Canada·FIFTH ESTATE

Mounties closing in on suspect in 2010 homicide that haunts B.C. island community, court documents say

The RCMP could be close to making an arrest in a cold case homicide that has divided the once tight-knit community of B.C.'s Cortes Island, according to court documents obtained by The Fifth Estate.  

‘I don’t care that it happened, why it happened,’ widow’s boyfriend says

Cristiano Savioli travelled to the island of Cortes, B.C., from his hometown in Italy in search for clues that could lead to an arrest in the killing of his father, Stefano Savioli. (Doug Husby/CBC)

The RCMP could be close to making an arrest in a cold case homicide that has divided the once tight-knit community of B.C.'s Cortes Island, according to court documents obtained by The Fifth Estate.  

In August 2010, Stefano Savioli, 60, a well-known, wealthy artist who had lived on the island for nearly three decades, was found brutally slain in the loft of his clifftop cabin overlooking the island's Gorge Harbour. 

Cortes Island is a remote community of about 1,000 full-time residents, three ferry rides from Vancouver and part of the province's northern Gulf Islands. 

The RCMP have refused to say exactly how Savioli was killed, but friends who cleaned up the bedroom describe a crime scene so horrific they found blood splatter on the rafters of the cabin.

The Mounties sent a team of crime investigators to the island immediately after the killing, but nine years later the case remains unsolved. Police have refused for years to discuss any details.

Ever since he got a phone call in his hometown, Riccione, Italy, notifying him about his father's death, Cristiano Savioli, Stefano's son, says not a day has gone by that he hasn't thought about who killed his father. 

Stefano Savioli, 60, was killed in his cabin in August 2010. There have been no charges laid in the case. (cortestideline.com)

"I know that I need to know the truth about it," he said. 

Fifth Estate lawyers took the RCMP to court more than a year ago, arguing that the public has a right to know certain aspects of the investigation. This summer, after a lengthy battle, a judge ruled in favour of the journalists and ordered the RCMP to hand over several key documents, including an RCMP affidavit summarizing the case. 

While many portions of the materials are blacked out, the files reveal significant new developments in the case.

Chief among them is that the Mounties have identified "the suspect" in the killing and "anticipate" a resolution in the case. 

One affidavit dated May 27, 2019, states that the RCMP have an "investigative strategy" in place and "anticipate resolving the murder … within a prescribed timeframe."

Cristiano has been waiting for years to get answers from the RCMP about the investigation. This summer, he travelled to Cortes Island from Italy, to post a $10,000 reward for information that might finally lead to an arrest.

Cortes Island is a remote community of about 1,000 full-time residents, three ferry rides from Vancouver and part of B.C.'s northern Gulf Islands. (Doug Husby/CBC)

He said he has been frustrated by what he perceives as a lack of attention paid to his father's case by the police.  

The RCMP "didn't give me any idea about nothing," he told The Fifth Estate's Mark Kelley. "It's time to move. I don't have nothing to lose."

RCMP didn't test evidence for 3 years

The RCMP documents released to The Fifth Estate also include information used to obtain search warrants in the case. The files show an RCMP investigation riddled with flaws in its early days.

Search warrants for a laptop and cellphone seized from the crime scene were so poorly written that a judge initially rejected them. There was confusion around where exhibits were stored. 

Documents also show that some exhibits were not tested for DNA and blood for more than three years.

"I found [it] quite surprising that it took three years to have that tested," said Celso Boscariol, the younger Savioli's Vancouver-based lawyer. "It seems like those are fundamental details."

RCMP court documents show that some exhibits from the scene were not tested for DNA and blood for more than three years. (RCMP)

The documents also show that the RCMP put their investigation on the backburner in early 2015. They described a period of "strategic inactivity" that appeared to have lasted for three years.

RCMP Sgt. Kevin McLaughlin, who was assigned to the case after the initial investigation, would not discuss what the Mounties meant by the phrase "strategic inactivity."

After The Fifth Estate obtained the RCMP documents, McLaughlin insisted that the RCMP are actively working on the case.

"I wish I could tell you more," he said to Kelley. "I just don't want to say anything that one day could come back [and] jeopardize a judicial prosecution."

The documents further show that in 2018, the Mounties learned something in a police database that they considered relevant to the 2010 slaying. Whatever they learned is blacked out, but later that year, they discussed new "investigative strategies" and the "assignment of new investigators to the file."

