Here is a case of mass murder that remains unsolved 56 years on. Rightly we still take interest in a single murder case that goes unresolved. There is a macabre fascination in crimes gone by. I admit to being like that. There is a sense of injustice that lingers in our minds no matter how many years flow past. I definitely feel that. In the crime that occurred on 8th July 1965, 51 murders and a suicide were committed above the skies of Canada. What monster planted a bomb on Flight 21?
Most of us have experienced the anticipation and semi organised moments before a passenger jet takes off. That day I can picture the scene on that Douglas DC 6. I can hear the engines start and the revs increase. Maybe some of you have not flown on a propeller driven aircraft. The noise is reassuring. Combustion engines I understand. I can tell a healthy one from a troubled one. I can hear the announcements in my head, shorter and less safety orientated than today. I am aware of the newspaper being opened by the man next to me. I can see the outside world crawling, then flashing and flying away from me.
So into the afternoon sky went the aircraft. On board were 46 passengers and 6 crew. A WW2 veteran pilot was at the controls. The destination was Whitehorse, Yukon. The flight was going via other places along the way like Prince George. The total distance was about 900 miles.
At 3.40 pm three mayday calls were heard by Vancouver air traffic control. An explosion had ripped through the aft part of the plane. The tail section separated and it crashed into a wooded area near Ashcroft, British Columbia. The plane was only about 120 miles from where it had set off. I might be able to picture a flight in 1965. I cannot accurately imagine the last moments of the passengers on that aircraft.
As in the case of the suicidal Germanwings Flight ,I wrote about, the passengers had no chance. Later reports describe the tail separating and the rest of the plane going into a vertical dive.
In among the people who died were children. An infant, a toddler and a seven year old boy.
Because of the remoteness of the crash, emergency services had to scramble across great distances to get there. In the end a lot of people were all over the area. Most had the best of intentions. Some did not. Essential efforts were made to check for survivors and in the mayhem the scene was contaminated.
I don’t want to intrude on friends and relatives of those that were lost. I have found a Facebook page dedicated to the murders. If you click on this link you will get to a picture of the memorial listing those that died.
I can call on all sorts of expertise to report how the investigation turned out. The news is good and bad.
The good news is that over the years what happened has been subject to review and scrutiny. The bad news is that there has been no conclusion.
All sources agree on the fact that a bomb was planted in a toilet near the back of the plane. It comprised of gunpowder or dynamite or both. The actual chemical makeup is a disputed issue but overall there are few variations. A startling discovery was that the bomb was planted by someone who died on the plane.
One area to look at was of course who had both knowledge and access to explosives. Well back then lots of people could have accessed gunpowder, dynamite or both. The regulations came in to restrict access as crimes like this unfolded. It was 1965, it was a different world.
As for knowledge? The device, authorities said, was manually operated. That is not that hard to construct.
They looked at the background of all the passengers. They were looking for an individual who had the motivation.
In the Germanwings case the co pilot was heard on the cockpit recorder. The actions he followed through were digitally logged and available as evidence. He crashed the plane and killed all on board.
Canadian Pacific Flight 21 had 49 initial suspects. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, along with crash experts, sifted through these individuals. They came up with four enduring possibilities.
As for motive. What motive would give an answer to this? A person or persons build a bomb and kill themselves and all were on the aircraft. So the motive was not personal gain. It was not a crime designed to kill someone that was in their way in this life. It was not revenge.
The issue of life insurance came up early on. The idea was that someone had a reason for suicide but had people they wanted to provide for. Of the four suspects two had substantial life insurance policies. Family man, Douglas Edgar, 40, bought his at the airport from a machine. They had those things back then. Flying was a little bit more dangerous than today. It was normal for people to feed coins into a machine and get a policy.
The other insured suspect got his weeks before. Paul Vander Meulen,35, was also a family guy. He was off to prospect for gold and had said that was why he had paid a big premium for a large policy. Just for clarity I will say both had jobs, success and good reason to explain them buying insurance.
