By Julian Fantino, Commissioner, Ontario Provincial Police, Orillia, Ontario, Canada
n December 17, 1967, a hunter found human skeletal remains in a wooded area of Balsam Lake Provincial Park in Victoria County, Ontario, Canada. There was no evidence of clothing at the scene other than a pair of low-cut, size seven, white tennis shoes made in Czechoslovakia. The shoes were found some distance from the remains along with an 11-foot length of twine that was found with the skeleton. The twine had a knotted loop immediately attached adjacent to the hand and wrist bones.
The victim was described as a white male, approximately 15 to 22 years old, five foot three inches tall, slight build, in good condition with some fillings in the lower left and right front molars. He had a noticeable gap between his two front teeth. His hair was light brown, curly, and about three inches in length.
The victim had several distinguishing and unique conditions. He had an extra vertebra, an extra rib on the right side, and a condition that might cause his jaw to frequently become dislocated.
On May 15, 1968, a man ploughing a field in the area of Schomberg, Ontario, found another human skeleton of similar characteristics near the first discovery.
The time of death of both victims was estimated to be late spring or early summer of 1967. The victims were not identified and no cause of death was determined because of the condition in which the remains were found. From the outset, it was believed that both victims were murdered.
During the initial investigation extensive efforts were made to identify the young men with traditional efforts; dental record comparisons to missing persons matching the approximate ages and descriptions of the victims, as well as facial reconstruction. In addition, media appeals were made to the public for assistance. These efforts were unsuccessful.
Both cases were actively investigated by members of the Criminal Investigation Branch of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), who exhausted every lead. The OPP also offered two rewards of $50,000 each for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the murders of these young men; all to no avail.
For some 42 years, the identity of the two victims and whoever was responsible for their murder remained a mystery.
Having regard for the significant progress and advances in the areas of science, technology, and investigative processes, the Ontario Provincial Police instituted a Cold Case Investigative Unit to reopen unsolved cases with a focus on (1) unidentified human remains and (2) historic unsolved murders.
Thus in 2006, OPP investigators used the services of a forensic sculptor and anthropologist to reconstruct the facial characteristics of the two unidentified skulls. In essence, the forensic reconstruction gave faces to the two skulls.
The reconstruction work was also featured as part of a Canadian investigative news program that was watched by the grandmother of Eric Jones in February 2009.
Along with the reconstructed images of the unidentified remains, the television program went into considerable detail about the circumstances of the cases and the progress of the reopened investigations.
Within minutes, members of the Jones family began to discuss the possibility that the facial reconstruction was that of their missing relative. The family members got in touch with the OPP investigators who then used familial DNA samples to make the positive identification of Eric Jones, whose skeletal remains were in storage at the provincial morgue for 42 years.
In similar circumstances in 2006, Richard Hovey was identified after a media conference held by the OPP to feature the reconstructed facial features of the unidentified skeletal remains found in May 1968.
With the identities of the victims now known, investigators were able to focus solely on the pursuit of leads to find the person or persons responsible for the murders of Eric Jones and Richard Hovey.
Obviously, the convergence of science, technology, and investigative processes including the use of the mass media are the factors that have combined to achieve the remarkable progress made thus far in the cases of two murder victims who went unidentified for more than four decades.
This investigation in particular illustrates the value of the latest forensic techniques to investigations of missing persons and unidentified human remains.
In Canada, the need for a “coordinated multi-province (national) approach in the development of a single analytical software program (database) to house information pertaining to both missing persons and unidentified human remains”1 led to the formation of the Canadian Strategy on Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains.
International Perspective: Missing Persons and Unidentified Human Remains
There does not appear to be a centralized comprehensive database for missing persons and unidentified human remains in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and many other countries.
In fact, there is no comprehensive reporting policy for cases of missing persons or unidentified human remains in these countries, where the reporting of missing persons and unidentified human remains is mostly done at the discretion of the agency directing the investigation. Each jurisdiction has multiple police agencies and multiple medical examiner authorities dealing with these cases.
In essence, research seems to indicate that no formal comprehensive program of comparing missing persons and unidentified human remains is available anywhere.
The Extent of the Problem: An International Perspective
Canada: The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has recommended the adoption of a narrow definition of a missing person. That definition has been interpreted as including the following:
- A report was made to police.
- The missing person’s whereabouts were unknown.
- There were concerns about the safety or the welfare of the missing person.
