In the decade just before the phrase ‘serial killer’ would capture the popular imagination, and DNA transformed forensics – when the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit was still in its infancy and there was no national database for police to compare murders across jurisdictions – perpetrators of violence against strangers were emboldened by the anonymity and ambiguity of their heinous crimes. The public, while vaguely aware of the dangers that lurked in the streets of Canadian cities, were still mostly naïve about the risk of abduction and murder. People went to bed at night without locking their doors, women often hitchhiked alone in the dark and strangers were not yet equated with danger. But by the time the 1970’s came to a close, the likes of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and the BTK killer were household names. The reality of violent serial homicide began to take hold in public consciousness and studies began in haste to understand the phenomenon.
During the 1970’s an alarming number of mysterious, unsolved murders and missing persons cases emerged across Canada and with the passage of time, grew cold. This article explores a sampling of those cold cases from various Canadian cities. Its aim, an attempt to shed light on the victims stories and provoke someone out there, who knows something, to come forward with information so that justice can finally be served.
Time is of the essence, clues and leads grow hazier and ever more vague as years and decades pass.
File# 001 – A Dark Connection from Calgary to Edmonton?
The Murders of Pauline Elizabeth Brazeau, Tara Jane White, Marie Goudreau, Melissa Ann Rehorek and Barbara Jean Maclean
Between 1973 and 1981 law enforcement agencies in western Canada were confounded by a long series of unsolved sex-murders along the highways of Alberta and British Columbia. Featured here are five such cold cases from Calgary, Alberta from 1976-77 and one, quite possibly connected, that occurred in Edmonton during the same time frame.
Pauline Elizabeth Brazeau
Described by family as beautiful, outgoing and friendly, sixteen year old Pauline Elizabeth Brazeau was a single, teenaged mom seeking a better life for herself and her 9 month-old daughter when she left her home community of Yorkton, Saskatchewan and moved to Calgary in December 1975. Her life would come to a tragic end, her daughter left motherless, only a month later.
On the evening of January 8th, 1976 Pauline was socializing and having drinks with friends and family at her aunt’s apartment on 17th Avenue in south west Calgary. After consuming what police describe as “a considerable amount of alcohol”, she and a friend went to grab a snack at a nearby pizza place. They arrived there at approximately 2:30 a.m. After they finished eating pizza the two departed and headed home. Pauline then returned to the restaurant by herself just 15 minutes later to retrieve a pair of gloves she’d forgotten. She didn’t find her gloves so she left the pizza place shortly thereafter.
Pauline’s body was found partially clothed and stabbed to death that same morning at 8:30 a.m. on January 9th, 1976 on the Jumping Pound Forestry Road 22 miles southwest of Cochrane, Alberta and approximately 25 to 30 miles west of Calgary.
6 months later…
Tara Jane White
Originally from Banff, Alberta, nineteen year old Tara Jane White was a happy-go-lucky science student fresh off her first year of studies at the University of Calgary when she was reported missing on July 3rd, 1976. She’d been working as a waitress in the heart of the Canadian Rockies at a lodge 40 miles north of Lake Louise. On July 1st, 1976 Tara was seen leaving a residence in the Northwest Calgary neighborhood of Dalhousie. Witnesses later reported seeing her walking across a field near the Crowchild Trail. Investigators determined that she was on her way to a nearby bus station to purchase a ticket to Lake Louise when she went missing. Police believe that Tara either accepted a ride from someone at the bus depot or was picked up hitch hiking. At the time of her disappearance Tara was described as 5″1, 105 lbs., slim build, brown hair, dark complexion with hazel colored eyes. She was wearing a tan corduroy jacket, blue jeans, a white blouse and an orange backpack.
On March 24th, 1981, Tara Jane White’s skeletal remains were discovered in a shallow grave approximately 40 miles west of Calgary in a wooded area off Highway #1 near the community of Morley, Alberta. An orange backpack was discovered with the body.
1 month after Tara disappeared….
“We thought it would be solved soon and we were hoping that it would have been. You are always thinking some person is maybe doing this again and you certainly don’t want that to happen. It’s one of those nagging feelings you just don’t know how to handle” – Daniel Goudreau (brother of the victim) Edmonton Sun, 2012
In August of 1976 police made a peculiar discovery on a remote rural road south of Edmonton. An abandoned blue colored Plymouth Cricket, was parked at an angle on the shoulder of the road with its headlights on. When the police stopped to inspect the vehicle they also noticed that the engine was still running. The driver side door was left open with the window partly rolled down. A leather jacket and shoes were found in the car along with a purse that lay undisturbed on the front passenger side seat. It belonged to seventeen year old Marie Goudreau of Beaumont, Alberta, a suburb on the southern outskirts of Edmonton. The name of the road at the time was route RR#244, known today as Ellerslie Road.
At approximately 10:30 p.m. on the evening of August 2nd, 1976, Marie left a friend’s house heading toward her home in Beaumont. The route along 244 was a familiar drive for Marie as she routinely traveled the same way home each night from the Southgate Mall, where she was employed at a coffee shop. While approaching Township Road 510, Marie is thought to have pulled over sometime between 10:50 and 11:10 p.m. It is believed that someone flagged Marie over – perhaps pretending to be broken down or in trouble – that person (s) quickly apprehended and abducted her as she exited her car and left without a trace. The only lead: local witnesses reported seeing a red truck idling at the side of the road at approximately 10:50 p.m. Investigators were never able to track down the truck or its driver.