Another motive could be to ensure infamy. Well that takes a disordered mind. It also takes an acceptance that this level of violence is acceptable. The cops looked for that. I’ll say here when it comes to a crazy motive, Douglas Edgar was not in any way likely. He was a logger and competent gambler with nothing of violence or mental health issues in his make up.
Another suspect though was a little more shadowy. A family guy who had killed a man before. It had been deemed as manslaughter and he had been acquitted of that. It had been a brawl, not a bomb. Stefan Koleszar,53, was a man prone to fight. He was someone who was an expert with explosives. That was why he was on the police radar. The problem was that when it comes to having a disordered, homicidal mind he does not fit the bill.
The last of the four suspects had books on aviation in his house and a range of gun powders. He was suspected of being a bit of an odd ball. Maybe it was him? Peter Broughton, 29, was single. His library history was checked. The cops used to do that in cases like this, these days they go through a browser history. His reading material fitted the situation quite well. A case was made that he had sexual orientation issues, he loved guns, had powder, worked at a mine and was a loner. I have nothing to say about the police theory regarding his sexual orientation. I more mention it as a sign of some dubious detective thinking.
Mr Broughton was a loner. His interest in aviation and access to powder slots in nicely with many past mass murderers. A problem here is that the powder was of the wrong type. It is normal for gun buffs to manufacture their own ammunition ( I have done it) and simply being interested in planes is not exactly solid evidence. However, it is rumoured that he said a strange thing to his mother. Apparently he made reference to keeping something dangerous in his room. In fairness it is reported that she later denied making the statement.
Paul Vander Meulen, the prospector with the large insurance, had something more tangible in his medical records. He apparently had a deep loathing of the world. A doctor had recorded this long before the explosion. He had suffered a head injury years before that meant he paid $800 for his policy. That is the equivalent of $6000 today. The pay out on the insurance to his family would have been about $100,000.
Finally, we look at the forensics. As I said the site was contaminated. Mr Vander Meulen was believed to have been carrying $800 on his person. He also had a large calibre revolver. It is not known if the gun was on his person or in his luggage. This would be important. If it was on him then it has to be asked why? If it was in his luggage, given he was bound for the Canadian wilds, it would make sense.
The gun was found but the money was not. There are also reports of looting from the plane. As a result the forensics was further compromised on top of the complications presented by the explosion and crash.
The authorities believed the bomb had been triggered by the killer. He or she would have had to have been close to it. They X rayed bodies to look for evidence of proximity. They found copper impregnated into Mr Vander Meulen’s body. This copper could not have come from the aircraft. However, it is still possible that he was innocently seated close to the toilet in which the bomb was detonated. The seating on the flight was not pre booked.
I have read a really good investigative article in order to write the above. It was in this article that I saw the four suspects theory.
Douglas Edgar, Stefan Koleszar, Peter Broughton and Paul Vander Meulen all had family to live for. They all had good enough financial prospects and they all lacked the monstrous mindset according to their kin.
Assuming that the cops missed nothing and they are right, that the killer triggered the bomb while right next to it, then we are looking for a disordered mind. How could you possibly find that out back in 1965?
These days the killer would have been on YouTube or have been sifted through a strainer of counsellors. Then in a more stoic age there was less to go on. The murderous Germanwings co-pilot, Lubitz, had a long psychiatric history to pick over. It could have been anyone when it comes to Canadian Pacific Flight 21.
Of the four men mentioned, Vander Meulen is the most likely. He had a problem with the world as a whole. He had experience regarding explosives and he had copper blasted into his body that did not come from the aircraft. That said I don’t conclude anything. You can’t.
For all we know some overlooked passenger blew up the plane. Their body was scattered on impact or they were wrongly identified. Their background flagged up no real alarm to detectives and that was that.
All I do know is as we walk past people in the street it is lucky we are conditioned as we are. If we did not forget horrors like this and if we did not believe that most people are good at heart, we would probably not go outside our houses…Let alone get on a plane.
What are your thoughts?