Five Days Lost: The Missing McCanns

This is my Missing Persons Monday offering...

A common criticism of policing in the United States is the decentralized approach used. 

In the States, there are over 16,000 law enforcement agencies, and as one can imagine, communication and coordination between agencies can be a serious problem.

This is an issue that impacts victims and their families searching for answers.

But does a strong national police force, like that which is present in other countries like Canada and Israel, eliminate mistakes in missing persons and probable abduction cases?

Not quite.

While reviewing the details of the missing persons case of Lyle and Marie McCann of St. Albert, Alberta, Canada, one glaring oversight caught my attention.


Case Summary

Seventy-eight-year old Lyle McCann and his seventy-seven-year-old wife Marie left St. Albert, Alberta on July 3, 2010 traveling via motorhome.  The couple had planned a week-long trip that included camping at several stops along the Yellowhead Highway, and then meeting their daughter in British Columbia on July 10th.

On July 5th, the McCann's motorhome was found by police abandoned and engulfed in flames at a campground several hours southeast of their departure city.  The couple's SUV, which had been in tow behind the RV, was missing.

The McCann's failed to arrive for the meeting with their daughter and were reported missing on July 10th.

On July 16th, the McCann's Hyundai Tuscon (the SUV that had been with the motorhome) was found abandoned in a wooded area about 45 minutes from where police recovered the RV.

In September 2010, a local man named Travis Vader was named as a suspect in the disappearance of the McCanns.  Police believe foul play is involved in the couple's disappearance, and arrested Vader on unrelated charges.

Authorities continue to build a case against Vader, and recently used divers to scour a pond on property that is owned by an acquaintance of the arrested man.


So what is odd about the handing of this case?

Police located the McCann's motor home on July 5th. 

Missing persons reports were not completed on the couple until July 10--after their daughter contacted authorities.  

Five days? 

One-hundred-and-twenty-hours before reports were taken?

After police found the couple's motorhome ablaze?

In essence, authorities lost the equivalent of a work-week in a missing persons and likely homicide investigation--time they certainly wish they had back.

After digging on this issue, I found one instance where a reporter pressed police on the missing five days angle, and got this response:
..."That certainly is a concern of ours. We are looking at how it was found, how it was reported, how it was investigated," said Sgt. Patrick Webb with the RCMP.

RCMP say an Edson RCMP officer came across the burning RV and was able to pull information from the registration card. The officer attempted to to call the registered owner of the RV, but that was unsuccessful.

At that point, the file was then passed along to the St. Albert police detachment. Police would not say if the St. Albert detachment followed up on the case.

"We make no hesitation in saying there are ways we do investigations that some people may not agree with," said Webb.

Bret McCann believes the RCMP are fully engaged in the current investigation, but thinks there should be more done to locate owners of burned-out or suspected vehicles.

"The relationship between vehicle registry and the emergency contact apparently there is not. I think there should be," he said.
Similar to what happened in the Brianna Maitland missing person case, authorities stated they attempted to contact the listed owner of the vehicle, but were unable to do so.  Understandably, the parents of Brianna were not pleased that their daughter's vehicle sat for days in a location after police had towed it from the Dutchburn place.

But, unlike in Brianna's case where I argued that it was reasonable for police to consider the scene as just a traffic collision, finding a burning 1999 Gulfstream Voyager in a camping area would scream suspicious, and certainly require more immediate follow-up.

Follow-up activities that evidently were not conducted.


Communication and coordination issues are not solely an American policing blight; it is a problem with national law enforcement as well.

Last year, the Vermont State Police, after collaborating with the Maitland family, announced improvements to the agency's procedures in handling abandoned vehicles in relation to missing persons cases.

It is my hope that police agencies in Canada will cooperate in a similar manner with the McCann family so that necessary corrections are made to prevent a precious five days from being lost in future investigations.

In the meantime, the family of the two missing persons wait.

*Note: Thanks to the talented writer and photographer Stina Lindenblatt who referenced the McCann's case in a comment on one of my posts last week.


My Husband's Watching TV... said...

Poor guys! That's totally awful and sad. Just like my friend's brother, if he'd been reported missing sooner, then he could have been found alive.

Tara said...

A week? That's mind-boggling, really.

Heinous crimes like this are chilling, and sad, but when it involves elderly (or esecially children) I just can't comprehend how someone could bring themselves to do it.

Theresa Milstein said...

That's so sad. I would always like to think law enforcement would act quickly if I or a loved one disappeared.

Brian Miller said...

that is crazy...time seems of the essence in a missing persons case...

obladi oblada said...

