Forty-seven years ago, 17-year-old Carmen Robinson was seen in public for the last time.
Around 10 p.m. on Dec. 8, 1973, the View Royal teenager had finished a dish-washing shift at the Ingraham Hotel and was stepping off a bus at West Burnside and Holland Avenue. The bus stop was just two blocks from her home, but she never walked through the door.
In the years of investigation that followed, police had only a handful of leads, including a bumper sticker on a car, and claims from serial killer Clifford Olsen. But nearly five decades later, Robinson’s disappearance is – at least publicly – just as much a mystery as it was that winter night.
If she is alive today, Carmen is 64.
In 2019, Black Press Media spoke to retired RCMP investigator Wendel Milne, one of the first officers assigned to the case. He remembered police getting the call early Dec. 9 that the teenager hadn’t come home the night before.
Milne confirmed the bus driver was the last person confirmed to have seen the teenager alive. At that time, the area around the bus stop would have been fairly rural.
“It was kind of a remote area, in my recollection, and there wasn’t really any house who would have had an eye on it,” Milne said. “And if there was somebody driving by at the time … nobody came forward publicly. So you really had nobody to give you that first clue.”
Police spoke to Carmen’s family and friends and searched local databases for sexual assaults and sex offenders in the area. They did surveillance where she went missing and thoroughly searched the region, looking in ditches and fields.
“Out of all that, there was nothing that surfaced,” Milne said. “It was just like she stepped off the bus into the abyss.”
People who knew Carmen told police she was hard-working and didn’t party.
“It was completely out of character for her to have gone off somewhere on her own,” Milne said.
In 2019, retired RCMP officer Bruce Brown also spoke to Black Press Media. Brown was transferred to what was then the Colwood RCMP detachment in 1977 and was assigned Carmen’s file a few years later.
“[View Royal] was a relatively small town back in those days in the early ’70s. So there, there were a lot of people who knew Carmen because she was kind of a regular person in the community,” he said.
“There was no physical evidence, no one witnessed anything. So it was classified at the time as a missing person. But as time went on, I think everyone involved in the case realized that it was likely a murder case.”
The only real lead came from a friend who had seen Carmen arguing with a man a few days before she went missing. That friend was put under hypnosis to help police create a composite sketch. She recalled the person’s face and an associated vehicle – a 1973 Dodge or Plymouth Duster.
After she was hypnotized, Carmen’s friend recalled another detail: a bumper sticker on the car. The sticker had the name ‘Ferguson’ on it and was traced to a person who ran for school trustee in Kamloops and had bumper stickers made for the campaign.
“So that, combined with a number of other missing and murdered young women from the Kamloops area, gave us some hope that perhaps this vehicle may somehow be linked to to Carmen’s disappearance,” Brown said.
Police took the description of the car and the man to an unsolved homicide conference in Kamloops in 1981, and the composite sketch was published in the local newspaper.
“It’s a general description of … a man with dark hair and a big, big bushy beard. So, not that unusual,” Brown said. “We were never able to find that person.
“No one we interviewed we could link to even being in this area at the time,” Brown said. “You basically had to rely on trying to pin people down as to where they may have been through employment records … there were no cell phone records in those days.”
Brown said some of the investigators’ wives would ride the bus route – with police following – to see if they could identify anyone of interest.
No closure for Carmen
Clifford Olson, who was in Victoria in the early to mid-’70s, was arrested in James Bay for some break-ins, and would later claim to know where Carmen’s body was buried.
Olson was flown to Victoria and took police to the Fort Rod Hill area. But Brown said he only pointed out areas where it would have been impossible to bury a body because of the hard and rocky terrain. Police even used subsurface sonar equipment to search the area.
Brown speculated that Olson, who was serving a life sentence for abducting, raping and murdering eight girls and three boys in B.C. from 1980 to 1981, may have fabricated his involvement in order to get a trip out of prison. Olson died in 2011.
For Milne, the weight of Robinson’s case hasn’t lifted with time.
“It’s about 35 year years ago,” he said. “I can still see her face as clear as a picture. It’s something that will always bother me because there’s got to be an answer, but I’m not sure it will ever be solved unless somebody on their deathbed decides … to get it off their conscience.”
For Brown, it’s important to keep the memory of Carmen alive in hopes that one day, there will be answers.
Anyone with information can call the West Shore RCMP at 250-474-2264. Callers who would like to remain anonymous can call Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
-With files from Nicole Crescenzi.