Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Missing Persons Case #1: Lyle and Marie McCann

As some of you may know, I post regularly on http://www.unsolvedcanada.com/ under the name "redbeard".  In December of last year I was asked by a contributor to the forum to give my two cents regarding the strange disappearance of Alberta natives Lyle and Marie McCann in July 2010.  Due to the continued interest in Western Canada regarding this case, and the fact that the McCanns still remain missing, I am now going to post the theory/profile I formulated in December onto this blog.  Before I wrote it, I was aware that a suspect named Travis Vader had been taken into custody, however in order not to compromise the profile, I purposely avoided looking into Vader's past or personality.  You'll just have to trust me on this one. Subsequently, I have been told that the profile fits Vader like a glove.  Let's look at what happened:

WHO: Lyle (78/m) and Marie McCann (77/f), a retired couple who were driving from their hometown of St. Albert, Alberta to meet with their daughter in Abbotsford, British Columbia on July 10.  They were towing an SUV behind their motorhome.

WHAT: Both Lyle and Marie are missing persons, though their white Gulf Stream Sun Voyager was found burnt in a deliberate act of arson soon after. A light green 2006 Hyundai Tucson SUV belonging to the couple was later discovered abandoned.  This seems to indicate that they were taken hostage somewhere after leaving the gas station at St. Albert.

WHERE: The Sun Voyager motor home was found burnt nearly beyond recognition at the end of a dead end road near Minnow Lake Campground, a wooded area south of Edson, Alberta.  Previously it had been seen at the campground, with the Hyundai Tucson detached and being driven around by an adult male.  The Hyundai Tucson was ditched deep in the bush, 30 km east of Edson by Carrot Creek.

WHEN: Lyle and Marie were last seen on July 3, 2010, caught on a gas station camera in St. Albert.  Their motor home was next spotted on July 4 and 5 at Minnow Lake campground and later found in flames on July 5. The Tucson was finally located on July 16.

HOW: As the McCanns are missing we don't know the details.  However, an official at the campground recalls knocking on the door of the Sun Voyager, and getting no reply.  This happened mere hours before the motor home was transported from the area and set alight.  The previous day, a witness recounted seeing two men in their late thirties inside the Voyager, while it was parked at the campground.  Interestingly, I believe two UNSUBS must have been involved in this crime due to the amount of work involved: 1) controlling two people, 2) dealing with separate vehicles, 3) torching the motor home in a highly effective manner, then driving off quickly, 4) dumping two bodies so efficiently that they have yet to be found, while managing to pull off the fire and abandoning the vehicles. Based on eye witness reports, I will proceed with the assumption that they both were male.

WHY: I believe the initial motive was to rob the couple, but somewhere along the line things escalated into murder and an attempt to cover up evidence through arson.  We know the McCanns had bank cards, but following the disappearance, there is no record of them being used. This could indicate that the UNSUBs were aware they could be tracked by doing so, or didn't know the PIN number.
In the latter case, they might have employed some sort of pressure (death threats or torture) to try to extract this information from the McCanns, but the fact that no attempt was made to withdraw money shows that either the elderly couple bravely held out, or no efforts to obtain the PIN number were made.

The UNSUB might have killed the couple 1) as punishment for refusing to divulge bank account information, 2) out of anger because he discovered they were not carrying as much cash as he assumed, 3) to prevent them from identifying him, 4) on a power trip, or 5) some combination of these factors (which I find most plausible).  The extent of the violence may have initially been unplanned, but was exacerbated by the use of drugs and alcohol.

I am 99% certain the McCanns are dead. If they were being held for ransom, a letter would have been delivered to the family by now, and I've certainly never heard of a couple in their late seventies being sold into hard labour or sex slavery. They may have been left bound in the middle of nowhere, and unable to free themselves, eventually succumbed to the elements or thirst.  More likely they were shot at close range or beaten to death and are lying in the woods, possibly in a shallow grave.  I doubt the sort of perpetrator who would incinerate a motor home would bother digging anything elaborate.  Which brings us to the profile:

The McCann Murderers

Sex/Gender: Both UNSUBS are male, and identify as such.

Age: The dominant UNSUB in the partnership will be between 25-45 years of age (big range yes, but there are no bodies so this calls for broad brush strokes).  His accomplice may be of any age over 16.

Race/ethnicity: The UNSUBs will be Caucasian.  I believe they must have used a ruse to approach the McCanns, which would have failed if they had been of any other race.  Unusual racial characteristics would also have been noted by eye witnesses.  This IS rural Alberta, after all.

