The Mysterious Death of Cindy James

 
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Cindy James was found dead outside an abandoned house in Richmond in the summer of 1989. She had been drugged and strangled. She lay on her right side, a black nylon stocking tied tightly around her neck, and another used to hogtie her arms and legs behind her back. She was wearing one shoe.

 

For years, this day had seemed inevitable. It was the predictable end to nearly a decade of well-documented and thoroughly-investigated psychological and physical torment: threatening phone calls, notes, strange encounters, vandalism, fires, animal killings, and a half-
dozen violent physical attacks; all perpetrated by an unknown assailant. There were about a hundred documented incidents between 1982 and 1989. Someone was
terrorizing her.

After Cindy’s death, there was a thorough investigation. It culminated in the lengthiest and most expensive public inquest in British Columbia’s history. Cindy’s death was ruled a suicide.

Cindy’s “living nightmare”, as one psychiatrist would put it during the inquest, began in the autumn of 1982. 

Three months earlier, she and her husband of sixteen years, Roy Makepeace, had begun a trial separation. The pair met at Vancouver General Hospital in 1965. Makepeace, who emigrated to Canada from South Africa with his wife and two children, was midway through a four-year psychiatric residency. James (then Cindy Hack) was in her third year of nursing school. The distinguished and dashing doctor 18 years her senior helped Cindy gather materials for a research project on “Free Love”, which investigated the birth control pill’s contribution to the sexual revolution. This led to an affair. On December 9, 1966, just four days after Roy’s divorce was finalized, he and Cindy, then 21, were wed. 

By 1981, what Roy Makepeace had once characterized as “a marriage made in heaven” was described by Cindy to one of her colleagues at Blenheim House, the child psychiatric facility where she now served as founding director, as “a bad marriage”. The Makepeaces split up in the summer of 1982. Cindy took Heidi, her beloved dog and only constant companion during the nightmare to follow, and rented the main floor of a home at 334 East 40th. It was the first time she’d really ever lived on her own. She and Roy remained on speaking terms, however. Said Roy: “It was an amicable separation until all the nonsense came on.”

On October 7, Cindy got a phone call. The man on the other end graphically described the ways he was going to sexually abuse her. He knew her name. Frightened, she slammed the receiver down. The phone rang again. This time, all she could hear was a slow, steady breathing. The next night, another phone call. “You’re dead, Cindy,” said the voice. Then, the next afternoon, another no-talk call. Frightened, Cindy closed the drapes. 

The phone rang again. “Don’t think pulling the drapes means I don’t know you’re in there, Cindy.” Two days later, another no-talk call. And on the following day, October 12, a man called and said, in a low whisper, “I’ll get you one night, Cindy.” She called the police. 

The attending officer suggested Cindy keep a log of the strange calls, unlists her number, and contact the authorities again if she heard any suspicious noises. Later that night, she logged her first call—more threats of sexual violence. She told the voice she had contacted the police. “You fucking bitch,” he said. “I’ll get you.” Around midnight the following night, she heard someone at her back door and called police. They found no evidence of a prowler.

On October 15, someone broke into Cindy’s house while she was out, smashing her back window. Later that week, the back door was found ajar—this time the intruder had used a key. Cindy found it on the floor next to her bed. The intruder had been in her room. He’d stabbed her pillow over a dozen times. Cindy called 911 from a neighbour’s house.

The police sent Constable Pat McBride to investigate. He found no useful evidence. He did, however, request more of a police presence in the area, and helped Cindy to install deadbolt locks. Then he moved in. Recently separated himself, he was looking for a place to rent until an apartment opened up in December. Cindy invited him to sublet a room; having a policeman in the house would make her feel safer. They soon began to date. One night, McBride listened in on one of the no-talk calls, and even managed to complete a partial trace: it originated somewhere near the airport. He became convinced that this was not, as some suspected, a woman simply seeking attention. 

Not that it helped. Cindy received another obscene phone call twelve days later, and two weeks after that, someone left an unsettling note on her car’s windshield. It was a card, with a picture of a blond woman cut-and-pasted inside. The woman’s eyes had been scratched out with a sharp blade. In December, Cindy received another note in the mail. MERRY CHRISTMAS, it said, above another cut-and-paste picture of a blond woman, her throat slashed with red ink. 

