Thirty-nine years after 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen was murdered and dumped near a logging road south of 100 Mile House, her family has closure.
DNA evidence identified Colleen's killer as Bobby Jack Fowler, an American with a long history of violent crimes, officials with E-PANA, the RCMP investigations team that has worked the case for more than six years, said Tuesday.
"Colleen was a lovely, sweet, innocent 16 year old kid, and there are still not words in the world to express how terribly she was wronged," said her brother Shawn MacMillen during a press conference in Surrey on Tuesday.
Wednesday, E-Pana is in Kamloops to repeat a plea for the public's help alongside family members of another Highway of Tears, victim Gale Ann Weys, 19, whose body was found in 1974. Investigators also believe Fowler is linked to the death of Kamloops's Pamela Darlington, 19, who was killed in 1973.
MacMillen, Darlington and Weys are three of 13 murders and five disappearances along the so-called Highway of Tears spanning back to 1969.
E-Pana's sole purpose is to investigate the Highway of Tears murders.
"For those remaining families whose daughters and sisters were also victims, we hope this means they may yet have their own answers," said MacMillen.
The announcement is cold comfort, said MacMillen, because Fowler died in prison of lung cancer in 2006 while serving 16 years for kidnapping, assault and attempted rape in Newport, Oregon in 1995. He was 67.
"It has been a long wait for answers, and although it is a somewhat unsatisfactory result because this individual won't have to stand trial for what he did, we are comforted by the fact that he was in prison when he died and that he can't ever hurt anyone else," he said.
Colleen was hitchhiking along Highway 97 to a friend's house near Lac La Hache in July 1974 when she disappeared. A month later she was found murdered off a logging road 46 kilometres south of where she was last seen. An investigation was immediately launched but no suspect was found.
In June of 2007, investigators re-submitted exhibits from Colleen's case to the RCMP Vancouver forensic lab for DNA analysis, which resulted in the profiling of an unknown white male, said Insp. Gary Shinkaruk, one of the lead investigators with the RCMP's E-Pana probe.
The National Crime Scene Databank could not find a match.
In 2012 advances in DNA technology resulted in a higher quality sample submission to Interpol. On May 3, 2012 the Oregon Department of State police forensic laboratory obtained a DNA match to Fowler.
Although Fowler is believed responsible for at least two other murders and potentially more, police say they know he isn't the sole culprit involved in the disappearances and killings of 18 women in the region of the dreaded stretch of isolated roadway.
"Will we solve the remaining 17? I'm not certain," said Shinkaruk.
In two other cases, police isolated the DNA of two separate offenders, both now dead. Shinkaruk did not name them.
Project E-Pana is investigating cases between 1969 and 2006, but aboriginal activists have complained police were too slow to move on murders they believed to be the work of a serial killer.
E-Pana was launched in 2006 and included cases in the north and central regions, not just those along Highway 16.
Madeline Lanaro, the mother of Monica Jack who was found dead in 1978, said she was informed by the RCMP last week that there would be an announcement but it wouldn't involve her daughter.
Lanaro said she knows police have been working on the case for years but the death of her daughter never escapes her.
"It's always there, everyday," she said.
Sally Gibson, whose niece Lana Derrick went missing on Highway 16 at Thornhill in 1995 and has acted as a family spokeswoman, said she was shocked to learn there would be an announcement today, after listening to a media report.
"My heart was beating down by my toes at that part," she said, noting she's in the dark about the announcement.
She said police have not been in contact with her.