Of the 100,000 persons reported missing each year in Canada, most return or are found quickly. In fact, 95 percent of missing persons cases are resolved within 30 days. It is estimated, however, that about 4,800 people remain missing one year after being reported missing, with an average of some 270 new, long-term missing persons added each year.
As of June 2009 there are 7,162 cases of long-term missing persons registered on the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) system.
United States: There is no centralized, comprehensive database for missing persons and unidentified remains in the United States. Missing persons are reported to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) when they meet one or more of the following criteria:
- Have a proven physical or mental disability
- Are missing under circumstances where they may be in physical danger
- Are missing after a catastrophe
- Are missing under circumstances where their disappearance may not be voluntary
- Are under the age of 21 (and do not meet other criteria)
- Are over the age of 21, do not meet the above criteria, but where there is a reasonable concern for their safety2
Based on these criteria, annually there are over 800,000 persons reported as missing, with over 100,000 as active missing persons cases.3
The NCIC is the largest single repository for missing persons and unidentified remains in the United States, and an initiative has been created in an attempt to clear outstanding cases. The National Institute of Justice, which funds the DNA Initiative in the United States, has also undertaken the funding of NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.4 This system consists of two discrete databases housing records of both unidentified remains and missing persons. Plans are also under way to provide a link between the two sets of records for comparison purposes.
NamUs was created in part to address the issue of reporting and maintaining information on both unidentified remains and missing persons. NamUs estimates that there are approximately 40,000 unidentified remains that were buried or cremated in the United States before being identified, and that about 4,400 such cases are handled annually.5 The NamUs database currently contains information on 4,847 unidentified remains6 and 1,381 missing persons.7 Unidentified remains cases are submitted to NamUs by coroner and medical examiner professionals at their initiative. Missing persons cases can be submitted to NamUs by anyone, including members of the public, but all cases are verified by law enforcement agencies before they are posted to the database, to ensure the accuracy and validity of the report.
United Kingdom: The United Kingdom operates a Missing Persons Bureau as part of the National Policing Improvement Agency.8 The bureau acts as a center for exchanging information relating to missing persons and unidentified remains nationally and internationally. The Missing Persons Bureau supports the operation of the Missing Kids Web site, but there is no comprehensive Web site for missing persons and unidentified remains in the United Kingdom.
Statistics are not readily available for missing persons and unidentified remains from the United Kingdom, but they are estimated at between 210,000 and 230,000 per year.9
Australia: The Australian Federal Police operate the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre (NMPCC). The NMPCC was established to provide leadership and coordination in missing persons investigations.
The NMPCC supports a database of missing persons. There are about 260 missing persons listed on the Web site.10 There are approximately 1,600 long-term missing persons in Australia, and roughly 35,000 missing persons cases are created annually.
Looking to the Future
In 2006 the Ontario Provincial Police, in partnership with the Office of the Chief Coroner for the Province of Ontario, launched an initiative called Project Resolve.
The Project Resolve Initiative uses a Web-based application to provide the public with information about missing persons and unidentified human remains and allows members of the public to help resolve cases.
To date, 26 Ontario-based investigations have been solved directly by Project Resolve investigators. Seven of these cases were unsolved unidentified human remains cases, the oldest of which dates back to 1968.
In light of the success achieved to date, the Ontario Provincial Police conducted consultations with more than 30 representatives of law enforcement agencies and coroners from across Canada.
The participants unanimously supported the need for a coordinated and timely approach to adopting a similar national program to that of Project Resolve in Ontario.
It appears that in Canada there is a great deal of support for the implementation of a fully integrated multi-province (national) program of a single analytical software system (database) and the establishment of a consistent best practices approach in the resolution of missing persons and unidentified human remains investigations.
The Resolve Initiative: A Multijurisdictional Missing Persons and Unidentified Bodies Program
The Ontario Provincial Police, the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, and the British Columbia Coroners Service have partnered to establish the Resolve Initiative. This unique partnership, the first of its kind in Canada, has a primary goal of matching missing persons with unidentified human remains.
Partnerships: The Resolve Initiative began as a coordinated investigative approach between the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario (OCC) in 2006. The British Columbia Coroners Service (BCCS) joined this partnership in 2008. The partner agencies work collaboratively with many police services across Canada to help with missing persons and unidentified human remains investigations.
The initiative continues to gain interest provincially and nationally from police and coroner services. Prospective partnerships include the Toronto Police Service, the Niagara Regional Police Service, the Sûréte du Québec, and the Bureau du coroner du Québec.