Victim's stepson identified as suspect: sources

While the identity of the RCMP suspect has been redacted in the police documents, The Fifth Estate has learned from sources that Stefano Savioli's widow, Abigail James, has told several people on Cortes Island that police informed her that Samuel Marcheco, her son, is the suspect. 

"She was really upset," said Bertha Jeffery, an island resident whom James confided in years ago. "She was really offended by that. I don't think she ever wanted to talk to the police or anything after that."

None of the RCMP allegations have been tested in court.  

The RCMP documents shows that Marcheco, then 16, discovered the lifeless body of Stefano Savioli and called 911 at 8:34 a.m. on  Aug. 6, 2010. Whatever Marcheco told police at the time has also been blacked out in the documents. 

James was not home the night of the slaying. She had been staying in nearby Campbell River, on Vancouver Island, working at a nail salon during the week. At the time, Marcheco was living in a second cabin on the Savioli property. 

A portrait of Savioli's wife, Abigail James, painted by Stefano Savioli. (Submitted by Cristiano Savioli)

The RCMP documents also show that police photographed what they refer to as "crime scene evidence" on a wicker chair near the back door of the "secondary cabin" where Marcheco was staying.  The nature of that evidence has been redacted in the files provided to The Fifth Estate.

Sources have told The Fifth Estate that Marcheco's friend Nick Jordan was also staying at the second cabin the night of the killing. 

"There was two people there on the property when it happened," local resident Leo Templar told The Fifth Estate, "Abigail's son and a guy named Nick Jordan…. They didn't hear anything, they said." 

Nick Jordan did not respond to several phone calls and text messages about whether he was, in fact, there that night. 

Marcheco and his mother also declined to speak to The Fifth Estate despite repeated efforts recently. 

Documents show that police photographed evidence they considered relevant to the crime, located at the cabin where Marcheco was staying. (RCMP)

In an email to Marcheco earlier this month, Kelley asked for his reaction to being considered the RCMP suspect.

"How'd you get my email address?" was all Marcheco responded.  

Last year, James told The Fifth Estate to stop investigating her husband's cold case altogether. 

 "I'm really not happy with what you're doing actually. Super unhappy, and that's not OK," she said. "You need to stop doing that."

A divided community 

Nine years after the killing, the long-term impact continues to haunt the island.

"Certainly the atmosphere changed," said Richard Jacobs, who lives near Gorge Harbour. "You think you're separate and apart from the rest of the world … and when something like that happens, you find out you're much closer than you think to all the stuff we think we're leaving behind."

The killing continues to divide the community as the case has recently become the focus of media attention. 

Bertha Jeffery, who runs the Cortes Market, said there are separate camps on the island.

"There's definitely two sides of this," she said. "There's the people [saying]: 'You're not allowed to talk about [it], it's none of your business.…' Then the other people are saying, 'Well, that's our community and there was a murder in our community and we want it solved.'"

James's boyfriend, Marco Fisch, has been one of the most vocal in opposition to the renewed media interest. He recently sent The Fifth Estate emails telling the program to stop looking into the killing.

"Do you think anyone cares about the past?" he wrote in June of this year. "If I see you on Cortes, and I find out you are researching, I will combat you. Try me!"

Watch a Cortes Island resident talk about a divided community:

Bertha Jeffery, a Cortes Island resident, speaks about a divided community 0:30

He also sent a text: "With all DUE RESPECT to your family … next time … be smart."

Fisch has his own history on Cortes Island.

He spent time on the island as a young boy in the late 1980s. He moved away and only met James when he returned in 2015.  

Today, Fisch said he and James are trying to put the past behind and are looking to the future. 

"I don't really care who did it. I don't care that it happened, why it happened," he told The Fifth Estate.

Jeffery said that whatever the motives might have been for the killing, there is no justification for it. 

"It's not OK to murder somebody regardless of what has gone on … a cold-blooded murder like this is just not OK."

For Cristiano Savioli, one day he wants to bring his son to Cortes Island, where he spent his summers visiting his own father. But only after his father's killer is caught.

"I came here to close this file, even for my life, to go forward, because it is not easy to live with this file open."

  • Watch "My father's killer: Murder mystery on Cortes Island" on The Fifth Estate on CBC-TV Sunday at 9 p.m.

Send any tips on this story to Harvey.Cashore@cbc.ca or phone 416-526-4704. Follow @HarveyCashore on Twitter.

About the Author

Harvey Cashore is a producer with The Fifth Estate. Kimberly Ivany is an associate producer with The Fifth Estate. Mark Kelley is a co-host for the Fifth Estate.

With files from Joseph Loiero, Lynette Fortune