Canada

Chalk River scientist gone without a trace

In the Ottawa Valley town of Deep River, police are frustrated and the community remains confounded by the mysterious disappearance of a scientist working at the nearby Chalk River nuclear reactor.
Lachlan Cranswick, a physicist at the Chalk River nuclear plant in Ontario, has been missing since January. ((Deep River Police Service))

In the Ottawa Valley town of Deep River, police are frustrated and the community remains confounded by the mysterious disappearance of a scientist working at the nearby Chalk River nuclear reactor. 

Lachlan Cranswick, 41, vanished two months ago, and the missing person investigation hasn’t yielded a clue, fuelling speculation and conspiracy theories about his disappearance.

"People speculate, you know, al-Qaeda may have captured him or aliens may have abducted him, but you know, these are just comical guesses as to what might have happened," said Cranswick’s friend and curling partner Evans Harrison.

"It's almost certain that he may have met with some kind of accident. We don't know what."

A native of Australia, Cranswick moved to Canada in 2003 to run tests and experiments at the Chalk River facility. He is an expert in earth sciences, working with neutron beams and using the reactor to test the properties of materials such as minerals. 

Cranswick’s professional background has led to international interest in his disappearance, with the New York Post and Fox News both running the headline "Canadian Nuclear Scientist Vanishes Without a Trace" on their websites in February.

Lachlan Cranswick, far right, with his curling partners. ((http://lachlan.bluehaze.com.au/))

Deep River police are trying to dampen speculation, telling news agencies they have no reason to believe Cranswick was targeted because of his job. His colleagues at the nuclear reactor are doing the same.

"I would want people to know that all of his research was in the public domain," colleague Daniel Banks said. "It was his role to facilitate research being done by people in universities all across Canada, and all of that research is published or publishable in the public domain. There is nothing secret about it."

However, Banks also said the normal explanations for Cranswick’s disappearance don’t make sense. 

Cranswick was an avid outdoorsman, who often hiked trails around Deep River, but Banks described him as extremely safety conscious. 

"He was known not to go anywhere without his cellphone and wallet and he even had a GPS which he would carry with him if he was walking in the woods," said Banks.

House unlocked, wallet inside

On Jan. 18, Cranswick finished work and went to his home in Deep River. At some point that evening or the next day, he took the garbage out, and police say that's when he vanished. His car was left in the garage, the door to his house was unlocked, and his wallet, keys and passport were all left inside.

Cranswick’s brother, Rupert, came to Canada from Australia shortly after his brother's disappearance and saw the state his house was left in.

"His house was spooky, it was like he had just left two minutes ago. Everything was set up for his week.… Being a single bloke, he had all of his food frozen for the week, some frozen chicken and Chinese soup to take to work." Rupert said. "The heater was still on, the lights were on, his bins were out. It was just like, it was as normal."

While Cranswick’s family doesn’t believe his disappearance is work-related, they’re not ruling out foul play.

"I find it unbelievable that Lach would go walking on the river or do anything silly like that — no way," said Rupert. 

"And I found it silly that on the Monday night, we found evidence that he was using his computer until about 11:30 at night, so I find it unbelievable that my brother, who had to start work early in the morning would suddenly go out walking the ski trails."

'I don't expect to see him alive'

Lachlan Cranswick, seen on a trip to Cuba in 1996. ((http://lachlan.bluehaze.com.au/))

Members of Cranswick’s curling team also have difficulty reconciling Cranswick’s character with his disappearance.  He was a key member of the local curling club, serving as vice-president and taking responsibility for the club’s bar and membership. 

"It was just his dedication to everything he did around the club," said Harrison. "He was always reliable. If you made arrangements to do something with him, he always turned up to do it. He was just Mr. Reliability."

The feeling among fellow curlers is that the Ottawa River, on which the town of Deep River is located, will offer some clues once spring arrives.

"If he's in the river, it will be May or June before he's found, but he will be found, because there's heavy boating use in the Ottawa River around here," said Harrison. "The river is a mile wide here, and there isn't much current, so I don't think he will go too far."

While there is no explanation for Cranswick’s disappearance, friends say the outcome is certain.

"If he was alive, he would have never disappeared in the first place," said Harrison.  "I expect to see his body, but I don't expect to see him alive."