The main characters in this story are out of their minds with worry.
A husband and wife say they have new information about an Ottawa-area death. Since the first week in January, I’ve logged about 30 hours of phone-time with the pair. Meanwhile, they’ve made contact with police at least five times.
The case has never been prosecuted and the victim may have been chosen because he was gay. In other words, it’s a gaybashing cold case.
They believe they have the keys to cracking an unsolved homicide. After researching the time period, the death and the backgrounds of the people involved — and talking extensively with gay activists at the time who watched the case in the news — the couple’s version of events has the ring of truth and the information strikes me as valuable.
Of course, it has yet to be tested in court, corroborated by evidence and put through its paces by a police investigation.
And at the moment, that’s the crux of the problem. The couple brought the information to the Ottawa Police Services on Dec 3. Nearly four months later, they say police have not met with them in person, never interviewed them, never collected an affidavit. Not even asked preliminary information-gathering questions. Nothing.
The couple sat on the information for more than 10 years, until recently, when circumstances made it easier for them to come forward. If their circumstances change again, they may disappear or simply decide to keep their mouths shut.
The couple are out of their minds with worry, because they may have put themselves in jeopardy by coming forward. They are, after all, accusing someone of murder, and people don’t tend to take kindly to that. So they’re worried. Ottawa’s gay community should be worried too.
At the time of the murder, Ottawa’s gays had a rocky relationship with police. Ottawa had no hate crimes unit, police recruits received no sensitivity training on queer issues, and there was no Police Liaison to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Communities. They didn’t have the benefit— which they do now — of a handful of articulate queer police officers serving in various capacities on the force.
Was the case handled in the manner that we would expect of the police, if the death had occurred in 2009? Given the police department’s ignorance of queer issues and their official indifference all those years ago, there’s a very real possibility that the case was not handled correctly.
Times have changed, we would hope. So what should the public — the gay community especially — expect now?
1. Take the new information seriously. Interview the source. Corroborate the details of his background and involvement with the case’s key players. Take the necessary steps to ensure the source is protected.
2. Go through the archives. Find the case notes from the investigating officer and cross-reference them.
3. Canvass. Ask the gay community for any information they might have about the death, the time period and the people involved.
4. Treat the case as a priority. All cases are important; especially when there’s a death involved. But there are elements in this case, including the anxiety of a potentially key informant, that mean that time is ticking away. So, move now.
For the moment, Capital Xtra is declining to report on the details of this case or the circumstances of the source. That’s in large part out of deference to the police investigation, although with each passing month, the mental calculus shifts a little bit more in favour of publishing the details. I’d rather not, at least until the police have moved to interview the couple.
This source may not have all the information, but it is my sincere hope that police will use it as a jumping-off point to re-open the investigation into the death. And to do that, job one must be to collect a statement from a couple that has offered to help.
TAG: Do you have information about a cold case? Contact the police directly at 613.236.1222. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to the police, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.