Few stories affect me more than unsolved cases. It’s not as if they are any more or less heartbreaking than others — any life lost to homicide is tragic, regardless of the circumstances — it’s that they stay with you longer. There are some people you never forget, even if you only met them a few times, which is often the case when writing about crime: you cover the case, and move on.
Unsolved cases are different: as the sad anniversaries begin to pile up, you often get to know the families who, year after year, long for justice for their loved ones. There is a certain amount of professional detachment that’s necessary in this job, but I don’t mind admitting there are times when my desire for that big break goes beyond that of a neutral observer. This page profiles some of the cases that I’ve grown familiar with — and passionate about.
Having said that, all victims of crime and their families deserve justice. If you have information about the crimes profiled here — or about any others — do the right thing: call your local police or submit an anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers.
TERRIE ANN DAUPHINAIS
Supporters hold vigil for slain young mother; Murder unsolved after seven years
April 30, 2009
Jason van Rassel
On the seventh anniversary of Terrie Ann Dauphinais’ unsolved killing, her friend Theresa Ross stood near the northwest home where she died and sang a sweet rendition of Amazing Grace.
Ross drove to Calgary from her home in Edmonton on Wednesday to participate in a candlelight vigil for Terrie, who was found dead inside home on Citadel Peak Circle N. W. on April 29, 2002.
On that day, Ross spent hours in a police vehicle outside Terrie’s home, providing homicide investigators with a statement.
On Wednesday, she joined Terrie’s family for the first time as they gathered in a park down the street–a park where Terrie played with her three young children–to remember the young mother.
“It took these seven years to make me feel like I was ready,”Ross said.
Ross and Terrie, 24, met at the church they both attended and quickly became close friends.
“She was so bubbly and she lit up a room when she came in,” said Ross.
“She was like a sister I never had.”
After Terrie was killed, Ross and her husband, Richard, took temporary custody of her daughter and two young sons.
At the time, Terrie was estranged from her husband, Ken–whom police considered a person of interest in the case.
Ken Dauphinais regained custody of the children five months later and moved with them to Saskatchewan. He could not be reached for comment.
Terrie’s mother, Sue Martin, thanked Ross for looking after the children, and said she one day hopes to see them again.
“Our grandchildren will never know what it’s like to have their mother’s love,” said Martin, who came from her home in Ontario to stage the vigil.
“Maybe one day we’ll be lucky enough to have them in our lives again.”
Detectives investigating Terrie’s killing have believed since the case began that she knew the person who killed her.
Her home showed no signs of forced entry and investigators said the killer knew the home’s interior. Police found evidence the culprit went into the basement for a specific reason–though they haven’t disclosed what it was.
The two original investigators keep in touch with Martin and faithfully attend the vigils for Terrie, even though they’ve moved on to new jobs–Craig Cuthbert now works for the provincial solicitor general and Staff Sgt.Cliff O’Brien has been re-assigned within the police service.
“We won’t forget — we’re still working the file,” O’Brien said.
What happened to Helena Mihaljevic? Remains found near Airdrie raise questions for loved ones
July 23, 2007
Jason van Rassel
The sound of Helena Mihaljevic’s cheerful voice provides some comfort to loved ones trying to hold onto their happy memories.
Two months after Mihaljevic’s remains were found in a field near Airdrie, people still call her cellphone number to hear the recorded voice mail message.
That Mihaljevic’s cellphone remains active months after her disappearance and death is just one more troubling aspect of the mystery surrounding her violent death.
Mihaljevic was a 31-year-old mother struggling with an addiction to crack cocaine when she disappeared in mid-2006.
The discovery of Mihaljevic’s bones on May 13 ended the torment of not knowing whether she was alive — but the likelihood she was left, dead or dying, in that desolate location is a source of continuing pain for her family.
Investigators don’t know if someone killed Mihaljevic or she died from an accidental overdose. To her sister, it makes little difference.
“To me, it’s a crime. They just tossed her aside as if she was no one,” said Jasmin Pittman.
Helena Mihaljevic was indeed someone: she was a mother, daughter, sister, friend and co-worker. She was also an addict.
To those who knew Mihaljevic, the first four descriptions define how she lived.
The last one — addict — defines how she died, and serves as a cautionary tale for others.
“Look at my sister, and take it as an example,” Pittman said.
“You can be a healthy, young, vibrant person and everything could be taken away in a heartbeat.”
Growing up, friends remember Mihaljevic for her ability to laugh.
“She was a fun, happy person,” said Tammy Morgan, who met Mihaljevic in Grade 1 at West Dover elementary school.
They remained friends through middle school and later, at Forest Lawn High — doing “typical girl stuff” like hanging out at the mall, doing each other’s hair and having sleepovers at Pittman’s house, Morgan said.
Mihaljevic’s frequent laugh may not seem a remarkable trait, but it was something she was able to maintain through her share of trials and tribulations.
She had Crohn’s disease, a chronic intestinal ailment that causes pain, inflammation and ulcers. When she was 16, she endured surgery to remove part of her intestine.
