The Death of Helen Betty Osborne
The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission
An Overview of the Investigation TOP
The investigation of the murder by the RCMP seems to have had three stages. The first, which lasted from the discovery of Osbornes body until the end of 1972, was a period of considerable activity during which the four suspects were identified. The first phase came to a close at the end of 1972, when the police concluded they were unable to gather enough evidence to lay charges.
The second phase lasted from 1973 until 1983. Although the file was reviewed from time to time, and Lee Colgan and Norman Manger were interviewed occasionally, not much was accomplished during this period. The file appears to have remained essentially dormant.
The third phase began in 1983 with Const. Robert Urbanoskis review of the file. He reinterviewed all those previously questioned. On June 12, 1985, he placed an article in the Opasquia Times which resulted in the discovery of new and incriminating evidence. When Colgan was charged on October 3, 1986, extensive news media coverage throughout western Canada resulted in further evidence coming to light. Johnston was charged on October 27, 1986. In March 1987, when Colgan offered to give evidence in return for immunity from prosecution, the police were able to charge Houghton. In December 1987, 16 years after the murder, a jury convicted Johnston and acquitted Houghton.
While the investigation appears to have been followed with enthusiasm in the first phase, it seems to us that that enthusiasm waned rather quickly. The fact that in the third phase Urbanoski completed the investigation with some alacrity causes us to question why the RCMP allowed the case to slip from attention at the end of 1972. The advertising used in 1985 could have been undertaken as easily in 1972. It may be that the young witnesses might not have responded at that time but the effort could have been made.
Despite the flagging attention of the RCMP the major cause of the 16-year delay does not appear to have been a lack of police activity. It is our opinion that the major factor was that those who knew what had happened did not or would not speak to the police. The simple fact is that this was a difficult case to bring to court. TOP
RCMP Resources TOP
The RCMP had two detachments in The Pas at the time of the murder. The rural detachment consisted of nine officers and the town detachment had 13. Both fell under the Dauphin Sub-Division, which provided detachments with support services including Identification Services, a General Investigative Section member and a plainclothes officer. Another GIS member as well as another plainclothes officer stationed at Thompson were also available to The Pas. The rural detachment of the RCMP was in charge of the investigation. It would appear that the rural detachment made extensive and appropriate use of the extra resources and personnel available to it.
Hundreds of officers worked on the file over the years; more than 50 in the first year alone. Urbanoski gave us a list of 29 officers who worked on the case in The Pas in the first year of the investigation. Officers across the country also worked on the file, checking cars, doctors, hospitals and lists of suspects, and performing other investigative tasks. TOP
The First Phase of the Investigation TOP
Fourteen-year-old Kenneth Gurba, his father Steven, and Danny Yakiwchuk arrived at the pump house on Clearwater Lake to go fishing on Saturday, November 13, between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. They set up on the shore at the end of the breakwater at the pump house. Having tired of fishing, the boy wandered off into the bush looking for rabbits. At approximately 11:30 a.m., as he was returning to the parking area around the pump house, he noticed something in the bush. The bush was too thick to allow him to discern what it was he had glimpsed, so he went out to the parking area and then back in from another direction. There, he discovered the body of Betty Osborne. He informed his father, and they went to the nearby airport to call the police. If it had not been for young Gurbas chance stroll, it is likely Osbornes body would not have been discovered until the following spring. Indeed, it might never have been found.
Kenneth Gurba and his father returned from the airport accompanied by Staff Sgt. Robert Ayers, an RCMP pilot in charge of the Air Division stationed there. Ayers testified that when he entered the bush he did so by walking in the boys footprints. After viewing the body, he sent the Gurbas back to the airport to call the RCMP detachment in The Pas. He then awaited the arrival of other officers.
Sgt. Larry Grosenick, an officer with 20 years of service, was then in charge of the rural detachment at The Pas. He arrived at the scene accompanied by Const. Ken Morrison. By 1:45 p.m. more officers had arrived, including Cpl. John Fitzmaurice, the head of the General Investigative Section in Dauphin; Cpl. Harold Bielert, the identification specialist from Dauphin; as well as Const. Thomas Boyle and Const. Donald Knight from The Pas rural detachment. The officers from Dauphin (Fitzmaurice and Bielert) happened to be in The Pas investigating other matters. Grosenick, as the senior officer, took charge of the investigation. Knight was placed in charge of recording the scene and collecting the physical evidence. Bielert was given responsibility for taking photographs and measurements.
Boyle was placed in charge of the body and at 4:03 p.m it was moved to the morgue at St. Anthonys Hospital in The Pas. According to Boyles records, 31 persons, including taxi drivers and residents of The Pas Reserve, attempted to identify the body between 5:15 p.m. and 4:05 a.m. of the next day. None was able to do so. At 9:55 p.m. on November 13, William Benson, at whose house Osborne was boarding, came to the morgue but could not identify her positively because of the condition of the battered body.
Earlier in the day Benson had reported Osborne missing. When he was unable to identify her at the morgue, the police went to his home and took fingerprints from one of her schoolbooks. Using these fingerprints, at 10 minutes after midnight on November 14, 1971, the police positively identified the body of Betty Osborne.
Meanwhile, the police had been continuing their work at the murder scene. Thirty-six exhibits were gathered at the murder scene and about 120 photographs were taken. Blood samples were taken and analysed. Footprints were examined, photographed and compared. The imprints left by the tires of an automobile also were examined and photographed. The whole area was measured and mapped.
Some criticism can be levelled at the manner in which the evidence at the scene was preserved and gathered. Bielert had been in The Pas taking photographs of suspected drug traffickers. The equipment he had brought with him from Dauphin for that purpose was not well suited to taking photographs of footprints and tire tracks in the snow. Because his camera was not equipped with a built-in light metre, he failed to adjust for the fading light and did not use a flash to illuminate the area. Consequently, some of the photographs lacked detail. Bielert maintained that the footprints themselves, because of the snow conditions, were not good enough to serve for identification purposes. Because of the poor quality of the photographs, we cannot verify that. The photographic record of the footprints could have been much better.
