On June 8, 1989, a 44-year old Canadian nurse named Cindy James was found dead in Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver. She had been drugged and strangled, with her hands and feet tied behind her back.
She was found in the yard of an abandoned home a mile and a half from a small shopping mall where her car was parked. She had been missing since May 25th, when her car was discovered in the parking lot. There was blood on the driver’s side door and items from her wallet were found under the car.
When her body was discovered at the abandoned house, it looked like Cindy James had been brutally murdered. A black nylon stocking was tied tightly around her neck and the autopsy revealed that Cindy died from an overdose of morphine and other drugs.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, however, believed her death to be an accident or a suicide. The Vancouver coroner ruled that Cindy’s death was not suicide, an accident, or a murder, claiming that she died of an ‘’unknown event.’’ This was despite the fact that in the seven years preceding her death, Cindy had reported nearly a hundred incidents of harassment beginning four months after she divorced her husband.
To this day, her death remains a mystery even after a public inquest at which 84 witnesses were called to testify. Her father Otto Hack and his wife Matilda never believed that Cindy killed herself or that she would have been able to stage the death scene.
Her sister Melanie Hack, who was 27 when Cindy died and who is now married with two children and lives in British Columbia, ended up writing a book titled Who Killed My Sister, My Friend.
It took her 14 years to conduct research into the toxicology, the autopsy, and the medical and police reports to obtain enough information into her sister’s unsolved death.
This case, which became the subject of the show Unsolved Mysteries and was discussed on some American TV talk shows including A Current Affair and Maury Povich, was not really sensationalized or kept alive to fuel anger towards a specific perpetrator. There was no villain or hero in this story; rather, it was the puzzling case of an upstanding nurse who struggled for seven years with an imagined or real threat and ended up losing her life in the most mysterious and baffling way. This story had legs and created endless speculation.
In 1989, forensics investigation was in its infancy and the technology did not exist to solve a case the CSI way, or to determine if James was creating her own drama. Instead, the investigators had to rely on basic traditional techniques to determine if her stories of attacks, kidnapping and harassment were true.
Cindy was the eldest of six children. At age 19, she had married Dr. Roy Makepeace who was 18-years her senior. She worked as a nurse but also loved to counsel children with emotional problems. She seemed happy but when she decided to end her marriage in 1982 and move on with her life, all hell broke loose.
She had a fairly good relationship with her parents and she approached them first with stories of harassment. She ended up going to the police because she was getting death threats by phone and by mail. With each incident, this beautiful, vibrant woman took one step down physically and mentally.
Three dead cats were found hanging in her garden, her porch lights were smashed and her phone lines cut. Bizarre notes began to appear on her doorstep and five violent physical attacks were reported.
One night, Cindy’s good friend, Agnes Woodcock, dropped by and when there was no answer when she knocked on the door, she went around the back of the house and found Cindy crouched down with a nylon stocking tied around her neck. She had gone to the garage to get something and was allegedly grabbed from behind by an unidentified intruder.
Messages were left on the windshield of her car along with a picture of a covered corpse being wheeled into a morgue. Raw meat was delivered to her house and even her dog, Heidi, was found shaking with fright sitting in her own feces with a cord tied tightly around her neck.
The harassment would stop and start again, leaving Cindy feeling more and more destabilized. She expressed her despair in her private journals.
Cindy moved to a new house, painted her car and changed her last name. She finally hired Ozzie Kaban, a local private investigator. The police were investigating but as time passed, they were starting to doubt her stories. Ozzie reported later that Cindy would be evasive at times and withhold information. Her mother thought that her daughter was reluctant to tell the truth because she was threatened and feared for her sister and family.
Her private investigator installed lights at her residence and gave her a two-way radio and a panic button. The police would do surveillance on a regular basis.
One night, Kaban heard strange sounds coming from the radio and rushed to the house. He found Cindy on the hallway floor with a paring knife through her hand with a note on it saying ‘you are dead bitch’. He checked her pulse and thought she was dead.
She was hospitalized and only recalled that a needle was put into her arm. The police did not take fingerprints and were growing tired of the whole saga. But Kaban was adamant that nobody could have done that to themselves. Cindy subjected herself to several hypnosis sessions and polygraph tests to try to get to the bottom of this but was considered too ‘traumatized’ to be a good candidate.
