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DNA match leads to arrest nearly 17 years after killing of young Manitoba woman

Crystal Saunders's body was found in a ditch near St. Ambroise, Man., in April 2007. RCMP announced Monday that a man has been charged in her death. (Submitted by Winnipeg Police Service - image credit)
Crystal Saunders's body was found in a ditch near St. Ambroise, Man., in April 2007. RCMP announced Monday that a man has been charged in her death. (Submitted by Winnipeg Police Service - image credit)

Almost 17 years after Crystal Saunders was found dead near a rural Manitoba community, RCMP now believe they know who is responsible for her killing — and they have advancements in DNA technology to thank.

Mounties charged 42-year-old Kevin Charles Queau of Vancouver with second-degree murder in Saunders's death on Saturday, Supt. Rob Lasson said at a news conference Monday afternoon.

Queau, who is originally from Winnipeg, is in custody at an RCMP detachment in Surrey, B.C., Lasson said. He will be transported to Winnipeg in the coming days.

"At the end of the day, this does not bring back Crystal. Crystal was a mother, she was a daughter and a friend to many that needlessly lost her life to violent crime," said Lasson.

Saunders, who RCMP say identified as Métis, was last seen by a Winnipeg police officer on April 18, 2007. She had been getting into a vehicle at the corner of Sargent Avenue and Sherbrook Street in Winnipeg.

The next morning, at about 9 a.m., an off-duty RCMP officer found her remains in a ditch near St. Ambroise, a community south of Lake Manitoba. She was 24 years old.

RCMP charged Kevin Charles Queau with second-degree murder in the death of Crystal Saunders on Jan. 27.
RCMP charged Kevin Charles Queau with second-degree murder in the death of Crystal Saunders on Jan. 27.

RCMP charged Kevin Charles Queau with second-degree murder in the death of Crystal Saunders on Saturday. (Submitted by RCMP)

For years, her case remained unsolved, until a DNA match linked Queau to Saunders's killing, Lasson said.

"It has been a very long time for Crystal's loved ones and her community to go without answers. Even though significant time has passed, I am pleased that we can now provide you some answers," he said at the news conference.

"She is not being forgotten, nor will she ever be."

Saunders was last seen on April 18, 2007, getting into a vehicle at the corner of Sargent Avenue and Sherbrook Street in Winnipeg, RCMP say.
Saunders was last seen on April 18, 2007, getting into a vehicle at the corner of Sargent Avenue and Sherbrook Street in Winnipeg, RCMP say.

Saunders was last seen on April 18, 2007, getting into a vehicle at the corner of Sargent Avenue and Sherbrook Street in Winnipeg, RCMP say. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

While an unknown man's DNA was found on Saunders's remains in 2007, Lasson said it was "insufficient at the time" to be entered into a national DNA databank.

But in 2014, because of technological advancements, Lasson said the man's DNA profile was uploaded to that databank.

That December, the databank contacted investigators with a "DNA hit" that linked Queau's DNA from other convictions for offences outside of Manitoba to Saunders's case, Lasson said.

"With any case, we have to continually reassess and resubmit sometimes our DNA profiles until it meets the threshold that's substantive enough for the lab to confirm to say it's a match," said Lasson.

"Sometimes, that can take years."

'We didn't give up'

Queau attended high school and post-secondary school in Winnipeg, but he has also lived or worked elsewhere in Canada, including areas in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C., Lasson said.

He had been working in Surrey for a number of years when he was arrested, Lasson added.

Supt. Rob Lasson spoke at the news conference Monday at Manitoba RCMP headquarters.
Supt. Rob Lasson spoke at the news conference Monday at Manitoba RCMP headquarters.

Supt. Rob Lasson spoke at the news conference Monday at Manitoba RCMP headquarters. (Gilbert Rowan/CBC)

After the DNA match, police across Western Canada investigated, particularly in the last 14 months, and were able to get the evidence needed to charge Queau.

"Seventeen years later, we didn't give up," said Lasson, who added Queau and Saunders were in contact with each other the evening before her body was found.

Families Minister Nahanni Fontaine offered her strength to the Saunders family, who did not attend the RCMP news conference announcing the arrest.

"It will have a ripple effect in the community as well, in that this retraumatizes and retriggers missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit families, not only here in Manitoba, but certainly across the country," Fontaine said.

Anita Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Manitoba Métis Federation affiliate group Infinity Women Secretariat, said the organization is preparing to offer support to the woman's family.

"What we're trying to do is make sure that there are ongoing supports after, because it doesn't stop right now."

While there is no evidence Queau is a suspect in any other homicides, Lasson said Manitoba RCMP will be working with detachments across Canada to look for any additional connections between Queau and other unsolved crimes.

Lasson asked anyone with information on this investigation or information related to Queau to call the RCMP's tip line at 1-888-673-3316.

Southern Chiefs' Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels offered condolences to Saunders's family in a statement Monday.

He said he continues to call for the implementation of the 231 calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.