Bielert also failed to record carefully all the footprints which were at the scene. While he traced all those leading from the pump house to the place where Osbornes body had first been placed in the snow, he did not clearly record the footprints on each side of the drag marks from that spot to the final resting place. The defence lawyers at the trial of Houghton and Johnston made much of this failing. Neither did Bielert map the path used by Kenneth Gurba and Staff Sergeant Ayers when they viewed Osbornes body. It is our opinion that these oversights were crucial and ultimately detrimental to the prosecution. It is possible that a better record of the tracks and footprints at the scene would have given the police and any prospective judge or jury some help in reconstructing the sequence of events at the murder scene. The incomplete mapping of the scene clearly caused confusion at the trial, particularly over the question of whether one or two people were involved in moving the body.
Other physical evidence was found. At 1:15 p.m. on November 13, the same day as the murder, a passing motorist picked up a screwdriver he had found in the middle of the highway a few hundred yards west of the pump house road. This screwdriver has not been linked directly to the murder. On November 14, Const. Don Knight retrieved a pair of gloves, two pieces of a brassiere and a bloodstained paper bag from the ditch on the north side of the same highway. Later that same day, a police dog discovered another screwdriver, this one bloodstained and presumed to be the murder weapon, close to where the gloves and the brassiere had been found earlier. Seven months later, in June 1972, a local resident walking her dog discovered Osbornes glasses in the ditch on the south side of Highway 287, close to the turn-off to the Houghton cottage.
With the initial stages completed, the search for the murderer began. Much of the RCMPs early attention was focussed on Osbornes Aboriginal friends, but other leads were pursued as well. Because The Pas was a town with a large transient population, the investigation involved hundreds of police all across the country checking out people who had left the town shortly after the murder. The viciousness of the crime suggested to the police that the murderer or murderers might have been drunk or drugged. The police also suspected that Osborne might have fallen victim to someone with a history of violent or sexual attacks. The Crime Index Section in Winnipeg conducted a search of its records for persons who may have committed similar crimes. The RCMP checked local beer-vending outlets, hotel and motel registers, as well as employment and welfare records. They also checked with federal and provincial corrections departments to see if any dangerous prisoners had escaped recently. All the information gathered was examined by the Crime Index Section to see if any likely suspects had been in The Pas at the time of the murder.
The owners of the cottages close to the scene were contacted to ascertain if they had seen anything which might assist the investigation. Within three days of the murder, a circular had been sent to police departments across the country. Over 1,000 persons were checked before the year had ended. All were eliminated from suspicion.
From the outset, the RCMP attempted to trace Osbornes movements in the hours before her death. They interviewed her friends and others who may have seen her that night. The RCMP were aware that the possibility existed that Osborne had been murdered by friends or acquaintances. No links to the murderers were uncovered in those interviews. Indeed, all Osbornes friends and acquaintances were eliminated quickly from suspicion.
A number of what turned out to be false leads consumed some of the time of the RCMP. A bloodstained shirt had been found along the highway to the pump house. The size of the shirt, and the fact that it was rather dirty, led the police to suspect that a "person(s) unkempt in appearance, slim build and in the 135 to 150 lb. bracket" might have committed the murder. This shirt, the origin of which was never traced, is now believed to have had no relation to the murder.
Police also spent time attempting to trace the origin of the screwdriver which had been found along the highway near the pump house. This screwdriver, picked up by a passing motorist the day of the murder, had a name which appeared to be "Hanson" or "Ranson" or something similar engraved on it. The owner of the screwdriver, which has never been ruled out as a possible murder weapon, could not be traced.
One person came forward and told the police in The Pas that she had seen a woman kill Osborne. After this story was proved to be false, two other rumours surfaced. One suggested that Osborne had been killed by three or four girls, and another that she had been killed by a lunatic who was passing through town. A fourth rumour later suggested that a person who committed suicide had left a note naming three of the murderers. All these rumours were checked and found to be groundless.TOP
Identification of the Car TOP
On the same day as the murder the RCMP received some important information regarding the possible murder vehicle. Taxi driver Philip McGillivary told Constable Boyle that on November 13, at about the time of the murder, he had followed a car west on Highway 287. He said that the licence contained the numbers 42. The RCMP issued an information circular on November 16 indicating that the first two numbers were 42 and that the vehicle was dark in colour. However, in a brief statement to police on November 17, McGillivary said the vehicle he saw after 4:15 a.m. was light blue in colour. At some point, he apparently also told the police that the licence plate contained the letter "B" and the numbers 35 or 53 in addition to the numbers 42.
The next information circular, distributed by the RCMP on November 24, 1971, contained this information:
A vehicle described as dark in colour, bearing a Manitoba license plate containing the letter "B" and the numbers 42, was seen in the area of the offence at approximately 3:00 a.m. of Saturday, 13 Nov. 71. (Exhibit 11)
There seems to be no satisfactory explanation as to why the circular described the vehicle as "dark in colour" when McGillivary had told police that it was light blue.
When McGillivary was interviewed formally on December 1, 1971, he said 42 were the last two numbers. He again described the colour as light blue and he stated quite clearly that he never told the police that the plate contained the letter "B" or that the number may have contained 35 or 53. He also said that the car that he saw after 4:00 a.m. was not one he recognized as being from The Pas. On the basis of McGillivarys information the RCMP obtained two separate computer print-outs from the Motor Vehicle Branch, each containing over 2,500 vehicles with similar numbers.
Some days later the officers working on the case decided to attempt to use hypnosis with McGillivary to see if he could remember more about the car. An appointment was arranged in Saskatchewan for December 12, l971. Under hypnosis McGillivary remembered the licence number as 5342. He still did not recall any letters. The RCMP again checked with the Motor Vehicle Branch and found that the list of possible vehicles had narrowed to 28. Among those was the licence BN 5342, registered in the name of Harold "Bud" Colgan, the father of Lee Colgan. It was the only car from The Pas on the list.
Despite some apparent confusion over the appearance of the car, the time it was spotted and the numbers of its licence plate, Philip McGillivary had some valuable evidence to offer police. Had it been handled better, within the first couple of days after the murder the RCMP could have placed the Colgan vehicle near the scene of the crime.
The poor handling of McGillivarys evidence by The Pas detachment was then followed by a major mistake. Rather than immediately seizing and examining the Colgan vehicle, the rural detachment decided to do nothing, relying instead on information that a member of the town detachment had inspected the car in a routine check one evening around the time of the murder. According to Urbanoski, the constable who conducted the spot check had reported only that he had looked in the back seat, had seen nothing unusual, and that he knew the operator of the vehicle. The operator was Lee Colgan.
