Murderer caught after escaping from minimum security B.C. prison
Published Saturday, April 15, 2017 11:54AM PDT
Last Updated Saturday, April 15, 2017 6:53PM PDT
Police have apprehended Robert Raymond Dezwaan one day after the murderer escaped from a minimum security prison in B.C.'s Fraser Valley.
Dezwaan, who is serving a life sentence for strangling 16-year-old Cherish Oppenheim to death in 2001, went missing from Mission Institution on Friday afternoon, triggering a police manhunt in the region.
The 53-year-old’s escape left some who live near the prison on edge, particularly because authorities didn't alert the public until around 9 p.m. that night – roughly five hours after Dezwaan's escape.
One resident, Robert Thomson, told CTV News he saw someone suspicious lurking near the bushes at a corner store the same day, but he was unaware there was a manhunt going on.
"He was up almost halfway into a bush but still on the corner store grounds," Thomson said.
When he eventually saw Dezwaan's photo, Thomson said he was confident it was the same man he'd spotted.
Correctional Service Canada said the killer was arrested around 11:15 a.m. Saturday by RCMP officers from Agassiz, a jurisdiction located more than 50 kilometres east of Mission across the Harrison River, but it’s unclear exactly where Dezwaan was found.
Authorities said they’re still investigating how he managed to escape.
"CSC is conducting an investigation into the circumstances surrounding this incident," spokesman Jean-Paul Lorieau said in a news release.
"Ensuring the safety and security of institutions, staff, and public remains the highest priority in the operations of the federal correctional system."
The minimum security Mission Institution has little more than some fencing and cameras around the perimeter.
It's unclear why someone with Dezwaan's disturbing past was being held there, but Lorieau told CTV News the Correctional Service evaluates inmates and places them in facilities it deems appropriate.
"Only those who are assessed as having a low risk to public safety will be placed in a minimum security institution," Lorieau said in an email.
There have been a handful of other widely reported escapes from Mission Institution in recent years; Norman Riel and Shawn Merrick, who are both serving time for second-degree murder, escaped within a year of each other in 2014 and 2015.
Both were recaptured.
Mission Mayor Randy Hawes said the prison provides a lot of employment, and the city is generally happy with the way it's run. He's also not very concerned about escapees.
"The last place that these guys are going to be is in Mission. They walk away and they take off," he said. "If I lived in Burnaby or Surrey I'd probably be more worried about it."
Some residents still have their concerns, however. Thomson said a fleeing convict once ran through his backyard, and he's worried about how easy it seems to be to slip past the prison's security.
"The amount of murderers in there that have escaped in the past, it's kind of odd, especially having a little sister around," he said.
Dezwaan admitted to having sex with his teenage victim then choking her to death near Merritt 16 years ago. He then abandoned Oppenheim's body in the woods, where it was eventually found covered up with rocks.
Dezwaan was sentenced to life in prison in 2003.
Chillingly, his teenage son was convicted of murdering a classmate a decade after Dezwaan's crime. Kruse Wellwood and a friend were found guilty of torturing and raping Kimberly Proctor just outside of Victoria in 2011 then burning her body under a bridge.
Wellwood also remains in prison, where he's serving a life sentence of his own.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Breanna Karstens-Smith