B.C. Coroners Service hopes new map will bring fresh tips on 200 unsolved cases

by - 3 min read

B.C. Coroners Service hopes new map will bring fresh tips on 200 unsolved cases

by - 3 min read

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The B.C. Coroners Service has launched a new interactive map marking locations where unidentified remains have been discovered with the hope of generating tips that could help determine who they belong to and how they died.

The remains of close to 200 people have been found across B.C. over the past 60 years, but have never been identified. They include:

  • A man in a park wearing a luxury Swiss watch with grass cuttings on his clothes, found in the spring of 1971.
  • A man wearing a years-old concert T-shirt from a Romantics tour, found in the winter of 1994.
  • Twin girls, less than a year old, found along the lakeshore at a provincial park in the fall of 1994. 

“If we can embrace technology and make things better for a family that’s got no answers on something, all the better,” said Andy Watson, spokesperson for the coroners service, which investigates unnatural, sudden and unexpected, unexplained or unattended deaths in the province.

“That’s a big piece of what we’re able to do.”

Three of the sketches included on the B.C. Coroners Service’s map of locations where unidentified human remains were found in the province. The woman at left was found near Mission on Feb. 15, 1995. The man in the centre was found near North Bend on Dec. 22, 1989. The woman on the right was found near Kamloops on Sept. 24, 1996. (B.C. Coroners Service)

It took years to build the map and months to test for glitches. Blue points — the vast majority — are for men, while red are for women and green denotes undetermined gender.

The locations range from Haida Gwaii east to Kimberley, and south from the Juan de Fuca Strait north to the backwoods off Highway 16 — also known as the Highway of Tears.

Included in each marker on the map is as much detail about the person as possible: race, approximate age, hair colour, surgeries they may have had, number of fillings in their teeth and clothes they were wearing when they were found, right down to the brand name. Anything, Watson said, that could jog a memory.

Human remains can be anything from a single, delicate bone fragment to a fully intact body. Many of the cases on the map are decades old, back when there were fewer options for post-mortem testing that could identify someone — though Watson said there are scores of reasons remains can go unidentified for a long time.

“There’s more tools available to us now, but there can certainly be all different factors that play into why identifying somebody can be difficult, particularly if somebody is found remotely or with an unwitnessed death,” he said.

Most of the remains belong to men, and many are clustered in the province’s highly populated Lower Mainland. Many also line the province’s arterial highways as well as the shoreline, where tides have washed them up.

Investigators at a False Creek marina examine remains found in a shoe on Aug. 30, 2011. The remains have never been identified. (Emily Elias/CBC)

Five markers are for single feet washed up on B.C.’s shores between 1980 and 2018: three in Metro Vancouver and two off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The oldest instance of unsolved remains is the infamous Babes in the Woods child murder case.

On Jan. 14, 1953, a parks worker clearing brush to make way for new trees off the Stanley Park causeway in Vancouver found the skulls of two young boys and a hatchet buried in the dirt. It was determined that the boys had been dead for about six years.

The boys shared a father and were believed to have been between six and 10 years old when they died, but have never been identified.

Watson said any tip, even something slight, could help move an investigation forward.

“Something that may seem small and insignificant to one person could actually be the missing piece,” he said.

Find the map below:

This story originally appeared on CBC

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