The RCMP were not certain when that check took place. No record of the check can be found. It could have been conducted as early as the night of the murder. It could even have happened before the murder occurred. Const. John Lyons, who checked the car, told us he didnt think he knew there had been a murder when he looked at the car, and he stated quite firmly that he did not know at the time that Colgan might have been a murder suspect. It now appears obvious that the check was not related to the murder at all and was not connected to the province-wide request to check cars with the numbers 5342. It is difficult to understand why the rural detachment would refrain from what would be a normal follow-up on the excellent work they had done just because an officer from the town detachment seemed to "vouch for" the owner of the car. No effort was made to do what had been requested of other detachmentsto determine the whereabouts of any vehicle with the numbers 5342 in the licence on the night of the murder.
Sergeant Grosenick, as the officer in charge of the rural detachment of the RCMP at The Pas at the time of the murder and the officer in charge of the investigation, must be held responsible for this considerable error. He said that he believed that the automobile was examined adequately in December 1971. When shown Exhibit 17, a memorandum from Constable Lyons of the town detachment indicating the cursory nature of the examination of the vehicle conducted by Lyons in November, Grosenick agreed that that type of examination would not be sufficient. He acknowledged that once police were aware of the licence number and the possible involvement of this vehicle, a much more intensive examination was required. In spite of Grosenicks belief that a detailed examination of the vehicle took place in December 1971, we are satisfied from the records and the memories of other officers that no such examination of the vehicle took place in December.
The failure to check the Colgan car adequately represents a very serious flaw in the investigation. The fault in the first instance must lie with Grosenick, since he was the officer in charge. By 1971, he had been in the RCMP for 20 years and had worked on approximately 15 serious investigations involving death, half of which were murder or manslaughter cases. We had the impression, nevertheless, that this particular investigation taxed his investigative and administrative capacity. As the officer in charge, he should have made certain that all possible leads were pursued exhaustively. Grosenick has not explained this failing adequately.
Grosenick admitted to us that he had some "personality differences" with the officer in charge of the town detachment at the time. We were led to wonder if the lack of a good working relationship might have contributed to the failure of the rural detachment to examine the car properly once McGillivary had provided the number. If that is the case, we can only say that we feel that such conflict cannot be tolerated. If it is not the case, then the fault would appear to fall on the rural detachment for failing to follow through with its own investigation. It was negligent for the rural detachment not to have inspected the car carefully after it was identified so clearly within a month of the murder.
It would be easy to conclude that the middle-class status of the Colgan family was a contributing factor to the RCMPs casual approach to checking their vehicle. Less "respectable" citizens surely could not expect such deferential treatment.
Some responsibility for the failure to follow up on the lead provided by McGillivary must also rest with the higher levels of the RCMP in their failure to supervise properly the somewhat inexperienced detachment at The Pas. We heard testimony that the RCMP Crime Index Section in Winnipeg was integrally involved in the attempts to identify the vehicle McGillivary had seen. But the Winnipeg officers did no better than their counterparts in The Pas in pursuing the lead properly. Failing to notice such an obvious omission in the investigation suggests to us that there must have been some serious flaws in the system of supervision. Divisional headquarters in Winnipeg should have provided better direction for the activities of The Pas detachment in this case.
In May 1972, after receiving the anonymous letter implicating Colgan, Houghton and Manger, the RCMP finally obtained a search warrant, seized the car and conducted a meticulous search. In the words of Urbanoski, "In effect, we forwarded the entire interior of the vehicle to the lab in Regina." A small piece of brassiere strap and some hair were found under the back seat. Analysis showed that the piece of brassiere strap came from the brassiere found beside the road near the murder site. Although the hair could not be identified positively as being Osbornes, it was found to be of a similar type. A small blood sample, which could not be identified positively, was found on the back seat. No fingerprints of significance were found.
Some of the RCMP witnesses suggested that the failure to examine the car immediately in December had no effect on the investigation. We do not agree. While it is speculation, it is possible that an early interview of Lee Colgan might have borne fruit, or that fingerprints or other evidence might have been found in the car. Had the order been given in November or December to search the car, more useful evidence might have been found. It is clear that Colgan did not clean the interior of the car thoroughly after the murder.
It is possible that Colgans father did not know by November or December that his car had been used in a murder. If he had been asked then for permission to search the car, presumably he would have agreed, having no reason to refuse. Had he refused, then McGillivarys information would, in our view, have been sufficient to support an application for a search warrant.
Fingerprint or other evidence could have assisted the police greatly in bringing the case to trial. An early search of the car might have found a print from Betty Osborne. Don Knight, who was a member of The Pas rural detachment and was involved in the investigation at the time, said that due to the cold no fingerprints would have been left. It strikes us, though, that the interior of the car might not have been cold. Under hypnosis, McGillivary said the windows were frosted. That suggests that the interior of the car was warm.
Insp. Michael Cassidy, who is in charge of RCMP Identification Services for British Columbia, appeared before us and contradicted other officers on the question of fingerprints. He said that fingerprints often can be obtained in cold weather. A hand that is warm in a glove, particularly a hand with oil or blood on it, may leave a very clear print. He also told us that the oil from a persons hair would be sufficient to form fingerprints. He did say, however, that the longer the time between the laying of a print and its examination, the less likelihood there is of obtaining a readable print. The chance is reduced after one month, further reduced after six months and again after two years. He did not, however, suggest, as other officers had, that prints could not have been obtained in this case. We accept Cassidys evidence.
Overall, the evidence presented to us at our hearings suggested that the failure to examine the car in December may very well have had a negative effect on the course of the investigation. We suspect that valuable evidence was lost. Certainly, the piece of brassiere strap would have been discovered and the hair samples also would have been available earlier. The police would have known at an earlier date that the victim probably had been in the car and that at least Lee Colgan had been there, as well. While that evidence might not have warranted the laying of charges, it would have allowed the police to question Colgan at an earlier time and to confront him with strong evidence of his involvement. Had that occurred closer to the date of the murder, he might very well have agreed to talk to the RCMP and to testify. He was, after all, talking to others at that time about his presence at the scene. We believe, as did others, that Colgan was the weak link who might have cooperated with police had he been handled properly.
