Searching for the Truth – Chapter 4

‘Searching for the truth’ is a case study based on an actual police investigation. The investigation is used as an example to describe one method of Major Case Management used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the mid 1990’s. As a reminder, chapters are recorded in descending sequence. Please scroll to locate the chapter desired.

Chapter 4

The revelation that Freddy had made a previous “dry run” shook the team deeply, but seemed to affect Anna at her core.  Anna’s outburst was not consistent with her reputation of being calm, cool and collected under stressful situations. The team responded. There was unease in the room. Dan broke the tension by calling for a 15-minute break, and the members wandered in different directions. I saw Dan approach Anna and they left the coffee room together.

When the meeting resumed I stood to address the group.

“I don’t want process to override investigation, but I need to explain a few rules as you go out to collect your information tomorrow. The major case management system is very code based. For example, every person involved in this investigation, from investigators to witnesses to accused persons, will be assigned a number and that number will be attached to any information obtained from or about that person. Some information may be common to more than one person. As an example, if information is submitted by person “A” and mentions something about person “B” and person “C”, then all their numbers will be attached to that information entry. This allows us to later call up a report linking persons or events without having to rummage through the hard copy documents.”

“Second, each piece of information will be assigned a code. For example, if Linda is entering your notes, she will attach that entry to your number and the code for notebook, ‘NB’. Entries from your notebook and relevant information from witness statements will also be coded to the writer of the note and the persons or persons referred to in the note along with the code ‘CS’, meaning Can Say.  And every narrative entry will correspond to the date and time referred to.”

Looking around, I could see no glass-eyed looks. They understood. I continued.

“By including selected codes at the end of the investigation, a chronological timeline report will be generated that will become the complete file report. By selecting a ‘CS’ code and person’s number, trial preparation documents can be prepared that will be given to the Crown Attorney for his direct examination, or combined into a trial brief that can be disclosed to an accused.”

I still had their attention, so I continued.

“Bob will be doing a lot of analysis on this, especially regarding what relevant information to pull from statements.  But you can help by making your notes legible and concise.”

“I think before we leave here tonight, Anna may want to assign tasks for tomorrow. Those tasks will be written up in a task report. Any information collected relevant to a task will be coded to that task. And possibly double or triple coded to another event. So, one time data entry of information can produce a variety of reports that historically , investigators were required to duplicate. Anna, can you assign some tasks and perhaps Bob can start documenting them?”

Anna stood, her composure had returned.

“Because we have a prior incident, I think it very important to check with forensics. Let them know we are looking for anything that supports a prior incident and generally check out their findings from the vehicle examination. Who’s up for that?”

“I’ll do that in the morning,” Ted offered. “Perhaps I’ll run into Winnipeg and visit personally. There’s likely exhibits to be turned over.”

“Ok, then can you also do the Post Mortem results for both Angie and Freddy?”

“Yes, sure. A member from Winnipeg attended the Post Mortem this afternoon. I’ll talk to her as well and get her notes.”

“Terry, you executed the warrant on Freddy’s place. There will need to be a report to the Justice on that. Do you know the process?”

“Yes, no problem. I will go to Stonewall tomorrow to pick up notes and exhibits from the search. I’ll do the forms at their office then deliver the report to the Justice.”

Now Anna looked at Terry, assessing her question before asking it. Satisfied, Anna spoke.

“I think we need another statement from Marjorie Wilkins. No disrespect Terry but we know a great deal more now than when you took her first statement. Perhaps we need to push her more for information you thought was withheld. I’d like to do that with you in the morning in Stonewall?” 

Without hesitation Terry responded, “I agree, no problem.”

“At the same time we can interview Marjorie Wilkin’s neighbour, Mandy Swanson. She appears to have been close to the family. She may have some insight into this.”

Ted interjected with a request. “I’d like to pull some names from Freddy’s diary and interview them as well. Kind of get an opinion on his state of mind over the past few months. There also might be some common names from those that saw Freddy and Angie fighting at the Festival the night he took her.”

“Good idea Ted. Let’s get these tasks written up so that Bob and Linda can enter them properly.”

“Ok,” Dan interjected, “meeting adjourned. See you in the morning.”

