The Death of Cindy James

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EARLY LIFE:

Cynthia Elizabeth “Cindy” Hack was born on June 12, 1944 to parents Otto, a retired Canadian Air Force colonel, and Tillie Hack, a housewife. The eldest of six children, she grew up in the suburbs of Vancouver, British Columbia, where she was known for her sense of humour, sincerity and warmth.

In July 1966, Cindy graduated from nursing school and married psychiatrist Roy Makepeace. Nine years later, she was hired as a team coordinator at Blenheim House, a day-treatment centre for preschool-aged children with behavioural and emotional problems. Her love for children allowed her to enjoy the job, and she remained in the position for 12 years.

Following her stint at Blenheim House, she took a position at Richmond General Hospital.

In July 1982, Cindy separated from Roy. A few months later, she began to receive harassing phone calls, which escalated to assault and, later, her death.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

In the seven years leading up to Cindy’s death, it’s reported she received nearly 100 harassing phone calls. They began in October 1982, when a person whose voice she didn’t recognize began calling her at random, sometimes whispering and other times remaining silent. Cindy reported the calls to the Vancouver Police Department. The officer who responded was Pat McBride, who later became romantically involved with Cindy. He moved in with her, but the pair later broke things off.

Unfortunately for Cindy, things only got worse. Over the next three months, she reported prowlers outside her home; bizarre notes left on her doorstep, with letters cut from magazines pages; her phone line being severed; porch lights being smashed; an attack on her dog; and three dead cats left in her yard. The calls also persisted, with witnesses confirming that, at times, no one would speak after Cindy answered.

Things continued to got worse and whoever was tormenting Cindy began physically attacking her. The first attack occurred in January 1983. According to her friend, Agnes Woodcock, she found Cindy outside one night, crouched down with a black nylon stocking tied around her neck. When asked what’d happened, Cindy explained that she’d gone out to her garage to grab something when someone snuck up behind her. All she could remember of her assailant was their white sneakers.

In an attempt to stop the harassment, Cindy moved houses, changed her last name to James and painted her car. She also hired private investigator Ozzie Kaban. Vancouver police continued their investigation and began to grow suspicious of Cindy, whom they believed was keeping information from them. She wasn’t acting like a “normal” victim, and they were dubious of the lack of evidence they’d uncovered. Her parents also felt she was holding something back, which Tillie later revealed was a threat from the caller. According to Cindy, he’d threatened Tillie and her sister, should she say anything.

On January 30, 1984, Kaban was listening to a two-way radio he shared with Cindy when he heard strange noises. Concerned, he drove over to her home, where he found the front door locked and Cindy lying on the ground in the kitchen. He knocked in the door, ran to her aid and found a note pinned through her hand with a paring knife. Her body also showed superficial injuries. Kaban called 911 and Cindy was transported to the hospital, where she told him she’d saw a man walk through her gate and the next thing she remembered was being hit on the side of the head with a piece of wood. He’d then held her down and stuck a needle in her arm.

The threatening calls continued, but as they were brief, investigators were unable to trace them. In an attempt to catch the suspect, 24-hour surveillance was set up on Cindy’s home, but after nothing suspicious occurred, it was called off. Not long after, Cindy was once again attacked.

On December 11, 1985, she was found lying in a ditch, semi-conscious, six miles from her home. She had a black nylon stocking tied around her neck, a needle mark on her arm, and cuts and bruises. She was only wearing a man’s work boot and glove, and given the cold temperatures was suffering from hypothermia. As with the previous attacks, she had no memory of what happened.

Growing increasingly worried about her own safety, Cindy asked Agnes and her husband, Tom, to spend a couple of nights a week at her home. During their stays, the pair notice weird things happening, such as the burglar alarm going off and the glass window in the basement door going missing. One particularly jarring incident occurred one night in April 1986, when the basement was set on fire. Tom was the only one in the home at the time and attempted to call emergency services, but the phone line had been cut. He then ran from the residence to search for help, at which time he noticed a man standing on the curb. When he asked him to call 911, he ran off down the street.

Emergency crews were eventually contacted and when they arrived on scene found that it appeared to have been staged. There were no fingerprints on the only access point to the basement – a window – and Cindy hadn’t been home. When asked about where she’d been, she said she was walking her dog. This struck everyone as suspicious. If she was worried about someone attacking her, why would she be out of the house, alone, so late at night? Given the unusual circumstances, it was believed Cindy herself had set the fire.

It is estimated Vancouver police spent between nearly $2 million investigating Cindy’s complaints. Despite the amount of resources put into the investigation, a suspect was never named.