There was clearly a breakdown in the investigation and a serious mistake with respect to the examination of the vehicle. This was particularly unfortunate in view of the imaginative investigative work done in determining the identity of the vehicle. It is tragic that such good police work went for nought.
We recommend that:
Supervision by senior police officers be mandatory in the investigation of serious crimes. TOP
Identification of the Suspects TOP
The arrival of the anonymous letter at The Pas detachment on May 3, 1972 represented a major breakthrough in the case. It read:
The following information was related to persons in the fall of 1971 concerning the murdering of a young lady later found on a beach near La Pas Manitoba. The story was related by Lee Colgan being in a state of intoxication and near tears that he had been driving his car accompanied by Jim Houghton and Norman Manger. There were two or three mentioned but their names are forgotten. They had forced the girl into this car where it was then driven to the murder site, the girl being raped by all. She had threatened police action, she was then murdered using a screwdriver, punch, or similar instrument. Gordie Buck had seemingly witnessed the car returning from the beach in the early a.m. and Lee Colgan lives in constant fear of information possible being forwarded to the local authorities. It is hoped that investigation by the officers can produce results. The informants do not wish to identify as reprisals were threatened by Lee Colgan against the friends and families concerned. These men are all of the local area of La Pas Manitoba. (Exhibit 9)
The letter had been mailed in Marquette, Michigan on April 28, 1972. Attempts to locate its author were unsuccessful until after Colgans arrest in 1986, when it was learned that it had been written by Catherine Dick, who had talked with Colgan shortly after the murder.
Despite the highly relevant and important information contained in the letter, its contents were not admissible in proceedings because the author was unknown. While it might have been used to obtain a search warrant or to arrest the suspects, it could not have been used by itself to support a charge of murder. More was needed.
In their first inquiries following the receipt of this letter, the police quickly established that the three men named in it were known to associate together, that they had been at the dance at the Legion on the morning of the murder, and that they had access to a white Chrysler with the licence number BN 5342. Attempts to link the three suspects with Osborne proved unsuccessful, although it was discovered that Osborne and Colgan had been in one class together at Margaret Barbour Collegiate some time earlier.
It was at this time, when going back through the records of the investigation, that the police realized that the Colgan car had not been checked properly earlier. The police were trying to be careful in order to preserve the element of surprise for later in the investigation. They checked the colours of the Colgan and Houghton cottages to see if they matched the paint found on the "Hanson" screwdriver. They did not. The RCMP also started to inquire around town to see if any rumour similar to that contained in the anonymous letter was circulating. They reasoned that if one person had been told, so might others.
On June 6, first Colgan and then Manger were interviewed. Both denied involvement and both declined to take a polygraph test. Manger told police that he was passed out in the washroom of a local hotel on the night of the murder. However, this alibi could not be verified. Houghton had left town shortly after the murder and his whereabouts were unknown to the RCMP. On June 15, Brian Johnson told the RCMP that he had seen Colgan, Houghton and Manger in the Colgan Chrysler on the night of the murder. He informed the police that they had been drinking and that he left their company around 1:00 to 2:00 a.m. The RCMP then spoke with Houghtons parents in an attempt to locate him.
By June 20, the RCMP were becoming convinced that they finally knew the identities of three of those involved in Betty Osbornes murder. They then obtained a search warrant for the Colgan car and seized it. The discovery of the brassiere clasp, the hair and the blood stain confirmed their suspicion that Osborne had been in the car. On June 23, an informant finally gave the police the name of the fourth person: Dwayne Johnston. Johnston had been interviewed in December 1971 because his name appeared on the list of persons who had purchased beer the evening before the murder, and because he was on the list of persons receiving welfare assistance at the time. He had told the police to speak to his lawyer, DArcy Bancroft. This had not raised police suspicion because they felt that, since Johnston was known to belong to the local motorcycle club, it was a typical response from him. In addition, he was known to be a friend of Bancrofts. Johnston was next interviewed on June 23, 1972. His response, Urbanoski told us, was to "play dumb."
On June 29 an informant told police the version of the murder which came out at the trial of Houghton and Johnston. The Houghton and Colgan cottages were checked again, this time using police dogs. On July 11 the cottages were searched under a search warrant, and some paint and assorted clothing were seized. No links to the murder or to Osborne were found.
At the time the cottages were being searched, the police spoke with Bud Colgan, seeking permission to interview his son Lee. He refused and also denied knowing where his car had been on the evening of the murder. Although by this time they were certain they were on the right track, the police still had no admissible link between the murder and the four suspects.
In August, Houghton returned to The Pas from British Columbia, where he had been looking for work. He too denied any knowledge or involvement and also declined to take a polygraph test. By this time DArcy Bancroft was acting for all four suspects and he made certain that none of them would speak to the police. He wrote letters demanding the RCMP cease "harassing" his clients. The four suspects had erected a wall of silence between themselves and the police. The investigation was at a standstill. TOP
Why Were the Suspects Not Arrested? TOP
By July 1972, the RCMP were convinced they knew who had killed Betty Osborne and had several pieces of evidence to support this belief. They had the evidence of Philip McGillivary which, with the identification of the licence number, clearly put the Colgan car near the scene at a time that coincided with the time of death. Lee Colgan was known to make regular use of this car. Blood stains and hair samples had been discovered in the Colgan car as well as a piece of brassiere strap which proved to be part of a brassiere found near the scene. As well, the RCMP had received Catherine Dicks anonymous letter stating that Colgan, Houghton and Manger were three of the men involved. Informants had indicated that the fourth was Johnston.
In our opinion these facts should have given the police reasonable and probable grounds to arrest any or all of the suspects and to take them to the detachment for questioning. The arrest and questioning might have resulted in comments or statements providing sufficient evidence on which to base a charge.
It is quite probable, in our view, that an early arrest would have prompted Colgan to provide information. We know that the police questioned Colgan later in a car and were making some progress until a couple of his friends interrupted the interrogation. If he was willing to talk at that time, when he already had a lawyer, he might have been as willing to talk earlier, had he been arrested and given an opportunity to talk to the police in a setting where he would not have been seen by his friends or interrupted. The fact that Colgan spoke to several people shortly after the the murder leads us to conclude that Colgan was not adverse to discussing the matter. The fact that the police believed they had sufficient grounds for obtaining a search warrant adds to our belief that they also had similar grounds to arrest and question Colgan, if not all the suspects.