When the harassment continued into the New Year, Cindy decided to move. On January 27, 1982, as she was packing boxes, she was attacked for the first time.

Cindy’s good friend and neighbour Agnes Woodcock had agreed to spend the night, as she often would throughout the ordeal. Agnes arrived at Cindy’s around 9:30 p.m. No one answered the door. She went around to the back, where she heard moaning. Cindy was slumped in the stairwell leading to the basement apartment. Her arms and legs had been slashed—about 14 cuts total—and there was a black nylon stocking tied so tightly around her neck that the downstairs tenant had to cut it off with a knife.

 

II

 

Cindy later explained that she had taken a load of boxes to the garage, only to discover the light was out. In the dark, someone grabbed her from behind. “Shut up,” he said. “Keep quiet or I’ll cut your face.” She didn’t recall much, and suspected she might have been drugged. She had felt a pinprick on her right arm, and a needle mark was found on her elbow. Still, she was able to describe the fear and pain she felt when he cut her arms, legs, shoulders and back, then strangled her with the nylon. As he left, he whispered, “It will take a long time to die,” then shut the back door behind him.

The initial investigator didn’t believe her. Traumatized, she wasn’t eager to relive the incident. “She wasn’t totally there, as far as being coherent,” he would later say. His report suggested that it was a suicide attempt. He based this mostly on three things: blood found on Cindy’s bathroom counter, which didn’t fit her story; the parallel nature of the cuts, which suggested to him that there hadn’t been a struggle; and a chair placed strangely under a crossbeam, as though she had intended to hang herself. Later, it was discovered that an officer had moved it there to have a closer look at the beam, and failed to put it back. 

The detective assigned to the case, however, treated it an as attempted murder. 

The most likely culprit, of course, was Roy Makepeace. “You know, being the estranged husband,” the detective told Roy, “you’re inevitably on the suspect list.” But Makepeace provided an alibi, and it checked out. He even agreed to take a polygraph, but the polygraph operator refused: Roy’s heart medication might have falsified the test. 

Hoping to convince investigators to take her more seriously, Cindy, the victim, took a polygraph. She failed, twice. The polygraph operator suggested the stress she was under might have affected the results, but she was too embarrassed and frightened to be comforted; Cindy demanded the investigation be shut down, then refused to sign her statement, saying she was afraid for her family. With no other evidence and a victim who didn’t appear entirely credible, her investigation was declared inactive a month after the attack.

As planned, Cindy moved. The cut-and-paste letters followed her, and two months later, in April, the calls returned. “Are you afraid?” asked the low, hoarse voice. Cindy was, and she was even more unnerved when, one night, she discovered that someone had unscrewed and smashed her backyard flood lamps. 

She moved again, ignoring her friends’ calls to get an apartment or condo and instead finding a little house at West 14th and Blenheim where she could tend a garden and Heidi had space to run and play. In June, she took a vacation to Indonesia, hoping to clear her head, and when she returned, most of the summer was quiet. 

On August 22, Cindy received a letter at Blenheim House. Her name was spelled on the front in letters cut from a magazine. “WELCOME BACK. DEATH. BLOOD. LOVE. HATE,” it said inside. She tore it up. On October 15, she found a dead cat with a rope around its neck in the yard of her new home. Next to it was another note. “YOU’RE NEXT,” it said. There would be two more dead cats in the coming weeks.

Cindy spoke again to Pat McBride, who told her the police weren’t going to be any more help than they had been. He may have been sour because she had recently declined his marriage proposal, effectively ending their budding romance. Still, he connected her with Ozzie Kaban, a private investigator with his own security firm. Kaban promised to “catch the sucker” and set up a burglar alarm and a two-way radio that connected Cindy to his dispatch office.

The harassment continued. Notes, calls, cats. The newly-installed alarm sounded often. On New Year’s Eve, 1983, someone smashed Cindy’s bedroom window. On January 30, 1984, Cindy was attacked for the second time.

Kaban found her this time. He’d gone to Cindy’s to personally investigate strange noises at the house picked up on the radio. But when he arrived, it was silent. There was no answer at the front door. He went around the side, to the back porch. Then, peering through the window, he saw Cindy on the hallway floor. He kicked in the door and found her face down, unconscious, a paring knife jutting out of her hand attached to a bloody note that read, in usual ransom-note style, “Now You Must Die Cunt.” There was a black nylon stocking tied tightly around her neck.