Cindy’s doctor eventually had her committed to a local psychiatric ward, due to fears she would harm herself. He had her evaluated for multiple personality disorder, but found she had no mental health issues and that her unusual behaviour was the result of police not believing her claims. She remained in the hospital for 10 weeks, after which she admitted to her family that she knew more than she was letting on; she believed she knew who was harassing her, and if the police weren’t going to stop them, she would.

Cindy accused Roy of being the anonymous caller. In an effort to get him to confess, investigators had her call him and record the conversation. He repeatedly denied being involved and was later ruled out as a suspect.

The final attack occurred on October 26, 1988, when Cindy arrived home from work. She was in her carport when she was attacked from behind, and was later found unconscious in her car. She was nude from the waist down, hogtied and had a black nylon stocking tied around her neck. Duck tape was over her mouth. Due to the severity of the attack, she later fell into a coma. Against all odds, she survived.

In Spring 1989, Cindy reported the attacks seemed to be decreasing, and just five days before her disappearance, she wrote a letter to her younger sister, Melanie Hack, in which she said she was beginning to feel optimistic.

DISAPPEARANCE & MURDER:

On May 25, 1989, Cindy disappeared, just before a five-day leave from her job. She’d arranged for Agnes and Tom to come over and play bridge later that night, and the pair arrived at her home around 10:00pm. As she usually did, Agnes honked as she pulled into the driveway and immediately felt something wasn’t right. Cindy typically peaked through the drapes and waved at them, but not this time. As well, her blue 1981 Chevrolet Citation wasn’t on the premises.

Agnes knocked on the front door and still didn’t receive a response. As Cindy had recently begun renting out her basement, she and Tom went to speak to the tenant, a life insurance agent named Richard Johnston, but he didn’t know where she was. Unsure of what to do next, they returned to their car and waited several minutes, before deciding to head home and call the police.

On the way, Agnes decided to drive by Blundell Centre, a shopping mall where Cindy did her banking. They found her car in the parking lot, close to her usual Bank of Montreal location. She found no sign of her friend and went straight to the Richmond detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The lady at the front desk told her she’d need to wait 24 hours before reporting Cindy missing, but Agnes was undeterred and eventually convinced the RCMP to dispatch a patrol car to the mall. The officer shone his flashlight into Cindy’s car and noticed blood on the driver’s side door, prompting him to call for backup.

Further analysis of the car found Cindy’s purse on the front seat, beside four bags of groceries and a wrapped present. Cindy’s wallet, bank card and an ATM deposit slip were found beneath the vehicle and looked to have been placed there, rather than dropped.

Just after 1:00am on May 26, Agnes let investigators into Cindy’s home. It looked like she’d planned on returning home the previous day, as she’d left a deck of cards on the table in preparation for her bridge game with the Woodcocks. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary, other than the fact the drapes were open. Cindy had a habit of closing them before it got dark, as she was worried someone would monitor her movements.

Her was towed to the police impound lot at 2:30am, where it remained in storage until it could be examined in the daylight.

Officers arrived at Roy’s apartment around 3:16am. They asked him of his whereabouts the previous day, to which he responded that he’d been at the opening of Bridgepoint Market with a female friend. After returning to Vancouver, the pair went to dinner and then to her home in Deep Cove, where he installed a stereo system. He left around 11:30pm and arrived home sometime after midnight.

This was confirmed by his friend.

While they were speaking with Roy, he brought up two unusual messages that had been left on his answering machine in 1988. Both featured a raspy voice, which whispered, “Cindy… Dead meat… Soon” and “More smack, more downers, another grand after we waste [her]. No more deal.” He discussed the messages with his lawyer, but due to his distrust of the police, he hadn’t brought them to the authorities. He also hadn’t thought they were related to Cindy at first, rather him, as he’d misheard “Cindy” in the first message as “Sunday”. This made him recall a time just before he’d received the calls, in which he’d seen two strange individuals standing outside his apartment building. They’d left after noticing he was staring at them.

When the contents of Cindy’s car were analyzed, an emphasis was placed on locating any hairs or fibres. Investigators saw that the heater had been turned on, but set to “defrost”; the gearshift was in “park”; and the cassette player contained a Herb Alpert tape. Her hospital parking pass was on the dashboard and the ashtray had been closed, with six Cameo-brand butts inside, Cindy’s favourite brand. Between the front seats were numerous Bank of Montreal “quick deposit” slips and envelopes.

The car’s glove compartment contained maps, papers and a Sofrex handheld emergency alarm. There was also a pad of paper toward the bottom, with the words “KDV 784 Small, silver (grey)” scrawled on the front page. It hadn’t appeared to have been touched for some time, and a check of the license plate number didn’t match a vehicle from British Columbia.

Shopping receipt found in the car indicated Cindy’s last purchased occurred at 12:43pm the previous day. They weren’t for her groceries, however, but for a croquet set, wrapping paper, and the present found on her front seat.

