This morning, my mother said to me, "They've got Ardeth Wood's killer!"
"Really?" I asked. I was excited. After 26 months, I thought that the police had finally discovered the brute that sexually assaulted and murdered 27-year-old university student, Ardeth Wood. But when I queried my mother in more detail, I realized that the police had arrested a suspect. As those of us who work in the field of wrongful convictions know, that is not the same as "finding the killer."
Chris Myers of Ottawa was arrested yesterday and appeared in court today after a North Bay detective was led to believe that Myers was involved in Wood's death. Police will not reveal the evidence against Myers except to say that he has also been charged with four other sexual assaults in Ottawa -- three of which occurred after Ardeth's death -- and another assault in Gatineau.
North Bay Detective Constable Noel Coulas recognized Myers from a composite sketch that was devised and circulated throughout the country in the aftermath of the Wood murder. Coulas encountered Myers when he investigated him in May as a suspect in a sexual assault in North Bay. Ironically, Myers was sent to North Bay by the Ottawa police, who picked him up in Arnprior, and thought that he might have been involved in the attack in North Bay.
Why didn't it occur to the Ottawa police that Myers may have been involved in Ardeth Wood's death? If Coulas noticed a resemblance between Myers and the composite sketch, why didn't the Ottawa police see that same similarity? Surely, they must have the composite sketch plastered on the walls of their offices. In addition, Myers was one of the 1700 people who were interviewed in the Wood case, and he has been charged with five or six sexual assaults in at least three locations, including Ottawa, Gatineau and North Bay.
Coulas was very modest about his role in identifying Myers in the sketch. Ottawa Police Chief Vince Bevan said that often "hard work and luck" paid off. Bevan has never recovered his reputation after bungling the Paul Bernardo case. (It took the police almost two years to analyze Bernardo's DNA; meanwhile, he was out murdering schoolgirls.)
Bevan and the Ottawa people could have been a lot more proactive here. Essentially, they found a man who was on their list of suspects -- sorry, "persons of interest" -- in the Ardeth Wood case AND they handed him over to North Bay! Moreover, this took place in May and we are now almost at the end of October. What transpired during those five months? Why did it take so long to pick Myers up? A lot of questions remain unanswered.
Chris Myers maintains his innocence. You can read more about this breaking news at http://www.canada.com/ottawa/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=a296cc8c-7407-4947-ae7d-f9e7689b7bc8.
Apparently, Ardeth Wood's brutal murder and the search for her killer has been one of Ottawa's most costly investigations; so far, it has cost approximately $675,000, and that is just the financial toll, which doesn't include the horrific pain and suffering of the Wood family.
Since I've been working in the field of wrongful convictions for approximately 13 years, I urge you to reserve judgment on this arrest until we hear the actual evidence. I would like to jump for joy by concluding that perhaps we have the real killer after all this time, when it had been looking so hopeless. But without a confession or a statement from the police as to the nature of the exact evidence against Myers, I will try to maintain a neutral position. All I can conclude at the moment is that it definitely sounds as though this man is a serial rapist. He rides a bike, he was seen on 24 separate occasions on the bike path that Ardeth Wood traveled on, and he left the Ottawa area several weeks after her murder. He could be our man but we'll have to wait and see.