“We used to walk to the store and get a Slurpee — and she knew it would hurt her stomach, but she wanted it so bad,” Morgan recalled.
After high school, Mihaljevic held a variety of secretarial and waitressing jobs. She enjoyed the variety and never stayed too long in one place, said Pittman.
“She’d get bored,” she said.
Mihaljevic’s life changed when she was 22 and became pregnant with her son. Her boyfriend, whom she met when she was 18, wasn’t interested in sticking around to help raise the boy.
Even so, Mihaljevic’s attitude remained upbeat.
“She decided she was going to raise the little guy on her own,” Pittman said.
It might be natural to put on a brave face for your family, but friends said even privately, Mihaljevic didn’t lament her situation.
“Between her and I, she would never complain about being a single mom,” Morgan said.
Far from feeling sorry for herself, Mihaljevic took on new challenges and graduated from the legal assistant program at SAIT in 2004. But as the year went on, Mihaljevic’s characteristic laughter became less frequent.
“She was starting to feel a lot of stress and pressure and I think she felt she bit off more than she could chew,” Pittman said.
After a seven-year absence, her son’s father returned seeking a second chance, but the relationship broke down after only three months.
“She didn’t want to end up with just anyone — she wanted somebody who would accept her and her little boy,” said Pittman.
Mihaljevic’s parents, Vladimir and Ivanka, offered to let her live with them until she felt better, and she went on antidepressants.
She also took a religious course at a local church, and the combined influence of spirituality and positive company had an uplifting effect on her, said her sister.
“She went full force back into life — she felt she could be a single mom, she could be a legal assistant and do everything,” Pittman said.
Mihaljevic returned to living on her own with her son, but it wouldn’t be long before the next setback.
Around the time of her birthday in October, Mihaljevic was offered crack cocaine.
She would later tell her friend, Kerri Ermantrout, that she was drunk and didn’t even know what was trying.
No matter — she was hooked.
“That’s all it took, was that one time,” said Ermantrout.
Although Mihaljevic’s family never saw her use crack, it didn’t take long before they saw the toll it was taking: she stopped showing up for work, she was late picking up her son from school and she started getting phone calls from creditors.
Meanwhile, dealers were stealing things from Mihaljevic to settle drug debts. She also pawned some of her belongings for drug money.
The downward spiral halted around Christmas, when Mihaljevic’s family intervened.
Her parents let her move in with them, and she let them take guardianship of her son. They later formalized the arrangement in family court.
At the beginning of 2005, Mihaljevic finished a two-month rehab program.
“We believed we were getting her back,” Pittman said.
Mihaljevic relapsed after three months, but her family was undaunted — relapses are common.
By the beginning of 2006, Mihaljevic had completed a second stint of rehab and was living with a sober, supportive friend.
Her son was still with her parents, but she saw him often, and called him every night at bedtime.
There were few signs of trouble when the family gathered to celebrate her son’s birthday near the end of June, 2006.
“She seemed like she was a little bit down, like she wasn’t herself,” Pittman said.
Pittman went on vacation with her husband shortly after the birthday party, not knowing it would be the last time she would see her sister.
In fact, less than three weeks later — July 7, 2006, on the Stampede grounds — would be the last time anyone reported seeing Mihaljevic.
“We really want to zero in on that time around Stampede,” said Insp. James Hardy of the RCMP major crimes unit, which is investigating the case.
Although Mihaljevic’s family grew worried as the summer drew to a close, Pittman said there was, at that point, still a reasonable explanation for her absence.
“We were wondering if she fell off the wagon and got embarrassed. She was really hard on herself,” she said.
“We contacted everyone she knew. We didn’t care where she was — we just wanted her back.”
Even in the grips of her addiction, Mihaljevic had always kept in close contact with her family. When they didn’t hear from her by September, her family filed a missing person report with the Calgary Police Service.
“It was hard to imagine she was dead, but we knew in our hearts this (behaviour) wasn’t her,” Pittman said.
Weeks turned into months without even a phone call, but vague signs continued to give Pittman hope her sister was alive and well.
A friend told Pittman that Mihaljevic’s MSN Messenger account remained active and would often indicate she was online. Pittman sent her sister e-mail messages, but never got a response.
Like Mihaljevic’s cellphone, the computer had disappeared from her apartment over the months — either stolen or given as payment for drugs.
Pittman also received several hang-up phone calls at the end of 2006 and beginning of 2007.
Considering Mihaljevic likely died a short time after her disappearance, those once-hopeful signs now seem more ominous: were they instead the actions of someone who had something to do with her sister’s death?
“I feel there is somebody out there who knows who put her body there,” Pittman said.
While Mihaljevic’s parents, sister and friends all pondered the unthinkable in the months before her remains were found, her son just wondered where his mother went.
He was old enough to be told his mother was “sick” when he went to live with his grandparents, Pittman said.
When Mihaljevic disappeared, family members told him she had gone away to get better — something they believed themselves at first.
But as Christmas and other holidays passed without any contact, their reassurances were less and less comfort.
