Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of the disappearance of Kimberly Ann McAndrew, a 19-year-old woman who was last seen on August 12, 1989, leaving her place of work, the Canadian Tire store on Quinpool Avenue. There was an unconfirmed report that McAndrew was later seen at a flower shop in Penhorn Mall in Dartmouth, but the police investigation at the time seemed to concentrate in the Quinpool Road area, and in retrospect the flower shop siting seems most likely incorrect, someone trying to be overly helpful.
Soon after McAndrew’s disappearance, police zeroed in on Andrew Paul Johnson, a former Halifax resident who had been arrested for sex crimes locally, and who had been declared a dangerous offender in Nanaimo, British Columbia after he had been convicted of posing as a cop and kidnapping a 20-year-old developmentally disabled woman.
McAndrew was the daughter of a cop, so arguably would be trustful of someone she thought was a police officer. At the time of McAndrew’s disappearance, Johnson’s girlfriend lived in a house on Monastery Lane—directly across the street from the Canadian Tire parking lot. The Monastery Lane house was searched, but no evidence related to McAndrew’s disappearance was found.
Chillingly, however, for an assignment at a sexual offender treatment program, Johnson wrote about the rape and murder of McAndrew.
In 2009, Stephen Kimber reviewed many potential problems with the investigation into McAndrew’s disappearance, and former police investigator Tom Martin argued that the Halifax department had dropped the investigation inappropriately.
Last year, police searched a property on Prospect Road where they believed Johnson had lived at the time of McAndrew’s disappearance. The Chronicle Herald, citing unnamed police sources, said Johnson “was a prime suspect in the slayings of up to a dozen people.”
The Prospect Road search as well turned up no evidence related to McAndrew’s disappearance, and even though no one seriously thinks she is alive, she is still listed as a “missing person” on the police department’s website.
Tomorrow, the police department will issue a press release asking for anyone who has information about McAndrew’s disappearance to come forward. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely.
Missing persons data is missing
While a lot of people are reported missing—1,368 in Halifax last year, says police spokesperson Pierre Bourdages—the vast majority of those—over 1,000 last year—are children who are found within two hours. Most of the others are similarly run-of-the-mill—partying teenagers who don’t return home, lovers skipping out, emotionally distressed people, etc. It’s the handful of other cases that are perplexing.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a clear public database for missing persons. The Halifax Regional Police Department maintains what’s labeled a Missing Persons list, but the most recent name on this list comes from 2007. Caite Miller, who went missing last month, isn’t on the list, for example. That’s because the list isn’t maintained, says Bourdages. The intent is to roll the 11 names on the list into the Major Unsolved Crimes list, to make a list that’s analogous to the province’s Major Unsolved Crimes list. These listed crimes are cold cases—cases that are no longer under active investigation. All active investigations will be listed on the department’s press releases, unless the missing person is found, in which case their name and picture will be removed from the press releases. But nowhere will there be a list of just missing people.
Another problem is that people reported missing in the areas of HRM patrolled by the RCMP do not show up on the HRPD missing persons list, or anywhere else. At least, when I called RCMP spokesperson Greg Church he didn’t know of such a public database. Missing persons are put on police databases “forever,” says Church, but those databases are not available to the public.
So we’re left with a situation where the public has easy access to information about missing persons who will most likely never be found simply because they went missing many years or decades ago, but the public doesn’t have easy access to information about missing persons who are more likely to be found because they were recently reported missing—when memories are fresh. This doesn’t make sense.
Missing people and unsolved murders naturally attract the curious, and it’s human nature to think we might have some insight that has eluded the professionals who have looked at the cases. In reality, rarely does some random internet sleuth, or even a reporter, have the skills and knowledge needed to solve these cases, but keeping an active and complete list of recent missing persons might jog the memory of someone who actually knows something.
It’s total speculation, but it’s hard not to see parallels in some of the local cases. Recently, three men have gone missing while in semi-wild places: This year, Wallace Brannen was last seen at Crystal Crescent Beach, and Marty Leger was last seen on the Spider Lake trail. In 2011, Peter White was last seen at Crystal Crescent Beach. Leger and White were both on their bikes. Presumably, all three men died, but it’s terribly frustrating that no bodies have been found. That’s perhaps understandable at the ocean, but at land-locked Spider Lake?
Catie Miller disappeared last month. Her last known whereabouts were her Dartmouth apartment, where she was apparently waiting for a cab. Miller’s disappearance looks a lot like the 2006 disappearance of Nancy Forbes, who was last seen at a Dartmouth bus stop while waiting to go to a job interview. Is there a connection? Probably not, but our pattern-seeking minds naturally want to find that connection.
Police and the families of missing people face a conundrum. Their desire to have the public help find the missing person is no doubt sincere, but they also at times want to protect the reputation of the missing person, and so withhold information about them. The hope seems to be that just enough information is released such that someone might remember something, but not enough information such as to tingle prurient or busybody interests.
I think this needs to be thought through a bit more, and at the very least some guidelines should be developed about what is released when. And it’s time we all grow up about such things—everybody has secrets and troubles, personal demons and social and family conflicts. That’s just part of life. If we want to find missing people while they’re still alive, we should probably start talking about those things.
It’s beyond disturbing that the “updates” about Catie Miller are about flyers: who has agreed to post them, how many have been posted, maps of where they’ve been posted.
Perhaps I’m being naive, but if I were to go missing under such circumstances, I cannot imagine a single piece of information that I would think more important to keep private in exchange for my life. In fact, I would want everything torn apart in the hopes that some little thing might trigger someone’s memory, or lead to something. And so, how could anyone think it necessary to keep secrets when a life is at stake? We have gone so far down the road of “personal privacy” that common sense is but a fading taillight in the distance.
Expected to see multiple comments on this great piece, and though inspired to submit one when after it first appeared, held back ’cause people don’t want to see and read comments from the same person too often. But here I am, after all.
Couldn’t agree more with your last two paragraphs. We in the Atlantic Provinces still have an unhealthy obsession with “protecting personal reputation,” often to the detriment of truth, safety and maximum efficiency. I’ll cite a PEI example that occurred nearly two years ago on a bitterly cold winter night. Through miscommunication or negligence, or both, an elderly mental hospital resident was dropped off for a home visit, except there was no one home to receive him. In his confusion, he began wandering outside in the frigid elements. He was eventually found frozen to death in the neighborhood the next day. When ‘man missing’ notices were issued on him, they were devoid of detail that might have elicited more widespread searching. And there have been other similar occurrences, same scenario, but with happier outcomes.
A couple of years ago, a leaked managing psychiatrist’s internal memo criticized untimely access to mental health treatment and PEI’s high suicide rate, citing the secrecy around it as contributing to denial and lack of research..
You put it well, “… everybody has secrets and troubles, personal demons and social and family conflicts. That’s just part of life.”
Let’s get real, and in getting so, we may have to review the FOIPP Act and the privacy restrictions it imposes.