Cold Cases: Baffling case from 1973

Who: Carmen Robinson, 17

What: Missing, suspected homicide

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When: Dec. 8, 1973

Where: Last seen exiting a bus at West Burnside Road and Holland Avenue in View Royal.

Few of Vancouver Island's unsolved police cases are as baffling as the disappearance of Carmen Robinson.

The tall, attractive, 17-year-old blond stepped off a bus two blocks from her View Royal home one Saturday night and simply vanished. She was never found.

Although detectives have re-worked her file dozens of times, they've had few leads other than a bizarre but ultimately unproven tip by Clifford Olson, one of Canada's most notorious serial killers.

The case is now almost 35 years old.

By all accounts, Robinson was a happy, healthy teenager who seemed to have few enemies. She worked as a dishwasher at the Ingraham Hotel on Douglas Street near Burnside Road East -- now a Super 8 motel. After her shift on Saturday, Dec. 8, 1973, she caught the bus home, intending to enjoy two days off.

She was last seen stepping into the night at West Burnside Road and Holland Avenue, a short distance from her house. She did not make it home.

Detectives who took her case faced a daunting task. There was no physical evidence and no direct witnesses.

The first RCMP investigator, Wendal Milne, started by looking at her family and friends. Robinson's family has never agreed to a media interview and could not be located by the Times Colonist for this article.

"We interviewed all of them a number of times at length to see if they had any thoughts, an ex-boyfriend or somebody who hit on her at her at a party, to try and come up with anything," said Milne, who retired from the RCMP as a staff sergeant in 1995.

"Out of all that she came out as a pretty good girl."

Police tried to locate all known sex offenders in the area. Detectives also briefly used another tactic -- they put their wives on buses late at night and told them to look for anyone suspicious. Unfortunately, this turned up no leads.

Undercover officers kept surveillance on several houses near the bus stop, without success, said Milne. "It was really frustrating, because in a lot of cases you have a lead or something to go on, to bring up a flag," said Milne. "There were absolutely no flags to go in any direction."

Investigator Bruce Brown took over the file in the 1980s. Detectives tried something unusual -- they hypnotized a woman who claimed to have seen Robinson arguing with a man on Helmcken Road two days before she disappeared.

The witness described a man with a swarthy complexion, black hair and a full beard. She said Robinson got into his car, an early '70s Chevy Nova or Plymouth Duster painted burnt orange.

"If I see one of those, I still write the licence plate down," said Brown, now retired and serving as B.C.'s deputy police complaint commissioner.

The car had a bumper sticker with the name Ferguson. With help from the public, police matched the sticker to a school board election in B.C.'s interior. It still remains one of only leads in the case.

It's likely Robinson was randomly attacked and killed, said Brown, who still leans toward a sexual motive.

Police discussed her case with investigators working Ted Bundy's file in the United States.

Bundy was executed in 1989 after confessing to raping, killing and dismembering 30 people, some of whom were in Washington state. However, it was never proven he visited Vancouver Island, said Brown.

Bundy was not the only serial killer on police radar. Clifford Olson was living in Victoria at the time, bilking pensioners out of small amounts of money. In 1982, he confessed to killing 11 young men and women. He told police he knew where Robinson was buried.

The RCMP flew Olson from his cell at Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario to Victoria on Nov. 30, 1982. He led police to a rocky spot at Fort Rodd Hill, near Royal Roads University, said Brown. Police used sonar machines to examine the ground but couldn't find any evidence of bodies.

"It became apparent Olson was using any unsolved case to either gain access to the media or as a trip," said Brown. Police shipped him back to his prison cell.

Although both Brown and Milne still think about the Robinson case, they don't appear optimistic it can be solved without a major tip from the public.

"I'd be surprised, unless it turns out to be somebody on their deathbed that decides to make a confession," said Milne.

"I don't know I'd say it would never be solved," said Brown.

"There's somebody out there who knows something who hasn't come forward yet."

West Shore RCMP Insp. Jim Faulkner said the case remains "substantial" and is investigated "from time to time" but police could still use public tips.

Rob Shaw can be reached at 250-380-5350 or rfshaw@tc.canwest.com

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