Occupation/skills/intelligence/socialization: The dominant offender will be of slightly above average IQ, though uneducated and lacking in vocabulary.  His intellect will instead manifest in an aptitude for machines or carpentry, and a certain devious cunning.  He will be experienced with vehicles.  Boths UNSUBs are blue collar, working class outdoorsmen and in good physical shape for their age. The dominant offender is the kind of guy you wouldn't want to pick a bar fight with, though his accomplice will seem more meek, if a little rough around the edges.  The highest level of education either man will have is a high school diploma, if they bothered to finish at all. The dominant offender will have a pronounced attitude problem and will thus be unlikely to keep a job for an extended period.  At the time of the disappearances he will have been unemployed, or doing part time hands-on work, using criminal activities such as drug dealing or robbery to supplement his income.  The more submissive accomplice may, on the other hand, have held a menial job for a number of years, due to his ability to comply and defer to an authority figure.  Neither men will have occupations where they will have to deal with the public. 

Unlike the Parkdale Bludgeoner and Tice/Gilmour murderer I profiled previously, these UNSUBS will be more socially adept, extroverted offenders.  That said, they will only be able to move in certain circles (the bar scene, blue collar workers, criminals).  They will have varying degrees of substance abuse problems - definitely alcohol, but possibly also cocaine, pills or methamphetamine.  I do not classify marijuana, which they use or have used, as a substance of any note.  You are entitled to your views on the subject.  I would be willing to wager that both UNSUBS were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs during the commission of this crime. 

They will try to portray themselves as manly rebels and be brusque in their interactions, using swear words liberally, picking fights etc. Indeed, the dominant offender will view himself as a wolf among sheep who deserve to be preyed upon.  He will even see his accomplice as a weakling he manipulates or bullies into doing his will, and will probably be right.

Appearance: Because of their desire to view themselves as masculine outlaws, these men will exhibit some combination of the following physical qualities: facial hair, long hair, tattoos, piercings, boots (combat or steel-toed), bandanas, camouflage clothing etc.  That said, most of their clothing will be oriented towards comfort and what they can afford.  They will try to look dangerous, but not necessarily flashy.  Their goal is not to impress by wealth or taste, but through intimidation, and they will appear decidedly working class.

Residence: The UNSUBS seem well oriented to the locations where the vehicles were found, meaning they have spent a great deal of time around the Edson area.  As for their current residence, it could be anywhere between St. Albert to a few kilometres west of Edson. 

Relationships/family: As both men will be fairly social and might even have a reputation in certain circles, it is likely they have wives or girlfriends and children.  Undoubtedly their relationships will be so turbulent due to their selfishness, substance abuse and anger (possible verbal and/or physical abuse and threats towards the women in their life), that these relationships will inevitably collapse.  Therefore any domestic relationships they are involved with will be less than a year or two in duration.  For this reason it is probable they will have a string of ex-wives, girlfriends, and children who they rarely see.  Both men will have distant relationships with their parents, and the dominant partner will undoubtedly have had a father figure who physically abused him and/or his mother.  His mother will have been emotionally unavailable to him.  I imagine there would have been a history of substance abuse in the home growing up which facilitated this abuse and neglect.

Criminal/Psychiatric History: Though both UNSUBS will have a sordid past, the dominant partner will be a career criminal, probably with numerous priors including breaking and entering, domestic abuse and assault. He WILL have a record. 

The Big Question: What will these types of offenders have done with the McCanns' bodies?

There are a few possibilities: 1) They dumped them first, and thought about burning the motor home later to get rid of evidence, or just for kicks (there were recent arsons reported in the area), 2) They were worried the bodies wouldn't burn properly before the fire was put out, leaving DNA evidence and clues to the cause of death, 3) They took the McCanns to another location, attempting to torture the PIN number info from them, were unsuccessful, killed them at this location, and then decided to dump and burn the motor home.

My instinct is that the UNSUBS aren't very cerebral.  It's not that they're dumb, they just wouldn't be intellectually gratified knowing they'd made the bodies impossible to find.  They're ultimately lazy and wouldn't have spent a great deal of time disposing of the bodies. They might drive into a secluded or remote area, but I doubt the corpses will be far from a road or trail.  Why go to elaborate lengths to hide the bodies after you've drawn attention to yourself by incincerating a mobile home?  As far as offenders who start fires go, my research tells me they tend to be fairly lackadaisical about corpse disposal, and in fact I'm amazed the bodies were moved at all.  Chances are the remains are not well hidden, and have simply been overlooked by search teams. 