Technology: An integral component of the Resolve Initiative is an OPP-developed analytical software application. This unique application is used to facilitate the collection, storage, analysis, and dissemination of information relating to both missing people and unidentified human remains cases.
Through the established coroner partnerships, unidentified human remains cases from all police services in Ontario and British Columbia are included in this initiative and are available for comparison against records of missing people.
All OPP missing persons cases are entered into the application database. Missing persons cases from other police services are added into the software program and the Internet site at the request of the police service.
The application conducts comparisons based on numerous attributes of an individual. Physical characteristics can be queried by categories such as height, weight, hair, and eye color. Other variables can also be selected when conducting a search, including the following: date last seen, scars, tattoos, location, jewellery, and dental features.
Where appropriate, selected information from both unidentified human remains and missing persons cases are published to the Resolve Initiative Web site (www.opp.ca).
Program Benefits: The Resolve Initiative has a positive impact on frontline policing in a variety of ways. Examples of ongoing work conducted by the initiative include the following:
- Comparing case data between missing people and unidentified remains
- Adding case information to the Web site, raising the profile of cases and encouraging public dialogue
- Receiving and forwarding tips from the public to frontline investigators
- Using Internet searching to locate potential links
- Providing direct assistance to Criminal Investigation Services and assisting police agencies from other provinces and countries
- Assisting with coordinating facial reconstructions and age enhancements
- Coordinating a new provincial dental record comparison program (Ontario)
- Assisting with DNA sample collecting
- Adopting new policy to encourage consistent, quality investigations in all cases where a person is missing, regardless of personal traits or circumstances
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police approved and supports the adoption of the OPP policy in relation to principles incorporated in the OPP Lost/Missing Persons Manual—Resolution 07-2006.
An integral component of this program is public assistance with outstanding cases. The Resolve Initiative provides an avenue for public participation through submitting tips. The OPP operates a toll-free tip line, 1-877-9-FINDME (1-877-934-6363), and a dedicated e-mail service (firstname.lastname@example.org) for this purpose.
The initiative has received 509 tips relating to publicly viewed cases. Sixty-eight percent of the tips are received by e-mail and 25 percent by telephone. Tip information has been passed on to 83 different policing jurisdictions, and others have been consulted to investigate leads.
This valuable program has assisted families by placing information important to them, concerning a missing loved one, in a trusted area connected to the OPP Internet site. It demonstrates, in a tangible way, that these cases—regardless of how old they may be—can still be solved and are still being investigated.
Integrating information between missing persons cases and unidentified human remains cases has proven to be a tremendous investigative asset in Ontario. The success of this initiative has positively affected the lives of many people through locating missing loved ones and helped bring closure to many people through identifying human remains. Striving to ensure that police and coroner services continue to work together and develop a common national program that will enhance multijurisdictional case comparisons and provide the best benefit to all stakeholders in managing missing persons and unidentified human remains cases.
It is important to also stress the critical role played by the media in the success of the Project Resolve Initiative.
On average the OPP Missing Persons and Unidentified Bodies (MPUB) Web site has 14,000 visits daily. That number went up to 24,000 after the W5 national television program aired and rose again after the call-in TV program that featured the work of the MPUB investigators.
The number of visitors to the MPUB Web site skyrocketed to 111,000 hits immediately after the Eric Jones case press conference on March 9, 2009, and 65,000 on March 10, 2009.
A Model for Police around the World
Although the initiative is a work in progress, the author is encouraged by yet another significant enhancement where police leaders have found new and innovative ways to exploit the advances of science, technology, and investigative skills to achieve unprecedented results pertaining to missing persons and unidentified human remains.
When fully implemented the proposed national database on missing persons and unidentified human remains will set the stage for Canada to be a world leader in the investigation of these tragic cases. ■
1Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Resolution 06-2008.
2Federal Bureau of Investigation, http://www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/missingpersons.htm.
4U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), http://namus.gov/about.htm.
6U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, National Unidentified Decedent Data System, https://identifyus.org.
8National Policing Improvement Agency, http://npia.police.uk/en/10200.htm.
9Missing People, http://www.missingpeople.org.uk/media-centre/papers/detail.asp?dsid=603.
10National Missing Persons Coordination Center (Australia), http://www.missingpersons.gov.au/missing-persons/profiles.aspx.