Double-murder suspect declared ‘menace to society’ in 1979

Garry Taylor Handlen was convicted of a 1978 rape and sentenced to 18 years in prison

Garry Handlen

A judge sentencing Garry Taylor Handlen in 1979 to 18 years in prison for a violent rape declared him a “menace to society” and said Handlen’s record of sexual offences was appalling.

Handlen, now 67, was arrested last Friday in Surrey and charged with the first-degree murders of Kathryn-Mary Herbert, 11, of Matsqui (which later amalgamated with Abbotsford) in 1975 and Monica Jack, 12, of Merritt in 1978.

Police made the announcement at a press conference on Monday in Surrey, where they said that Handlen, recently living in Ontario, had been a “person of interest” early in the investigations into the two murders, but it had taken this long to gather enough evidence to support charges.

They confirmed that Handlen has a criminal record, although they wouldn’t expand on his background or on the evidence that led investigators to him as a suspect.

An old newspaper article indicates that Handlen was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in jail in November 1971 for raping an 18-year-old woman in Comox on Vancouver Island.

He was living in Courtenay at the time.

Other articles detail the trial and sentencing of Handlen in 1979 for the rape of a 21-year-old Quebec woman on Sept. 11, 1978.

Handlen, living in New Westminster at that time, had picked up the woman while she was hitchhiking near Hope.

The woman testified that Handlen pulled over at a rest stop near Manning Park. There, he grabbed her around the neck from behind and dragged her into the woods, where she tried to fight him off as he choked and raped her.

She was able to escape and flag down a vehicle on Highway 3. The couple in the vehicle saw Handlen’s car leave the rest stop and put out a call on their CB radio, leading other drivers to obtain his licence number.

The victim identified Handlen in a police lineup and was able to point out his car, which police had parked among about 300 other vehicles in a mall parking lot.

During the trial, Crown counsel Wally Oppal pointed out that Handlen had served prison terms for rape, indecent assault, and assault with intent to commit rape.

“it was a terrible, terrible ordeal that Handlen put that girl through,” Oppal said at the time.

Just three years prior to that crime being committed, Kathryn-Mary Herbert (in photo above) was reported missing.

The girl was last seen in the area of Townline and Marshall roads on Sept. 24, 1975 – one day before her mother’s birthday – after a friend, whom she ran into while walking home from another friend’s, doubled her part-way home on his bicycle and dropped her off on her way to her King Road home.

She never returned home, and her partially decomposed body was found on Nov. 17 of that year near Harris Road in an undeveloped area of the Matsqui First Nations.

Her body was hidden under a sheet of plywood taken from the wall of an old outhouse. Her skull was fractured and her jaw was broken.

The autopsy was not able to confirm whether Kathryn-Mary had been sexually assaulted, although her underwear, shoes and socks were missing.

Monica Jack (in photo at left) vanished on May 6, 1978 – 13 days before her 13th birthday – while riding her bike along Highway 5A just south of Quilchena near the Nicola Ranch in Merritt, B.C.

Her remains were found on nearby Swakum Mountain in June 1995.

Police said they have not found evidence to link Handlen to the similar murder of another Abbotsford girl – Theresa Hildebrant, 15, who went missing on May 24, 1976 and whose remains were found four years later in a shallow grave near Downes and Mt. Lehman roads, not far from her Sun Vally Crescent home.

She had been beaten to death.

Kathryn-Mary’s mother, Shari Greer, in 2012 offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to a suspect in her daughter’s murder. Later that year, she was presented with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her work in offering support to those bereaved by the loss of a loved one.

At the time, Greer said she was frustrated with investigators. A person of interest in the case was never named publicly but was stated to be a convicted sex offender who had dated a girl living with the Herberts. Police at the press conference this week would not confirm whether this person was Handlen.

Both moms spoke at the press conference, fondly remembering their daughters and thanking investigators for their perseverance in arresting and charging a suspect.

Monica’s mom, Madeline Lanaro, said her daughter was a beautiful little girl who was always happy and had a “tingly laugh.” She said she was happy and relieved that someone had been charged with Monica’s murder.

Greer said her daughter was “loving, kind and compassionate,” and had been deprived of the many dreams she had wanted to achieve.

“These two little girls – Monica and Kathryn-Mary – made a difference in this world while they were here. Garry Handlen couldn’t take that away,” she said.

Handlen, who remains in custody, is next scheduled to appear Dec. 8 in Abbotsford provincial court.

Police released a photo of Handlen as he would have appeared at the time of the murders, and they have asked for the public’s help with any additional information about him or the disappearance of Kathryn-Mary and Monica.

Those with information are asked to contact the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team tip line at 1-877-543-4822.