Although Winnipeg was a short hour from St. Laurent, I had elected to secure motel accommodations in town. Linda, Bob and I had worked through the previous evening setting up the computer program and explaining the major case management process. We continued for a short time after everyone else had left as I expanded my explanation of data entry to Linda. Bob listened in, sitting on the edge of one of the desks munching the last piece of pizza and sipping a newly opened coke.

“I mentioned before that this major case management system uses technology to code various pieces of information in several ways so that it can be later searched or printed to produce reports required to satisfy criminal and civil expectations. One of the very first codes used is date and time, but we use two. The first is a date and time code applied by the computer to let us know when the information was actually received. The second date and time code is applied to the information itself.”

“In every investigation, every piece of information has a date and time reference. Notebook entries are one example. Forensic results are date and time stamped. And in statements from victims, suspects and accused, there are likely many dates specific to the various recollections of those providing the information. For example, a witness may recollect information from two weeks prior to the crime, or another recollection may be a day before. The statement is broken down by relevant lines and entered separately line-by-line into the computer, stamped to the date and time of reference. Coded properly, one line of information may end up in an individual’s ‘can say’ or be included in a general report or a report generated to show links between individuals. In the end, the report starts with relevant information prior to the crime. This sets up information to a reader that may address opportunity or motive, giving context to the initial criminal event. ”

Linda seemed perplexed and voiced her concern.

“Yes, but I’m just learning data entry and I’m not sure I can pick up deciding what to enter and the codes. My head is buzzing.”

“Good point, the primary analyst is Bob and I’ll help him with the learning process and even do some coding to keep ahead of the curve. But once it is on your desk, you need to know the system and act as a final quality assurance on the information you are going to add. But don’t forget, the codes are obtained from a drop-down menu and once any code is added, it is linked to a name or activity. You will not have to re-type index information. The system will look-up previous entries and complete the tag for you.”

By the end of our session, Linda, Bob and I were confident and comfortable with the progress we had made. We all went our separate ways for the night.

I arrived late the next morning. The team had already come and gone to work on their tasks. Bob and Linda were going over data entries, making sure that the decisions they were making were consistent and aligned with the protocols. Leaving them to their discussion I wandered down to the main office and found Dan discussing something work related with the main office manager.

“Good morning,” he opened. “How are things going?”

“From my perspective, great. I think I taught myself out of a job. The system is up and running and I’m impressed with your staff. How are things from your end?”

“The same. Our morning meeting went well and everyone is out doing their thing.  I expect that they will have a productive day. Headquarters called and want an update. They are asking if I need more people or some HQ expertise. I told them that we were fine. I didn’t get the feeling that they were concerned, but we’d better have some idea within the next day or so what happened or that will quickly change.”

I smiled. As a representative of Headquarters I was fully familiar with the sometimes-dysfunctional dynamics between Headquarters and the field detachments. Dan had the right attitude in dealing with management; cool and competent.

“I like your system though,” he added.  “Presumably, we are going to resolve this case. But I can see that if we don’t, the entire investigation can be audited to understand why.  You know, I can think of several times in my career where I have been asked to reinvestigate old cases and had to start by reviewing documents stored in boxes or file cabinets. I was months trying to figure out the people involved and the complete story they could tell. Information was either not collected or went missing. Nothing was in order and many threads were never followed. A nightmare! This investigation will be nowhere near that volume, but I can see that whatever we do in the next three days would be easy to repeat for as long as necessary. I’m an early fan.”

“Thanks Dan. For sure that was the primary reason for creating the system. It’s a work in progress and I expect that it will evolve as time goes on.”

At 1 PM, Anna and Terry parked the unmarked police car on the street just east of Marjorie Wilkins’ home. They had spent the morning in Stonewall collecting member’s notes that detailed the assistance they had provided, and after a quick stop for some soup and a sandwich, had driven to Winnipeg to re-interview Freddy’s mom.

Both Anna and Terry were in civilian dress. The purpose of which was two-fold. With the exception of the capital city, Winnipeg, and the second largest city, Brandon, the RCMP had law enforcement responsibility for the entire province. Nothing would be more embarrassing than for them to be sitting at a red light in uniform in a marked police car and fail to respond to a serious traffic infraction in front of their eyes and those of the observant public. They just didn’t have the luxury to respond to normal law enforcement duties, so best that they not felt expected to do so. As well, experience had shown them that witnesses and victims were more relaxed and responsive to police investigators in civilian dress. Both Terry and Anna were dressed in casual business attire; each reflecting their personal taste while at the same time adhering to the business attire guidelines as set out by the Division Commanding Officer. 

