In a case with no witnesses, no motive, no murder weapon and, if what was presented in court is any guide, NO EVIDENCE AT ALL, the RCMP considered the murder of Beverley Rowbotham solved within 3 weeks.
(See Part One - There must be a public inquiry into the bungled trial of Mark Stobbe http://blackrod.blogspot.ca/2012/03/there-must-be-public-inquiry-into.html )
Now we'll be the first to say that police always know more than they tell the public, and that its a losing bet to armchair quarterback a police investigation on the basis of years of CSI, Criminal Minds and Law-and-Order (all versions). But when they try to send a man to prison for the rest of his life based on a case so thin that it's invisible to the naked eye, the onus reverses and the two teams of RCMP investigators involved in the case better start talking about how and why they made the recommendation to prosecute.
Beverley Rowbotham was killed in her back yard in the early evening of October 24, 2000. It was an especially vicious attack. Trial testimony was that she had been hit 16 times with, likely, a hatchet, which is a small hand axe.
The jury was told one blow came after she had been placed in the back of her car in the garage. Yes, years of CSI tell us that conclusion would be the result of blood spatter in the vehicle. The medical examiner said 14 blows were delivered as Rowbotham was on the ground. Two axe cuts were in her left shoulder, and two fingers were severed, probably as she flung her hand behind her head to block the axe.
One axe blow to the head is still unaccounted for in this reconstruction. Obviously, that's the one that felled her.
A photo of her skull shows deep cuts to the bottom of her skull just above the neck. Skull fragments were found scattered in the back yard. Interestingly, there appeared to be no blows to the top of her head. That's surprising, since that's the biggest target for someone hitting a victim in the head with an axe.
Beverley Rowbotham was dragged or carried to the garage and put in the back seat. Police were mystified at the lack of blood at the scene, both outside in the yard and inside the garage. One officer said the amount of blood in the garage was what you might expect from a nose bleed, not someone chopped in the head 15 times with an axe.
A photo of the interior of the garage is deceptive. Its full of police evidence markers. While the markers suggest a lot of blood, each one only marks a drop. But Rowbotham's body was leaking blood heavily, soaking the back seat and dripping out of the bottom of the car after it was abandoned.
RCMP originally released a false story, saying Rowbotham's wedding ring and shoes were missing. The ring was gone, but the shoes were actually in the car, placed beside the body.
Somebody at the RCMP knew enough about criminal profiling, or had watched enough TV, to conclude that the attack was typical of an offender filled with rage and hatred. Its a sad commentary on modern society, and police thinking, that that invariably means the husband.
The only problem with pinning the crime on Mark Stobbe was that there wasn't one iota of evidence of discord between him and his wife. No witnesses to loud arguments, no whispered laments to her sisters, no hidden notes saying "in the event of my death, investigate my husband." That didn't prevent the Crown attorney from declaring the crime was a crime of passion, an attack by a hate-filled husband who lost it because his wife missed Saskatchewan, where they lived before he got a job with the Manitoba government.
It sounds ridiculous now and it was just as hollow in the three weeks the RCMP were making their case against Stobbe.
The RCMP may have been certain Stobbe was the killer, but nobody else who saw the evidence they collected was. Alberta prosecutors who reviewed the file were clear: you don't have a case.
Instead of reassessing the investigation, the RCMP kept trying to reframe it to nail Stobbe.
And it doing so, did they overlook other, equally viable suspects?
He had the means, i.e. a hatchet. The weapon used to kill Beverley Rowbotham was never found. Early in the trial, the Crown called the handyman hired by Mark Stobbe to fix things around the house, to say there had been a hatchet on the premises. In fact, he testified, he had sharpened the hatchet himself.
Stobbe eventually parted ways with the handyman because he was unsatisfied with his work and it was costing a lot of money. But Robotham's sister testified that Bev had mentioned that the handyman creeped her out. She also said that of the couple, it was Bev who had a temper and who was often short with people, not her husband Mark.
Did she have a run-in with the handyman? As we said before, we have to believe the RCMP checked his alibi for the night of the murder up, down and sideways, and he was eliminated as a suspect.
But past residents of the St. Andrews area have unnerving memories of their neighbour. He was aggressive, threatening, scary, and fiercely single-minded when it came to getting the land he wanted, we were told. He threatened the lives of one man's wife and daughter. He would sneak up on people and scare them out of their wits. He had his eye on the Stobbe residence and may have felt snookered out of it. Stobbe had been looking to buy a house in Winnipeg, but when the deal fell through he took his second choice, the house in St. Andrews.
This is as odd as it gets.
Four years after the murder, a man came to talk to police to say he was riding a bicycle the night Beverley Rowbotham was killed and his attention was drawn to a car in the service station parking lot where her body was found. In other words, he's the only person ever to put himself in the actual vicinity of the murdered woman's body.
We know about his because HE WAS A WITNESS AGAINST MARK STOBBE at the trial. Not only a witness, but the only witness in the case to link Stobbe directly to the murder---if only for a minute or two.
The bicyclist said he had left his job in Selkirk where he worked the swing shift, and was bicycling home shortly after 11 p.m. when he noticed a car with its lights on parked behind the service station in Selkirk. He glanced at the driver, who was "slumped" behind the wheel.
"That's him," he said, pointing to Mark Stobbe in the courtroom in the trial's most stunning moment.
Only, under cross-examination, he retracted his identification, saying that the person he saw was a big man, like Mark Stobbe, but not Mark Stobbe. The judge was livid. With the jury out of the courtroom he lit into Crown attorney Wendy Dawson, of British Columbia, for stage managing such a cheap show. She protested that she didn't know the witness would point the finger at Stobbe, and that she expected him to say he couldn't identify the man behind the wheel. The judge recalled the jury and spelled out how unreliable the witness was and how unsafe it was to depend on eyewitness evidence when it comes so late after the event.
The cyclist, perhaps inadvertently, made himself a person of interest. The police were looking for a man on a bicycle on night Bev Rowbotham was killed and there he was, admitting he was on a bicycle the night Bev Rowbotham was killed. Even more, he put himself near the body. We have to assume the RCMP did a thorough investigation of the new witness, including accounting for every minute of his presence at his job in Selkirk.
You can still see a photo of Mark Stobbe at the event. Note that it looks as if he weighed as much then, 8 years ago, as he does now.
The RCMP investigator
Like reporters, police look for the unusual. Something out of the ordinary. Something that doesn't fit. Because that's often where the turning point in an investigation comes.
In this case, the unusual was the suicide of the lead investigator.
Only 45, tasked with a career-making murder investigation, he killed himself one year to the month of Rowbotham's murder. She was killed Oct. 24, 2000. He took his own life Oct. 13, 2001. Just a coincidence?
His reason for suicide may have been entirely personal. But in the wake of the shocking case of Canadian Air Force Colonel Russell Williams, nobody is beyond suspicion. Williams was an honoured pilot who led a double life, committing a string of break-ins and rapes before eventually killing two women before being caught.
DNA belonging to a male who was not Mark Stobbe was found on the inside of the handle of Beverley Rowbotham's purse.
A footprint from a shoe that wasn't Mark Stobbe's was found on Beverley Rowbotham's hat in the garage.
Two buttons from an unknown garment were discovered in the debris field in the back yard among the blood spatter and bone chips.
Ya think that may add up to an unknown male who attacked and killed Bev Rowbotham?
If it does, he's got a 12 year head start on police.