There are nearly 200 people in the files of the BC Coroners Service who remain anonymous — individuals whose remains have been discovered over seven decades, but whose identities remain a mystery.
Now, investigators are rolling out a new interactive tool they hope can change that.
It’s an interactive map which visually marks the location of each discovery, and allows the public to click on individual cases to see distinguishing details that could help potentially identify the deceased.
“Most of these are cold cases. The goal, by launching this tool, we’re hoping that we can provide closure for families. At the end of the day, that’s a big part of what we do,” he said.
“Our fact-finding investigations look to determine who died, how, where, when and by what means. And by using technology we’re able to now provide another tool… and hopefully we can close a few more investigations.”
The Unidentified Human Remains interactive viewer, which was soft-launched back in February, was designed by spatial information analyst Ian Charlton and the service’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and makes use of GIS mapping software.
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Cases on the map date all the way back to 1953, with the oldest entry being one of Vancouver’s most famous historic homicides, known as the “babes in the wood murder.”
“A parks worker in Vancouver was clearing brush, looking to make way for new trees off the Stanley Park causeway, and the parks worker stepped on the skulls of what ended up being two young boys, as well as a hatchet buried in the dirt,” said Watson.
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Investigators were able to determine the boys were between the ages of six and 10 and shared a father, but were never able to identify them or solve the murder.
“That’s the oldest one, but we have everything down to the missing feet investigations that we have been actively involved in, and one of the challenges of that is trying to get enough intel to provide closure, particularly when you have remains washing up on shorelines,” he said.
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Many of the case on the map are, unsurprisingly, in urban areas, though remains have been discovered on isolated islands on the central coast, in the remote north and in Yoho National Park.
Watson also pointed to a trend that showed the discovery of remains along major transportation routes.
Visitors to the site who click on different data points can view a range of information collected by coroners, including the gender, race, discovery date, known eye or hair colour, estimated age and height ranges, and estimated time between death and discovery.
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They also include any other identifying information, such as clothing, unusual tattoos, scars, jewelry or any images associated with the deceased.
“Any opportunity to be able to refresh someone’s memory, maybe at the time they thought that whatever they’d noticed or seen had been insignificant. Any tip, even something small could help an investigation move forward… and help us piece these puzzles together,” Watson said.
“All of these investigations, they’re important to someone.”
If a member of the public does think they have a clue, they can contact the Coroners Service’s Special Investigative Unit at BCCS.SIU@Gov.bc.ca and include the case number, or if they prefer, contact their local police.