Leaving and locking the car, Anna and Terry walked the short distance to the Wilkins’ residence, climbed the concrete steps, and pushed the doorbell button. Marjorie Wilkins was quick to respond, opening the inner wooden door and peering out through the exterior screen door. Terry opened the spring-loaded screen door and pushed it back toward Anna who held it in place as Terry made the introductions. This sequence made Anna very uncomfortable; both she and Terry were in a very vulnerable position with her holding a spring loaded door and Terry at risk of being knocked off balance if the door had to be released in order to respond to unexpected aggression.  Even though this visit was seemingly under friendly terms, Anna followed her gut and reached down to engage the locking mechanism on the door so that it was stable and her hands were free. Distracted by her reaction to ensure their safety, she had missed Terry’s opening remarks to Wilkins, and was now trying to catch up with her partner’s opening remarks.

“I wonder if we could come in and speak with you again about Freddy and Angie?”

“Well, I’m not sure what else I can say, but come in if you want.”

Leaving the screen door locked open, Anna and Terry were ushered into the living room of the modest one level home. Both took positions on either side of Mrs. Wilkins and Anna opened the conversation.

“Mrs. Wilkins, my name is Constable Anna Peterson and I am a Member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in St. Laurent. You spoke previously with Constable McKay. We would like to ask you some questions in follow-up to our investigation. Is that OK?”

“Yes, I guess, but I’m not sure what I can add to what I told Constable McKay.”

“First of all, I want to express my condolences on the loss of your son. The past few days must have been difficult.”

“He is my only son, and since my husband left me, well, he looks after me. He was a good son. I can’t understand why they would do that.”

“How would you describe the relationship between Angie and Freddie?”

“She was young, unsettled. Freddie grounded her. She wanted the world you know. Had big plans. Wanted to be a nurse. She had a good job; she didn’t need anything else. Freddie worshipped her, wanted to look after her. He was getting frustrated. He wanted to get married, settle down and have kids. So there was friction there.”

“You mentioned frustration and friction. Can you explain that a bit more?”

“Well, Freddie was ready to settle down. He kept asking her to marry him. She kept stalling. He bought her a ring, an engagement ring, but she wouldn’t take it. She wanted to finish her education first. Freddie was angry with that. He said that if she wouldn’t take his ring that meant that she didn’t love him. He was worried she was starting to look around.”

“What do you mean look around?”

“She started spending more time alone with her friends, going out to bars and dancing with other guys. Flirting with other guys.”

“How do you know this?”

“Freddie told me.”

“And how did Freddie know?”

“Friends told him. He ran into her at the bar, saw what she was doing. He’d come home upset. He felt that he was losing her. She wasn’t even affectionate any more with him.”

Anna leaned forward in her seat, lowering her head even more toward Wilkins, and in a sharp tone challenged Wilkins,

“You mean she wasn’t having sex with him any more!”

“Well, you don’t have to be so blunt! They were a couple and Freddie was upset that she was moving away from him. Cutting him off in many, all, ways.”

“So he was stalking her, wasn’t he?!”

Recoiling, Wilkins leaned back in her chair away from the anger in Anna’s voice and her now flushed face. Terry quickly intervened, drawing Wilkins attention away from Anna.

Mrs. Wilkins, we understand that Freddie was very distressed at the possibility of losing Angie. I understand that. Is it possible that he became so distressed that he might have made the decision to end his life?”

Wilkins head dropped and tears welled from her eyes. Her wrinkled and calloused hands were clenched in her lap. Their movement indicating a stress of their own and conflict as to how to answer Terry’s question. Terry waited, watching the anguish build toward a decision. Wilkins looked up and met Terry’s eyes.

“He said that he couldn’t live without her. Said that he wanted to give her a better life than my husband gave me. Said he would fight for her. He cried at times. I heard him in his room. He was a good man,.He only wanted to love her, only wanted her to love him back.”

“Mrs. Wilkins, there is some indication that Freddie made the decision alone to end his life; to end Angie’s life. This is the path we are now following. Is there anything you can add to either prove or disprove this theory?”

