result because the individual won’t stand trial, but the family is comforted by the fact Fowler died in jail and could not hurt anyone else.
He said the MacMillens’ thoughts go out to the remaining families whose daughters were victims.
Project E-PANA is comprised of 18 cases involving 13 homicides and five missing women investigations ranging from 1969 to 2006 and involve women and girls who were involved in activity like hitchhiking and were last seen or found within a mile of Highway 16, Highway 97, or Highway 5.
Fowler has been eliminated as a suspect in eight of the E-PANA files. However, he remains a person of interest in the remaining cases, including 19-year-old Gale Weys, who was last seen hitchhiking from Clearwater, B.C. on Oct. 16, 1973 and was found murdered six months later; and 19-year-old Kamloops resident Pamela Darlington, who was murdered and found in Pioneer Park on Nov. 7, 1973.
“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,” Shinkaruk said.
The RCMP didn’t say whether there may be a link between Fowler and the murder of Bella Coola resident 27-year-old Gloria Levina Moody — whose body was found on Oct. 19, 1969 by some hunters on a road about two kilometres off the highway west of Williams Lake.
At the time, Sgt. William Pooler, in charge of the Williams Lake detachment, described her murder as brutal and vicious.
Moody is, however, among the cases being investigated by E-PANA.
Shinkaruk said Fowler has an extensive violent and criminal history with convictions in several U.S. states for crimes including attempted murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, sexual assault, arson, kidnapping, attempting sexual assault and firearm offences.
Investigators have spoken to several of his living victims who through “extremely disturbing testimony” have said Fowler’s intention was actually to kill them.
Fowler’s last conviction was in Newport, Oregon for a 1995 attack against a woman. He served 10 years and died of natural causes while in custody in May 2006 at the age of 66.
Shinkaruk said Fowler worked in the Prince George area in 1974 for a roofing company called Happy’s Roofing, a company no longer in business. In 2011, there was a flood in the building and all records were destroyed.
“While there are many things we don’t we know — what we do know is that he was transient and travelled between U.S. states and even countries in a day,” Shinkaruk said, adding Fowler worked odd jobs, such as roofing and general labour, and stayed and lived in motels or rented. He also liked old cars, frequented bars and restaurants, and was violent toward both men and women and picked up hitchhikers.
Police are seeking the public’s assistance in determining Fowler’s movements. They have released photos of Fowler over the years and a video.
“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,” Shinkaruk 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 may have about him.”
Anyone with information is asked to call 1-877-543-4822 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).