Tuesday September 23, 1997

Christie Blatchford


Officer: Jane Doe Rape Case A Success

Cop tells trial manhunt had to be "low key" to trap attacker

p. News 5.

Plodding work to catch rapist

The defence in Jane Doe's $1.2-million lawsuit against Metro Police opened at the University Ave. courthouse yesterday, and it had to it the same plodding and determined quality that I imagine characterizes police work itself.

It wasn't, in other words, sexy or dramatic, not nearly so much as last week, when the fourth-floor courtroom rang with Jane's own brave testimony about the night in the summer of 1986 when she was raped, her efforts to recover her sense of self and her unshakable belief that "my police", as she described the Metro force, had used her as bait to catch the Balcony Rapist, as he came to be called.

Her chief allegation, and it forms the basis of her suit, is that before she was raped on Aug. 24, the police knew darned well that a serial rapist was operating in her Church-Wellesley Sts. neighborhood and that they didn't do what they should have to protect her and other women in the area -- that is, issue a specific warning about the man.

As it turns out, Jane is quite right: The police did know they probably were dealing with a serial attacker, but that, near as I can determine, is not their failure, but rather their miracle.

Bill Cameron, now retired, was a sergeant at 52 Division and the officer in charge of Jane Doe's case. He and his then-partner, Kim Derry, are actually named in the suit. Cameron took the stand yesterday, where he will likely remain for some time.

Cameron became involved in the Balcony Rapist case when, on July 25, 1986, he was assigned to investigate a rape which had occurred that morning in an Isabella St. apartment. As far as Cameron or anyone else knew at the time, she was the first and perhaps only victim of this particular man, but in fact, she was the fourth victim of the Balcony Rapist, and just 22 days later, on Aug. 16, Cameron and Derry had figured this out.

To do it, the two officers engaged in the tedium that is so integral a part of the job: They checked through old occurrences and old 172s (the forms police use to record "persons investigated", that is, anyone they suspect of being a rounder but can't immediately nail for anything) ; they talked to their colleagues (which is how they learned, early on, of two earlier rapes that turned out to be part of a series), which Cameron, in his cop-like way, described as "bantering-type communication"; they patrolled the Isabella- Gloucester Sts. area whenever they had a spare moment; at one point, having guessed their man was targeting women who lived on the lower floors of their buildings, they reviewed all the arrest warrants, and Cameron guessed this was as many as 2,600, that had been issued for suspects involved in any second-floor occurrences.

As Cameron put it yesterday in a nice understated description of police work, "If you do the right things, you will generate the good luck you require". By the end of July, police documents show Cameron was suspicious that the rapist might also be involved somehow in break-and-enters. By early August, the two officers had in their own minds linked two, maybe three of the rapes, though there were enough differences with one to trouble them. By Aug. 8, given a report of a break-and- enter at a woman's apartment (she wasn't at home when it happened), Cameron's skin crawled, and "We just, for whatever reason, came to the feeling this was a place he (their rapist) had been."

In short order, Cameron was on the phone to the sexual-assault care centre at Women's College Hospital, knowing they wouldn't and couldn't ("and properly so") give him any names, but getting confirmation of his own suspicion the rapist's modus operandi matched a previously unlinked case from December of 1995. This, it turns out, was the Balcony Rapist's first victim. Aug. 16, Cameron put the four, now-linked rapes in writing.

Here, essentially, is as far as police lawyer Byran Finlay got yesterday. The critical question, why Cameron and Derry didn't issue a warning, likely will be asked today. But there were some hints yesterday of the answer to come.

Another officer, for instance, had suggested early on in the Balcony Rapist investigation that the police warn superintendents of apartment buildings in the Church-Wellesley area, and that they in turn be told to take "trusted tenants" into their confidence. Cameron, as the senior officer, put the kibosh on this, rightly so in my opinion, noting that there was no guarantee the suspect wasn't A) a superintendent or B) a trusted tenant. Cameron had also taken to heart the lesson out of another serial rapist's story that summer. There had been a lot of publicity about this attacker, and, Cameron said, because of it he had fled to Vancouver, where he attacked another woman. This knowledge, and Cameron's own media-conservative bent, would have predisposed him to take a cautious approach, I'd guess, though I stand to be corrected.

Cameron and Derry ran the rape investigation even as they also worked other cases, with Cameron actually attending a two-week trial smack in the middle of the rape probe, doing his regular shifts while also in court all day.

Whether they should have warned Jane Doe , and how, is for the judge to decide, but it seems to me first that Bill Cameron has every right to regard this case as the success he does and second, that it's no wonder that when he retired in 1996 after 26 years on the job, he belatedly realized the immense stress he had been under all that time. "The day I woke up and wasn't a policeman, " he said, "I felt the difference." I bet he did.

"Balcony Rapist" case... [Fiona Stewart]

Created: March 6, 1999
Last modified: March 8, 1999

J.D. Jane Doe, c/o Walnet Institute
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710