 

III

 

The ensuing investigation was a lot like the first. No fingerprints were found. No clues. No leads. Apart from Cindy’s injuries, there was no evidence anyone else had even been in the house and again, Cindy frustrated investigators, appearing to withhold information. This time she suggested strange theories that only increased skepticism: what if it was Roy—with voodoo?

Still, what if it was Roy with voodoo? At this point, nothing could be ruled out. Makepeace was brought in and aggressively interrogated for nearly six hours. Investigators tried everything. They told Roy that Cindy said he’d beaten her. They tried appealing to his ego. “Well, Dr. Makepeace, I think you’re very clever,” said one investigator, trying to provoke, “but you’re not going to get away with it.” But Roy remained composed; he said nothing incriminating. He admitted to slapping Cindy on “two or three” occasions during their marriage, but denied having a hand in the “diabolical campaign of terror” that began after their separation. He was believed and released. He began to pull away from Cindy. 

Pat McBride was investigated as well. The harassment had started, after all, right around the time he came into her life. He was subjected to a polygraph test. He passed. Ozzie Kaban suggested Cindy take another as well. She agreed. The RCMP officer administering the test asked her pointedly if she was her own stalker: Did you stab yourself in the hand? Did you make the note? Did you tie a stocking around your neck? No, no, no. This time, she was judged to be telling
the truth.

The authorities were flummoxed. A frustrated officer suggested it was Heidi, the dog. Then even that theory went up in smoke. One day in June, right around Cindy’s birthday, Heidi went missing. She was found cowering in the basement in a pile of her own mess, a cord tied around her neck, next to a fresh cut-and-paste note. “Fuck. Last Days. Warning. Run. Death. Happy Birthday. Love.”

Kaban installed more cameras. The police gave her a “special attention” designation. Nothing stopped the torment; on July 23, 1984, Cindy was attacked for the third time. Dazed, desperate, and suffocating, she staggered to the front entrance of a house on West 33rd, a black nylon stocking wrapped tightly around her neck. She collapsed in the doorway.

 

IV

 

Cindy had been attacked while walking Heidi in Dunbar Park. She told investigators that a van had pulled up alongside her as she walked, and the driver had asked her for directions. That’s all she remembered. She had twigs and leaves in her panties. Police found a mark near the sidewalk that indicated a body had been dragged through the dirt. 

The case was transferred to major crimes, and they tried a new approach: hypnosis. It only raised further questions. Cindy recalled a boating trip she and Roy had taken in the summer of 1981, a year before their separation. Docked on an island, Roy had gone to look at a property. Cindy went for a walk. At the top of a hill, she found a log cabin, and she entered to find Roy standing over two dead bodies. He’d cut them up with an axe. “What the hell are you doing here?” he seethed. Cindy became too frightened to continue the session. Later, again under hypnosis, she told the same story again, but with more detail. Roy had dismembered the corpses, placed them in bags and disposed of them in the ocean. Noting that her emotion was very real, the hypnotist took this charge seriously, and police followed his lead, launching an investigation that, as usual, turned up nothing. Makepeace’s outrage at this latest accusation effectively ended what remained of their amicable separation.

The letters and phone calls continued. In June, 1985, at her wit’s end, Cindy told a physician she wanted to die. She was diagnosed with severe depression and committed at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver. She spent a month there. Upon her release, she was heavily surveilled, as was Roy. Nothing came of it. $75,000 in man-hours later, the surveillance was discontinued. Then, four days later, she received a package: a book titled You Can Heal Your Life. There was a bookmark—a black nylon stocking. On the marked page, the phrase “Blood flowing freely” had
been underlined. 

Cindy was placed under even heavier surveillance, this time for 25 days. Police saw nothing unusual. She decided to move again—four days after the move she received a phone call: “You’re a dead bitch and it’s going to hurt real bad." A week later, she was attacked for the fourth time. A passing cyclist discovered her in a ditch in the UBC Endowment Lands. Cindy was lying in an icy puddle, her clothes soaked, with a men’s brown leather boot on her right foot, a black rubber glove on her right hand, and a black nylon wrapped three times around her neck. 

