The Serial Killer Ate My Homework

Watching some of these investigative reporters attempt to solve crimes gets as boring as watching American league baseball. No-one wants to single and bunt their way to victory, it’s all about the DH bases loaded home run, let’s hang it all to a serial killer and solve five crimes at once.

Israel Keyes

Take the case of Nancy West writing in a recent New Hampshire Sunday News article about murder suspect Israel Keyes. Keyes is being held in Alaska for the alleged kidnapping and murder of 18-year-old Samantha Koenig from an Anchorage coffee shop. Keyes is also apparently  a person of interest in the slaying of Essex, Vermont couple, Bill and Lorraine Currier, who were randomly abducted and murdered in June 2011 (apparently Keyes has told investigators the bodies could be found in a Vermont landfill).  The article (and apparently an impatient public, and capitulating law enforcement agencies) then attempts to tie Keyes to the disappearance and murder of Celina Cass, whose body was retrieved from a local river over a year ago, less than a quarter of a mile from her home. The evidence? Cass disappeared the month after the Currier murders.

Never mind that where the Curriers live in Essex, Vermont is a good five-hour drive on rough roads to where Cass disappeared in New Hampshire. Never mind that the psychological profile of someone who robs and kills a couple in their 50s is vastly different from someone who murders an 11-year-old. Investigators also note that Keyes owned a cabin near the Canadian border in Constable, New York. Let me put that in perspective for you; that’s three states, and over 300 miles. It’s like saying a person from Cornwall, Ontario is a suspect in a Sherbrooke, Quebec murder simply because there once was a penitentiary in Cornwall.

It gets better. The article also notes that the cases of Maura Murray and Louise Chaput remain unsolved in New Hampshire. 

Celia Cass

I’ll make this really easy for everyone. There is no evidence that Israel Keyes murdered Celina Cass (or Murray or Chaput). Cass was found a quarter of a mile from her house and was most likely murdered by a family member.

As I wrote about in my last post, through a long process of trial and error I have become a disciple of the least effort principle of Occam’s Razor. By all means keep your mind open for the unexpected, but also keep it simple, let the facts speak for themselves. The pressure and temptation to throw everything into some great unifying theory in criminal investigation is strong. I remember back in the Summer of 2005 I was working with NBC television to do a story for Dateline NBC on my sister’s murder. The producers were interested in exploring an angle between her case, and the then two new investigations into the twin disappearances of Briana Maitland and Maura Murray. The producers wanted myself and Geographic Profiler, Kim Rossmo to go on record and suggest that all the cases might be related, that their was a possibility that a serial killer had been operating across the American-Canadian border over a period of three decades. There was absolutely no evidence to support this theory. Rossmo explained that when establishing locus and territoriality in geographic profiling, the span of a serial predator quickly diminishes at a point of say, 30 miles. For someone to be operating in a playing field of several hundred miles is very rare, if not impossible. Some might cite Ted Bundy, but that was never really the case: Bundy travelled. In the case of the Green River Killings one of the major inhibitors to resolving that investigation was the temptation to tie too much together (to essentially make Gary Ridgeway and Robert Pickton one person). When we told the producers at NBC that there no evidence to support such a sensational theory they didn’t care. They wanted us to say it anyway.

Eventually we backed away from the Dateline story, and the producers were not interested in doing a show that stuck with the facts. I will admit that the temptation to give them what they wanted was there. Regardless if it was true, a Dateline story would have given my sister’s case International exposure. It could have led to information that could have solved the case. But the premise wasn’t true, it could have done more damage than good. And anyway, an American audience would do little to shed light on events of 3o-years-ago; what ultimately was needed was a program in the French language, produced for locals, by locals (which is ultimately was what we got).

In November 1999, 16-year-old Julie Surprenant disappeared from a Montreal bus-stop. Less than two years later, 14-year-old Julie Bureau went missing

Julie Surprenant’s father, Michel

from her home near Sherbrooke, Quebec. Then ten months later the body of 27-year-old Julie Boisvenu was found in a ditch near Sherbrooke. She had been raped, beaten and strangled to death. The press quickly tried to suggest that the cases were somehow linked. Their evidence? The girls were all named Julie. I’m not joking. I remember the La Presse headline, Les Trois Julies, and I myself got caught up in this hysteria. So what happened? Julie Surprenant was abducted and killed by serial offender Richard Bouillon who, on his prison death bed, confessed to a nurse that he killed her. Her body has never been found. Julie Bureau was a runaway who resurfaced three years later, apparently living under everyone’s noses in Sherbrooke.  Julie Boisvenu was murdered by Hugo Bernier, who is currently serving a life sentence. Bernier was a repeat offender, but not a hardened criminal like Bouillon.

This brings me full circle to the cases on Briana Maitland and Maura Murray. Both disappeared

Maura Murray

within a month of each other eight years ago. Both disappearances involved abandoned automobiles on lonely forested highways. Both were young, attractive women with their whole lives ahead of them. For years investigators, the media and the public have tried to link the cases. It took the first year and a half before investigators officially dismissed any connection, wasting valuable resources and time.

The cases are vastly different.

Murray appears to have been under numerous stressors that could have given her a reason to runaway. She may be living somewhere else, or she may have been in despair and perhaps died in the woods. Maitland’s disappearance seems to be linked to foul play. Friends and associates to this day are not talking. She may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Where Maitland’s investigation appears to have stalled, the Murray case has received fresh interest with the creation of a blog by investigative journalist James Renner  ( apparently to the dismay of the family unfortunately). Nevertheless, Renner appears clear-headed and dedicated to sticking to the facts of the case. I hope both cases soon find their resolutions.

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