What happened to Cindy James?

On the morning of June 8th 1989, the sleepy suburb of Richmond, Vancouver woke up to a grim discovery: a dead body. The victim was 44-year-old Cindy James, a nurse who was reported missing just a few weeks before the discovery of her corpse.

Cindy’s case is unusual, because right from the start police suspected she staged her own violent murder in an elaborate suicide. It all started after she separated from her husband. Cindy began to receive threatening telephone messages and letters from an unknown stalker. For seven years, she was severely harassed. From being inundated with hundreds of creepy phone calls, flyers, and sounds of heavy breathing left in her voicemail to experiencing several physical attacks from a masked man. Still, police failed to take her seriously due to her unusual lack of co-operation. Detectives found her unwillingness odd and became suspicious when her story changed multiple times. She began to panic when the supposed stalker cut her phone-lines, so she moved house, painted her car, hired a private detective and even changed her surname. On the night of January 30, 1984, her private investigator heard suspicious noises coming over a walkie-talkie he had given Cindy so he went straight to her house. Failing to answer the door, he went around the back and found Cindy unconscious on the floor, with a huge knife protruding from her hand. At the hospital, she later recalled being attacked by several men and injected with an unknown substance. Nothing out of the ordinary was found in her bloodstream. With Cindy still reporting unnerving phone-calls from her mystery stalker, police started 24-hour surveillance of her house. These messages stopped when up to fourteen officers surrounded her property, but when surveillance was off her house, another incident would happen. Cindy’s story was beginning to sound less believable.

One of many flyers posted through Cindy’s letterbox by her supposed stalker.

A year or so later, a similar incident puzzled detectives. On December 11, 1985, Cindy was found dazed and semiconscious lying in a ditch six miles from her home. She was wearing a man’s work boot and glove, and suffering from hypothermia. Cuts and bruises covered her body. A black nylon stocking had been tied tightly around her neck. She had no memory of what happened. Would Cindy really go to these extreme lengths in a desperate bid for attention? Her family believed otherwise, and claimed that her attacker was simply sewing the seeds of doubt into everybody’s mind.

When she vanished on May 25th, her car was found abandoned in a parking lot. A wrapped gift was inside, and blood was smeared on the passenger-side door. Cindy had just vanished off the face of the earth and detectives were clutching at straws in a desperate attempt to find any forensic evidence. Almost a month later, her lifeless body was found in the garden of an abandoned house. She had been drugged and strangled, and her hands and feet had been tied behind her back, which would be near impossible for someone to do on their own. She looked like she had been brutally attacked, but it was ruled that her official cause of death was from a morphine overdose. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police officially announced that her death was either an accident or suicide, while a coroner made the vague statement that Cindy James had died from an “unknown event”.

Thousands of women are violently stalked in the USA every year, so why is the case of Cindy James less believable than others? Firstly, we must consider the victim’s flippant nature toward a potentially life-threatening situation; Cindy still freely walked her dog during the attacks and would leave the house unsupervised. She didn’t fear for life like most victims do, and failed to co-operate with the police. Her doctor committed her to a local psychiatric ward for suicidal ideation, where she stayed for 10 weeks. Shortly before her death, she admitted to her family and friends that she knew more than she was saying and would go after her perpetrator herself, which seems very out of character considering she had nearly been killed by him on at least two occasions. Despite all the suspicion, Cindy’s parents never doubted that their daughter was murdered. They firmly believe that the police did not investigate properly, and focused solely on trying to prove that she committed suicide. Although the evidence against Cindy James mounts up, there is still a strong possibility that somebody, somewhere, is getting away with murder.

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