When police hunted for serial rapist and killer Paul Bernardo in the early 1990s, their investigation was bogged down by jurisdictional clashes and a general lack of organization.
That was not the case when 27-year-old Jessica Lloyd vanished in Belleville on Jan. 28 — the city’s police chief made sure of it.
“Very early on, when we sat down with (Ontario Provincial Police Det. Insp.) Chris Nicholas, we said, ‘Patches are out the window, jurisdictions too, we’re working together. We want to get Jessica back,’ ” said Belleville police Chief Cory McMullan.
The OPP, alongside the Trenton search and rescue team, swept the area for the missing woman. But as her disappearance grew more suspicious, the two forces aligned and began looking at similar unsolved cases in the area, McMullan said.
In September, there were two home invasions in Tweed where the women were bound to chairs and photographed while being sexually assaulted.
In November, Marie-France Comeau, a corporal and flight attendant with CFB Trenton’s 437 transport squadron, was found dead in her Brighton home.
There were details that tied the cases together, investigators said, declining to elaborate.
But the big break came on Feb. 4, as Belleville and OPP officers held a roadside check on a stretch of rural highway outside Tweed.
Police were reportedly searching for a vehicle that matched the distinctive tire tracks left in the snow at the scene of Lloyd’s disappearance.
Investigators wouldn’t confirm that they stopped Russell Williams, wing commander at CFB Trenton, who was later charged with Lloyd and Comeau’s murders, as well as the two home invasions.
“It used to be that police services worked in silos and didn’t share information,” McMullan said. “If we hadn’t combined resources and sat down and discussed it, we would have had the information from our investigation, but we wouldn’t have had their information – and vice versa.
“I don’t think that either service would have been able to make the arrest as quickly as it came without working together.”
McMullan said the Ontario’s police forces have learned from the Campbell Report, a 450-page judicial review that criticized the police’s Bernardo investigation.
The report made 27 recommendations, including co-operation between neighbouring forces, a shared database for violent sex crimes and murders, as well as keeping the public informed.
Police in Woodstock, Ont. were criticized last year for not declaring an Amber Alert after 8-year-old Tori Stafford went missing and instead keeping the investigation internal and insular for several days.
Meanwhile, bystanders around the Williams investigation say they were dangerously left out of the loop.
The OPP released its first press on the home invasions in Tweed on Oct. 1, seven days after the first attack.
After Comeau was killed, neighbours say the police told them it was an isolated incident and there were no public safety concerns.
“Now we know it wasn’t isolated. Something could have happened and that’s scary,” said a woman who lives on Comeau’s street.
Both Comeau’s murder and the sexual assaults, however, were documented on a data system that links similarities between violent crimes from different jurisdictions, said OPP Sgt. Kristine Rae.
“While criminals have no boundaries, neither do police services,” she said.