We acknowledge that we live and work on unceded Indigenous territories and we thank the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for their hospitality.
Eve Lazarus’s fascination with Vancouver’s history continues with her latest book, Cold Case Vancouver: The City’s Most Baffling Unsolved Murders. Crime buffs and readers interested in true crime literature or in understanding how police investigate serious crime will find the book a satisfying read. Lazarus examines nineteen of the city’s most troubling unsolved murders which are arranged chronologically in the book, beginning with the murder of Jenny Conroy in 1944 and ending with the murder of Vivien Morzuch in 2000. Although most of the cases may be unfamiliar to today’s readers, they were sensational events that shook the city when they occurred.
Lazarus relies on a number of sources, in addition to media accounts, to create a more in-depth telling of each murder including vital statistics records, obituaries, autopsy reports, and police files (10). She also relies on oral history interviews with friends (110, 135, 138) and family members (66, 128) of the victims, some of whom were the last people to see them alive. Although some of the memories shared with Lazarus are seventy years old, the trauma of losing a loved one to a violent death was evident in much of the interview material quoted in the text.
These interviews are the strength of the book for the simple reason that they humanize the victims. Rather than “cold cases,” the victims are presented as people with productive and promising lives that included family and friends who loved them and missed them long after they were gone. Lazarus notes in her introduction that even though the victims are “invisible, forgotten by everyone” decades later, she felt it was important to tell the “stories of their lives” as well as their deaths (11).
Retired police officers were also interviewed by Lazarus and their narratives demonstrate that solving crime is sometimes the result of good luck rather than skill. This was true for the only murder in the book that was successfully concluded (Chapter 19). Luck played an important role in solving the murder of Vivien Morzuch after a fingerprint analyst in Ottawa partially matched a thumbprint from the murder scene to the fingerprints of a suspect in an unrelated crime. The chance analysis led to a chain of events that resulted in the successful conviction of the murderer seven years later (167).
Some readers may be astounded by the techniques, oversights, and assumptions used by the police when investigating crime in the previous century. Before scientific advances in the preservation of evidence, and before DNA technology, evidence was often lost, destroyed, thrown out, or compromised at the scene. Assumptions about race, class, gender, and sexual orientation also influenced how the police conducted their investigations and how the media reported on the crimes. Lazarus does not shy away from examining the role these assumptions played. We can only speculate about whether the outcomes for the murders of an unwed mother (22), a Métis child (42), and a homosexual (57) may have been different if socially-constructed assumptions about the victims were not a factor in how many people understood the murders.
To her credit, Lazarus ends the book with an appeal to the public for more information about these unsolved cases, no matter how old or how insignificant the information may seem. In doing so, she seeks closure for the families and justice for those who lost their lives during the commission of some of Vancouver’s most infamous crimes.
Cold Case Vancouver: The City’s Most Baffling Unsolved Murders
Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015. 184 pp. $21.95 paper