As stated in Eccles v. Bourque (1974), 19 C.C.C. (2d) 129 (S.C.C.), the question of reasonable and probable grounds depends upon a bona fide reasonable belief in a state of facts that, if true, would justify the course pursued. The belief does not become unreasonable merely because the supposed fact has no real existence.
We presume that the police refrained from arresting any of the suspects because they did not believe they had sufficient evidence on which to base a charge, and we agree they did not. On the other hand, police may arrest if they have reasonable and probable grounds to suspect the involvement of an individual in an offence. Arresting someone and taking him or her in for questioning is a well-established police practice. It is a valid investigative technique and we do not know why it was not employed in this case.
Attendance at a detachment often will impress upon a suspect the seriousness of the situation and may cause a suspect to reassess a decision to remain silent. If the involvement of Colgan and Manger was minimal, as they later claimed, they might have seen the good sense in telling the police what really happened.
If the suspects refused to speak, they would have had to have been released within 24 hours. If they had called their lawyer, they might have been advised to say nothing. On the other hand, they might have said something of value to the investigation. One thing is clear. If the police had arrested and sought to question the suspects formally, nothing would have been lost and the subsequent investigation would not have been hampered in any way.
The police applied every other technique and ruse they could think of to get the suspects to talk to them. We do not understand why they did not apply this, the most standard of procedures. They took Aboriginal people to their office for questioning. Why did they not do the same thing to the suspects? We do not know the answer, although in the cases of Houghton and Colgan police reluctance may have been prompted by the suspects middle-class status. We simply say that they should have arrested and formally questioned the four suspects. TOP
The Blitz TOP
In September 1972, the RCMP sent four officers to The Pas in an attempt to obtain a breakthrough in the investigation. Cpl. Keith Duncan, Cpl. Charles Koppang and Const. Hank Moorlag (who was an Inspector by the time of the Inquiry hearings) came from the Thompson detachment. Cpl. Denys Stewart (who was a Staff Sergeant at the time he appeared before us) came from Dauphin.
On September 21 and 22, Duncan and Moorlag, in an attempt to gain Mangers confidence, spent time drinking and talking with him under the guise of being off-duty police officers looking for good hunting spots. Then on September 23, those officers took Manger out to a lonely spot in the bush past the Clearwater Lake pump house to interview him. They pointed out to him that his alibi was not believable and asked him to tell them what really had happened. Even though, as he told us, Manger feared that the two officers were going to beat him, he did not admit to any knowledge of the murder beyond being in the car. Moorlag convinced Manger to take a polygraph test and obtained a written consent from him. They then drove back to town and Manger agreed to be available two days later when a polygraph expert would arrive from Regina. In the meantime these officers and other members of the RCMP team endeavoured to keep an eye on Manger as they continued with their investigation. Upon the arrival of the polygraph operator in The Pas, RCMP officers went to get Manger, who was in a hotel bar with members of a local motorcycle club. Before the police could speak to him, Manger eluded them by slipping out the back door with a friend of Johnstons. He immediately spoke to Bancroft, who advised him not to take the polygraph. On September 26, Bancroft wrote to the RCMP on Mangers behalf, withdrawing the consent to the polygraph and telling them to stop harassing Manger. Manger later said he initially gave his consent because he was afraid of what the police officers would do to him if he refused.
If the RCMP officers thought they had Mangers consent to a polygraph examination, they should, in our opinion, have done all that was reasonably possible to have it administered as quickly as they could. After months of being unable to obtain any real evidence, and with the investigation stagnating, Mangers willingness should have been considered a real breakthrough. Although Manger showed some reluctance to speak about what had happened when Osborne was picked up, he apparently was willing to discuss other events of the evening. Even if he were to have given only the names of the driver and the other occupants of the car, that would have laid the foundation for more pointed questioning of other suspects. Had he told police about the activities of any of the suspects, that information might have provided the basis for criminal charges or an arrest.
It is our experience that a person undergoing a polygraph test often is persuaded to repeat the information disclosed during the examination to other investigation officers, so that even if the results of the polygraph are not admissible in evidence, the subsequent statement may be. A witness finally might have been available to permit the investigation to enter a new and more successful stage.
On September 24 the RCMP arrested Colgan on an outstanding Wildlife Act warrant. While a friend was paying the fine, Duncan took Colgan outside the detachment into a police car to speak with him. According to the officer, Colgan seemed ready to discuss some aspects of the events of the night of the murder. In his testimony before us, Duncan recalled the conversation:
I mentioned his carhis dads car being seized and searched. And my comments to him at the time were he knew what had been found in it and his comment was, "Oh, yes, the brassiere and the blood." And his comment was, "Well, that doesnt prove anything." He went on to say that hed been all mixed up lately and that he would have to think about it. I again mentioned the others involved and I wanted him to tell me for my own satisfaction that he had not been involved. His reply was that he did not do it but he was along, he was scared that he would go to jail for 20 years. (p. 1764)
Their conversation was cut short by the intervention of a couple of Colgans friends who came to the car.
Also on September 24, Stewart and Moorlag attempted to interview Johnston at the house in which he was living at the time. He refused to be interviewed and told the police to leave. Johnston does not appear to have been interviewed from that date until his arrest in 1986. He has made no statements to the police and refused to testify before us.
The following day Stewart and Koppang made the first of two attempts to interview Houghton. Houghton had declined to be interviewed without Bancroft present.
Houghton acknowledged before us that Bancroft had been hired by his father before he had returned from British Columbia. He did not remember signing a letter in September 1972 requesting the RCMP to cease harassing him, but admitted that he must have done so. The letter read:
Sept. 26/72 (Exhibit 16)
It is clear, however, that the RCMP were not as persistent with Houghton as they were with Manger or Colgan. And it would appear they did not attempt to interview Houghton again until after Colgan had agreed to testify in March 1987.
On September 26, after speaking with Houghton for the second time, Stewart and Koppang interviewed Colgans father at the government liquor store of which he was the manager. Bud Colgan told them that although Lee had been there, he, in Stewarts words, "had not laid a hand on the girl."
