Sherri McLaughlin: Bring her back, family pleads to suspect
Son, parents, brother beg suspect for information
By LORI CULBERT, VANCOUVER SUNSeptember 18, 2009Comments (9)
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More Images » Stephen McLaughlin, (L), son of Sherri McLaughlin, comforts his grandmother Jackie White during a press conference in Kamloops, September 17. Sherri McLaughlin disappeared in Kamloops in 1993, leaving behind a crumpled bicycle that had been run over by a vehicle. Her body was never found. RCMP said they have a suspect in the 16-year-old case.Photograph by: Bill Keay, Vancouver SunKAMLOOPS — His head bowed and eyes welling with tears, the teenage son of Sherri McLaughlin begged Thursday for information from the man police believe killed his mother 16 years ago.
“I really, really want my mom back. I never got to know her, I was only one when she went missing. I have no memory of her, I don’t even know the sound of her voice,” Stephen McLaughlin, 17, said at an RCMP press conference here.
Sherri McLaughlin’s mother Jackie White — who raised Stephen — sobbed as the slight, bespectacled teen asked the suspect to show the family some compassion by revealing his mother’s whereabouts.
“Please, please tell anyone, no matter who it is, please tell somebody,” he said quietly.
McLaughlin’s father Gary, a retired RCMP officer, also broke down during the emotional appeal.
McLaughlin’s disappearance and presumed murder has gone unsolved since she vanished Sept. 19, 1993 while riding her bicycle to an ex-boyfriend’s house in Kamloops.
For 16 years, the damaged bike and other evidence sat in boxes, periodically pulled out when frustrated officers revisited the historical file.
Police say the case haunted investigators because they believe McLaughlin was truly an innocent victim — a young waitress with a one-year-old son — who was randomly snatched by a stranger.
It has also been agonizing for her family to have no answers.
Then, last year, investigators conducting another file review connected the dots between old clues and new ones, and zeroed in on one main suspect.
The RCMP describe him as a dangerous offender imprisoned in the Lower Mainland in connection with a violent sexual assault on Vancouver Island.
(Police would not release his name, but The Vancouver Sun has learned he is Robert Daniel Dow, who has three convictions for rape and a criminal history of violent assaults against women going back more than 20 years.)
What police would say about their suspect is they visited him in jail and asked him to speak about McLaughlin, but he refused. He also ignored heartfelt letters from McLaughlin’s family begging for closure.
A letter penned by White is addressed to “the man that took my daughter,” and tells him that “as time went on my nightmares started, [and] now I live a repeated one.”
She added: “The person that took Sherri also took a true family identity from Stephen her son. He will never know the love Sherri had for him, her touch, arms to hold him, brothers or sisters to share happy times with.”
Police held Thursday’s press conference to try to convince the suspect one last time to fess up about where McLaughlin is.
“You know who you are. I know who you are. What I’m asking, if there is a grain of humanity in you and I know there is, please tell somebody,” said Kamloops Staff Sgt. Garry Kerr.
“Please do the right thing.”
Police have determined the suspect has relatives in Kamloops and was in that city the day McLaughlin was abducted.
They have also confirmed paint chips from the undercarriage of his car came from McLaughlin’s bike. And a deer whistle — a small plastic device that emits high-pitched noises to scare away deer — attached to the car’s front bumper was ripped off and left at the scene of the abduction.
From the damage on the bike, police believe it was initially struck while McLaughlin was riding it, and may have been hit again when the vehicle was fleeing the scene of the abduction.
Police have recently discovered that a few days later, the car’s broken back window was repaired. (McLaughlin was feisty, Kerr said, and would have struggled for her life.)
And then the ownership of the blue Pontiac Grand Am was transferred to the suspect’s wife.
Police now also know the suspect went to his home in the Lower Mainland immediately after McLaughlin was abducted. They would not reveal which city he lived in, but said a recent search conducted in that area turned up no evidence.
Items seized from the car were tested for McLaughlin’s DNA, but the results were inconclusive. A more modern version of DNA testing is being tried on the old samples and the results could be ready soon, Kerr said.
A criminal charge cannot be approved, he added, unless police get evidence that can put the suspect behind the wheel when McLaughlin was taken.
“We’re an inch shy of a mile. I can tell you that last inch will be hellish, but it is in sight,” Kerr said of a possible arrest.
James McLaughlin, Sherri’s older brother, said whether or not the suspect is ever charged is not as important to the family as finding out where his sister is.
“I want to ask and beg for the final piece of information we need to know where she is, to ask for closure for my mother,” he said, dabbing his eyes.
“Please, please give us that final piece of information so we can bring Sherri home.”
Kerr said police received a tip about the suspect shortly after McLaughlin’s disappearance, but it was such an innocuous one that it wasn’t considered a high priority. The suspect did, however, have convictions for violent sex offences at that time.
Kerr said police know of at least one other person, a friend of the suspect’s who lives in Kamloops, who likely has some knowledge of what happened that night. Police hope that person may also reveal more to investigators.
When police approached the suspect in prison to talk about McLaughlin, his response, according to Kerr, was: “If you’ve got enough, charge me and I’ll see you in court.”
Kerr is hopeful, though, based on knowledge of the suspect’s past behaviour, that the appeal this time may work.
“I believe he does have a conscience,” he said.
For Kerr, one of the original investigators on the file, the thought of one day resolving the crime is an emotional one.
“I’ve lived with this case in my heart for 16 years.”
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