In Alberta, murder cases in rural communities that have gone unsolved for years still have a chance of being solved, due to the work of the RCMP historical homicide unit.
While the major crimes unit for the RCMP investigates current active investigations in the province, 10 RCMP investigators spend their time looking into old, unsolved cases across Alberta, said Sgt. Jason Zazulak of the historical homicide unit.
“Everyone still has family out there, loved ones who are missing the person who has been murdered or is gone. We certainly owe that to the family and to the victims, and really just to society in general,” Zazulak said.
Across the province there are about 250 unsolved homicides and the unit is working on some of those cases to help bring closure and justice to the families.
The oldest one on the homicide unit’s ledger dates back to the 1940s. Cases are sporadic until the late 1970s and 1980s when there was an increase in homicides across the province.
“Then unfortunately incidents of homicide in the province went up quite substantially in the mid-2000’s,” Zazulak said, adding that an increase in drug activity and gang involvement during that time may have contributed to the increase.
“We also unfortunately have more domestic homicides and domestic violence also on the rise over the last 15 or 20 years,” Zazulak said.
Recently the team has laid charges in some domestic homicide cases. In 2021 the unit charged Paul Tamasi of Prince George, B.C., in the death of his wife Karen Jordan, who lived in Grande Prairie.
Jordan was last seen in November 2013 but wasn’t reported missing until February 2016. At the time she was reported missing her family said they hadn’t seen her since 2011.
The case had been cold for years, but in September 2020, the RCMP were able to search an area near Wembley, Alta., some 24 kilometres west of Grande Prairie, and find some of Jordan's remains. Her widow was charged with her murder.
“In conducting our investigation, we were able to get a confession from him and recovered her remains, a very small part of her unfortunately, and … we charged [her husband] with murder here in the spring of 2021,” Zazulak said.
The team also filed charges in the murder of Gloria Gladue, who disappeared in 2015 at the age of 44 and was last seen in Wabasca-Desmarais, Alta., about 330 kilometres north of Edmonton.
Gladue’s remains were discovered in rural Manitoba on June 17, 2018, and a 68-year-old man from Gladstone, Man., was arrested for her murder.
“This was another, not so much a domestic violence situation, but just a relationship violence situation, and we were able to recover her remains actually out of province ... The person who was responsible for her death was charged and will be going to trial here some time in 2022,” Zazulak said.
The team moves these cases forward in any way they can, Zazulak said, by using DNA or blood collected at the time of the crime or by using advanced techniques such as genetic genealogy.
In 2020, the unit received funding from the federal government to support the recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). The funding provided an investigator, who will assist with the completion of case summaries, assist in MMIWG investigations, and support the provincial family information liaison unit as it works with families of murdered and missing women.
Zazulak said these cases take more time and resources to solve, as it takes time to go back and comb through evidence and discover new leads.
There is no set time period that must pass for a homicide to be considered by the historical unit, which focuses on investigations that are months, years, or even decades old. The largest factor in assigning a file to the homicide unit is the likelihood of solving the case. The unit doesn’t take over all unsolved homicides, but rather pursues ones they believe they can successfully prosecute.
In 2002, the Alberta RCMP launched Project KARE, which was created to investigate unsolved homicide and missing person cases involving high-risk women in the Edmonton-metro area. The project folded in 2014, but many members joined the homicide unit, which was launched in 2007.
Right now there are 10 RCMP investigators and one civilian employee analyst working with the unit.