The bank slip found underneath showed she’d deposited money at 7:58pm. Investigators contacted the bank and examined its records. Interviews were also conducted with anyone who’d used the ATM within 15 minutes of Cindy. A woman who’d used it at 8:00pm recalled a blonde lady nearly driving into the side of her car. She’d been wearing a pink shirt and had shoulder-length hair. Unfortunately, she couldn’t say if it was Cindy.

Another witness, a man, used the machine at 8:01pm and recalled seeing a blonde lady walking diagonally across the parking lot. He’d watched her walk for five to 10 steps, but didn’t see her leave. She’d wore dark slacks and a blue jacket. While he recognized a photo of Cindy, he wasn’t sure she was the woman he’d seen. He agreed to hypnosis and was able to recall the woman had been wearing a boot-style shoe. He also remembered there was no one else in any of the other vehicles in the parking lot.

The search for Cindy encompassed the entirety of Richmond, and included a helicopter that took aerial photos of Blundell Centre and a Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft. Shoreline and dikes were searched, as was Vancouver International Airport, in case she’d boarded a flight without informing anyone. Bus drivers whose routes included the mall were contacted, as were local residents and store owners. While many recognized Cindy, none recalled seeing her on May 25.

A few days after Cindy went missing, Richard Johnston contacted police after a man phoned his company to inquire about Cindy’s life insurance policy. He’d claimed to be Otto Hack, so Johnston’s secretary began providing the information. However, she soon remembered she wasn’t permitted to share such details over the phone and asked him to visit the office to discuss the matter further. When asked, Otto denied making the call.

Around the same time, someone sprayed “some bitch died here” on a fuel tank beside an abandoned house in Richmond, about one mile from Blundell Centre. An orange line was also painted from the tank to a spot in the grass, where the outline of a body was also made. This is notable, as Cindy’s body would later be found at this location.

Otto approached the media to elicit more information from the public, resulting in hundreds of tips being called in. Each was followed up on, but nothing was uncovered.

On June 8, 1989, Cindy’s body was found lying in the yard of the abandoned home. A male’s blue denim jacket, initially reported to be Cindy’s own suede coat that was later found in her closet, was found beneath the body.

An autopsy was conducted two days later, which found Cindy had been drugged and strangled. Similar to the previous attacks, a black nylon stocking was tied around her neck, and her hands and feet were tied behind her back. She had a needle mark on her right arm, and a toxicology report later showed she had Morphine, Flurazepam and other drugs in her system – enough for an overdose.

Ozzie Kaban saw Cindy’s body and noticed she had blotching on her left side, which he believed to be post-mortem lividity. As she’d been found lying on her right side, this indicated she’d likely been moved after death. He also found the “parching” of her skin to be odd. As it had rained in the days prior to her being found, he felt the remains should have shown more signs of being left out in the elements.

INVESTIGATION (OR LACK THEREOF):

A memorial service was held on June 14, 1989. Investigators used hidden cameras to record the faces and license plates of everyone in attendance.

While the RCMP and Vancouver police publicly said they were investigating a homicide, privately they believed Cindy had died by suicide. This leaked to the media, angering her parents. In an attempt to prove this, they visited Richmond General Hospital to see if any medications were missing. While Cindy was a nurse, she didn’t have access to the drugs in her system, nor were doses missing from the hospital. However, they did learn she was known to have hoarded those drugs prescribed to her.

Investigators also spent hours at the nearby Safeway grocery store, trying to reconstruct her grocery purchase. However, no matter what they did, their totals couldn’t match those on the store’s computer.

Pat and Roy were investigated and cleared on any involvement in the case. The man who ran away from Tom on the night of the basement fire was never identified.

The official investigation into Cindy’s death was closed in July 1989.

A coroner’s inquest was held to determine Cindy’s cause of death. Over 80 witnesses testified in what became the longest and most expensive inquest in British Columbia. An entomologist took the stand to say Cindy’s body had likely been where it was found since June 2, 1989, meaning there was one week where her whereabouts remained unaccounted for. Following the testimonies, the jury determined Cindy had died on “an unknown event” and thus classified her death as “undetermined”.

Despite the police and jury findings, Cindy’s parents continued to believe she was murdered. Appearing on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, Otto said, “The police did not investigate the possibility of homicide, of someone murdering her, but zeroed in on trying to prove that she committed suicide.” He also didn’t believe she would have been able to tie herself up after ingesting so many drugs. However, a medical professional claimed otherwise, saying it would have taken between 15 minutes and an hour for the drugs to take affect, while a knot tying expert said it would have only taken Cindy three minutes to tie herself up in the manner in which she was found.

