Former game warden profiles 'serial criminals'

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 22, 2003

They worked meticulously. A killer was on the loose. The victim, male and in the prime of his life, lay before the investigating team, the entry and exit wounds of a single fatal bullet through his chest painfully obvious. Were the unrecovered bullet's effects on the victim consistent with those of a bullet from the spent 7 mm brass cartridge found at the scene of the crime?

Drawing on their knowledge of wound ballistics – the behavior of a bullet passing through flesh – investigators made their observations.

The projectile entered the left side of the body, making a neat circular hole in the skin. It then shattered the fourth rib, propelling hundreds of bone splinters into adjacent tissues and organs, including the heart.

Flattened to three times its original diameter by the impact with the rib, the bullet then made mush of the lungs and caused massive internal bleeding before exiting the thoracic cavity on the right side. All this, in only a millisecond.

Yes, the investigators agreed, this deadly damage was consistent with what would be expected from a 7 mm 150 grain soft point partitioned bullet from a high-powered hunting rifle.

That evidence, together with an analysis of tire tread marks, foot prints and other crime scene details, and information provided by a confidential informant, led to the arrest and conviction of the killer who for weeks had planned his crime and stalked his prey.

An episode from "CSI," the popular TV crime scene investigation program?

Not at all. It's straight from the writings of local game warden-cum-author Murray Bates in his account of the Bullshead Creek Buck and the poacher who forfeited truck, rifle and cash for his crime.

You'll find the rest of the story in Murray's recently published book, Game Warden II: Cases from the files of an Alberta Game Warden 1974–1999.

But, all this fuss, for just a DEER?

In Murray's eyes, and in the eyes of many concerned about poaching, however, this is not JUST a deer. That deer is a symbol of a perverse – and often undetected – kind of criminal behavior. And Murray has devoted himself to identifying such criminals and putting them out of business.

He has developed, and is promoting, something he calls Habitual Poacher Profiling.

"HPP is a system that takes clues from a resource offence scene which are then measured against a data bank that would narrow the field for determining the violator or poacher," he says. Such clues include type of transportation and firearms used by the poacher, wound ballistics, and condition of carcass.

Murray has had 26 years of field experience as a provincial wildlife officer, along with training as a police officer and animal health technologist. In his career, he says, he has made over 5,000 resource investigations, of which 1,800 were prosecuted with a 97 per cent conviction rate.

In his first book, Game Warden, published in 2002, Murray provided readers an enlightening overview of what it was like to be a game warden in Alberta. Take, for example, two accounts from the Cochrane area.

The first was the time a university student, newly-arrived from the Orient, illegally shot a mature bald eagle west of town, innocently thinking it was "the big chicken hawk from the sky" that his family back home regarded as a great delicacy.

The other was a lot less innocent. Murray encountered a contractor illegally laying petroleum pipeline across the Bow River during the fall spawning run of the Rocky Mountain whitefish. Challenged on what he was doing, the engineer responded: "Do you think I am going to shut down a $50,000 a day operation for a $50 ticket?" He sang a different tune, however, when the law shut his operation down for him.

The tenacious investigator will soon be releasing Game Warden III: The Profile of a Poacher. These are stories about poachers who didn't get caught. It is a call for governments and the courts to take even more seriously the professional poacher who mutilates wildlife for a lucrative market in antlers, eagle talons, gall bladders and the like.

"He is a very calculated and pre-meditated killer," Murray says, "not unlike a serial criminal."

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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