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Canada Police Use New Forensic Techniques to Crack Cold Cases

FREDERICTON, Canada (CP) -- The last time anyone saw Herbie Crocker, he was waiting for a drive home after watching an evening hockey game in Miramichi, N.B.

That was more than 38 years ago, but his family still hopes to find out what happened to Herbie, a quiet 28-year-old from Douglastown, N.B., who loved life, worked hard and never hurt anyone.

The Crocker family is pinning its hopes on forensic techniques used by Const. Gilles Blinn, an expert with the RCMP ViCLAS unit, or Violent Crimes Linkage Analysis System.

The unit tackles unsolved cases in addition to major crimes and sexual assaults.

"Nobody knows what happened to Herbie," says Blinn. "There are theories . . . His family says he wasn't suicidal. I lean more to the theory that he met with foul play."

Blinn is appealing for help from the public, hoping that someone, somewhere might have information about the case.

It's just the latest in a series of intriguing, unsolved mysteries handed to Blinn, who started working on cold cases after his own near-death experience.

Seriously injured in a car crash several years ago, Blinn says he now approaches police investigation with new sensitivity.

"It's like I'm being guided by unknown forces to do these things," says Blinn. "These souls can't go home yet. Was I chosen to do this? I don't know, but I do believe it's very important work."

Blinn works with Moira McLaughlin, a professor of anthropology at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, and with RCMP Sgt. Michel Fournier, a reconstructive artist, to find and identify missing persons.

The team approach recently paid off in solving two cold cases.

Two sets of bones, one found on an island near Fredericton and another found in the St. John River near Hartland, N.B., were identified and laid to rest.

In one case, Donna Joe, a woman who had been missing since 1992, was identified after reconstruction of her face around the bones of her skull.

In the other, Leo Pelletier, a Grand Falls, N.B., resident whose body had been in the St. John River for over a year, was identified through an examination and X-ray of his teeth.

Pelletier had been missing and presumed dead since 1994, but no one had linked the decomposed corpse found in June 1995 -- 13 months after he disappeared -- to his case.

Both sets of bones had more or less been forgotten until Blinn, Fournier and McLaughlin were called in.

"We treat these people with respect," Blinn says.

Blinn, Fournier and McLaughlin are putting their resources together on another unsolved case involving a man's body found floating in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, about 60 kilometres off the coast of New Brunswick, in 1980.

The man, a white, slightly built male, between 30 and 50 years of age, was buried in the village of Le Goulet under a cross marked Joseph.

"He was buck naked when he was found by crab fishermen," says Blinn. "No clothes, no watch, no ring . . . To me, that's awful suspicious."

The only distinguishing characteristic on the body was a porcelain and gold dental bridge, which dentists identified as an expensive appliance likely of North American origin.

Blinn ordered the body exhumed from the Le Goulet cemetery in November and Fournier is now at work reconstructing the man's facial features.

As well, DNA samples were taken from other bones to construct a genetic profile of the man, who may have floated down to New Brunswick from Quebec.

"Did that guy fall off a ship? Or was he thrown off a ship?" wonders Blinn.

"Was he a stowaway and the crew decided they didn't want anyone to identify him? How did he get naked? All I can tell you is there are no missing persons matching his description."

Blinn says police hope to release a picture of the man's reconstructed face by the end of the month.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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