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Canadian police: DNA links now-dead U.S. prison inmate to 1974 murder of teen

By Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley, CNN
September 26, 2012 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Canadian teenager Colleen MacMillen disappeared while hitchhiking in 1974.
Canadian teenager Colleen MacMillen disappeared while hitchhiking in 1974.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen was murdered in British Columbia in 1974
  • On Tuesday, Canadian authorities said DNA tied an American man to her death
  • The man, Bobby Jack Fowler, died in a U.S. prison in 2006
  • But he remains a "person of interest" in 9 cases of missing or murdered Canadian women

(CNN) -- DNA evidence links a now-dead American convict to the murder of a Canadian teenager who disappeared in 1974, authorities in British Columbia said Tuesday.

Bobby Jack Fowler, who died in an Oregon prison in 2006, is responsible for the murder of 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen, Inspector Gary Shinkaruk of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said at a news conference.

Authorities said while the case is closed on MacMillen's death, investigations continue into the abductions and killings of other women in the same region of Canada, and the search is still on for information in those cases.

"Today's announcement and public plea for assistance is a significant milestone in our commitment to solving a series of missing and murdered women investigations in British Columbia," said Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens, commanding officer of the RCMP in British Columbia.

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On August 9, 1974, MacMillen disappeared near Highway 97 in Lac La Hache, British Columbia, according to Shinkaruk. She was found dead 47 kilometers (about 29 miles) south of her last known location.

A DNA profile of an unknown male was established in 2007 from evidence in her case, but Canada's National Crime Scene Databank did not turn up a match, Shinkaruk said. A higher-quality sample was submitted to INTERPOL in 2012, and the new sample was matched with Fowler.

The development brings to a close one of 18 open cases in British Columbia involving women who went missing, with some later found murdered, stretching back to 1969. The cases are being investigated by a task force named Project E-Pana.

The mission of the Project E-Pana is to solve the homicides of 13 women and the disappearances of another five women who remain missing, according to Shinkaruk. The name of the task force comes from an Inuit word describing the spirit goddess that looks after souls, according to the RCMP website.

Fowler has been ruled out as a suspect in eight of the eighteen cases, though he remains a "person of interest" in the remaining nine open cases.

Fowler also has been named as a suspect in the 1995 murders of two Oregon teenage girls and as a person of interest in a 1992 double homicide, according to the district attorney's office in Lincoln County, Oregon.

"Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families of the victims of these crimes," Canadian Minister of Public Safety Victor Toews said in a statement.

"Anyone with information about this individual should come forward as soon as possible," he added, referring to Fowler's movements through the region during the time that the killings and abductions occurred.

Fowler, 66, was arrested in 1995 for a violent attack on a woman in Oregon, and died in a prison there six years ago.

Shinkaruk said his office has released photos and a video of Fowler. The RCMP has also created a timeline for Fowler's movements over the last 40 years, and Shinkaruk called on citizens of Canada and the United States to think back to the 1970s, '80s and '90s and contact the RCMP with any new information in the still-open cases.

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