British Columbia·Timeline

Garry Taylor Handlen, accused child killer, evaded charges for 39 years

The man charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of two B.C. girls in the 1970s had a long and violent criminal history dating back to 1969, court records reveal.

Suspect in B.C. child killings charged with 1st-degree murder in deaths of 2 girls

Police want to speak with anyone who remembers Garry Taylor Handlen, pictured here in the '70s. He is accused of killing 11-year-old Kathryn-Mary Herbert and 12-year-old Monica Jack. (RCMP)

Garry Taylor Handlen, the man charged on Monday with first-degree murder in the deaths of two B.C. girls in the 1970s, had a long and violent criminal history dating back to 1969, court records reveal.

Handlen is accused of killing Kathryn-Mary Herbert, 11, and Monica Jack, 12, and has multiple convictions as a violent sexual predator dating back to 1969.

When he was sentenced in 1979 for a rape conviction, Judge Stewart McMorran wrote, "Your record at 32 is appalling. This is your fourth sexual conviction since 1969."

The judge's 18-year sentence in that case was later reduced to 12 years by the B.C. Court of Appeal, putting Handlen back on the street sooner than the original judge had wanted. 

The accused has kept a low profile in recent years, spending time in Edmonton and Minden, Ont.

A longtime friend of Handlen's, Lyn Winans, gave CBC News a handwritten note saying, "The recent news regarding Garry Handlen's arrest was as much a surprise to me as it was to anyone. These hideous acts of cruelty highlight a side of Garry that was unknown to me and many others."

Troubled investigations

Over the years, some investigators and victims' family members believed Handlen was responsible for killing the two girls, but there had not been enough evidence to lay charges.

Now retired, Norman Macfarlane was a detective with the Matsqui Police Department who took over the case at one point. He said he strongly believed Handlen was responsible, but the evidence "was all circumstantial and you can't convict on that alone."

Macfarlane said he questioned Handlen for 10 hours at one point, but he wouldn't answer any questions, and he refused to take a lie detector test. "He would look out the window and say nothing." 

Police aren't saying what new facts have come to light, but claim they have evidence showing he killed Herbert and Jack.

Handlen had been dating a teenager who was living at the Herbert home, and he was also known to be in the Merritt, B.C., area at the time of Jack's disappearance. Her remains were later found there.

Investigators have acknowledged problems with the Herbert investigation. For instance, clothing that could have held vital evidence was buried along with the victim. It was not recovered and tested until many years later when the body was exhumed in 1996.

Police files were also lost, and Herbert's mother, Shari Greer, was vocal in her criticism. At yesterday's announcement of the charges, police acknowledged Greer's tenacity in keeping the case in front of investigators.

"Shari has challenged us, inspired us and relentlessly pursued justice for her daughter," said Deputy Chief Const. Rick Lucy of the Abbotsford Police Department

Timeline

  • 1969: Garry Taylor Handlen is convicted of indecent assault. Then 22 years old, he is sentenced to six months.
  • 1971: Handlen is convicted of rape and sentenced to five years and six months in prison.
  • 1975: On Sept. 24, Kathryn-Mary Herbert, 11, was on her way home when she was abducted in Abbotsford, B.C.. Her body was found in November under some rotting boards on the Matsqui Indian Reserve, north of Abbotsford. Handlen knew Herbert's family through a teenage girl he was dating who was living with the Herbert family.
  • 1978: On May 6, Monica Jack, 12, was riding her bike north on Highway 5A near the Nicola Ranch in Merritt, B.C. Her bike was discovered the next day, but her remains weren't found until 1995, in a rural area north of Merritt.
  • 1978: Handlen is sentenced for assault with intent to rape in New Westminster and is jailed for six months.
  • 1978: In September Handlen picked up a hitchhiker near Hope, B.C. He later stopped the car and repeatedly sexually assaulted her. He dragged her by the neck and also placed his thumbs on her throat, choking her. She managed to escape, half naked, and was picked up by a passing motorist. Handlen was sentenced to 18 years, but on appeal that sentence was later reduced to 12 years.
  • Since his release from prison Handlen has spent time in Edmonton, and more recently, in Minden, Ont.
  • 2014: On Dec. 1, RCMP announce Handlen has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of the two girls. RCMP Supt. Ward Lymburner said, "The road to today’s announcement has been long." He added, "Police reviewed over 500 investigative tasks and then initiated another 241 tasks including re-interviewing individuals and exploring new forensic analysis." Handlen is now 67-years-old.
Charges have been laid nearly 40 years after slaying of two B.C. girls, Monica Jack, 12, on the left, and Kathryn-Mary Herbert, 11. Herbert went missing in 1975 and her body was found months later. Jack went missing in 1978 but her body was not found until the 1990s. (Family photos)