Why finding the motive in the B.C. murders is like ‘nailing fog to a wall’
As families of the British Columbia murder victims yearn for closure and the public seeks answers, RCMP will turn their attention to a question: “Why?”
If the bodies found in remote Manitoba this week are, in fact, those of Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod – as RCMP are confident that they are – Canadians may never get a definitive answer on the deaths.
“Unless the person is sitting before you, telling their story and it’s the truth – and you don’t always get that either – the ‘why’ is very internal to the person,” said Glenn Hanna, the assistant program head of justice studies at the University of Guelph-Humber.
Hanna, who spent more than three decades with the RCMP, said “rationalizations” of crimes tend to come naturally as a case unravels, but nothing is textbook.
“Take a bank robbery. You would assume the person robbed the bank because they wanted money – that would be the motive. But maybe it’s not,” he told Global News. “Maybe it was for a thrill. Maybe it was to get into a gang. All of these different things can be the motive.
“Without your suspect alive to talk, it’s very difficult.”
Investigators currently untangling the case agree.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Kevin Hackett described the hunt for a motive as “extremely difficult.”
Hackett said Wednesday that officers have found no evidence to suggest the suspects had any connection to the victims before the murders, nor is there anything tying them to other incidents in B.C.
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He did, however, maintain that the evidence linking the suspects to where the bodies of tourist couple Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese, and professor Leonard Dyck, were found was “significant.”
Jim Van Allen, a criminal profiler and 31-year veteran of the Ontario Provincial Police, said investigators have different ways to analyze possible motives – interpretation of conduct, exclusion of other possible motives, and comparison to other manhunts and murder sprees.
“Statistics tell us that 84 to 85 per cent of murder victims are killed by somebody that’s known to them, about 12 per cent are stranger killings and the remaining four per cent are not determined,” said Allen, who now works with Investigative Solutions Network.
“There’s no connection between the killers and the victims, there’s no connection between the victims – it’s killing on a crime spree. The devaluation of human life in this case, it’s a hallmark trait of a spree killer.”
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The RCMP, however, would be a “hard sell” on that interpretation, he said.
“They prefer a very factual-based conclusion. Behavioural scientists can’t give that to them,” said Allen.
“I’m not sure you’re going to see the RCMP necessarily get behind a thrill-kill motive and discuss it publicly because it’s more interpretative and it doesn’t help them investigatively.”
Motivation is not as exact as a fingerprint as it “doesn’t have the same amount of certainty,” he said. Without the suspect’s own reasons, police are left to forensic examination to find the “why?”
Hanna believes the “how, what and when” of the case was cemented before officers embarked on a two-week, cross-province manhunt that led them across land, water and air.
Now that police have located who they believe to be the suspects, albeit dead, Hanna said it’s actually easier for investigators to look more closely at the physical evidence.
“The search takes up a massive amount of human resources, thinking and energy,” he said. “Now the resources can go into concluding the investigation.”
The weight of the investigation will pivot back to those who knew Schmegelsky, 18, and McLeod, 19.
“You look at the people they’re involved with and you keep going wider and wider,” Hanna said.
“It may not be a best friend or close family member that comes up with the piece of information you need. It may be someone that’s two or three times removed that heard an off-chance comment weeks before.”
Social media accounts will be pored over again and pieces of information uncovered throughout the manhunt, such as images of Schmegelsky with Nazi paraphernalia, will be re-evaluated.
“This part is sometimes a little bit like trying to nail fog to the wall,” Hanna said.
“You will get something that maybe makes sense to you as an investigator, but it’s a human psyche you’re dealing with. None of us will ever know, really.”
Former RCMP Supt. Garry Clements is doubtful police will ever uncover the motive.
“The only people that know now are the two people that are now deceased. I would be very surprised if we ever find out,” he told Global News.
“The only comfort – and it’s not much of a comfort – that you can give the victim’s family is that they’re no longer here and they’re no longer a threat to anybody else.”
The relief was felt in Gillam, Man., on Wednesday as RCMP announced the discovery of two male bodies near the shoreline of the Nelson River.
An autopsy will be performed in Winnipeg on Thursday to determine if they are, in fact, those of Schmegelsky and McLeod.
RCMP said homicide investigators will work “meticulously” to try and understand what exactly took place.
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