Wilkin’s head dropped again. She whispered, “He was my son.”

Leaving the Wilkin’s residence, Terry took the wheel and Anna sat quietly in the passenger seat. They drove for a few blocks before Terry pulled into a Tim Hortons drive through window and ordered coffee for both her and Anna.

“One medium with cream, one large double-double.”

Receiving the cups from the host through the driver’s window, Terry pulled into an adjacent parking lot and parked facing the busy street. Both opened their cups and took a first sip.

“So, what’s up?” Terry asked lightly with a sideways look at Anna.

Looking straight ahead out the front window Anna replied in a softer voice than in her provoking remark to Wilkins.

“I kind of lost it back there.”

“Twice in 24 hours, are you OK?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry. This whole thing is a little bit close to home right now. I’m overreacting. Bad timing. I’ll pull myself together.”

Startled, Terry almost spilled her coffee.

“Someone’s stalking you! Are you kidding me?! Oh, ok, now I’m overreacting, maybe none of my business but I’m willing to listen if you want to talk. I can’t believe that some asshole would get under your skin. You don’t have to put up with that, the bastard…….”

Anna put her hand on Terry’s arm. Terry turned her head and her eyes met Anna’s. With a small smirk and a smile, Anna spoke.

“Terry, shut up. It’s not me. It’s my baby sister. She’s with the asshole, not me.”

“Sorry, I was getting myself wound up. Let me work on my coffee while you tell me the story?”

“Oh, not much to tell. She’s 19 and in love. Her first love and she wants to make him happy. But he’s a pig. No that’s not fair. Just young and immature. Controlling. The more she gives, the more he wants. She’s losing her confidence and it’s just sad to see.”

“Is he dangerous, ‘ya think?”

“No, I don’t think so, but I’m sure that is how Angie and Freddie started. Immature kids with different hopes and expectations, like in most relationships that run their course and people move on. Except in this case, they didn’t move on. Or at least Freddie didn’t move on. I see this and get scared for my sister. What if she gets stuck or he gets more demanding and fearful. Working in this job makes you see the possibilities. I just came face to face with my worst fear and saw a possible future for my sister that scares me to death. I reacted, overreacted. It’s the first time in my career that something has become so personal. I’m not sure if I like that. Not sure that I can deal with that.”

Anna turned away from Terry and bringing the coffee cup to her lips softly said,

“I’m scared that I haven’t got the emotional strength to do this job.”

A few moments of silence followed Anna’s disclosure, during which time, both women sipped their coffee and looked out the front windshield, both reflecting perhaps on their potential vulnerabilities. Lowering her cup, Terry spoke.

“I’d like to think that our emotional makeup is what makes us able to do this job. To empathize with people and realize that we all have weaknesses and vulnerabilities that need to be processed. The difficulty is trying to process it in a healthy way. I assume that Dan knows about this?”

“Yes, he talked to me last night.”

“Ok, and we’re talking now. And you need to talk to your sister. Express your fears, not as a cop but as a sister.”

“How’d you get so smart?”

Smiling, Terry faced Anna and tipping her coffee cup replied “I’ll scare you with my stories some day.”

The project room was abuzz when I walked in. There was an energy throughout that only came as a result of individual confidence and team success. I was eager to hear the results of the day’s inquiries. Dan opened the meeting but quickly passed control to Anna, his principal investigator. Anna stood and swept her gaze across the room. Content that she had everyone’s attention, she spoke.

“Terry and I spent the morning in Stonewall collecting notes and filing reports. Everything appears to be in order. We then went to Winnipeg and interviewed Freddie’s mom. We think from that conversation that we are likely looking at a homicide/suicide combination. We can explain our reasons why, but let’s hear from the rest of you before we spend too much time on theory. Do we have any hard evidence?”

Ted raised his hand.

“Perhaps I’ll go next. I reviewed the autopsy results and spoke to the lab. Basically, the autopsy showed that both Angie and Freddie died from carbon monoxide poisoning consistent with the setup at the scene. The levels were consistent with the time frame, meaning that both were dead long before the car ran out of gas. Neither body had any recent marks or wounds. There was some evidence of previous ligature marks on Angie’s wrists. This could have come as a result of a struggle with someone holding her wrists or from being bound by rope or something. There was no evidence of sexual activity. It looks like Freddie was resolved to finish the job and Angie was resigned to her fate. Blood was taken for toxicology purposes. That’ll take a few weeks. ”

Ted paused for any questions. There were none. He continued.