The officers also spoke to a number of other persons during their week in The Pas. They spoke to Arthur Fishman, who owned the store where Colgan worked, as well as to Dennis Brownlee, a co-worker there. No information of any value was obtained from these interviews. Having decided that nothing further could be achieved, the four officers returned to their own detachments on September 27.
On October 1 Moorlag and Koppang attempted to locate Colgan near Pukatawagan where he was believed to be working on the railroad. On October 4 they attempted once more to locate Manger. Moorlag, this time alone, was in The Pas from October 17 to 19, apparently working on the Osborne file. On October 29 Stewart and Moorlag were back in The Pas to interview Colgans father again. TOP
The Second Phase of the Investigation TOP
The intensity of the investigation diminished in its second phase as every avenue of further inquiry seemed closed to the police. Although the file remained open, it appears that little work was done after the end of October 1972.
Through the years the RCMP made some efforts to keep up the pressure on the suspects, particularly on Colgan and Manger. They interviewed Colgan and Manger on a number of occasions. They put most pressure on Colgan because they thought him the "weak link."
In December 1974, DArcy Bancroft died while visiting California. When Moorlag learned of his death, he went to British Columbia to interview Colgan once more. Colgan was very hung over after having celebrated the birth of his first child the previous evening and became hysterical when questioned about the case. Later, Moorlag attempted to interview Manger in Winnipeg, but found him passed out. Still later, another officer did interview Manger, who refused to discuss Osbornes murder.
A promising source of evidence was ignored through the lapse of an unidentified officer in 1976. While filing a complaint for assault against her husband, Arlene Colgan informed the RCMP that Lee Colgan had told her he had been involved in the murder. It may have been that the information was not new to the police but even so, a follow-up of Arlene Colgans complaint could have provided another opportunity for the police to question Colgan. The opportunity, however, was missed.
Also in 1976, after Colgan had returned to The Pas, he was arrested by Const. Archie MacPherson on a warrant of committal for non-payment of a Liquor Control Act fine. When he asked what he was being arrested for, MacPherson told him that it was for first degree murder. Colgans response was described by MacPherson:
[H]e said, "Its impossible." He kept reiterating the fact that it was impossible, that he was the weak link in the four, and as long as he stayed quiet, the other three would not say anything. (p. 2393)
MacPherson said that Colgan left The Pas again shortly after this encounter. Colgan told us that the police from time to time would send him Screwdriver drinks in the bars of The Pas. Sheriff Gerald Wilson told us of that happening on one occasion when he was drinking with Colgan in 1977 or 1978.
In February 1977, the local Crown attorney reviewed the file and decided there was insufficient evidence to lay charges. In March and then again in May 1977, the file was reviewed by the RCMP. It was noted by the reviewing officer that there were no new developments and that no new avenues of investigation had opened.
In April 1979, the file was transferred to Thompson when the Dauphin subdivision was split in two and The Pas was placed under the new subdivision at Thompson. The file was reviewed there again and it was decided to send it to Criminal Information Services Manitoba in Winnipeg for a complete review and analysis. The file by this time occupied four full drawers of a filing cabinet. The review took a year to complete.
In 1981, the review was completed and the file was returned to Thompson. The review recommended the resubmission of the physical evidence to see if more modern techniques could reveal additional information. It also advised consideration of "certain charges" against Colgan and his father. However, no charges were laid as a result of the review.
We were told that two constables worked on the file between 1981 and 1983, but apart from the special interest Moorlag took in the file, it appears that almost nothing was accomplished during the second phase of the investigation. TOP
The Third Phase of the Investigation TOP
Urbanoski began his involvement with the investigation in 1983 by conducting a complete review of the file. He read it four or five times and checked the physical evidence to make sure it had been kept safe. He located all four suspects and interviewed all the officers who had worked on the file in the past. This review took from July 1983 through March 1984. He then followed up on the recommendations of Criminal Information Services Manitoba, by resubmitting the evidence. As it turned out, no new information was revealed.
Urbanoski also interviewed the two informants who had assisted the police in the summer of 1972. The memory of the first had all but failed by the time he was interviewed. Even under hypnosis he was unable to offer anything useful. The second refused to become involved in the investigation, claiming that he remembered nothing of what he had told the police in 1972. By this time it was October 1984.
In December 1984, Urbanoski submitted a plan to headquarters that called for him to work full time on the case. Since he knew that the four suspects and their friends still talked about the crime, his plan included the use of wiretaps to obtain information which might be useful in bringing the four to justice. The wiretaps were carried out in Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia, and required 11 full-time investigators as well as himself. The plan accounted for 7,000 staff hours during 1985. The first set of wiretaps was undertaken in May and led to the questioning of 38 persons.
In January 1985, Annette Veito told the RCMP that Colgan had talked to her about the murder. Following leads generated by this statement, the police interviewed four more persons but without results. In May 1985 Colgans ex-wife was interviewed and related the admissions she had heard from Colgan during their marriage.
On June 12, 1985, Urbanoski placed an article in the Opasquia Times, the local weekly newspaper in The Pas.
The article read:
RCMP request assistance in murder
The RCMP are requesting the publics assistance in the investigation of a murder which occurred over 13 years ago.
On Saturday, November 13, 1971, the body of Helen Betty Osborne, 19, was found near Clearwater Lake. Osborne, a resident of The Pas and formerly of Norway House, had been attending school in The Pas at the time of her murder.
She was last seen alive at about 2:00 a.m. near the corner of Third St. and Edwards Ave. on the morning of her death. Police believe she had been lured into a vehicle and then taken to the Clearwater Lake area where she was brutally murdered.
A light-coloured automobile with Manitoba license plates was seen in the area where the body was located at the time the murder was believed to have been committed.
An RCMP spokesman said yesterday police have had a terrific response from the public on the case to date, but they are looking for more help from people in The Pas and the surrounding area.
"Were not looking for a big break in the case," he said, adding police would like to hear anything about the incident people may have seen or heard. "No matter how trivial it is, wed like to hear it...sometimes we can use bits of information to tie things together."
The spokesman said people may have have been afraid to come forward with information at the time, or intimidated by peer pressure, or may even have thought their information too insignificant to mention. Police are even interested in learning the names of people who may know something about the incident.
Anyone with any information which might prove useful is asked to contact The Pas Rural RCMP detachment at 6236441 or their local police office.
