Cabbie’s eerie phone call with 'fugitive'

 

UNTIL the painfully drawn-out manhunt for the killers of Australian backpacker Lucas Fowler and his girlfriend Chynna Deese, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were known for "always getting their man".

But over the past two weeks, that reputation has taken a battering as two skinny teens suspected of a triple homicide have slipped through their dragnet - time and again - thanks to what some law enforcement experts say are a series of missteps.

 

Wanted alerts: Police took days to warn the public about Bryer Schmegelsky, left, and Kam McLeod. Picture: Supplied
Wanted alerts: Police took days to warn the public about Bryer Schmegelsky, left, and Kam McLeod. Picture: Supplied

The Mounties appear to have missed at least two chances to apprehend suspected killers Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, because they had not publicly circulated their descriptions soon enough.

In one instance the two were helped to unbog their car in northern Alberta by an unsuspecting member of the public.

In the second, they were stopped at a roadblock by community police in a dry Manitoba town for a routine alcohol check - but let through because the constables who questioned them were unaware they were wanted.

Police appear to be returning to square one, returning to Gillam in an attempt to determine if any evidence of the pair was missed. Picture: Angus Mordant for News Corp Australia
Police appear to be returning to square one, returning to Gillam in an attempt to determine if any evidence of the pair was missed. Picture: Angus Mordant for News Corp Australia

Criticism has also focused on the amount of time it took to link the murders of Mr Fowler and Ms Deese to that of the third victim, Leonard Dyck, who was found on July 19.

The three murders were several days and 500km apart, and police initially hosed down growing community concern they were linked.

It was not until July 22, seven days after Mr Fowler and Ms Deese were found dead, the Mounties finally conceded that might be the case.

Police have been searching for the suspected murderers of Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese for more than two weeks. Picture: Angus Mordant for News Corp Australia
Police have been searching for the suspected murderers of Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese for more than two weeks. Picture: Angus Mordant for News Corp Australia

Senior law enforcement experts from the US and Australia said there appeared to be a lack of co-ordination and leadership in not linking the two crimes sooner and making public the descriptions of the wanted teenagers.

"In a manhunt, it is very important to get help from the eyes and the ears of public. It is the biggest weapon law enforcement can have. The sooner you enlist that, the better off the police will be," said one expert.

"It is hard to see why they didn't do it earlier. It may be there was a reason but it is hard to understand what that might be," said another.

Australian Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese. Picture: Supplied via the Charlotte Observer
Australian Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese. Picture: Supplied via the Charlotte Observer

When the first details about the double homicide were released on July 16, it was a straightforward police media release announcing they were investigating two "suspicious deaths".

There was no mention of the way the couple died nor any public warnings a killer with a gun was on the loose.

On July 23, police issued a public alert about Schmegelsky and McLeod warning the public to stay away from them and call police immediately.

CCTV footage of Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod was released days after they had left the area. Picture: Supplied
CCTV footage of Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod was released days after they had left the area. Picture: Supplied

They revealed they were believed to be driving a grey 2011 Toyota Rav 4 and were considered suspects.

By the time there was another confirmed sighting in Manitoba, the Mounties had only just released footage from a sighting in a hardware store in northern Saskatchewan - six days earlier.

In the small rural towns overrun with police and media over the past week as the search stretched on, residents expressed disappointment they may have inadvertently helped the pair.

Amar Sahota, the only taxi driver in Gillam, poses for a portrait with his taxi. Picture: Angus Mordant
Amar Sahota, the only taxi driver in Gillam, poses for a portrait with his taxi. Picture: Angus Mordant

One of them was Gillam's only taxi driver, Amar Sahota, who believes he talked to one of them on the afternoon of Monday, July 22.

Mr Sahota says he knows 95 per cent of the clients who call for a cab in the town of 500 where he has worked for 13 years.

"But this man called and he didn't use my name, he was a stranger, and he wanted a ride to (an indigenous settlement 30km north of Gillam called) Bird," Mr Sahota told News Corp Australia.

The blown out window of the blue Chevy van belonging to Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese. Picture: Supplied
The blown out window of the blue Chevy van belonging to Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese. Picture: Supplied

 

 

"I told him I wouldn't because my small car can't go on those rough dirt roads, and he hung up on me. The next day when we heard about the boys being around here, I thought it was them. I thought I was very lucky because maybe I would have been one of their victims."

Mr Sahota reported the encounter to a police phone hotline, but has yet to hear back.

 

A view of the remote wilderness landscape near where a burned out Toyota Rav4 driven by Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky was found near Gillam, Manitoba, Canada. Picture: Angus Mordant for News Corp Australia
A view of the remote wilderness landscape near where a burned out Toyota Rav4 driven by Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky was found near Gillam, Manitoba, Canada. Picture: Angus Mordant for News Corp Australia


Nobody asked to see his phone record and the number has long since faded from his call log because he gets dozens of calls a day.

Questions were also raised about photos of the crime scene on social media. Police asked the picture be removed from a news website.

They were clearly taken before police arrived on the scene, but there has never been an explanation about whether they could have been taken by the killers and posted using a pseudonym.