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Vancouver cold case files: Sweet Sixteen - the Rhona Duncan murder

The teen's killing - one of 17 unsolved murders in North Vancouver - remains a stain on this tight-knit community
Left: Rhona Duncan, Carson Graham Secondary Yearbook, 1976 and, right, Carson Graham Students in 1976. Rhona Duncan can be seen front row left. Photo courtesy Gord Curl

Rhona Duncan, 16, was murdered in the early hours of July 15, 1976, after walking home from a birthday party. Although 45 years have gone by, Rhona’s high school friends still get together to remember her and try and solve her murder.

I’m not sure when I first heard about Rhona Duncan’s murder, but I do remember that it was through my daughter who is friends with Shawn and Peggy Mapoles daughter who lived across the road. Shawn was Rhona’s boyfriend, and on July 16, 1976 he took her to a party on East Queens Road. It was meant to be a small celebration for his friend’s sixteenth birthday, but the party quickly got out of hand and teens poured in from all over the North Shore. Around 1 a.m. the family called the police.

It was a warm summer night and Shawn, Rhona and their friends Marion and Owen took their time walking in the direction of their homes. The teens, who were to enter Grade 12 at Carson Graham Secondary in the fall, stopped at the district hall. Owen and Shawn lived up the hill, and Rhona and Marion lived in the Hamilton area. The girls wanted to be by themselves to talk about the night; it was an easy walk down Jones Avenue. Rhona and Marion stopped and talked for a while then parted company near Marion’s home and Rhona disappeared into the darkness. She was at the intersection at West 15th, the quiet residential street where she lived, when someone stopped her.

By 4 a.m. Rhona, the oldest of four girls, was dead. She had been raped and strangled in sight of the safety of her home.

Shawn found out about his girlfriend’s murder the next day from one of his friends. Later that morning the RCMP arrived, bagged his clothes and interviewed him. A polygraph that he gave voluntarily at the time, and then his DNA taken decades later, cleared him completely.

Police say they’ve interviewed hundreds of witnesses and suspects in the Rhona Duncan case, performed polygraphs on the higher priority suspects, and tested the DNA of over 170 others.

The problem is that police can only take DNA voluntarily, and criminals are unlikely to comply. Has the RCMP checked out phenotyping DNA where they can produce a composite of the killer and one that her friends may recognize? Has the RCMP submitted a DNA profile to Gedmatch, a U.S.-based genealogical database that has successfully solved a number of cold cases in recent years? I don’t know, they won’t say.

Rhona’s cold case - one of 17 unsolved murders in North Vancouver - remains a stain on this tight-knit community and every effort should go into solving it.

If you have any information about Rhona Duncan’s murder, please call the North Vancouver RCMP at 604-985-1311 or if you wish to remain anonymous, call crime stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or visit the website