Quebec man charged with 2nd-degree murder in 16-year-old cold case death of Adrienne McColl

A Quebec man has been arrested and charged in the 2002 death of Adrienne McColl. The 21-year-old's body was found in a rancher’s field in Alberta, about 85 kilometres south of Calgary, 16 years ago.

Victim's friend claims 21-year-old had a volatile relationship with Stéphane Parent at the time of her death

Adrienne McColl's body was found near Nanton, Alta., on Feb. 17, 2002. An arrest in her slaying was made over the weekend in Quebec. (RCMP)

A Quebec man was arrested on his way to work over the weekend and charged in the death of Adrienne McColl.

The 21-year-old's body was found on Feb. 17, 2002, in the field of an Alberta rancher near Nanton, about 85 kilometres south of Calgary.

Gatineau police arrested Stéphane Parent, 49, outside his home Saturday morning — 16 years to the day after McColl's body was discovered. He is now facing a second-degree murder charge in her death.

Parent's lawyer, Jean-Pierre Rancourt, said his client appeared before a judge in Montreal by video conference and has been ordered to appear in Alberta provincial court.

Rancourt said Parent, who friends say was McColl's boyfriend at the time, was taken to Calgary Monday for a Tuesday hearing and his client was "shocked" at the arrest, maintaining his innocence.

"It's the second time that there was a warrant against him in that case," said Rancourt. "Eight years ago they arrested him for the same thing, but they didn't bring him to Calgary." 

He said Parent was freed a couple of hours without explanation after that arrest.

Parent is expected to plead not guilty, ask for bail — as it could be a year or two before trial — and has requested French services to assist him at court.

Supt. Garrett Woolsey of the Southern Alberta District RCMP said the charge is bittersweet.

"There's two sides to it. One, you are thrilled that as a professional all your work has come to fruition and you now have a case you can take to trial, but you also know the other side. There is a family that has been deeply, deeply impacted by this throughout the past 16 years," he told reporters at a news conference held Monday in the Calgary area.

"You are almost living the file with the family, so at this point my thoughts go out to Adrienne McColl's family at this time."

RCMP say Stéphane Parent, pictured above in the Calgary Sun, was arrested in Gatineau, Que., on Saturday. He has been living in Ontario and Quebec since shortly after Adrienne McColl's death, and was arrested eight years ago in the case after a warrant was issued. (CBC archives)

McColl was last seen alive around Valentine's Day in 2002.

Parent was a person of interest at the time, but bought a one-way ticket to Ottawa days after McColl's body was found. Police believe Parent has lived in Ontario and Quebec ever since, and he has family in Gatineau.

Friend says they had a volatile relationship

A close friend of McColl's said the arrest could be a positive sign for other families, as some of them had lost virtually all hope police would solve the case.

"I really do truly believe that all of us had given up," said Laurie Heard, who worked with Parent and McColl at the now-shuttered Calgary bar Studio 82.

Heard said people were drawn to McColl.

"She was light. She was sunshine. She was everything happy and pretty in this world."

Other friends want to see justice.

"I have so many mixed emotions right now but want to say thank you for the prayers and positive energy we have received over the years and to the major crimes unit for not giving up on Adrienne. It is a long road ahead but we know justice will be served," Shandi Bard said in a statement to CBC News.

"Adrienne was my best friend and is a beautiful person who is missed deeply by so many people. To other families waiting on answers and justice for their loved ones, do not lose hope."

April Hall was also close with McColl. She says they worked with Parent at the Studio 82 bikini bar in Calgary at the time McColl vanished, and was supposed to go out with her the night she disappeared.

Hall says Parent and McColl were romantically involved and had a volatile relationship.

Hall says it's been difficult for McColl's loved ones to wait so long for an arrest and she's feeling happy, angry and sad all at the same time.

"I'm just a wreck right now. I never thought this day would come. This is just unbelievable," she said Monday.

"It's just been so long. We've just waited so long for this."

Family welcomes arrest

Woolsey said the family welcomed the development.

"They know that it's the next step, that we are not done yet. There is still a court process to go through. Nothing will bring the loved one back, but there is some satisfaction that something has moved forward here."

The RCMP major crimes division, based in Calgary, said last week there was new information in the 16-year-old case.

Heard, McColl's close friend, said police recently took fingerprints of some acquaintances.

"I just thought that it was a make-work project and how could they possibly get anywhere 16 years later? Hearing the news this morning stopped my heart and I am so happy," Heard said.

Investigators said they had been using new technologies to test old DNA evidence gathered from the scene.

"We have been able to submit some of those items for analysis again," Cpl. Hal Turnbull said last Monday.

"And this time, given the advances in the technology, we're getting some evidence which is allowing the investigation to move forward."

Police say 184 investigators worked on the file over 16 years.

With files from Rachel Maclean and The Canadian Press