A woman is found murdered after reporting more than 100 incidents of harassment and violence, but police think she staged the attacks herself.
Cindy was attacked outside her home
On June 8, 1989, the quiet Vancouver, British Columbia, suburb of Richmond was shocked when a body was found lying in the yard of an abandoned house. The victim was a 44-year old nurse named Cindy James. She had been drugged and strangled. Her hands and feet had been tied behind her back. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police believed that Cindy’s death was either an accident or suicide.
In the seven years before she died, Cindy reported nearly 100 incidents of harassment. Five were violent physical attacks. Over time, the police began to doubt her stories. But Cindy’s parents never doubted that their daughter was murdered. Cindy’s father, Otto Hack:
“The police did not investigate the possibility of homicide, of somebody murdering her, but zeroed in on trying to prove that she committed suicide.”
Was it suicide or murder?
It all began with mysterious phone calls four months after Cindy James separated from her husband. Tillie Hack, Cindy’s mother, said Cindy told her she didn’t recognize the voice:
“She said it was just a voice. Sometimes it would change, the sound, and sometimes it was just whispering. Sometimes it was just nothing, just silence.”
Otto Hack, Cindy’s father, felt her daughter wasn’t telling everything she knew:
“Of course, I think that we should add a qualifier there that she was very, very reluctant to talk about this right to the end, and our feeling was that she was withholding something extremely vital.”
Cindy reported the threatening calls to Vancouver police, who began investigating. Over the next three months, she said that the harassment got worse. At night, she heard prowlers. Her porch lights were smashed and phone lines severed. According to Cindy’s friend, Agnes Woodcock, Cindy said bizarre notes began to appear on her doorstep:
“She told me many times that he wanted to scare her to death. She said, ‘He doesn’t want to kill me, he wants to scare me to death.’”
One night, Agnes dropped by Cindy’s house for a visit:
“I went up and knocked on the door, there was no answer. I assumed she was having her bath. She did every night. And I thought I heard something. I wasn’t sure what it was.
When Agnes investigated, she came across Cindy outside:
“I found her crouched down with a nylon tied tightly around her neck. Cindy said she’d gone out to the garage to get a box and someone grabbed her from behind. All she saw were white sneakers.”
Cindy moved to a new house, painted her car, and changed her last name. She also hired a private investigator, Ozzie Kaban. The police continued their investigation and questioned Cindy several times. According to Ozzie Kaban:
“She wouldn’t tell them the entire story. She would be evasive, she would withhold information, and she simply would not act as a normal victim would act. And I can see where a police officer would have a tremendous amount of problem believing her story.”
Cindy’s mother thinks she knows the reason for her daughter’s reluctance:
“Cindy told me that after she was attacked, the knife was held at her throat and she was told that if you talk, your sister will be next, and then your mother. So just keep quiet, don’t tell anything.”
One night, Ozzie Kaban heard strange sounds coming over a two-way radio he had given Cindy. He went straight to her house:
“I went around the house and the house was locked. I was able to look into the house through a window and I found Cindy lying there. I took a look at her and I thought she was dead.”
Ozzie kicked in the door:
“There was a note that was pinned with a paring knife through her hand. I went to the telephone and called 9-1-1 and within about two minutes she revived briefly, and then they took her to the hospital. She told me that she noticed a man coming through the gate. The next thing that she remembers is being hit on the side of the head with a piece of wood or something of that nature. She then she remembered being held down on the floor, and she remembered a needle going into her arm.”
But to some, the incidents and her stories of harassment, seemed suspicious. Neal Hall covered the story for the Vancouver Sun:
“There was never a fingerprint from a suspect, there was no independent corroboration. Cindy saw this person, or sometime she said there were two, sometimes three people. One and a half million dollars, it’s been estimated, the police spent investigating Cindy James’ complaints. More than a hundred incidents. And they could never find a suspect.”
Cindy said the threatening phone calls continued, but police said they were too short to trace. Neal Hall:
“They had 24-hour surveillance on her house for days on end, with up to fourteen officers. But never, when surveillance was on her house, never any, any event would happen. As soon as surveillance was taken off, of course then she’d get another incident that happened.”
Cindy’s mother doesn’t think that was odd:
“When the police were watching the house, we would say to them, ‘Well, you know, if it’s somebody doing that, then sure as heck he knows you’re there, and of course, nobody will do anything while you’re sitting there and watching.’”
Then, Cindy was found dazed and semi-conscious lying in a ditch six miles from her home. She was wearing a man’s work boot and glove, and suffering from hypothermia. Cuts and bruises covered her body. A black nylon stocking had been tied tightly around her neck. Cindy said she had no memory of what happened. Cindy started asking Agnes, and her husband, Tom, to spend the night. On one occasion, Agnes said, she woke them up:
“Cindy came running to the door and said, ‘Tom, I heard a noise downstairs’, and Tom said, ‘I heard it too, it was like a loud thump.”
When they went downstairs, Agnes said they discovered that the basement was in flames:
“So I ran to the phone and the phone was dead. So Tom went outside and got the neighbor and asked if he would call the fire department. And when he went out, there was a man standing on the curb, and Tom asked him, and he ran away down the street.”
Once again, the police suspected that Cindy staged the incident. Reporter Neal Hall said that Cindy’s behavior that night was odd:
“There was no dust or fingerprints disturbed on the outside of the windowsill. But somebody set the fires from inside the home. And would’ve had to climb through that window. Now that should have been one sign. Also, she said she was out walking her dog late at night that night. Now, if somebody was being attacked, why would they go out alone walking their dog, three o’clock in the morning? Does that make sense?”
Finally, Cindy’s doctor committed her to a local psychiatric ward. He believed she was becoming suicidal. Cindy’s psychotherapist, Allan Connolly:
“I think one of the things she found most difficult was that people didn’t believe her. She was always doubted. She knew she was doubted and that was what slowly drove her crazy. The fact that she wasn’t believed.”
Ten weeks later, Cindy left the hospital. Cindy’s father said that she finally admitted to her family and friends that she knew more than she was saying:
“She told me for the first time she was convinced who the perpetrator was, and in her own words, if the police can’t solve this, I’ll solve it for them.”
On May 25, 1989, six years and seven months after the first threatening phone call, Cindy James disappeared. On the same day, her car was found in a neighborhood parking lot. Inside were groceries and a wrapped gift. There was blood on the driver’s side door and items from Cindy’s wallet were under the car. Two weeks later, her body was found at the abandoned house.
It looked like Cindy James had been brutally murdered. Her hands and feet were bound together behind her back. A black nylon stocking was tied tightly around her neck. Yet an autopsy revealed that Cindy died from an overdose of morphine and other drugs. Police concluded that Cindy had committed suicide. Her father didn’t believe it:
“There is no way that she could have been able, after ingesting that amount of drugs, to tie herself up. There was absolutely nothing at the crime scene to indicate that she had used any form of syringe, or she had used any drinking device, or anything of that nature.”
Reporter Neal Hall:
“The morphine wouldn’t have taken affect for say, fifteen minutes to half an hour. The knot specialist who came in and re-created the same type of knots and the way she was tied up, it took him three minutes.”
In Vancouver, the coroner ruled that Cindy’s death was not suicide, an accident, or a murder. They determined that she died of an “unknown event.”
Cindy’s family, however, believes there’s someone in Vancouver who’s getting away with murder.