How the RCMP historical case unit works to solve old missing persons, found remains files – Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

DNA

In 1970, RCMP found the remains of an infant boy in a bag in Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park. His identity, which has never been uncovered is something the RCMP historical case unit wants to find out.

The brown and blue plaid canvas weekend bag, weighed down by rocks and left on the bank of the river in Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park, concealed a shocking secret: the remains of an infant boy, no more than a month old.

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He showed signs of care — well-nourished, no marks of trauma or violence, wearing pyjamas and a diaper with a plastic diaper cover. A soother and blanket were in the bag with him.

For nearly 52 years, the baby boy’s identity has been unknown to RCMP investigators who have worked on the case since April 23, 1970, when he was found 50 kilometres outside Swift Current. The recently consolidated Historical Case Unit wants to change that.

It’s one of the seven historic unsolved cases involving found remains the RCMP are assessing, considering a submission of available DNA samples for testing with newer technology.

“We’re getting to the point where, being in the ’70s, the 1970s, if some mom had the baby and whether the mom was 15 or 16, we’re now looking at someone in their 70s who would have had this baby,” said Sgt. Donna Zawislak, a member of the unit.

OLD CASE, NOT “COLD” CASE

The unit investigates all long-term missing persons, suspicious deaths, homicides and found human remains cases not covered by municipal police forces. Its former Saskatoon and Regina offices amalgamated in November into a single unit based out of Regina covering all historical cases.

The unit first started to take shape in 2002.

Historical cases may be older, but they’re not necessarily “cold.” Zawislak said people have negative associations with “cold cases,” assuming no progress has been made. The unit’s files haven’t gone cold and there are investigative avenues, but sometimes files get stalled or sidetracked, she said.

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“Thankfully, the historical case unit was created to allow focus to be put on those files that maybe didn’t get the attention that they could have, and that’s for a variety of reasons.”

The unit if funded for 10 positions, but currently has six full-time historical case positions. It has almost 200 unsolved filed, including approximately 48 open homicide files. One of the oldest open files is the disappearance of a man in July 1939.

Some files are so old the paperwork has faded. A couple of cases involve more than 20 boxes worth of documents.

The passage of time can be positive and negative for an investigation, Zawislak said.

Over time, someone who was initially hesitant when interviewed by police may have a change of heart with a change in life circumstances, making them more likely to speak to police later on.

Potential witnesses may die, or a witness’s ability to recall events clearly and in detail can decline. Time can also change how investigations are conducted or the thresholds evidence has to meet for court.

EVOLVING SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Over the years, advances in science and technology — DNA testing and social media included — have brought new promise.

Zawislak said part of the reason a lot of the unit’s files remain unsolved is previous lack of access to DNA testing and DNA databanks. In some cases, investigators seized evidence in the hope that it could be sent for analysis with future technology.

A newer area is genealogy databanks. Zawislak said there are cases where DNA has been compared to everything possible and investigators are now starting to look sending a submission to genealogy sites such as Ancestry.com or 23andMe to find a genetic link to a family member.

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“For us, within our division, that’s fairly new to us. We have identified some files that we want to go that route,” she said.

“We’re lucky we have that now. It’s new, so it’s a process that we have to figure out. It can be a bit costly, depending — but again, if we can find people and identify them, you can’t put a price on that for the family members.”

Investigators determined that because the river froze over near Kyle, Sask. in December 1969 and the bag was found on top of the ice by someone out walking, it must have been left there after freeze-up. Police received information about an unidentified green-blue 1967 to 1969 Oldsmobile car parked near the area where the bag was discovered.

Although RCMP don’t know if the vehicle is connected to the investigation, the owner hasn’t been identified.

Investigators looked into records of all registered live births in Saskatchewan, and talked to doctors and other potential witnesses.

“We’re at the point now that we want the information out there because we just want someone to come forward, and if anything, help us figure out who this baby is, to get a bit of resolution to this situation in its entirety,” Zawislak said.

BREAKTHROUGH

Investigators working on the 11-year-old case of a missing man from the Baldwinton, Sask. area had a major break after RCMP resumed concentrated efforts last year.

Edward (Ted) Geddes was known to travel in Manitoba and British Columbia and had worked in the auto repair industry. The 64-year-old didn’t have a vehicle registered in his name, but he was known to buy and sell vehicles regularly.

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In mid-April 2011, officers went to his home for an unrelated incident and found his dog in the doorway, dead from causes that were not natural.

When police couldn’t find him, they started a missing person investigation. In February 2022, police announced the arrest of two men from the Baldwinton area and charged them with first-degree murder and kidnapping.

The investigation was led by the historical case unit.

Edward (Ted) Keith Geddes disappeared in 2011. Two men are charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in connection with his death. Photo from Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police website.For families whose loved ones’ cases remain open, Zawislak said there’s always hope that they can get at least some answers.

“We believe with advancements, with this unit in place, we’ll keep working on files as information comes in and try to use the evidence we have in the boxes to help solve some files.”

tjames@postmedia.com


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