Two days after Marie’s mysterious disappearance, her nude body was found in a water filled ditch 3 Km north of Devon, Alberta. The medical examiner’s report revealed that she’d been strangled to death.
Detectives would eventually note striking similarities between this case and another unsolved homicide that occurred in Calgary on February 26th, 1977. The murder of 19 year old Barbara Jean Maclean. But before that…
1 month after Marie was killed….
Melissa Ann Rehorek
In the Spring of 1976 twenty year old Melissa Rehorek, a resident of Windsor, Ontario, packed her bags and set out for a new beginning in Western Canada. She settled down in Calgary, Alberta, where she took up residence at the local YWCA and found a job as a hotel chamber maid. According to friends and coworkers, Melissa was a frequent hitchhiker who often accepted rides from truckers when she ventured out of town. On September 15th, 1976 at approximately 9:30 p.m., Melissa left the YWCA alone and caught a transit bus traveling westbound through the city and got off at McMahon Stadium. She was never seen alive again. Investigators later learned that Melissa intended to hitchhike west along HWY 1 and spend her two days off exploring the rocky mountains.
The very next day, on Wednesday, September 16th, 1976, Melissa’s body was discovered in a ditch along a rural, gravel road approximately 23 km west of the Calgary city limits and just 2 km north of HW 1, where she’d been hitchhiking. Her death was ruled a homicide and police determined that she’d been strangled to death.
None of her belongings were missing and everything, including her money was left in her purse at the crime scene. Witnesses reported seeing a grey colored half-ton vehicle roaming the area on September 15th.
Investigators are adamant in their belief that Melissa’s case is connected to another unsolved Calgary area homicide, the murder of 19 year old Barbara Jean MacLean.
5 months later….
Barbara Jean MacLean
Just a little over a month after Melissa Rehorek was found strangled to death a nineteen year old Nova Scotia teen from Inverness, made her way to Calgary, Alberta in October of 1976. Barbara Jean MacLean was described as a socially outgoing free-spirit who liked to hang out late at the local bars. By November, 1976 she had found a stable, well-paying job at the Palliser Square Branch of the Royal Bank and shared an apartment with her boyfriend.
On the evening of February 25th, 1977, Barbara was having drinks with friends and family at the Highlander Bar in Calgary. Near closing time that night, Barbara and her boyfriend got into a drunken argument in the parking lot after he’d been evicted from the establishment for causing a scene. The two exchanged heated words and after some time Barbara returned to the bar and continued drinking until closing time. Meanwhile, her boyfriend waited for her in his dark green 1970, Volvo parked just outside.
When the bar closed at 2:30 a.m., Barbara returned to the vehicle where she and her boyfriend continued fighting. The altercation escalated and the couple split. Her boyfriend stormed off in his car, leaving Barbara behind in the parking lot. She mentioned to friends that she planned to hitchhike to a house party and made the fateful decision to set off on her own.
The following day a man out walking his dog along a gravel road came across the body of a young girl who’d been strangled to death near 80th Avenue and 6th Street North East. It turned out to be Barbara MacLean. Although she was fully clothed circumstances led detectives to believe that she was sexually assaulted. A thorough examination of the crime scene also led investigators to surmise that she’d been killed at another location then moved to the gravel road some time later. Whoever gave Barbara a ride that night is in all probability, the same person who murdered her.
As noted above, police are convinced that Barbara’s murder is connected to the Melissa Rehorek case. It is also speculated that the same killer might be responsible for Marie Goudreau’s death.
While I don’t know all the circumstances, I think it is fair to at least consider the possibility that ALL of the homicides listed above are linked to one another and that Alberta was dealing with a sexually sadistic serial killer.
Here’s my reasoning….
Some Notable Similarities
- In almost every case the victim’s body was discovered in a remote area near the Trans Canada HWY
- Three of the five victim’s had been murdered while hitchhiking and one was abducted from her car.
- Three of the five victim’s were strangled to death
- There was a sexual assault element involved in at least four of the five cases. Sexual misconduct could not be confirmed in the case of Tara White because it took five years for her body to be recovered and by then, it was in a very advanced state of decomposition.
- In four of the five cases the women involved had just recently moved to the Calgary area
- Police strongly suspected that violent sexual offender Gary McAstocker was responsible for killing Barbara Maclean, Marie Goudreau and Melissa Rehorek. McAstocker worked for an Edmonton based moving company that made routine trips to Calgary where employees often stayed at the Highlander Motor Hotel. This is the same establishment that housed the Highlander Bar where Barbara was last seen alive. It is also very close to McMahon Stadium, where Melissa Rehorek got off the bus just before she started hitchhiking. In 1994 Gary McAstocker committed suicide just as Edmonton Police were building a case against him for another murder, that of a 14 year old Edmonton girl named Tina McPhee.
I believe it is highly probable that all the homicides noted in this article were committed by the same person given the proximity of the geographic locations, the relatively isolated timeframe in which the murders occurred, and the similarities I’ve indicated above.
In my next installment of this series I will be returning to Halifax and the possibility of connected cold cases there from the mid 70’s.
If you have ANY information about ANY of the cases featured in this article please contact the South Alberta RCMP Serious Crimes Division in Airdrie, Alberta at 403-420-4900 or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477