“He was really beginning to think he was abandoned,” said Pittman.
Telling him his mother was dead was difficult, Pittman said, but it at least laid to rest any notion she had run away.
For now, that may be enough to ease a nine-year-old’s heartache. But Pittman said her nephew, too, will inevitably feel the need to know exactly what happened to his mother.
“I hope and pray that one day we’ll be able to tell him more,” she said.
Public help sought to help solve killing; Twenty years later, victim’s brother vows to forgive
April 29, 2009
Jason van Rassel
For 20 years, Dan Poovong has wondered who killed his brother.
For 20 years, dozens of people who saw someone stab Mark Poovong as he tried to break up a brawl between rival gang members have kept the culprit’s identity to themselves.
Their collective silence has allowed someone to get away with murder, and denied Poovong’s family peace.
“You just keep grieving,”says Dan Poovong, Mark’s twin brother.
The brothers were 22 years old when they joined family members at a religious celebration for members of the city’s tight-knit Laotian community at the Marlborough Park Community Association on Feb. 26, 1989.
A group of uninvited youths burst into the gathering and began assaulting one of the guests.
“We were sitting at one table and there was a young guy sitting at the table next to us and a guy came over and–pow–pounded him,” Dan recalled.
Mark followed the brawlers outside, where dozens of people were fighting with baseball bats and knives.
Mark wasn’t a gang member and he had likely stepped in to break things up when someone stabbed him, Poovong said.
“As I opened the door, his hand was on his chest and he was coming toward me,” Poovong said.
Mark died four hours later in hospital, leaving his parents and seven surviving siblings to grieve.
“It should be the sons who bury the parents, not the other way around,” Poovong said.
Before his death, Mark had taken electronics at SAIT and worked for Alberta Government Telephones.
Mark was also a talented artist, played on a soccer team with other Laotian community members and was the more outgoing twin, Poovong said of his brother.
“He was a lot more handsome than I am,” said Poovong, a smile crossing his face.
“With twins, there’s the stronger one and the weaker one. I always thought I was the weaker one. He had a lot of friends, and I just tagged along in the background.”
Police share the family’s belief that Mark was an innocent victim who got caught in the middle of the brawl.
But investigators know all too well how fear and intimidation can prevent people from coming forward in cases involving gang members.
Since 2002,a war between the FOB and FOB Killers gangs has been responsible for 25 homicides, but police have been able to lay charges in connection with only two of them.
Twenty years have passed in Poovong’s case, but gang investigators believe it can be solved if someone finally comes forward with the right information.
“There are witnesses who saw this young man get killed and haven’t had the fortitude to come forward,” said Acting Staff Sgt.Gord Eiriksson of the organized crime operations centre.
“Somebody’s got to have a conscience.”
Poovong believes someone does, including the person who killed his brother.
“I’m sure they’re grieving, too. He did something that was wrong. He’s carrying this,” he said.
Although time hasn’t erased the pain Poovong feels over his brother’s slaying, he credits his family’s strong Christian beliefs for helping him overcome any anger he feels toward the killer.
“I would totally forgive him. That’s our faith,” he said.
‘Does anybody have a conscience anymore?’ asks grieving mom
April 29, 2009
Jason van Rassel
Steffi Stehwien knows the pain experienced by Mark Poovong’s family all too well.
Not only was her son, Aaron Shoulders, likely killed by gang members, the crime also remains unsolved despite dozens of witnesses.
Shoulders, 18, was mortally wounded in August 2003 as he stepped in to protect a companion who was being attacked by a group of men outside the now defunct nyla nightclub on the 1st Street S. W. bar strip.
Like Poovong, Shoulders wasn’t a gang member, but he fell victim to the violence that is all too common in their world.
“Aaron hated violence and would always step in. But that night was not a good night to step in,” Stehwien said.
John Pheng, a member of the FoB Killers gang who was murdered two years later, was suspected of stabbing one of Shoulders’ friends, but he was never charged with the crime.
A war between the FOB Killers and their rivals, FOB, is responsible for at least 25 homicides since 2002 — 23 of them remain unsolved.
The death toll illustrates the gangs won’t hesitate to use deadly violence against each other, and Pheng showed they also have little regard for the lives of anyone who crosses them.
In addition to being involved in the melee that led to Shoulders’ death, Pheng stabbed and killed 18-year-old Jason Dang, who was dating his ex-girlfriend.
“Gang members in Calgary have a greater propensity for violence, and there are other families out there who are suffering like the Poovong family,” said acting staff Sgt. Gord Eiriksson of the organized crime operations centre.
Pheng was never charged with killing Dang, but investigators linked him to the crime after he was shot and killed in 2005.
Shoulders’ attacker, however, has never been identified, despite the crime happening on a crowded street as the bars on 1st Street S. W. emptied out.
the fact no one has ever provided investigators with information that could implicate shoulders’ killer is doubly painful to his mother.
“It sickens me. It outrages me. I can’t live in a society like that,” Stehwien said.
“Does anybody have a conscience anymore?”