Questions loom amid northern B.C. murders and disappearances

Questions loom amid northern B.C. murders and disappearances

VANCOUVER—Recent deaths and disappearances more than 500 kilometres apart have set a chill over British Columbia’s vast and remote north. Police are attempting to unearth explanations for three deaths and two disappearances discovered within a period of five days last week, and say they aren’t sure if any of the incidents are connected.

Last Monday, Lucas Fowler and Chynna Noelle Deese, a couple travelling together, were found dead along the Alaska Highway near Liard Hot Springs, south of the B.C.-Yukon boundary.

On Friday, police found an unidentified man’s body two kilometres away from a burned vehicle that they said had been driven by missing Vancouver Island teens Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, near Dease Lake on Highway 37. The two were last spotted Thursday in Dease Lake, which is about 1,000 kilometres northwest of Prince George, about a 12-hour drive. Liard Hot Springs is located about 530 kilometres east of Dease Lake.

McLeod and Schmegelsky were last seen in Dease Lake on Thursday, travelling in a red and grey Dodge pickup truck with a sleeping camper. Police said this was the burned vehicle found Friday, two kilometres away from the body. Police did not release the cause of death in that case, but did confirm that the body did not belong to either of the missing teens, who were travelling to the Yukon to look for work. Police said the two teens had not been in contact with their families for several days.

In a news conference Monday, police said they don’t know whether there is any connection between the double homicide, the missing teens and the unidentified dead man. They’re considering all options as they advise that those travelling in the area to be cautious, and continue to ask the public for any information they have.

A sketch of a man who was found dead near Dease Lake, B.C., is displayed as RCMP Sgt. Janelle Shoihet listens during an RCMP news conference regarding missing teenagers Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, in Surrey, B.C.

Monday, in an attempt to get some answers, the RCMP released a composite sketch of the man found dead near Dease Lake. They also released a sketch of a man who reportedly spoke to Fowler shortly before his death.

Sgt. Janelle Shoihet confirmed Monday that Fowler, who is Australian, and Deese, who is from the U.S., were shot to death.

“In my time here it is unusual. We have seen homicides, but generally speaking not of this nature,” said Shoihet.

Lucas Fowler’s father Stephen Fowler, a chief investigator with the New South Wales police department in Australia, said during Monday’s police press conference that no amount of experience dealing with violent crime could have prepared him and his family for the loss, which is compounded by the knowledge that Lucas died pursuing his dream of travelling with someone he loved.

“My son was travelling the world…. they teamed up fell in love,” Fowler said. “It’s a love story that ended tragically, it really is.”

While the vast majority of people who are reported missing are found, the rate of disappearances in B.C. is alarming. A Star investigation last year found that more than 2,500 people have gone missing in B.C. and never been found. Most of those cases are at least 10 years old.

Adjusted for population, the rate of unsolved long-term missing persons cases in B.C. is more than twice the national average, and nearly five times that of Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, according to the data obtained by the Star from the Canadian Police Information Database.

With files from Ainslie Cruickshank, Wanyee Li and Jesse Winter

Alex McKeen is a Vancouver-based reporter covering transportation and labour. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_mckeen

Cherise Seucharan is a Vancouver-based reporter covering crime and public safety. Follow her on Twitter: @CSeucharan

Read more:

Third body found in northern B.C. not connected to double homicide, say RCMP

Their daughters vanished — and parents say police stopped looking. Now desperate families are searching on their own

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