Alberta Crown says forensics, phone records tie Travis Vader to McCann killings

EDMONTON -- Court documents show forensic evidence, cellphone records, an undercover sting and a bullet hole in a hat are part of the Crown's long-running attempt to tie a suspect to the mysterious disappearance of two Alberta seniors.

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Lyle and Marie McCann, both in their late 70s, were last seen in 2010 fuelling up their motorhome in their hometown of St. Albert, a bedroom community north of Edmonton. They were on their way to a family camping trip in British Columbia.

Two days later, their burned-out motorhome was discovered in a wooded area near Edson, Alta. The SUV they had been towing was found concealed in another location more than a week after that.

Their bodies have never been found, but police believe they were killed near the hamlet of Peers, east of Edson.

RCMP quickly named Travis Vader as a person of interest in the case although it took nearly two years for them to charge him with two counts of first-degree murder.

The charges were stayed in 2014, just a few weeks before the case was set to go before a jury. The Crown says it realized Mounties hadn't disclosed all evidence in the case. The charges were reactivated last December and a new trial before a judge alone is to start in March.

Vader's lawyers have been arguing in court that the charges should be tossed out over abuse of the judicial process. A hearing on the issue is underway, and a judge lifted a publication ban on some documents Tuesday.

In a pretrial conference memorandum on Dec. 2, 2013, the Crown writes that "forensic evidence ties" Vader to the couple's SUV.

It says Marie McCann's blood was found inside as well as Lyle McCann's hat with a bullet hole in it.

The Crown alleges that Vader used the couple's cellphone the afternoon of July 3, 2010 -- the last day they were seen alive.

"The Crown's case is dependent upon circumstantial evidence, motive and exclusive opportunity, forensic evidence and post offence conduct evidence," reads the document.

None of the allegations have been tested in court, and the Crown states that the defence "does not admit these facts." Vader has pleaded not guilty.

Vader's lawyer Brian Beresh declined Tuesday to talk about the case.

The court documents show the use of undercover officers in the RCMP's investigation, dubbed Project Kontrail.

In November 2011, the documents say, Vader's sister Bobbi Jo Vader was involved in a "scenario" with some of the officers. At one point, during a trip from Edmonton to Calgary, they stopped at the remand centre in Red Deer so she could visit her brother.

An admitted crack addict, the documents say Bobbi Jo Vader initially told officers her brother couldn't have done it. But she later changed her mind.

"She said she believed that Travis was involved in the murders and she saw guns wrapped in blankets that could have come from the McCanns' motorhome," say the documents.

In an RCMP interview with one of the McCanns' children, Trudy Holder said her father kept an axe in the motorhome, under a seat, to fend off bears. He also owned several guns for hunting, she said, but he likely wouldn't have taken them on the trip.

Her mother also kept a small, loaded Derringer pistol in her eyeglasses case. Family didn't find it in their home after the couple disappeared.

Holder told police her father, a former long-haul trucker, used to talk about stopping to help others on the road but hadn't done so recently and wouldn't have if her mother was with him.

When on road trips, the couple typically pulled into rest areas to take breaks and make sandwiches, instead of stopping at restaurants, she said.


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