Part 1: 16 months after Devane Campbell murder, police say progress being made

When murder cases first hit the news, police have an abundance of information to pour through.

Investigative leads and tips from the public pour in as fast as detectives can examine them, often leading investigators to the next piece of vital information.

But if a significant amount of time passes before the case can be cracked and an arrest made, that trail inevitably dries up.

After a few weeks or a few months, new tips may stop coming in and existing ones may not pan out, leading cases to grow cold.

That’s exactly what began to happen in the case of Devane Campbell.

Campbell, one of Waterloo Region’s most recent cold cases, was killed on Nov. 30, 2012.

A Brantford resident, he was visiting his girlfriend and her roommate on Elm Ridge Drive, in Kitchener’s Forest Heights neighbourhood.

Late that night, three masked black men burst into the building.

Police believe it was a targeted robbery, although they don’t know exactly what the three men were after.

What they do know is that Campbell, 20, was killed protecting his girlfriend and her roommate from the intruders.

“When Devane thought they were in danger, he stepped up to protect the girls – and was shot because of that,” says Waterloo Regional Police Det. Sgt. Jeff Rumble.

Dionne Campbell remembers being at home when two police officers arrived at her door.

She remembers being told her son was killed. She remembers talking to herself and screaming in disbelief.

She also remembers something that has stuck with her ever since – the words of the officer explaining what led to Devane’s death.

“He said ‘Your son died doing something good,’” she says.

In the days and weeks following the shooting, police received a number of tips through investigation, anonymous phone calls, Crime Stoppers and other sources.

Eventually, the flow of information dried up.

“A lot of information was received from the public, but at the end of the day it resulted in absolutely no evidence in regards to the shooting,” says Rumble.

Nearly two months after Campbell’s death, a severed torso was found in a Kitchener dumpster.

The cases are in no way connected, but the emergence of another murder meant some investigators and police resources had to be taken off the Campbell case and re-assigned to the new one.

By the one-year anniversary of Campbell’s death, police had no viable suspects and few leads.

Hoping to reach a younger audience that might not have heard about Campbell’s murder from traditional media, detectives posted a video about the case on Youtube last December.

Since then, new information has come in to police – information which, they hope, has them progressing toward arrests.

“Devane Campbell is still in peoples’ minds,” says Rumble.

“We’re hopeful that one or two people will come forward with the information that we need … to give the family the closure that they desire and deserve.”

Dionne Campbell says she too is hopeful of a break in the case, and understands why police can’t be more forthcoming with information.

In the meantime, she’s buoyed by memories of her son and the support she’s received not only from her family and friends, but from people she’s never met before whose lives were touched by Devane.

“There’s people in the neighbourhood that have never spoken to me … but they come up to me and say ‘This is what he did … he looked out for the younger kids,’” she says.


Part 2: From missing to possibly murdered: Family of Dave MacDermott wants answers

When a person is reported missing, murder is rarely the first conclusion reached by police.

Most of the time, missing person cases involve people who intentionally left their homes, domestic issues, medical episodes or mental health concerns.

Those are some of the possibilities police considered first on Nov. 9, 2002, when David MacDermott was reported missing.

The 30-year-old had been at Club Renaissance in downtown Kitchener that Saturday night, celebrating a friend’s birthday.

After the bar, they went to his friend’s house.

That’s where the trail of MacDermott’s movements grows cold.

“The next morning, his cousin went to pick him up … Dave didn’t answer the door, and hasn’t been seen or heard from since,” says Sgt. Richard Dorling of Waterloo Regional Police.

Police were called that day.

Finding no trace of MacDermott, his car or his dog, investigators determined that the Kitchener resident had likely chosen to leave the area – perhaps heading to Algonquin Park for an outdoor adventure.

That explanation never felt right to Colleen Stevens, MacDermott’s sister.

“When he didn’t show up to my house on the Sunday … it made me suspicious,” she tells CTV News.

When MacDermott first went missing, Stevens and other family members started calling his cellphone.

It rang and rang, and eventually went to voicemail, but nobody ever picked up.

Stevens remembers finding that “really odd,” as MacDermott talked to his family almost daily and rarely let the phone go to voicemail.

Within a day, Stevens says, family members began to sense that something was amiss.

Although MacDermott’s car was found a few weeks later, just around the corner from his Mill Street home, police stuck to their belief that the case was a missing person investigation.

“They figured that he was used to going off and doing stuff for months at a time – which was true to some degree, but we always knew where Dave was. He always let somebody know where he was,” says Stevens.

Regardless, that remained the prevailing theory amog police until 2009, when new information led them to reopen the case and take a fresh look at the possibility MacDermott’s disappearance was more suspicious than they first thought.

“In one way, I was relieved because there was somebody taking the case seriously,” Stevens recalls.

“On the flip side, it caught me off-guard. When you hear the words ‘We’re looking at this as a potential homicide’ … it was pretty upsetting.”

As a result of the new investigation, police learned that a loose dog matching the description of MacDermott’s had been found near his home just two days after the disappearance.

Whenever unidentified human remains are found anywhere in Ontario – or, sometimes, beyond – Darling receives calls from MacDermott’s family and other families wondering if they will finally get answers about what happened to their loved ones.

In MacDermott’s case, police now believe there is a specific, deliberate reason why remains have never been found.

