Dead U.S. convict linked to Highway of Tears murder, identified as suspect in two other cases
RCMP are asking the public for information on the history of a deceased U.S. convict they believe is responsible for the murder of a British Columbian teenager in 1974.
At a news conference in Surrey today (September 25), RCMP investigators said the DNA of Bobby Jack Fowler, who died in prison in Newport, Oregon in 2006, has been linked to the death of 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen.
They have also identified Fowler as a suspect in the 1973 deaths of two other young women whose bodies were found along what is known as the Highway of Tears, Gale Weys of Clearwater, B.C. and Pamela Darlington of Kamloops.
“Fowler is with certainty responsible for Colleen MacMillen’s death,” Insp. Gary Shinkaruk told reporters.
“There’s a tremendous amount of investigative evidence that leads us to have Fowler as an incredibly strong suspect, which is higher than a person of interest…in those two other homicides.”
The cases are part of the ongoing E-Pana investigation into 18 women that went missing or were found murdered near three highways in northern B.C. The RCMP said today they do not believe a single serial killer is responsible for all 18 of the murders. Fowler has been eliminated as a suspect in eight of the 18 investigations and remains a “person of interest” in the remaining cases.
Officials said they have pieced together a timeline of Fowler’s whereabouts over the last 40 years, which placed him in Prince George, B.C. in 1974, where he worked for a now-defunct roofing company called Happy’s Roofing.
They’re asking members of the public to fill in the gaps in that timeline, particularly Fowler’s history in B.C.
“We do see that there’s a pocket of time in the States where he doesn’t have a lot of interaction with law enforcement—which just heightens our belief that he was here in B.C. for a longer period of time, which is really why we’re appealing to the public, to provide us the assistance that we need to move forward with other investigations,” said Shinkaruk.
RCMP described Fowler as a transient individual who was known to drive across three states in the period of a day. He also had a propensity to pick up female hitchhikers, and was “extremely violent”, according to Shinkaruk. While Fowler’s criminal record across several American states included convictions for crimes including attempted murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, sexual assault, arson, and kidnapping, he had no criminal record in Canada.
“People tell us that his personality could change on a moment’s notice,” said Shinkaruk, noting that Fowler was an alcoholic, and a user of speed and methamphetamine.
“We will continue to investigate him for those homicides as well as the remaining homicides and we will be re-examining him on other unsolved homicides we have not just in British Columbia,” Shinkaruk added. “We’ve been in contact with our neighbouring provinces and territories…and they are also anxious to follow up on any information that’s received from the public.”
MacMillen, who lived with her family in Lac La Hache, B.C., disappeared on August 9, 1974, after she left home with a plan to hitchhike to a friend’s house nearby. Her body was found off a logging road 46 km from where she was last seen.
Macmillen’s brother Shawn delivered a statement on behalf of the victim’s family at today’s news conference.
“Colleen was a lovely, sweet, innocent 16-year-old kid, and there are still no words in the world to express how terribly she was wronged,” he said.
“For those remaining families whose daughters and sisters were also victims, we hope this means they may yet have their own answers.”
Shinkaruk said they became aware of Fowler's connection to MacMillen’s case after E-Pana investigators requested a re-examination this year of DNA found on the victim’s body. The sample was submitted to an Interpol data bank this year, and the Oregon State Police forensic lab obtained a DNA match in May.
Deputy B.C. RCMP Commissioner Craig Callens said the match was the oldest investigators have made in Interpol’s history.
At the time of his death due to lung cancer, Fowler was serving a 16-year sentence for a violent attack against a woman in Newport in 1995.
Ron Benson, an investigator with the Lincoln County District Attorney’s Office in Oregon, said Fowler has also been linked to the deaths of four young women in that state.
RCMP are asking anyone with information about Fowler to contact the RCMP’s E-Pana tip line at 1-877-543-4822, or to call Crime Stoppers.
The RCMP’s E-Pana investigation was launched in 2005 to investigate the deaths and disappearances of women along B.C. Highways 16, 97 and 5 between 1969 and 2006.