Be pa­tient with po­lice, woman says

RCMP worked hard to solve the miss­ing-per­son case of her brother, who van­ished in Al­berta in 2004

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - FRONT PAGE - BY GLEN WHIFFEN

The pas­sage of time is like an ever in­creas­ing, heart-rend­ing weight on the shoul­ders of any­one who is search­ing for a miss­ing fam­ily mem­ber or friend.

And it’s par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult when there’s sus­pected foul play in­volved.

This is ev­i­dent in re­cent cases such as that of Jennifer Hil­lier Pen­ney in St. An­thony — miss­ing since Nov. 30, 2016, and that of Cort­ney Lake — miss­ing since June 7 from

Mount Pearl.

Fam­ily mem­bers, friends and com­mu­nity mem­bers con­tinue to or­ga­nize searches on their own af­ter the of­fi­cial po­lice searches have slowed or ended.

And in many cases, when it seems the po­lice are no longer com­ing around or are pro­vid­ing lit­tle in­for­ma­tion, frus­tra­tion and de­spair creep in, and po­lice are of­ten crit­i­cized for not do­ing enough.

Peggy Mcgrath once felt like that. Her brother, Garry Mcgrath, went miss­ing with­out a trace on Feb. 7, 2004 in Tan­gle Wood Es­tates in Al­berta.

It would take 20 long and painstak­ingly dif­fi­cult months be­fore the case was solved.

Garry Mcgrath’s body was even­tu­ally found and his friend was charged and con­victed of first-de­gree mur­der.

Peggy Mcgrath ad­mits to los­ing faith in the RCMP, but, in the end, when the de­tails of the case were laid out in court she re­al­ized the po­lice had been ac­tive all along.

“For us, Garry was miss­ing for 20 months, so we were as frus­trated as what we know (the fam­ily and friends of Hil­lier Pen­ney and Lake) are go­ing through right now,” Mcgrath said in a tele­phone in­ter­view from Al­berta.

“It’s hard to get up ev­ery day and con­tinue on with your life when you have no an­swers and, in the mean­time, it is a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Ours was crim­i­nal right from the be­gin­ning.

“You just have to have pa­tience with po­lice be­cause they are not go­ing to tell you any­thing. They don’t tell you any­thing whether you are fam­ily, non-fam­ily, hus­band or wife be­cause they don’t want to jeop­ar­dize the case. It is their in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

The Mcgrath fam­ily had moved to Al­berta in the 1970s af­ter de­cid­ing to leave their small fish­ing com­mu­nity of Conche on New­found­land’s North­ern Penin­sula to seek bet­ter em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

At the time he went miss­ing, Garry was 44 years old and was mar­ried with four chil­dren. For many years he’d come back to New­found­land in the sum­mer to fish, but when the fish­ery took a down­turn, he stopped re­turn­ing.

Peggy Mcgrath has been fol­low­ing the case of Jennifer Hil­lier Pen­ney since she went miss­ing. She feels a con­nec­tion to the case be­cause not only is St. An­thony close to her home­town of Conche, but she also knows peo­ple in St. An­thony af­fected by the case.

It has also brought back many feel­ings of what her fam­ily went through more than a decade ago.

Ear­lier this sum­mer, af­ter read­ing about how dis­cour­aged peo­ple were in the St. An­thony area and that some were ques­tion­ing the RCMP and whether they were do­ing enough to find Jennifer Hil­lier Pen­ney, Mcgrath de­cided to write a post on a New­found­land Face­book page de­voted to shar­ing in­for­ma­tion on miss­ing-per­son cases.

She hoped it would some­how re­store hope in find­ing Jennifer Hil­lier Pen­ney and help to re­store peo­ple’s con­fi­dence in the RCMP.

“I guess, the rea­son I did it is be­cause when you haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced it and gone through it, you do look for an­swers and you do panic be­cause ev­ery­body wants an­swers, right?” she said.