Anyone supplying information on this or any other matters will have their identity kept confidential.
Urbanoski admitted before us that he included in the article information that suggested that many persons had already come forward, a fact which was not true at the time. He did this to assure those with information that they would not be alone were they to go to the police. It was, he said, "To put their minds at ease." This resulted in four more persons being interviewed.
As a result of the information gathered through these techniques, Urbanoski was able in December 1985 to seek permission to lay charges against Colgan and Johnston. Charges were authorized in August 1986. In an attempt to gather further information, Urbanoski submitted another plan, which included more wiretaps using 10 full-time investigators for six weeks and 4,000 staff hours. These investigators listened to phone conversations of the suspects in order to gauge their reactions to the arrest of first Colgan and then Johnston.
The second set of wiretaps began on September 30, 1986. Colgan was arrested on October 3. As a result of a national news media blitz at the time of Colgans arrest, two more persons came forward with information. One of these was Catherine Dick, the author of the anonymous letter which had first given police the names of three of the suspects. She was living then in Saskatchewan. Johnston was arrested on October 27. On November 23, the wiretaps were terminated. As a result of this set of wiretaps, an additional four persons were interviewed.
At the time of Colgans arrest, his lawyer, Donald MacIver, told the police that Colgan eventually would reveal to them his role in the murder. Just prior to the preliminary hearing, Colgan offered to give testimony in return for immunity from prosecution and that offer was accepted. As a result of his statement, it became possible to charge Houghton, who was arrested on March 15, 1987. With that the role of the police in the case began to give way to that of the Crown prosecutors office.
One of the last acts of the police investigation occurred in May 1987. After the snow melted, the police once more searched the area around the Houghton cottage. They were following up a report from James Lamb, the second person to come forward after the arrest of Colgan and Johnston. He had told police that, while cleaning out the outhouse at the cottage in 1976, he had found a jacket which he then had dumped in the bush. The RCMPs search for what they hoped might be Osbornes missing jacket was unsuccessful.
The final involvement of the RCMP in the investigative aspects of the case occurred on November 10 and 11, 1987, when they located Manger and convinced him to testify at the trial of Houghton and Johnston.
This brought to an end an investigation marred by significant errors. While the RCMP put a good deal of dedicated effort into solving the case, those errors considerably delayed its resolution. Had it not been for the determination of Const. Robert Urbanoski, charges might never have been laid against anyone. TOP
RCMP Dealings with Witnesses and Betty Osbornes Friends TOP
The RCMP interviewed many persons during the course of the investigation, most of them more than once. Both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal persons were questioned. As we have mentioned, there is a perception in The Pas and, as we comment elsewhere in our report, in Manitoba generally, that the police act differently toward Aboriginal people than they do toward non-Aboriginal persons. The evidence we heard relating to the investigation of Betty Osbornes murder supports that perception. Some of the testimony we heard shows that the Aboriginal people involved in this case were not treated with the same deference extended to non-Aboriginal informants.
Cornelius Bighetty was Osbornes boyfriend. A member of the Mathias Colomb Indian Band at Pukatawagan, he was 17 and attending school in The Pas at the time of her murder. He had seen Osborne during the evening before she was killed. Three days after Osborne had been identified, the police came to the house where he was living and took him and his room-mates to the RCMP detachment. He did not know at that time that Osborne was dead and thought something had happened to a member of his family in Pukatawagan.
The police did not tell either him or the family with whom he was boarding the purpose of his trip to the detachment. Nor did they seek the permission of the person with whom he was boarding, his parents in Pukatawagan, or anybody else before interviewing him. The RCMP claimed to have obtained consent from an Indian Affairs department counsellor but we do not believe that they did. This treatment is in marked contrast to their practice when interviewing Lee Colgan in June 1972 at the time he became a suspect. At that time the RCMP sought the permission of Colgans father before attempting to conduct a formal interview, even though the younger Colgan was 18 and parental consent was not required by law.
After arriving at the detachment, Bighetty was taken into a small, dimly lit room in which there were four or more plainclothes officers. Without informing him of Osbornes death, one of the officers showed him a photograph of Osbornes badly battered face. Bighetty fainted. When he was revived, he was questioned for some 20 minutes to half an hour and then released. This heartless method of interrogation is not acceptable when dealing with a 17-year-old.
Later, Bighetty was pulled from a school volleyball game in which he was playing, and again taken to the detachment and questioned. No justification was offered by the RCMP for their failure to respect his rights. It is accepted that Bighetty might have been considered a suspect at first since he was known to have had a disagreement with Osborne the evening before her death. That being said, it must have become clear to the RCMP very quickly that Bighetty was not involved. They have offered us no evidence that they had any other reason to suspect Bighetty. It is our opinion that his treatment does not come up to acceptable standards of police conduct.
Others must also share the blame for the manner in which Aboriginal students like Cornelius Bighetty were treated. Indian Affairs officials did not fulfil their responsibilities properly in protecting students interests. They did not inform the parents of Betty Osbornes friends of the traumatizing effects of the murder or of the subsequent unauthorized police interrogations.
Another victim of police mistreatment was 18-year-old Annaliese Dumas. Born in Sandy Bay, Saskatchewan and raised in Pukatawagan, Dumas was another Aboriginal friend of Osbornes. She also was boarding in The Pas while attending school. The RCMP took her from the house at which she was boarding but they did not tell her why she was wanted at the detachment. She did not know at that point that Osborne had been murdered.
When they arrived at the station, another of the student friends of Osbornes told her that someone had been found dead. The two officers took her to the car and drove out to a secluded spot in the bush, where they started to ask her questions as to her whereabouts at the time of Osbornes death. When she became afraid and tongue-tied, Dumas was thrown upon the hood of the car. She started to cry and the two officers then apologized and took her home. During this interrogation Dumas did manage to tell the officers where and with whom she had been.
Later that evening two other officers returned and asked that she go to the morgue to look at Osbornes body. She did not recognize her friend. As she said to us, "Well, there was someone there but to me it wasnt Betty." The experience was so traumatic for this 18-year-old that she soon left school and eventually had to undergo counselling. She did not return to school for four years.
