Harold Backer mystery takes new twist in Port Angeles

A Port Angeles resident is saying that the accepted timeline of the disappearance of Victoria mutual fund salesman Harold Backer is out of whack.

The retired woman said she saw Backer having a conversation in the town two days after the last known image of him was captured on a security video camera.

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Until now, it was believed Backer disappeared Nov. 3, 2015, leaving a number of his former investment clients missing millions of dollars.

He was last seen about 12:20 p.m., riding his bike away from the Coho ferry terminal in Port Angeles, Washington.

The woman, who asked not to be named, said she first saw Backer some time after 1 p.m. on Nov. 3 near the entrance of Downriggers restaurant, a business near the Coho ferry terminal.

She said she spoke with him briefly in order to show him how to find the restroom and then saw him leave the restaurant with another man via an upper parking lot.

Two days later, she said, she saw Backer, a former Olympic rower, and another man talking outside the Port Angeles Tourist Bureau, which also is near the ferry terminal.

She described the other man as being shorter, stockier, perhaps older and with a striking full head of white hair.

She didn’t think anything of the sightings other than Backer made an impression on her, struck her as being handsome and seemed to have a presence or charisma about him.

However, over the weekend of Nov. 7-8, 2015, she said she saw media reports of a missing Canadian man and a picture of the man she had seen.

“It was the hat that struck me,” she said. “The hat and the eyes.”

She said when she saw Backer on Nov. 3 at Downriggers, he was wearing a white cap with a rowing insignia on it. That was the hat he wore in a photo used by media outlets to get the word out.

It was then that she said she contacted police — first in Victoria and then in Port Angeles.

She said neither seemed very interested and Victoria police told her she must have had her times mixed up, as the person she spoke with on the phone believed Backer was on a later ferry, which meant he couldn’t have been at Downriggers just after 1 p.m. on Nov. 3.

“But I saw that man,” she said, noting she decided to contact the Times Colonist after reading about the first anniversary of Backer's disappearance.

Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith said the information was new to them and the department would love to speak with her.

Smith said last year they were able to track Backer’s movements from the ferry terminal, eastbound on First Street and into a bank after the ferry docked around noon on Nov. 3. Smith said Backer immediately left the bank.

“He could have come back [toward Downriggers],” Smith said. “That would put him much later in Port Angeles.

“But remember this guy is still missing and endangered, he’s not a fugitive per se,” he said, confirming that the case has not been reclassified as a fraud investigation and remains a missing persons case. “Nothing has changed in terms of his status with us.”

An investigator from the Victoria Police Department was not available late Friday to comment on the development, but a spokesman said the department intended to look into the matter.

Victoria police have maintained that Backer, who had been living in downtown Victoria until he rode onto the Coho last November, is the subject of a missing person investigation.

That hasn’t sat well with some of his former clients, who believe Backer may be somewhere living off their retirement savings.

Before he disappeared, Backer wrote a letter to several of his clients expressing remorse for decisions he made that cost them money and taking responsibility for their financial losses.

In the letter, he admitted to running a pyramid scheme and said there was no way he could ever pay back the losses his clients experienced.

The letter was sent to 15 clients and arrived at their homes within a day or two of his disappearance. While it’s unclear how much money his clients lost, it is easily in the millions given just two of the families are out a total of more than $2 million.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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