A blue checkered shirt. Black hair. Multiple tattoos: Edna, Mary C, Love, Marlene, a crossed-out Karene, a bird, a horseshoe. These details tell the story of someone who loved and was loved, who lost love, who believed in flight, and in good luck.They are also the only identifying information available for the remains of a man between the ages of 30 and 40 whose body was found near Kamloops in 1983.The information is listed on the unidentified human remains (UHR) interactive viewer, a web-mapping application containing information on every active, unsolved UHR investigation in the province, launched by the B.C. Coroners Service in March.The first of its kind in Canada, the tool, which maps the location and provides identifying details of the deceased, has been more successful than the coroner’s service could have imagined, said Andy Watson, the manager of strategic communications for the B.C. Coroners Service.“We are not quite at six months yet and we’ve generated more than 185,000 views and we’ve received more than 50 formal inquiries to share information. From that, about a dozen active tips have come through.”One case has been successfully closed, and another investigation is in the process of being closed, said Watson, although due to privacy concerns he could not reveal anything further.
Pictured is a cast of the skulls of two children that were found in Stanley Park in 1953. The case became known as the babes-in-the-woods murders, and was never solved.
Jason Payne /
Could it be the “Babes in the Woods” murders, marked on the mapping tool with a locator dropped near the Lion’s Gate Bridge in Stanley Park and dated 1953, the year the bodies of the two little boys — murdered by a hatchet sometime around 1947 and found together covered by a woman’s fur coat — will be solved?Or the case of the man in the blue checkered shirt who loved Edna, Mary C, Marlene, but no longer loved Karene?In every case, said Watson, the unidentified person had a family — someone who loved them, who missed them, who wondered where they went.Perhaps the remains belong to someone who disappeared decades ago, long before communications made tracking and finding and searching more efficient. Perhaps the person had told someone they planned to go to Alberta but somehow landed, and perished, in B.C.Perhaps family members who never thought to look for their loved ones here in B.C., or who had given up hope, will recognize something: a star-shaped scar on a wrist, a Chinese mudman pot figurine someone carried, a pink sweater with a large eagle on the front.Or perhaps a set of physical features, tied to an approximate age and location, like the brown-haired girl with beautifully cared for teeth who perished near Penticton in 1974.
Coroner tech analyst Ian Charlton manages the B.C. Coroners Service human remains database.
Francis Georgian /
That’s the case that haunts the tool’s designer, spatial information analyst Ian Charlton. “She was young, she was well cared for. She looks like someone would have missed her. Someone cared for her.”With his UHR tool, Charlton is, in a way, caring for them all. “Every single one of these people is missing, and they had a family. There is someone out there looking for them. Where are they? Where did they go? Where did they come from?” said Charlton.The mapping tool has given life to information that would have been sitting in a file, or on a spreadsheet somewhere, inaccessible to the public.Organizing the information on the interactive tool with spatial and temporal locators provided a unique way of viewing the information as well. There are just under 200 cases, and about two-thirds are male.The bulk of the locations where remains have been found generally mirror key transportation routes, highways and boating lanes, and the more densely populated areas of the province. A large cluster of remains were found in and around Stanley Park during the 1980s and 1990s.“As soon as we launched, the emails just started pouring in. There have been a few gems in there and we are hoping they will be resolved with a positive outcome,” said Charlton.The success of the tool has also given life to Charlton’s bigger idea: “The dream is a national-level database.”“The tool gives people the ability to look back in time, and has helped to generate new leads that probably would not have come forward,” said Watson. “It has reached far beyond what our initial goals were. We’ve seen great success, and hopefully it is a sign of more things to come.”The mandate of the B.C. Coroners Service, said Watson, is to determine who died, how, where, when and by what means. “The goal for us is to answer those five questions and provide closure to families.”Perhaps, too, there will be answers in the case that has haunted Vancouverites for so long: the Babes in the Woods, those two little boys (first thought to be a boy and a girl) found tucked beneath a woman’s fur coat and wearing tiny leather aviator caps — gifts, perhaps, from someone who loved email@example.com