The police treatment of this young woman was brutal and insensitive. RCMP officers appear to have shown no understanding or sympathy. It does not even appear that they determined how close a relationship there was between Dumas and Betty Osborne. Showing her the mutilated body of her friend was not only insensitive and unacceptable, but also unnecessary. Surely the effect on a young woman of seeing a mutilated body must have been obvious to them. There is also no acceptable reason for taking her out into the country to conduct an interview, nor have the RCMP offered one. In fact, they deny that it happened. However, we accept the evidence of Annaliese Dumas.
It was clearly an established police practice to take suspects out of town for the purpose of questioning them. As Koppang said when speaking of another suspect, "If we want them to confess weve got to put a little stress on them." Duncan said it was common to interview people by taking them into the country. He said that was done to get people away from others who might see them being interviewed. He said they might be taken into the bush, "a private spot to talk to them." There was no policy of the force on the matter. Rather, it seemed left to the ingenuity of the investigating officer.
We recognize the difficult position in which police are placed as they attempt to solve crimes, but appropriate conduct is expected of them. The police must live by the rules that Parliament, the legislatures and the courts have laid down for them. The experiences of Dumas and Bighetty are painful reminders of what happens when they do not. If they have not done so already, the RCMP should review its rules respecting the proper and acceptable methods of conducting interviews to prevent officers in the future from breaching the proper bounds of conduct in the way they did with Bighetty, Dumas and Manger.
There is a striking contrast between the way the three non-Aboriginal suspects were dealt with and the manner in which the Aboriginal informants were treated. The parents of Houghton and Colgan were consulted before a formal interview was attempted. Their wishes that their sons not be interviewed were largely respected. Neither Colgan nor Houghton were taken into the bush to be questioned. But Manger and Dumas both were, and both are Aboriginal. Dumas, it should be noted, is also a woman. While we have no sympathy for Manger, it is clear that the RCMP acted improperly towards him and Dumas. This apparent difference in treatment suggests that the RCMP tailored their treatment in accordance with the race, sex or class of the person with whom they were dealing.
This contrast lends further credence to the belief that Aboriginal people were not treated with the same respect as non-Aboriginal persons. In view of the deference shown to the Colgan family, the conclusion is inescapable that the inappropriate treatment of Bighetty, Dumas and others occurred because they were Aboriginal and, therefore, in the eyes of these officers, less deserving of courtesy and respect.
We noted that Cornelius Bighetty, when he related his experiences to us, showed no animosity towards the police. In what can only be taken as complete generosity, he said that he had no complaint about the way he was treated by the police. He did say, however, that he would not allow the police to treat his own children the way he was treated by the RCMP in 1971.
This is a matter which causes us great concern. The enthusiasm and dedication of police officers in attempting to solve a terrible murder is commendable, but the police must never lose their perspective. In particular, they must not fail to recognize that they deal with many innocent people and that those people have sensitivities and rights. We can only repeat that we find the police conduct in relation to these Aboriginal informants to be completely unacceptable. TOP
RCMP Contact with Justine Osborne TOP
Betty Osborne was identified shortly after midnight on November 14, 1971. At 1:56 p.m. that day, the RCMP rural detachment in The Pas called the detachment in Norway House, Osbornes home community. Sgt. Alan Hayden-Luck, the officer in charge at Norway House, told Justine Osborne about her daughters death. Hayden-Luck, who by that time had 19 years of service with the RCMP, had been in charge of the detachment since 1969. He had known Justine Osborne for about six months because she used to help Hayden-Lucks wife around the house occasionally. During that time, Hayden-Luck told us, Justine Osborne and his wife became "quite friendly," and he felt that he knew her "fairly well."
Hayden-Luck went to Justine Osbornes home and broke the news to her. He did not remember if there was anyone else there at the time but said that he thought there may have been. Osborne herself said that her 18-year-old son Isaiah was there. She told the officer that she would go to a friends house. Hayden-Luck told her that they would bring her daughters body to Norway House as soon as they could make the arrangements. Generally, it appears that the officer approached his difficult task with what he thought was care and sensitivity.
It was not RCMP practice to offer support or counselling in such situations. Hayden-Luck agreed, in retrospect, that it might have been better had he gone to her house accompanied by one of her friends or relatives who could have stayed with her and helped her through the first difficult hours.
Hayden-Luck visited Justine Osborne once more in an attempt to find out if the clothing found at the scene belonged to her daughter. He also visited the local stores but found nothing conclusive. This would appear to have been in July 1972, the same month in which Hayden-Luck was transferred from Norway House. While he was still in the community, Hayden-Luck kept Justine Osborne informed of the latest news of the investigation whenever he happened to meet her. He said this would have happened about six times. He did so, he told us, as a matter of common sense. He was not aware of any official policy to keep family members informed of the progress of any investigation.
While we do not wish to be overly critical of this officers conduct, a better way to have approached the problem of breaking tragic news would have been for the officer to approach the chief of the band or someone else at the band office, tell him or her the news, and ask that someone familiar with the person accompany the officer. In this way the bereaved could be informed in her own language by someone she knew. Such a person would also know what kind of family or community support might be most appropriate.
Justine Osborne, when she appeared before us, was not critical of the manner in which the officer informed her of her daughters death. This is not surprising since, as she herself made clear, she was in a state of shock after being told that her daughter had been murdered. When asked what Hayden-Luck had said after informing her of the murder, she told us, "I dont remember what. I didnt care. I didnt care what he said after."
Hayden-Luck spent only 10 minutes with Justine Osborne. Indeed, she didnt want him to remain. When asked if Hayden-Luck inquired if he could take her somewhere, Osborne replied:
I didnt want him to take me anywhere I told him that I would go down to my neighbours who knew. That I would go myself. (p. 624)
We recognize that much progress has been made in the area of assistance and support for the victims of crime and their families. The lack of any support for Justine Osborne only highlights the need for such programs.
When she appeared before us Justine Osborne commented that it was 16 years before the police spoke to her again about her daughters murder. That was at the time of the arrest and charging of Colgan, Houghton and Johnston.
We believe that it is appropriate for relatives of a murder victim to be kept informed of the progress, or lack of progress, of any ongoing investigation. Certainly, there was no reason for Justine Osborne not to have been kept informed. The distance between Norway House and The Pas would make it unlikely that news of the investigation would be available. That, it seems to us, would increase the need for the police to keep Osborne informed. At the very least, reports on this matter should have been forwarded to the chief and council from time to time.
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