Though they may be burnt or buried in a shallow grave, I would rule out dismemberment.  Such an act will only occur if it is necessary for body disposal, or brings sexual gratification to the offender.  Considering the victimology (older couple, less chance of sexual component), type of transportation (SUV and motor home) and the availability of vast dumping grounds, dismemberment would be time consuming, messy and superfluous.  It is a meticulous process that requires a rare level of cold-bloodedness, and I am unaware of any murderers who have both the predilection for arson and dismemberment.  In short, I just don't see that level of deliberation, care and attention to detail in the kind of offender who would jack an old couple's motor home, drive around in their vehicles for days and then set it ablaze, drawing attention to their crimes. The guys who did this are pissed off hellraisers with zero ability to delay gratification, constant emotional instability and no imagination. Think Ted Bundy, and look in the TOTALLY opposite direction.

By now animals will have scattered the skeletal remains over a large area...

A Criminological Summary

It's important to keep in mind that this crime is not a particularly sophisticated one.  The UNSUBs surprised a couple of pensioners in what appears to be broad daylight.  Then, after getting some unknown but probably insignificant amount of money, murdered them (risking a 25 year sentence) and were forced to dispose of two bodies, a motor home and SUV.  Wouldn't it make more sense and have fewer legal repercussions just to burglarize a middle-class home? The setting is more predictable and they wouldn't have to worry about disposing of cars, bodies, and mass media exposure.

Taking all this into consideration, it seems the crime was spontaneous, driven by the whims of two inebriated losers who saw an opportunity, and decided to seize it, rather than assessing whether or not it was a good idea.  For the dominant offender in the partnership, there was clearly more than just a simple material motive to this crime. This was a "fuck you" to the world.  It wasn't about sex, but certainly would have contained elements of power, no matter how subconscious they were. The thrill of killing: the same mentality as a pack of wayward teens kicking somebody to death simply for the rush.

As previously stated, the dominant UNSUB is an intelligent man, but once you factor in 1) lack of impulse control, 2) mind altering substances, and 3) the lack of any need to take pride in the intellectual way you have committed your crimes; we have an offender of some intelligence committing a murder that falls far short of his natural IQ.

Suggested strategies for police:

Once in custody, the dominant offender won't crack under pressure.  He is intelligent and experienced enough with the criminal justice system to know the consequences of what will happen if he does.  He also will know if the police have little evidence against him, and gets off psychologically playing the part of the unflappable bad guy.  In all probability he is a sociopath.  I would instead focus on interrogating the submissive partner, attempting to unnerve him by implying you know more than you do.  He will be more susceptible to bluffs, and will implicate his accomplice in return for a plea bargain.

If there was no evidence (blood) found in the back of the abandoned SUV, then I would guess the bodies had been dumped prior, and that the stealing of the SUV was just a quick getaway plan. In this case, I would focus the search on the area around the motor home and along the highways leading from the outskirts of St. Albert to the site of the fire. Because of the arson, I suspect the motor home is the place where the murder took place, although the couple could also have been marched into the woods. The fire will have been set to cover evidence, but whether this is evidence of murder, ransacking, or just to eliminate the offender's DNA is unknown.  The offender also felt some degree of power gratification in starting the fire, and yes, it MAY be related to other arsons in the area... but not necessarily.

Lee, do you think this could be the work of a serial killer?

From what I have gathered from this case so far, I would think that the dominant perpetrator would be capable of killing casually and remoreselessly again (he might have already done so), but I wouldn't necessarily say "this is definitely the work of a serial killer". If they are ever recovered, the bodies will reveal a lot more info about the psychology of the UNSUB.  Right now, I see him as somebody who is compelled to commit anti-social activities, but not necessarily a series of homicides. That doesn't mean he hasn't, it just means he might not have done so in the past or will ever do again.  He is not DRIVEN to kill, instead he takes it far too casually - it doesn't define his life or engross his fantasies. He just doesn't give a rat's ass.
BUT because he doesn't give a rat's ass, if he were a serial killer, it would be difficult to connect his crimes, unless you have more arson based murders.  I envision the UNSUB as the type who would shoot a 7-11 clerk during a hold up; abduct a girl, rape and strangle her; then do something totally different, as in the case of the McCanns.  His casual attitude towards killing means that there will be no ritual or "signature" present.

Sources: http://www.unsolvedcanada.com/ - There are two threads on the McCanns that include links to their information.

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