In late November of last year, the RCMP Historical Homicide Unit (HHU) along with the Calgary Police Service (CPS) laid murder charges in the 50-year-old murder case of a young Métis woman, and single mother, Pauline Brazeau. 

Brazeau's body had been discovered in the Cochrane area, mere hours after she had last been seen in Calgary on the night of January 9, 1976. The murder of the 16-year-old, which had gone unsolved for decades, brought to light just how far advancements in DNA technology have come, but it also shed light on how law enforcement organizations work together to solve historical homicides.

The evolution of co-operation of law enforcement with each other

A 25-year veteran of the police force, Ken Carriere who currently works with the CPS Historical Homicide Team said that two dedicated members of the team oversee what he said is cultivating cold cases within CPS, while another member oversees historical missing persons cases. He said that cooperation between CPS and RCMP has evolved from years past.

"[It's] not like in the 70's and 80's, when there was more guarding of jurisdiction. That does not exist anymore," he said.

Carriere added that several files cross borders around Airdrie, though he underlined that is the nature of the work he and his team are tasked to do.

"We look at murders in the 70s and the early 90s and we find in both cases, unfortunately, high-risk victims that were murdered and then dumped outside of the City of Calgary. Sometimes it is on the east side or west side, and sometimes it is north of Calgary. Sometimes it's offenders that come from the Airdrie area into Calgary."

He cited the prolific case of Douglas Garland as an example of how RCMP and CPS worked together.

"There is overlap. We have that communication and we do discuss what agency is the best place to do this," he said. "We’re willing to help any agency and in the last four years, we've helped several US agencies. We've helped out the RCMP, Toronto Police, Vancouver, and Regina."

When is a homicide deemed a cold case? 

"We work on a bank of files, and that bank continuously always gets larger.”

Currently, the CPS team has 120 cases that are deemed historical homicides, though it is impossible for the team to investigate over 100 homicides at the same time. Carriere said that several years ago a prioritization matrix was created to assess a case's solvability.

"Each [case] received a number based on their solvability and based on that; we will look at them in a prioritization."

Carriere explained how historical homicides, which the public has become familiar with as cold cases, are classified as such. Generally, the CPS Homicide Unit takes charge of murder investigations which are led by a primary investigator and a partner, along with the other team members. 

"After investigating it for as long as they are within the unit; generally, the minimum is within a year, but most people last several years up to five or six," he explained. "If and when that member either retires or moves on to another unit, that file will generally go to their partner. That partner will then continue with the investigation of the file and when that person leaves, it comes to the historical homicide team where it gets assessed and turned over to us."

The anatomy of probing historical homicides

He said that when the team looks at a historical homicide file, there is always the question of time and space.

"For example, if a couple that is holding a secret, gets divorced, they go different ways; that might be an opportunity for the police to now knock on the door and seek the truth and that person may be more willing to come forward and say their piece now that they're not in that position," Carriere said. "The unfortunate part is there's also memory issues, so, it's one of those things that there are advantages, but there are also disadvantages."

However, advancements in DNA technology have also become key in how historical homicides are re-examined, though he underlined, that it is not as quick and easy as popular culture would have the public believe. Sending an exhibit to the lab for DNA testing and getting results back can take anywhere from three to six months. 

"When we take a look at some of the TV shows, within an hour, you have a result, and it pops up with the individual's most current phone number, address and vehicle information. That just doesn't happen," he noted. "Especially in our office, even with active cases, people in the criminal realm, don't keep a constant address, or if they do, it's one that they just visit here and there, and it's just a mailing address."

And even if there is information from DNA analysis, Carriere added that it is only the first step in a lengthy line of investigative techniques, including obtaining search warrants, which are also not done within the span of a few commercial breaks as seen on TV.

"I would say, especially in the homicide realm, it's pretty common for [a search warrant] to be 40 to 60 pages long. It takes a while to write it right and then get it before a judge and get it back," he added. "Then once we get into the place that we're authorized to be, then we can take all the necessary biological samples that we can."

Biological samples are sent to an RCMP lab in Edmonton and the samples are put into a queue along with the rest of the country, excluding Quebec and Ontario. 

The cases that follow

For Carriere, like for many detectives, there are cases that simply never go away.

“One of those is the February 15, 2014, murder of the Carlsons – Don and Roxanne - that one was originally my case, when I was in homicide I worked that for several years and I carried that file with me and it's still with me,” he said. “Another file is the 2006 murder of Brenda Meyers that occurred when she was a business manager at Madison's Cafe, located in Brentwood. Those tend to resonate with us, within the cold case office.”

What motivates those working on historical homicides?

Carriere noted that the historical homicide unit and what it does is more often than not an academic exercise, more than a physical challenge.

"I'm a big fan of driving around in a police car and waiting for that big call to come on the radio and then speeding towards it and trying to help people in crisis - that is fantastic; whereas the cold cases are a process of academia where you ask yourself how many nanograms of DNA do we have on this particular file? Can that be assigned to the perpetrator of the crime? And what was the level back in 1994?" he said. 

Although Carriere said it may sound cliche, he said that the truth is what detectives seek.

"It's the desire for the truth that motivates us. [We seek] the truth for the families. I think I can speak collectively, throughout our careers, we have always wanted to get the answer whatever the answer is. Sometimes it may not lead to the answer that you want, but the point is, it is the answer," he said. "Knowing that the opportunity exists and knowing that there are options to answer these questions; I think that brings us to sitting in this chair and thinking I can solve these if we get the right person at the right time. If we get forensics back, these can be solved."

What happens next in the Pauline Brazeau case?

73-year-old Sundre resident, Ronald James Edwards who has since been charged with the non-capital murder of Brazeau was initially arrested on November 7, 2023. He was denied parole, and his trial is set for March of next year. In a November press release, detailing the arrest of Edwards, RCMP Superintendent Ryan Ayliffe of the Calgary Police Service underlined that investigators wanted to ensure that they had explored every investigative avenue.

"... We are grateful that our organizations were able to work together to bring closure to this case and to Pauline's family. If I were to leave you with one assurance, it would be that our investigators will not give up on our Calgary victims, no matter where they are found."

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