“My heart goes out to the fam­ily down there and I to­tally un­der­stand their frus­tra­tion and want­ing an­swers, but in ad­di­tion to do­ing your own searches you’ve got to be­lieve the po­lice are do­ing their best to in­ves­ti­gate. My in­ten­tion was to say I un­der­stand their feel­ing of frus­tra­tion and time is go­ing by, but I be­lieve that, in the RCMP’S eyes, it is not a long time. I know we want an­swers and we want them fast, but I wanted to say, hope­fully, if the per­son is alive they can be found and that would be great, but if it’s gone another way then it’s pa­tience that is needed and sooner or later some­thing will come up. (The po­lice) are do­ing their job.”

Mcgrath said she felt peo­ple view­ing the Face­book page needed to hear from some­one who went through it. She said point­ing fin­gers too fast may not be the best thing to do. She said the po­lice are trained in their field and are work­ing on the case.

“There’s lots that went on be­hind the scene in Garry’s case,” she said. “We didn’t even think they were do­ing any­thing. But when they took us into the po­lice sta­tion there was a room there with all of the stuff from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

On the day Garry Mcgrath went miss­ing, he had plans to meet with friend Ge­orge Wil­liam Allen, a 53-year-old busi­ness­man. The two had been friends for about 10 years, but were hav­ing a dis­pute over fire­wood Garry Mcgrath had stored on Allen’s prop­erty near Antler Lake.

Later on Feb. 7, 2004, Garry Mcgrath had spo­ken with fam­ily mem­bers by phone to let them know he was on his way home. He never got there.

The fol­low­ing days were filled with fran­tic searches, calls to peo­ple Garry Mcgrath knew and talk­ing to the me­dia.

“We did what­ever it took to get the story out there that he was miss­ing,” she said. “We were frus­trated that he van­ished with­out a trace, noth­ing.”

About 10 days later, his aban­doned Dodge pickup was lo­cated in the park­ing lot of the West Ed­mon­ton Mall.

Though the fam­ily had its sus­pi­cions on who was re­spon­si­ble for Garry go­ing miss­ing and re­lated those to the RCMP, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors said noth­ing.

“The way it was for us, the RCMP didn’t say any­thing. I can say to them, ‘I think this per­son did this,’ and you know what they are go­ing to say, noth­ing. We can spec­u­late and sit back. The RCMP we dealt with would sit there and lis­ten to you, but they won’t tell you any­thing.

“Af­ter that came 20 months of not know­ing. The po­lice were telling us things like we will have a bet­ter chance of find­ing him in the spring when the snow goes, when peo­ple are camp­ing and hik­ing, and farm­ers are in the field.

“When fall came, no­body found him, so we said, ‘What’s next?’ We asked them if it was a cold case, and they said it is never a cold case.”

In the mean­time, the fam­ily at­tempted to try other things, in­clud­ing of­fer­ing a re­ward for in­for­ma­tion, look­ing into hir­ing a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor and talk­ing to a psychic. Mcgrath said the RCMP weren’t happy with some of those ac­tions.

“As a fam­ily, we came up with ev­ery idea. We wanted to help to find him, but at the end of the day we had to trust the RCMP,” she said.

Fi­nally, the RCMP ar­rested Allen and he was charged with first-de­gree mur­der. Po­lice found Garry Mcgrath’s body in a deep hole on Allen’s 92-acre prop­erty.

On Dec. 22, 2006 Allen was con­victed of first-de­gree mur­der by a jury in an Ed­mon­ton court­room.

“To sit in the court for six weeks, I saw all that the RCMP did in Garry’s case,” Mcgrath said. “Some­times they leave a sus­pect alone for awhile to let them think life goes on, that they are not be­ing watched. There was an un­der­cover op­er­a­tion and so much more.

“One of the RCMP of­fi­cers apol­o­gized to us for not be­ing able to tell us more dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Mcgrath is aware that not all miss­ing-per­son cases are re­solved. She feels for fam­i­lies go­ing through the or­deal.

“We were more than lucky be­cause it’s so re­liev­ing when you find the per­son. When we found our brother there was clo­sure even though it doesn’t take away the pain of los­ing him,” Mcgrath said.

“So I hope they find Jennifer and get the an­swers they need. The only ad­vice I can of­fer other than to keep look­ing is to keep it in the pa­pers, talk about it in the com­mu­nity, keep it alive to let peo­ple know she is not for­got­ten and that she is still miss­ing and fam­ily will al­ways keep it alive.”


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