Inside the hunt for Ardeth's killer
Police had high hopes they had found their man in time to keep him from killing again, but finally had to admit he was innocent. Now, exactly one year after her death, they keep looking.
 
Gary Dimmock and Greg McArthur
The Ottawa Citizen

 

He's the suspect who wasn't. For six long weeks in the spring, Ottawa police detectives worked around the clock trying to clear him from the books in their exhaustive hunt for Ardeth Wood's killer.

It was this "person of interest" that had lifted some police hopes of solving the 2003 homicide.

He fit the description of the suspect, had a minor criminal record and it was hard to clear him right away -- even if he was polite and co-operative with detectives.

He worked off and on at blue-collar jobs, making it difficult to track his steps last Aug. 6, the day Ms. Wood went for a bike ride and ended up dead in a muddy creek near the Rockcliffe Parkway.

In the end, after a detailed, six-week investigation, he was cleared and detectives forged ahead on other leads, confident of catching the predator before he strikes again.

"He's a sexual predator," said Staff Sgt. Randy Wisker of Ottawa's major-crime unit. "History tells us they don't stop. There'll be another victim if he's not brought in."

The police force has 10 detectives assigned full-time to the year-old case.

And they say they pursue every person of interest -- 300 and counting -- with the same vigour. So if a person of interest is overweight and doesn't own a bike -- details that contradict the killer's profile -- detectives don't just turn around and walk away. They chase down the lead just the same, and it takes time, particularly if a person of interest warrants police surveillance.

The Ardeth Wood case started a year ago today, from the minute she left her Orleans home on her brother's bike, a 21-inch frame black metallic hybrid.

She had already jogged five kilometres that morning, made dessert for the family and was now heading out for her first trip along the parkway that summer.

She would have likely gone down Orleans Boulevard, past Carine Wilson High School to get to the bike path, then headed west along the Ottawa River.

She was on her way home when she met her killer. They met on the west side of the creek along the bike path, with mixed forest to the right and the Ottawa River to the left. She was just 10 kilometres from home.

It is here, roughly 90 metres from the creek, where she likely met her killer. This is where the killer was spotted at 1:30 p.m., just after a rain storm.

There were fishermen along the river that day, hours after she went missing. A carton of fresh bait still lay on the west bank of the creek, close to where police divers eventually found her brother's bike.

As the bike path turns toward the Rockcliffe Parkway, there is a wooded trail leading to the creek.

A day after they found the bike, they found her nude body, across the muddy creek, on the east side.

From the east side of the creek, there are at least two trails, also used by fishermen, leading back up to the bike path. The killer, on his bike, was spotted four times after she left her house, on both sides of the creek.

He returned a day later, at 3:30 p.m. A witness told police the man was spotted at the stretch of the bike path near the trails leading down to the creek, on the east side.

In total, the man with the sandy blond hair and the lean, athletic build was spotted 24 times on the Rockcliffe Parkway that summer. He didn't stick to one side of the isolated, murky creek, which cuts through the bike path connecting Orleans with the Beacon Hill area. He covered a 14-kilometre area on his bike, according to witness sightings.

These were his hunting grounds and he knew them well. He had scoped it out and riding his bike up and down, tried to spark up conversations with unsuspecting women.

In June, he was only spotted twice. In July, five times -- all of the sightings on the west side of the creek. In early August, six times.

But the day Ms. Wood was killed, he was busy; he was all over the riverside bike path.

At 6:30 a.m., only 37 minutes after the sun started to rise on Ottawa, he was seen near a residential street in Orleans south of the path.

If the sighting was accurate, he must have travelled seven kilometres west. Four hours later he was spotted near the creek three times. Then someone saw him at 10:45 a.m. near the Aviation Museum, roughly seven kilometres west of the creek.

But by the time Ms. Wood, 27, set out on her bike ride at 12:30 p.m., he was back near where her body was found. He was spotted near the creek five times and by 2:15 p.m. -- the last sighting of the day -- he may have been fleeing the scene.

Police have received only one more report of him being on the path. The day after Ms. Wood went missing, someone said they saw a man matching the description just east of the creek's mouth where it meets the Ottawa River.

The suspect is white. Police believe he is somewhere between his early 20s and early 30s. He's between five-feet, 10-inches and and six-feet tall. He has also been described as tanned.

Police have received various descriptions of his bike; some witnesses have reported seeing a mountain bike, others say it was a road bike. It's possible, police say, he used different bikes.

The unsolved slaying haunts Ottawa's finest. Detectives have a separate office where there are pictures of Ms. Wood on the wall. The suspect-who-wasn't was one of the lowest points of the high-profile -- and even higher pressure -- investigation, police say.

But the force hasn't given up hope and is doing everything it can to catch him, on and off-duty.

Some officers have made a point of jogging along the Rockcliffe Parkway. Some traffic officers post the sketch of the suspect in their cruisers. Some have it in their day books. The Rockcliffe Parkway has become a road of choice for the motorcycle squad.

Police computer specialists have volunteered their expertise, probing the Wood family's computer on the slight chance that the killer contacted her on the Internet beforehand.

There are 10 investigators assigned to the case, but all 1,500 officers and civilians on the Ottawa force are working on it, police say.

And they are working hundreds and hundreds of tips.

A key piece of information, from an anonymous caller, came even before they even found her body.

Two days after Ms. Wood disappeared, a man called Ottawa police, gave a brief statement and abruptly hung up the phone. A month ago, investigators held a press conference urging him to call them back.

He hasn't.

Detectives are keeping what he said secret, but they will say the call didn't lead them to the body.

Ms. Wood was an aspiring philosophy professor with a specific interest in metaphysics and ancient philosophies. She was 21/2 years into her PhD studies at the University of Waterloo and had not yet decided the topic of her thesis. Even as an undergraduate and a master's student at Carleton University, her professors regarded her as a colleague -- not a pupil. She was also a devout Catholic.

The police have no suspects.

Anyone with information relating to the murder, or any other incident on the pathway, is asked to contact the police at 236-1222, ext. 3563 or 3564. They may also call Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-8477, or e-mail the police at infotip@ottawapolice.ca.

gdimmock@thecitizen.canwest.com

gmcarthur@thecitizen.canwest.com

 The Ottawa Citizen 2004

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