Ottawa police homicide unit pleads for community cooperation to solve 'cold cases'
New task force has looked at between 15 and 20 unsolved homicide cases
Ottawa police homicide detectives are lifting the veil on the difficulty of investigating "cold cases" and are repeating an eternal call — for witnesses or anyone with information about what happened to come forward to police.
Earlier this year, police launched a task force and reassigned investigators to examine unsolved cases, or "cold cases". No single case has yet been solved, but police maintain they are investigating them with their fullest effort, but need solid evidence to close a case.
"Fresh eyes have been put on them, different approaches," said Det. Chris Benson of the Ottawa police homicide unit.
"And we want to relay it's not as simple as one would think — just go out and speak to people...People aren't coming forward. People aren't honest with the police...They fear retribution in the community."
He says some witnesses want to provide anonymous information, which can't be used in the court process.
Police encounter 'roadblocks'
Benson said he often hears frustration from victims' families who know when someone was involved in the killing of their loved one or may hear from an investigator that police suspect a person's involvement.
"And they ask the question, well, why don't you go out and arrest that person? It's not as simple as that. We need evidence," Benson said. "It needs to be solid evidence that we could build a case on and proceed to the court process."
While a "rumour on the street is not evidence," Benson said there are "people out there in the community who know who committed these crimes and they choose not to come forward for various reasons."
Those reasons vary from mistrust of the police to abiding by a street code to avoid being labelled a "rat."
Police reviewing leads and any missteps
Benson said the task force has looked at between 15 and 20 unsolved homicide cases, but he wouldn't say which ones.
"We've looked at if there's any potential leads, information that might have been missed the first time around, missteps possibly, changes in technology, changes in science that may be used," Benson said.
"Are there cases out there we could use genetic DNA? Is there new technology for phones — going back, executing search warrants on phones...Is there advancement?"
Of the cases that they have re-examined, Benson said they "have focused on some more than others just because that's where the evidence is leading us...We don't put value on one victim over the other."
In cases where the evidence is stronger, police follow those leads.
To date, police have identified a pattern in some of the cases. Those are cases that Benson would classify as "beef on site" — where a confrontation happens somewhere, whether it be on the street or in a nightclub, someone pulls a gun and then someone gets killed.
"A lot of these cases are...an ongoing dispute from years prior. And you fast forward one, two, three years and that revenge is now taking place for whatever reason," he said.
Other cases are territory feuds in the street-level drug trade, he said.
Surveillance video and pre-paid cell phones present dead ends
While police do benefit from surveillance or security video throughout the city, the quality of that video often means that police can't identify the people involved — a frustration that victims' families also often have.
In the case of 27-year-old Yonis "Yoshi" Barkhadle who was shot multiple times on Black Friday 2018 in a packed South Keys parking lot, police have video of the actual homicide taking place next to the Greenboro transit station, but no way to identify those involved.
"We have video from the park and ride that actually captures who we believe the suspects are in the park and ride — organizing themselves pre-homicide. And we actually capture the homicide on video," Benson said.
WATCH | Who police believe are Yonis Barkhadle's killers organizing in the park and ride
"It's at such a distance that you can't identify who these individuals are. There may be people out there that can if they know or if they were there with these people. However, other than that, you cannot say for sure who these individuals are based on the quality of the video."
Pre-paid cell phones, too, are being used by suspected culprits more and more. That creates a dead-end for police.
Cellphone data often comes in the form of a "tower dump", that shows which numbers were pinging in the area of a cellphone tower.
"We get the information back and these phones are registered to fictitious names, fictitious addresses, and that road ends there," Benson said.
"There's nothing more we could do with that because we don't know who it belongs to."
That is precisely the case in another unsolved 2018 homicide — that of 23-year-old Tarek "T-Rex" Dakhil, who was shot outside his home on Paul Anka Drive in January in what police believe was a targeted set-up.
"We have phone data. And we know he was called out by a person outside of his house. He exited his house and that's where he was executed," Benson said.
"We have that phone number because we have Tarek's phone and we got the last number that spoke to him. However, that phone number is a Calgary number."
Benson said police were able to see that the phone number in question communicated with Dakhil's number 13 times in the hours leading up to his fatal shooting.
"We get several phone calls leading up to the murder and then that phone is dumped, never to be used again. But who was in possession of that phone at the time? That's what makes it difficult."
We're only as strong as our community- Det. Chris Benson
Benson said given these challenges, the homicide unit is pleading with anyone in the community who has information on an unsolved case to come forward.
"The community has to take back their own streets," he said. "We're only as strong as our community is. And without their information, often we have no starting point...Come forward, speak to us, give us a statement, go on camera in the interview room, give us that information so we could proceed."