NEWS
10/17/2011 04:21 EDT | Updated 12/17/2011 05:12 EST

Police charge suspected serial killer in Prince George, B.C., with murder of 4

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. - A swerving truck, two alert junior police officers, a conservation officer and an American forensics expert with skills so specific, they can't be found in Canada, have helped police lay another three murder charges against a Prince George man.

Cody Alan Legebokoff, 21, is now accused of being British Columbia's latest serial killer. He's charged with murdering four women in a case that unravelled with a huge helping of chance.

Insp. Brendan Fitzpatrick said in an interview Monday he didn't want to reveal too many details about the case.

But he agreed the chance meeting last year of a man in an erratically driven truck near the notorious Highway of Tears and an officer on his way to meet with a colleague led to a major investigation.

"As a result of that vehicle check, the discovery of Loren Leslie of Fraser Lake was made," said Fitzpatrick.

"From that, a large investigation was initiated."

Leslie was a 15-year-old, legally blind girl who was last seen earlier that same day last November when she told her family in Fort St. James that she was meeting a friend for coffee.

Fitzpatrick said the investigation into her case led the Crown to charge Legebokoff with three other murders last Friday.

However, police say they don't believe there's a connection to the murders along the Highway of Tears, which links Prince Rupert to Prince George. Eighteen girls or women have been murdered or disappeared along the stretch of road over the past 20 years.

Legebokoff has been in prison awaiting trial. A date has not been set.

He is now also accused of killing Natasha Montgomery, 23, and Jill Stuchenko and Cynthia Maas, who were both 35 years old. All three women had children.

Stuchenko was reported missing Oct. 22, 2009. Her body was found four days later in a gravel pit on the outskirts of Prince George.

Montgomery and Maas were both reported missing on the same day, Sept. 23, 2010. Maas's body was found a few weeks later in LC Gunn Park, another remote area of the city.

Montgomery's body has never been found, but police say "investigative findings have resulted in a murder charge in relation to her disappearance."

In a statement, Maas' family said they wanted to speak for Cindy and to highlight the urgency to ensure the safety of all women in society.

"Cindy had a right to live, to overcome her struggles, to become strong and to be the mother she wanted to be."

Her family said Cindy went to Prince George to access the programs available for a struggling person.

"Cindy was a social victim of disability, ethnicity, class, gender, as well as suffering the greatest indignity as a victim of murder. She is a poster child for vulnerability in our society," her family said in the statement.

Police have been reluctant to say if any of the women were sex-trade workers.

The Maas family asked the media to refrain from highlighting "gender and lifestyle" descriptions "as it numbs public empathy and detracts from focusing on the brutal murder."

Fitzpatrick said RCMP officers spent most of Sunday with the victims' families.

"They were all mothers, daughters, aunts — very talented, very loving individuals. Their families miss them. . . There's a lot of emotions associated to it," he said.

Court records show Legebokoff has had no prior adult convictions.

The RCMP said last year their officer was passing by a logging road when a pickup truck swerved off a logging road onto Stuart Lake Highway.

The officer was on his way to meet with a colleague and the two of them pulled the truck driver over.

Later that night, police called a conservation officer in Vanderhoof, who traced the truck's route back up the road, following tracks in the freshly fallen snow to Leslie's body.

Legebokoff was charged days later.

Fitzpatrick said Monday two of the victims' bodies were flown by RCMP plane to an archeologist specialist in Pennsylvania, who used state-of-the-art computer technology to uncover more clues.

"We didn't have the ability to reach out across Canada for such an expertise. We took the extraordinary step of consulting with him. We had two of the victims taken by RCMP plane to Erie, Pa., where he and a team of his experts examined for certain aspects of the evidence," the officer said.

"It's an example of the extent that we will go to ensure we get the best evidence that we possibly can."

The expert also travelled to British Columbia to examine one of the victims, Fitzpatrick said.

Police issued a photo of Legebokoff at a news conference Monday and also released a picture of his black 2004 GMC pickup truck.

Fitzpatrick said investigators are trying to put together a timeline of Legebokoff's whereabouts and are hoping for help from anyone who might know him or who may have noticed his truck.

"It all gets down to trying to dissect and trissect his movements as much as possible to try and cover off any potential avenues that we can generate," the officer said.

Police also said Legebokoff was a heavy user of social media.

"Our investigation indicates he extensively utilized social media and online dating to correspond with friends, associates, potential girlfriends and others," said the statement. "He frequently used the online name of 1CountryBoy."

Mounties say Legebokoff also lived in Lethbridge, Alta., for a short time between June 2008 and August 2009.

- By Terri Theodore in Vancouver

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Montgomery's body was found and Maas's body was not.