Cindy had no memory of the afternoon before the attack. The last thing she recalled was picking up her prescriptions—she took Ativan, among other things, for her nerves. Her mental state was revisited. She was examined by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Tony Marcus. After two meetings, he determined that Cindy’s troubles were “self-initiated”. He made clear, however, that he didn’t believe she was simply faking incidents. Instead, he said, she had fallen into a “psychogenic fugue”, an altered consciousness, likely stemming from deep-seated trauma.

 

V

 

Things quieted down after Cindy’s release from hospital. She spent three weeks with her brother in Germany, and when she returned, months passed without a single incident. 

But Cindy was still ill at ease. Agnes Woodcock and her husband Tom spent the night regularly. They were with her the night of April 2, 1986, when Cindy’s harasser returned. It was just before 3 a.m. Agnes, Tom, and Cindy were playing cards when the burglar alarm sounded. They checked the house and discovered the basement door’s glass window had been completely removed. And the Woodcocks were also there, two weeks later, when someone set fire to the house. All three escaped safely, though Cindy nearly got lost in the smoke after charging back into the fire to rescue Heidi. 

The arson investigation pointed to nobody but Cindy. Initially, investigators believed someone had thrown a firebomb through her basement window, but the glass had fallen outward, and a liquid accelerant was found on the carpet near a shelf where she kept all her memorabilia. If there had been a fourth person in the house, he’d escaped without leaving a trace, as usual. Instead of receiving a settlement from her insurance company, Cindy received an eviction letter. 

Crushed, she moved in with the Woodcocks. In her despair, she lost over twenty pounds, and began smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. “Now he is coming after my friends,” she told her sister. “I may as well give up.” She was admitted to St. Paul’s Hospital, and would spend the next two months in psychiatric care. When she returned to Blenheim House after six months on sick leave the following November, word of her potential mental health issues had gotten around. She was immediately asked to resign.

Her stalker had succeeded in ruining her life. She’d lost her job and her home. She hadn’t had a romantic relationship since her brief fling with Pat McBride. Maybe now that the tormenter had taken everything from her, he would go away. 

Cindy was buoyed by the idea. She found another job, returning to nursing at Richmond General Hospital. She appeared to be regaining control of her life. But the following summer, in July, the burglar alarm sounded at her home while she was at work. It happened two more times in August. 

Then, on October 26, 1988, Cindy was attacked for the fifth time. An RCMP officer discovered her unconscious in her car, nude from the waist down, her hands tied behind her back. Her right hand was squeezing the panic button on her silent alarm. There was duct tape over her mouth, bruising and swelling around her left eye, and, of course, a black nylon stocking tied tightly around her neck. She was rushed to hospital in a coma.

 

VI

 

When Cindy awoke, she remembered very little that would help the investigation. She recalled two men, but couldn’t describe them. She wasn’t taken particularly seriously this time, especially with no one else’s fingerprints at the scene, or even a scent for police dogs to pick up—instead, investigators mostly looked into how a woman could have tied her own hands behind her back like that. Cindy was released from hospital the next day. 

The torment returned the following spring. At the hospital, a security guard spotted a ransom-style note on her car. “SOON CINDY”. And at the end of her shift, another message, this time written in the dew of her windshield: “SLEEP WELL”. Cindy did not. Over the next month, the burglar alarm sounded four more times, the last incident occurring on May 10. 

Two weeks later, Cindy disappeared. On June 8, a construction worker found her body on a pile of blackberry brambles. Cindy’s living nightmare had finally come to
an end.

It was a murder investigation now, and a high-profile one. Every possibility was considered. The evidence, new and old, was thoroughly examined and reported. Roy Makepeace was once again treated as the primary suspect. “Either the whole thing is true and I’m Ted Bundy, or I’m not,” he said, during the headline-grabbing public inquest.

Cindy James was tormented and tortured. Of that, there’s no question. But as to whether it was an external or internal torment, no one is quite sure. The sheer absence of evidence seems to point to a monster of her own making, or at least of her own mind. A compelling case has been made for dissociative identity disorder, perhaps triggered by her first experiences being truly alone after her separation. But that’s hardly a completely satisfactory explanation, especially since, if it’s incorrect, a monster continues to live among us.

But we will likely never know. As Catherine Kinahan said in the inquest’s final summation: “The proper verdict is the so-called open-ended verdict… The Vancouver Police Department’s position is that Cindy’s death was suicide or accident. It would be pointless to reopen the investigation at this stage. It’s not going to solve this case.”

“There is no more evidence to be found.”


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