Yep, they definitely dropped the ball on this one!

Lt said...

I'd agree that a centralized policing approach can't gaurantee cases, evidence, or information slipping through the crack. I would argue, however, that it tends to reduce the liklihood of dots not being connected, among a host of other benefits.

Clearly, though, even centralized police forces have their work cut out for them. Hopefully, like in this instance, it will at least be used as a constructive (if not painful) learning experience.

Amy Sullivan said...

This is the first time I've ever read your Missing Persons Monday. Thanks for not letting the stories of these people die. I will certainly be back.

Diane said...

There is so much red tape and bureaucracy that we bite ourselves in the butt most of the time. Good post. :O)


In the States, there are over 16,000 law enforcement agencies.

That is mind boggling! And I'll bet everyone of them thinks they can handle investigations better that the other. Centralized policing seems to be the way to go for the future.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Wow, I'm impressed that you figured out which case I was referring to.

I had forgotten all that info about the delay in reporting the couple missing. It's amazing they even have a suspect, which happened fairly quickly.

Momma Fargo said...

At first I thought the motorhome case was the same as the one where the prisoners that escaped recently from Arizona killed a couple and burned their motorhome. All these are interesting, Slam. Keep it up!

Shannon said...

It really is disheartening to read that it took that long to file the report.

It's hard to believe there are that many law enforcement agencies and no efforts have been made to create a centralized agency to help facilitate communication.

J. J. in Phila said...

That they could not contact the owners of a burning trailer immediately and could not do the followup for five days is a very serious problem.

BobKat said...

Awesome post! Well thought out and written.

I'm sorry I have to say it, but the truth is if "drugs" were involved the blazing motor home would have had an immediate and thorough investigation.

How can you forget, not be concerned, about an elderly couple who loved camping, their motor home ablaze, and they are nowhere to be found. They don't think, if able, the couple would have called 911??? Obviously they didn't have a chance.

RE: VSP and Brianna Maitland and abandoned vehicles, I think it was 2006 they said they changed their policy on abandoned vehicles.

During my time with the Maitlands and MJA, a private investigative unit, we found a car much like Brianna's abandoned on the same highway she disappeared from. The back windshield was smashed, and it was an unsettling experience to say the least. The car was simply towed away and junked. I doubt much follow-up came of it. As I recall, Bruce Maitland told me, "it's all too common to find abandoned cars along VT's roads."

Our law enforcement community is, in my opinion, fractured. There are those with way too much power, and distinction, and those in the gray, and then state and local companies... the higher up you go, the more red herring they are chasing, at the expense of those just trying to keep it's citizens safe.

Law enforcement became what it is today during the 20th century. It is still a teenager... mesmerized by modern technology, weaponry, forensics, and state of the art motor vehicles and computers.

Years ago I worked as a custodian at a community college... I had THE inside look at higher education. My partner, half Italian, half Apache, said to me one day, "these educated people, professors and doctors, are so well educated they have lost sight of commonsense. And in many cases I began to see what he meant.

Long-winded, but so are 5 days to realize two citizens are missing under mysterious circumstances.

Thanks Slam!

Vodka and Ground Beef said...

This sounds like a good story for my favorite show, "Dateline."

Miss Caitlin S. said...

Thanks for phrasing it as an entire work week, I know how much gets done at my office in a week and losing that when missing people are at stake, sounds horrible. And you're right- a torched RV is grounds for immediate panic. I hope they find out what happened to the lovely couple. Thanks again for your experienced insight.

Oz Girl said...

That is horrible... 5 days lapsed??! Like you said, a burning motor home screams "crime scene" and it's beyond shameful that an investigation wasn't started immediately!!!!! I also agree with BobKat's friend's comment about highly educated people... they often have forgotten common sense, which is definitely needed in daily life.

kathryn said...

Wow. That is so sad....just so desperately sad. And they look so damn happy...why is it always the happy people that have such tragedy?

I can't imagine this story will ultimately have a happy ending. I grieve for their family.

aconnectiontomyheart said...

Shocking and depressing.. ! How can not being able to contact the owner of the RV be a plausible explanation by the police, they should have dig into the details about immediate family until they get hold of someone who knows the owner of the vehicle.. Thanks for creating awareness about this.. ! Great!

BobKat said...

Slam Dunk... please follow-up on this couple. I trust others here feel this is a case that can't be ignored.

Oz Girl: Thanks... commonsense in this mystery would have been important.

Krista said...

This is such a heartbreaking story.

Sadly, the police officers and investigators are not immune to the human element. They are not infallible, they make mistakes. Like grocery clerks, public servants, and doctors.