In the late 1940s two boys were murdered in Stanley Park, but their bones weren't found until 1953.
It took another 69 years to discover their names.
Dubbed the "Babes in the Woods" case, the investigation moved forward slowly over time; it didn't help that the gender of one of the victims was incorrectly identified at the time of the discovery. A break came in 1996 as DNA evidence was introduced.
Who were the Babes in the Woods
75 years after they were likely killed, police have officially identified the victims in Vancouver's oldest cold case as brothers Derek and David D’Alton.
"We were able to confirm Derek D'Alton, born on February 27, 1940, and David D'Alton, born on June 24, 1941, were in fact the Babes in the Woods," announced Detective Constable Aida Rodriguez, the Vancouver Police Department's lead inspector, in a press conference Feb. 15.
Police were able to confirm the identities of the boys using forensic genealogy. Bone fragments from the crime scene, discovered by a groundskeeper near the park's Beaver Lake, were kept and DNA was extracted. That DNA was then uploaded to GEDmatch, the database that Ancestry.ca uses.
Police were eventually able to identify the maternal grandparents of Derek and David and, over time, discovered more about the boys.
The boys grew up in B.C. and went to school at Henry Hudson Elementary in Kitsilano. They lived their entire lives in B.C., but what they were doing in Stanley Park at the time of their death is unknown.
When they were found there were some items found nearby, including a woman's shoe, a lunch box, children's flying helmets and a hatchet identified as the murder weapon. The bodies were covered by a woman's coat.
The story family of Derek and David had heard about the boys, who were never reported missing, was that they had gone into government care. Police are still looking into whether there was any truth to that story, but Rodriguez says it's unlikely.
Who is the suspect
Inspector Dale Weidman, the VPD's Major Crime Section commanding officer says it's unlikely anyone will be charged in the case as "realistically, the suspect is not living anymore" and it will remain classfied as a cold case. However, police believe the boy's mother is the likely suspect.
"We make that assumption," says Weidman. "So she would definitely be a person of interest if this case had occurred today. Naturally, we would be looking at the mother."
Inspectors "theorize the person who killed Derek and David was likely a close relative who died approximately 25 years ago," note the VPD.
While police won't identify the mother, local crime historian Eve Lazarus identified her as Eileen Bousquet. Lazarus spoke to the brothers' niece Ally Brady, whose mother, Diane, was the boys' elder sibling.
Advances in DNA and the story of the remains
For decades it was believed the two bodies were that of a boy and a girl. It wasn't until the 1990s that DNA evidence showed they were brothers, thanks to the efforts of Detective Brian Honeybourn, one of Rodriguez's predecessors on the case, and Dr. David Sweet from UBC. Honeybourn, who was born the same year it's believed the boy died, recalls the case being "resurrected" from time to time as one of the city's most famous murders and cold cases.
When he took over the file in the 90s as a detective-sergeant in the unsolved homicide unit, he decided to find the boys' remains.
"I discovered that the remains for on display in the Vancouver Police Museum; I did not think that was appropriate," Honeybourn says. "So I went down one day without any authority from any of my superiors and I seized all the remains."
He knew Dr. Sweet, who worked at the Bureau of Legal Dentistry at UBC, and took the remains to him.
They were able to extract a tooth in 1996, which led to the first piece of DNA evidence in the case. It uncovered that they were both boys, not a boy and a girl.
"In fact, they were two boys that were related as half brothers; they shared a mother but not a father," says Dr. Sweet. "And so that became an extremely important part of the investigation because it changed the thinking at the time. And obviously, changed the scope of the investigation where the police were looking for a young boy or girl."
Honeybourn took the remains, except the skulls, to a crematorium.
"Then I arranged to have the remains taken with the police boat off of Kitsilano Point," Honeybourn says. "And with the police chaplain at that time, dedicated the remains to the ocean."
Sweet and Honeybourn kept it a secret what remains they had kept, which they hoped would come in useful as DNA science advanced.
In 2021 the boys' skulls were used to obtain DNA again, which was sent to Redgrave Research Forensic Services. Anthony Redgrave, the company's lead forensic genealogist, says the case was moderately difficult when compared to other cases the company has taken on. Using the extracted DNA and genealogical database, they were able to triangulate Derek and David's family.
Once they were able to identify the family, police called to discuss the issue with them.
"One can only imagine what it feels like to have a homicide detective call you and say, 'Well, we think you might relate it to a couple of victims in a historical file,'" says Rodriguez.
A sense of resolution
Rodriguez notes that it's been a file that has haunted Vancouver detectives for decades.
"I felt that it was necessary to give them names in order to give them some sense of peace," she says. "That was for me, that's what I felt. And it wasn't lost on me the amount of time that other detectives spent on this, and I believe they probably felt the same. They just needed their names."
Rodriguez is still working on the case and reviewing information from family members.
"It's more just to piece together these boys' family and their story so that it's accurately represented," she says. "They were in obscurity for a very long time."
The boys' remains are currently with the coroner's office, Rodriguez says, and will be turned over to surviving relatives to be put to rest.
"At this stage of the investigation it was never about seeing someone charged or arrested for these crimes," says Weidman. "We always knew, especially given the passage of time, that that was extremely unlikely. But it was always about giving these boys a name and finally telling her story."
With files from Eve Lazarus