Manitoba task force examines 28 homicide and missing cases

Police in Manitoba are investigating the cases of eight missing persons and 20 homicide victims as part of a task force called Project Devote.

Project Devote investigators look for links in cases and possible suspects

Project Devote

Project Devote is comprised of 10 Winnipeg Police Service members, eight RCMP officers, two RCMP civilian analysts, three RCMP data entry persons and one RCMP administrative staff member.

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Police in Manitoba are investigating the cases of eight missing persons and 20 homicide victims as part of a task force called Project Devote.

Each of the cases, some dating back to 1961, involves a victim of high or extremely high risk due to lifestyle, police said at a news conference in Winnipeg on Friday.

The task force is comparing clothing, vehicles and behaviours of possible suspects involved in the cases.

At this point there is no physical evidence to suggest one person may be responsible for more than one crime, said RCMP spokesman Const. Miles Hiebert.

Of the cases, one is a man — William Weinbender, 46, the oldest of the 28. 

The task force reviewed 112 cases involving male victims but only Weinbender "fit the scope of Project Devote," police said.

Five criteria are considered before a case becomes a part of Project Devote:

  • Substance abuse.
  • Transient lifestyle.
  • Hitchhiking.
  • Mental health issues.
  • Involvement in the sex trade.

The task force also examined 84 cases involving women, reducing that to 27.

The initial list had been passed on from another joint-force unit that had studied cases as far back as 1926. Those were handed over to the Project Devote members in May 2011.

First Nations react

Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, is pleased that 28 cases will be granted closer scrutiny by police, but said Project Devote is limited in scope and "does not directly address the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women.

"It is our hope that these investigations will produce leads that will provide these families with much needed relief and closure," he stated in a news release.

"But until the province of Manitoba recognizes the problem of missing and murdered people is worse and getting worse in the Indigenous community, Project Devote will remain limited in scope and outcome."

He said he wonders how closure will come for those families of the other 56 women whose cases did not meet the criteria of Project Devote.

Hiebert said police haven't forgotten victims that don't fit the criteria.

"[Other police] investigators are working on those files and there's nothing more important to them than getting to the bottom of this and bringing closure to these families," he said.

Calls for inquiry into deaths

Nepinak also reiterated his call for a national inquiry into the long list of murdered and missing women in Manitoba. He first made that call in June, at a vigil for three aboriginal women who died in an alleged serial killing.

Police believe Tanya Nepinak, 31, Carolyn Sinclair, 25, and Lorna Blacksmith, 18, were killed by Shawn Lamb, 52, who has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder.

The three women had been reported missing within the past year.

First Nations people also need to be part of the executive steering committee of Project Devote, "given at least 18 of the 28 women are of First Nation and aboriginal descent," Nepinak said.

"Given First Nations and aboriginal people are overrepresented in the investigations, linkages between First Nations and Project Devote need to be created so that there is identification of issues in order to create a better system, with accountable outcomes back to families and communities.

"This is why we are calling for an inquiry, so that discussions could take place with the many projects like this across the country, so that we are getting the greatest value for dollars spent on these programs created without consultation with First Nation organizations. "