“Whether Dave fell down and bumped his head and died or died as a result of an altercation, somebody still made a decision to hide his body,” Darling says.

“People don’t just disappear like this. There’s such a short window of time where Dave could left, disappeared or had something happen to him.”

MacDermott was bisexual – a fact police have never publicized before, but now say may help spread the word of his disappearance through the LGBTQ community and to someone who knows what happened to him.

“Hopefully somebody in that community recognizes that we’re still looking for answers,” says Stevens.


Part 3: More than five years since mysterious disappearance of Alexander Abt

On Monday, Oct. 6, 2008, Alexander Abt showed up for work.

The next day, the 44-year-old – who was known as Sandy to his friends – did not.

Aside a brief journey to an auto impound yard a few days later, what Abt did following that Monday shift has never been determined.

Jacquie House, his sister, remembers driving to Abt’s Puslinch-area trailer on the Tuesday.

He wasn’t home. His van wasn’t in the area.

Thinking her brother might have gone for groceries, House went home.

When she returned the following day – again, not finding Abt or his van – she used her key to enter the trailer.

Once inside, she found a note from Abt stating that he was fed up with the extortion that had ruled his life ever since his release from prison several years earlier.

“All he wanted was to get out and get away from them – and he couldn’t,” House tells CTV News.

In 2001, Abt was arrested as part of an investigation into cocaine trafficking in Waterloo Region.

When he was released, the people whose cocaine he had been found with tracked him down and told him he would have to repay them for the drugs – with significant interest.

“Over the next number of years, Sandy worked to pay off this debt,” says Waterloo Regional Police Sgt. Richard Dorling.

Abt was an artist, but much of the money he earned from that and other jobs was quickly sent to his former associates.

It’s not clear what Abt planned to do to escape their reach.

Because of that past, House says she was initially hesitant to contact police.

Eventually, her love for her brother won out.

“I knew I’d be opening a whole new can of worms and I didn’t really want to do that … but at the end of the day, him being missing is the most important thing,” she says.

On Oct. 10, 2008 – four days after he was last seen – Abt’s van was found in a parking lot at a business on Gateway Park Drive in Kitchener.

It was taken to an impound lot.

The next day, Abt showed up at the facility, asking to retrieve items from the vehicle and saying he would be back the next day.

Police say he was walking with a limp and using a cane – traits he wasn’t exhibiting just a few days prior.

He wasn’t alone, either.

“At that time he was with a number of men and looked worse for wear,” Darling says.

That visit is the last time anyone has reported any sort of contact with Abt.

House says any announcement of the discovery of human remains is tough for her – not only because they could belong to her brother, but because she’s come into contact with families of other missing people, all thinking the same thing.

“The minute you hear … now you’re looking and hearing not just for your missing loved one, but for all of theirs as well,” she says.

“Without them, I don’t know if I would have made it this far.”


Part 4: New probe launched into region's oldest cold case

Waterloo Region’s oldest missing person case dates back to January 1978, when John McNichol left a note behind, closed up his business and said goodbye to a friend before disappearing without a trace.

Paul Heldman – the friend in question – remembers that Friday night all too well.

The pair had finished their evening shifts at the Grandma Lee’s bakery and sandwich shop in downtown Kitchener, which McNichol owned.

With the store cleaned up and bank deposit ready to go, Heldman and McNichol walked to the corner of King and Water streets, where they went their separate ways to their vehicles.

Before they parted, they said they’d see each other again on Sunday.

That didn’t happen.

While at the bakery, wondering where McNichol was, Heldman found an envelope McNichol had likely left behind on the Friday night.

Inside the envelope was a note written on a brown paper towel.

Worried about what had happened to his friend, Heldman immediately phoned McNichol’s wife Jennifer, telling her to come down to the shop.

The note said, essentially, “I’m sorry – I’ve gotta go,” Heldman recalls.

It seemed odd to him, especially considering McNichol was a family man with two young children.

“As far as I’m concerned, he was a great guy. I had a lot of good times with John,” Heldman tells CTV News.

It’s known that McNichol was in financial difficulty – Heldman says the Grandma Lee’s franchise wasn’t as profitable as he had expected – but other than that, there were few clues as to what could have happened to the 30-year-old, or why.

“John’s case is very, very difficult,” says Waterloo Regional Police Sgt. Richard Dorling.

Over the last few months, police have reopened their investigation into McNichol’s disappearance – hoping modern techniques will help them bring closure to his friends and family.

Those techniques including re-interviewing witnesses from the first investigation, and speaking to others – including Heldman, believed to be the last person to see McNichol before he disappeared – for the first time.

Complicating factors is the age of the case.

Dental records, generally the easiest way for police to positively identify human remains, have long since been destroyed.

Witnesses and others police spoke to in 1978 may not remember events as clearly as they did, Dorling says – and that also goes for the police they were speaking to.

“Most of the officers involved in this investigation have long retired,” he says.

“Peoples’ memories change, and information is lost.”

With 36 years separating McNichol’s disappearance from the present, and no sign of what happened to him, police say they’re working with a number of possibilities.

Foul play is one of those possibilities – although police say they have yet to find any evidence of that – as is suicide, as is looking for a way out of his financial predicament.

The only thing police are sure of is that McNichol wasn’t looking to escape from his wife and two young children.

“He didn’t just pack up and leave, and not contact his family ever again,” says Dorling.