“There was lots of evidence in the car. The handcuffs of course, the hose and the key we know about. There was key trace evidence that the lab found that could not initially be explained. Lots of hair throughout the back. Different kinds. They found that strange so they isolated it into four different species. Dog for sure, cat as well, and two that they will need to send out for expert examination.”

Dan interjected, “So why is that significant to our investigation? We already know that Freddie was disorganized and messy.”

Ted paused before answering. His tone and face were serious as he explained.

“They found pictures in the glove box. A mutt, a black cat, a blond cat and a gerbil or a hamster, the lab guy didn’t know the difference.”

“And?”

“And so he practiced the tube-in-the-car setup on these before he did it on himself and Angie.”

The room was still, the sound of the refrigerator was deafening as all tried to absorb this revelation. After a significant pause, Ted continued.

“The pictures are various shots of the animals in the station wagon with the hose running inside. They are still pictures but they were taken a few minutes apart and you can see a progression of the animals being active, then groggy and lying down, and then asleep. Dead I guess.”

Terry broke the second silence with her remark.

“So he practiced on and recorded the deaths of four animals before he figured out it was painless and effective?”

“Yes!”

Terry purposely looked over at Anna and their eyes met. The non-verbal communication was almost audible. Terry was asking, ‘are you ok?’ and Anna was responding ‘yes, no problem.’ Breaking eye contact and looking around the room, Terry could see that all were affected by the evidence that Freddie had clearly thought out and planned his destructive act that ended the lives of four helpless animals as an experiment to judge the risk of pain or failure of his plan. 

Although nobody’s heart was in it anymore, professionalism prevailed and Anna completed her poll of the day’s investigation with the other officers. Bob summarized the investigation to date, taking my place as the guru of major case management. It was a quick transition of knowledge in a short three-day span. He had learned his lessons well.

“From my perspective,” Bob summarized, “we have more work to do to tie up several loose ends. Most will be waiting for forensic reports, follow-up statements and report writing.  If Linda can stay, I think I can do the rest part time and go back to my regular shift?”

Dan addressed the group.

“First of all, I want to thank everyone. This ended up being a quick investigation; everyone worked well together and the result is true and correct. As Bob mentioned, we need to tie up loose ends and I don’t want anything to slip. Until that time comes, and I want it to arrive quickly, we need to hold our results in-house. That means, we continue to protect this as an ongoing investigation, no leaks to the outside, no comments to the press. I will be advising HQ of our preliminary findings. As Bill mentioned, if someone looks at this investigation 10 years from now, there must be no questions or investigative threads unresolved.  Anna will work with Bob on the final report which, according to Bill, will basically be written by the computer.”

Sensing agreement and with no questions, Dan continued.

“First and foremost we need to deal with the families. Regardless of our judgment of how they reacted, or didn’t react in this, they are victims of violence and we need to help them. Anna, can you deal with our HQ Victim Services Section in Winnipeg and get them to advise both Mrs. Wilkins and Mr. and Mr. Murdock on the outcome of our investigation. Help them work through the information?”

“Yes, of course.”

“While this case is not the worst you have seen or will see in your service, the details will have different impacts on us all. We need to remember that and address personal issues in a healthy way. Talk to each other, come and see me or make use of our employee or psychological assistance programs. While the events surrounding Freddie and Angie may not have affected you at all, tomorrow might bring on a case that will. Show some empathy to your colleagues. Some trigger someday will have you searching for some yourself. Go home, be with family or friends, and let’s regroup tomorrow morning to finalize a task list to finish this off.”

On my drive back to Winnipeg that evening, I thought of the Bernardo Inquiry and Justice Campbell’s critical comments concerning coordination and communication in criminal investigations and the lack of effective case management in that investigation. Justice Campbell might be pleased to know that the seeds of his recommendations, nourished by the actions of young and enthusiastic police officers, had taken root and produced fruit.

And I hoped that for the remainder of my career, the pattern of cooperation and coordination would be seen to spread from that small detachment in central Manitoba to all aspects of law enforcement in all areas policed by the RCMP in Canada.

The End……

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