Award-winning filmmaker on Handlen’s trail in Minden
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | December 12, 2014
Shortly after Garry Taylor Handlen was arrested and charged for first-degree murder in the deaths of two girls dating back to the 1970s, Gemini award-winning producer David Ridgen was packing up his gear to head to Minden.
The unsolved murder of 11-year-old Kathryn-Mary Herbert, which dates back nearly four decades, is a cold case that Ridgen began working on in 2009 for a CBC documentary, "Garden of Tears." The nearly 20-minute long piece includes interviews with Herbert's mother, Shari Greer, and police involved in the initial investigation.
In researching Herbert’s murder – she disappeared while heading to her home in Abbotsford, B.C. on Sept. 24, 1975 – Ridgen read an article that linked an unnamed suspect to the case.
"I thought 'oh, that's interesting,' but nothing ever happened," he said in an interview at The Dominion Hotel in Minden.
Ridgen eventually obtained Handlen's name through a source and found an address for him in Edmonton. He visited the home with a hidden camera, but was greeted by someone else and told that Handlen had moved away. Footage of that encounter can be seen in the documentary, however, any mentions of Handlen's name are bleeped out.
The same year he embarked on the film, Ridgen made contact with Lyn Winans, a local resident and longtime friend of Handlen's. He stayed in touch with her because of her connection to the alleged murderer.
Three years later, as an independent filmmaker, he strapped on his camera and confronted Handlen at a residence in Minden. He confirmed the man's identity and asked him a set of questions, one of which resulted in Handlen slamming the door in his face, said Ridgen.
According to information from CBC, Handlen is a convicted rapist. In 1978, he picked up a hitchhiker near port Hope, B.C. and sexually assaulted the woman, who managed to escape and was picked up by a passing motorist. He was sentenced to 18 years, but on appeal that sentence was reduced to 12 years.
On Nov. 28, Handlen was arrested by police in Surrey, B.C. without incident and subsequently charged by the RCMP with first-degree murder in the deaths of Herbert and 12-year-old Monica Jack.
According to a press release from the RCMP, Jack was riding her bike near the Nicola Ranch in Merritt, B.C. when she vanished. It took 17 years before her body was found in a rural area, approximately six kilometres from where she was last seen.
Herbert's body was discovered two months after her disappearance in an undeveloped area.
Last week, Ridgen conducted interviews in Minden to try and find out what the community knew about Handlen from his time in the area. Participants weren't willing to go on-camera, but agreed to be interviewed for a radio story that will air on CBC's The Current.
"I'm not sure when it will air, certainly not during any period that would affect the case in any way," he said. "That's not the aim. The aim is to tell a story – how it affects the town and how it's affected the people closest to the defendant."
Ridgen said he would likely return to town to conduct further interviews.
Garden of Tears was part of a cold case series that Ridgen pitched to CBC. Other cases he covered included the murders of Wayne Greavette, Sharin' Morningstar Keenan and Christine Harron.
The man responsible for Harron's murder, Anthony Edward Ringel, initially confessed to the crime but the case was thrown out because some of the evidence was deemed inadmissible.
"I was the only reporter who’s ever interviewed the guy. ... Eight months after the broadcast he ends up being arrested – again," recalled Ridgen.
Ringel was arrested and charged with first-degree murder last February after police announced they had new evidence against him.
In one of his most well-known documentaries, "Mississippi Cold Case," Ridgen looked into the Ku Klux Klan murders of two African-American youths in 1964. The film has been cited as one of the reasons state officials re-opened their investigation into the case.
"I basically had a Klansman put in jail because of the film," said Ridgen, referring to James Ford Seale, who was sentenced to three life sentences for the two murders.
As challenging and emotionally exhausting as they can be, Ridgen finds that tackling these cases is somewhat therapeutic for the families and communities affected by such violent crimes. It's also about trying to bring the perpetrators to justice, which can lead to some form of reconciliation between families and those who committed the crime.
"Any time the media can shine a light on old allegedly intractable cases like these, it's a good thing. It lets family, police, and even perpetrators know that the case has not been forgotten and it has the potential to bring new information to light," he said.
Handlen, now 67, made his first court appearance in Abbotsford on Monday. According to Abbotsford News, his next court date was set for March 2.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.