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TO CATCH A KILLER


May 5, 2014
By Carla Garret

<He travelled through cities and towns in Southwestern Ontario picking up young girls, then dumping their bodies. He scattered their clothing along rural roads and may have even kept a limb of one victim to satisfy his sick fetish.

This once-convicted killer is suspected to have gotten away with several other murders four decades ago.
They call him David.>

A team of civilian investigators may have uncovered a new lead that could spell the end for this suspected necrophiliac serial killer from the 1960s. Their findings are documented in a new TV crime series airing this month on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

produced by Halifax’s Ocean Entertainment, is transforming the traditional police approach to cold case investigations.

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A first of its kind in Canada, TCAK follows a squad of five civilian experts led by Dr. Michael Arntfield – a 15-year veteran cop – as they investigate unsolved Ontario homicide cases. Each episode documents a six-week investigation and shares the results with the victims’ families. A report detailing their discoveries is then provided to the police for follow up.

“It’s unlike anything… you cannot manufacture or stage the raw emotion and the remarkable finds that are found in real time on the screen,” says Arntfield. “It’s about reinvigorating cases; not commandeering them.”

Described as a combination unscripted drama, documentary and reality show, TCAK is classified by the CRTC as an advanced education program.

“It is more real than any reality show… it’s closer to live TV,” says Arntfield. “It will make you smarter; it will engage you.”

The show doesn’t have large fancy crime labs or flashy state-of-the-art equipment (besides the Smart board). The set is actually an old brick building with large wooden desks and modern laptops.

It’s the results that are astounding.

{Cold case file}

Based on intelligence collected on TCAK, police have a new suspect to investigate. David – his full name and other identifying information was obscured on the show for legal reasons – is suspected in at least two other murders in the London area over a three-year period.

Using a scientific and mathematical formula designed by a Vancouver Police officer to track down serial killer Robert Pickton, the team created a geographical profile leading them to David, who was convicted of non-capital murder sometime in the 1970s.

By plotting places of interest in the English case and comparing those of other similar crimes, they were able to determine David is the most likely suspect. He is still alive and no longer lives in the London-area, according to the show.

There have been no arrests to date, but Arntfield says “who knows where follow ups will go.”

{A success story}

The show bridges the academic world with criminal investigation, drawing on experts from various disciplines, including a medical biophysicist, anthropologist and psychotherapist.

It is “intellectualizing policing,” says Arntfield, a concept the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) has embraced in both active and inactive homicide investigations for years.

“Building a relationship with the academic community is huge and the value they bring to investigations,” says VPD Deputy Chief Adam Palmer. “Our homicide investigators are very skilled and accomplished at what they do, but we often bring in experts to look at things in different ways.”

The department has an established relationship with area universities, drawing on archaeologists, entomologists, forensic accountants, knot analysis and telecommunications specialists, among other subject areas.

“It is key to the legitimization of policing in a knowledge-based society… and a matter of cost effectiveness,” explains Arntfield.

Police departments don’t have the money to pour copious amounts of resources into cold cases, so outsourcing them to people who can makes sense, he adds.

Drawing on multi-disciplinarians to investigate cold cases started as a course developed by Arntfield, a professor at the University of Western Ontario. It morphed into a campus-wide Cold Case Society, now requiring a selection process, including an interview, for one of the 15 spots which open each year.

“It has exceeded my expectations and ballooned into something much bigger,” says Arntfield.

One squad managed to locate a person of interest in a 1967 Wisconsin murder who had been presumed dead. Although they violated the rules of the society by making contact, the team got a statement from him in California. Police publicly reopened the case, however the man died before they got to him.

Arntfield wasn’t surprised by the interest in taking his idea from the classroom to the TV, since it has received much media-generated attention.

“It is something very relevant to Canadians and certainly very televisual,” he says.

The show has generated new tips in many of the featured cases, which had faded from the public eye.

The idea of “fresh eyes” on decades-old homicides is behind a new cold case web site recently launched by the VPD. It encourages civilian participation by posting photographs and summaries of inactive cases.

“As years go by these cases fall from the public view – but the families, loved ones, friends and police never forget,” says Palmer.

More than 17,000 people visited the site in less than a week, sending in 33 tips.

Forces in the U.S. have been posting cases for years and the concept is growing in Canada; the RCMP and Toronto Police are already doing it.

“Even if Canadian police services are reluctant to officially condone the series and acquiesce to a more American style of public engagement via the commercial media, at the very least initiatives like the VPD outreach suggest that some agencies are progressive enough to see the merits in such a system,” says Arntfield. “It is certainly encouraging to see.”

As for TCAK, Arntfield says there is a possibility for a second season but this ambitious professor has a lot more on his to do list, including several textbooks and journals to write.

“This is just another rung in the ladder I’m climbing,” he says.

BIO

Visit www.michaelarntfield.com for more information. To Catch A Killer airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. on OWN.