Her family also argued that there was no way her body could have been where it was for so long. As the home was located along a busy road, they were doubtful no one would have noticed her. As well, records from Environment Canada showed it had been unusually warm around the time Cindy went missing. If she had been dumped there for any length of time, it’s likely someone would have smelled something.

In 1992, Kaban and another private investigator, Wally Christensen, spoke to The Vancouver Sun about their belief that Cindy had been murdered. They cited the above normal temperatures, as well as the fact that it had rained between May 25 and 27, 1989. Not only had no one noticed the smell of a decomposing body, despite the fact it was proven a construction worker was living in a van nearby, there’s also been no dust or dew found on the remains. As well, there were no signs of animal activity.

They also spoke of the cleanliness of the shoes she was found wearing. This struck them as odd, as one would assume any clothing left out in the elements would show signs of dirt or wear. Speaking with the newspaper, they said, “The shoes were like they’d been polished totally clean and spotless. That shows us the shoes were not there for any length of time.”

Other items not brought before the coroner’s jury were also discussed. Kaban brought up the fact that Cindy’s slacks and underwear had been removed in the previous five attacks. This appeared to have occurred during her death as well, with Kaban claiming that the evidence showed no body secretions on the pants, despite some being present on her pantyhose and underwear. Finally, the pair discussed the jacket found under the body. While police had reported it was folded neatly, it had actually been rumpled, signalling it had been dropped. This led Kaban and Christensen to theorize that Cindy was killed elsewhere and carried to the abandoned house in the jacket, likely six to eight hours prior to her body being discovered.

THEORIES:

1) The first theory in the case states that Cindy was the victim of a homicide. Those who prescribe to this theory, including her parents, online sleuths, and Christensen and Kaban, believe this for a number of reasons. The first is the nearly 100 harassing phone calls Cindy received in the years leading up to her murder and the five attacks she’d suffered. While the police believed she was the one behind all this, it’s hard to believe someone would go to so much trouble to make people believe she was being harassed – and for what reason? A second point of note is the strange man seen standing outside of Cindy’s house on the night of the basement fire. It’s unusual that he ran away when Tom asked him to call for help, so many believe he could have been the one who started it.

Believers of this theory also note the similarities between the condition Cindy’s body was found in and the previous attacks on her. Each time, she was found with a black nylon stocking tied around her neck, and in the majority of instances, she’d had a needle mark on one of her arms and been hogtied. As well, there’s Kaban’s note about the state of dress Cindy was typically found in. In most cases, she was found almost entirely nude, and the evidence found on her body leans toward the likelihood she was re-dressed before her body was dumped.

Finally, there’s the fact her body was found in such a public area, some two weeks after she went missing. Even if one prescribes to the medical expert’s theory that she’d been at the location for a week, that’s seven days during which no one noticed anything out of the ordinary. If a body was exposed to the elements for days, there would be signs of decomposition, including a potent smell, which no one complained of. As well, there’s the lividity Kaban noticed during the autopsy, which indicates her body was likely moved sometime after death.

2) The police concluded that Cindy died by suicide after overdosing on Morphine and Flurazepam. However, there are many holes in this theory. The first is the fact that no drug paraphernalia was found with Cindy’s body. If she’d injected herself or taken pills, there would have been needles or prescription bottles at the scene. As well, the hospital where she worked reported no instances of medication going missing. That being said, there is the possibility that Cindy could have used what she had in her medicine cabinet, as she was known to hoard prescriptions. Given the severity of the attacks, it’s possible she could have been prescribed Morphine to control any pain she was suffering.

Investigators also believe Cindy tied herself up, based on the testimony of both the medical professional and the knot expert at the coroner’s inquest. This also lends itself to their belief that she faked the attacks on herself. If she had, it’s likely she’d gotten better at making each scene look more realistic, meaning she could have perfected how she tied herself up. However, many find it strange that she’d kill herself in this way, especially since her doctor had recently found no signs that she was suicidal.

AFTERMATH:

Years after Cindy’s death, Pat McBride was convicted on two counts of sexually assaulting women.

Melanie has written a book about her sister’s death and has set up a dedicated website, Who Killed My Sister, My Friend. This followed 14 years of research into Cindy’s final days, including police reports, notes from the autopsy and the toxicology report.

Otto and Tillie have since passed away, as has Roy.

Cindy’s death was featured on a host of television programs, including Unsolved Mysteries, A Current Affair and CTV’s W5. It’s also been discussed on such podcasts as Casefile and Crime Junkie.

The Vancouver Sun reporter Neal Hall has written a book on the case, The Deaths of Cindy James. He has publicly said he agrees with investigators in that Cindy died by suicide. Other books have also been written about the case.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Those with information regarding the case can contact Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477 or contact Melanie directly at melaniehack@gmail.com.

Image Credit: Twitter

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