The threatening phone calls continued but could never be traced because they were too short. Mind you, there were never any calls when the police was doing 24-hour surveillance so you cannot blame them for growing suspicious. The incidents always happened when they were not around.
Her parents thought her attacker was smart enough to stay away at the proper times in order to make Cindy look more and more suspicious. Nowadays, we could trace the calls and know exactly who is zooming who.
After an “attack’’, Cindy was found lying in a ditch six miles from her home, wearing a man’s work boot and glove. She was suffering from hypothermia and had cuts and bruises all over her body. She also had a black nylon stocking around her neck, a trademark of her alleged attacks.
She did not remember the event and asked her parents to stay with her. One evening, they were awakened by noises in the basement and saw flames. After realizing the phone was dead, they went outside to alert the neighbors. They saw a man at the curb and asked him to call the fire department but instead, he ran off. It was the second ‘arson.’
The police determined that the fire was started from inside the house because they saw no fingerprints on the window they think the perpetrator would have used to gain entry into the house. Therefore, they determined that Cindy had staged the incident. They also found it quite odd that Cindy would walk her little dog alone late at night when she feared being attacked. I must admit that they had a point there.
Her parents saw her condition deteriorating further and feared for her mental state. She was terrified and going downhill steadily. Believing she was suicidal, her doctor committed her to a local psychiatric ward. Ten weeks later, she was released. That’s when she admitted to friends and family that she knew more than she was saying about the perpetrator and would go after him/them herself. Was she falling deeper into delusion or was there a real person behind all this?
Cindy became very depressed because she felt that her credibility was destroyed and that no one believed that someone wanted her dead or was pushing her towards insanity. Her life was a living hell and while hospitalized, she wrote about committing suicide.
She finally told police that she believed her tormentor was her ex-husband Roy Makepeace. They encouraged her to phone him to confront him and they taped the conversation.
As a psychiatrist, Roy would have been familiar with the fine art of playing with her mind, but he totally denied any involvement during the conversation. This phone tape was played at the public inquest. In fact, Makepeace gave the police a recording from his own answering machine that contained a death threat. If the poor man had nothing to do with his former wife’s demise, imagine how awful it must have been for his reputation.
You can listen to the message received by Makepeace in this short video about the case.
Cindy James was either confused, psychotic or totally innocent, but she was sounding more and more out of it as her despair deepened. And it all ended when they found her body two weeks after she was reported missing.
She had gone to the shopping mall to deposit her hospital paycheck and do some grocery shopping. We have to wonder why she would bother doing all this if she intended to kill herself. Plus, why not end it quietly in her bed to avoid causing her family so much pain and sorrow? After all, she loved them dearly.
Neal Hall, a Canadian journalist who wrote a book about the case now thinks she killed herself but her investigator Ozzie Kaban disagrees. He does not buy that her body took two weeks to be found when it was so close to traffic and pedestrian walks. He believes her body might have been dumped.
The fact that she had an injection mark on her arm makes it hard to believe that she could have walked a mile and a half to the spot where they found her and then tie herself up after injecting herself. They found no needle close to her car or around the crime scene. The police think she ingested the morphine and had plenty of time to do the rest. But they found no evidence to that effect and no proof of purchase of black nylons.
Cindy also had a lover named Pat McBride who happened to be a cop. The police suspected him and Makepeace but had no concrete evidence against either one of them.
The evidence in this case was quite contradictory, incomplete and very baffling, so the police opted to blame Cindy.
Her ex-husband came to believe that Cindy had multiple personalities and was unaware that she was tormenting herself. She adored her dog and her parents and would have never tortured them willingly. Her father was convinced that the investigation was never aimed at finding a perpetrator but at pinning the responsibility on his daughter.
The only undeniable truth in this story is that Cindy James suffered immensely in this saga and she paid with her life. Her journals tell the heart-wrenching story of a woman tortured mentally and physically — either by her own hand and mental illness or because of an unscrupulous and sadistic perpetrator who wanted to drive her crazy and eventually killed her. If she was an innocent victim, the lack of support from the police must have caused her excruciating pain. In my opinion nurse Cindy James was a victim either way.
Otto Hack died in 2010 after a distinguished career in the military. His wife Tillie passed away in 2012. They believed till the end that their daughter did not commit suicide. Their daughter Melanie continues their search for the truth.