The Trail Went Cold – Episode 18 – Cindy James

June 8, 1989. Richmond, British Columbia. Two weeks after she disappeared, the body of 44-year old Cindy James is found in the yard of an abandoned house. Her hands and feet have been tied behind her back and her cause of death is determined to be an overdose. Cindy’s death brings an end to six-and-a-half-years of terror, where she reported nearly one hundred incidents of being stalked, tormented and attacked by an unknown assailant. However, police believe that Cindy was a mentally ill woman who staged all the attacks against herself before committing suicide. Did Cindy concoct an elaborate hoax before taking her own life or was she murdered by her mysterious tormentor? In this week’s episode of “The Trail Went Cold”, I analyze one of Canada’s most baffling and hotly debated unsolved mysteries.

Additional Reading:

“The Deaths of Cindy James” by Neal Hall

“Who Killed Cindy James?” by Ian Mulgrew

Click here to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Click here to listen to the podcast on Stitcher.

Click here to subscribe to the podcast on Google Play Music.

The Trail Went Cold is produced and edited by Magill Foote.

All music is composed by Vince Nitro.

22 thoughts on “The Trail Went Cold – Episode 18 – Cindy James

  • This must be one of the most interesting cases you’ve ever done. I have to say, though, that I think she was suffering from mental illness and that the police were right. They had a better vantage point to all these events than we do, and if that’s the conclusion they came to then that is probably the most likely.

    Thinking Sideways did a very similar story recently about a young girl in Colorado who thought she was being stalked, who turned out to be suffering from delusions. This story reminded me a lot of that.

    Just to hit a few points… The fact that she got silent phone calls when other people saw them doesn’t prove anything. I remember I was a kid back in the 90’s and we used to get silent phone calls all the time. We never could figure out what it was, but some people told us it was probably a computer modem attempting to dial up to the internet. Maybe someone put the wrong phone number in their AOL connection settings. (Wow I feel old …) Other theories were that it was a robo-caller telemarketer that wasn’t configured properly, or some other technological glitch.

    The guy who was outside the house when the basement was lit on fire… He could have been waiting to make a drug deal or something and that was why he was standing there and then left. I don’t know what kind of neighborhood this was. The same goes for the person apparently casing her house. She might have lived in a high crime area.

    One of the strangest things about this story is her explanation for why she didn’t tell the police or her family who she thought her attacker was, because the person had threatened to kill her family if she said anything. If this person were threatening me, you better believe the first thing I would do would be to tell the police who I suspected. In any case, she couldn’t have been all that worried about the supposed attacker killing her family if she talked, since she went to the police every time she was attacked anyway, and didn’t seem too concerned about that. Secondly — and I think this has even greater weight — if someone were attacking me and threatened to kill my family if I said anything, the very first thing I would do would be to tell my family that someone was threatening to kill them, and who it was if I had suspicions. I would tell them who I suspected, so they would know who to be on guard against. So for her to say she couldn’t reveal this person’s identity because he would kill her family makes no sense to me at all. But it makes perfect sense if she were hoaxing the whole thing either deliberately or as a result of mental illness, because she wouldn’t have any real names to give anyway.

    The incident with the window pane being removed is strange. Maybe it was removed by someone else for some other reason earlier in the day, and the alarm got triggered when a bug or small bird flew through the opening. But then why wouldn’t the homeowners know who had removed the pane? I bet there’s a simple and benign explanation here somewhere.

    I did consider the thought that maybe there were no signs of forced entry because her attacker either had a key to her house or knew how to pick a lock, which I think is possible, but in the context of everything else I think the real explanation is that there wasn’t anyone.

    It doesn’t seem there are any reasonable candidates as suspects in her person life, either. Her husband seems to have no criminal record, and a strong alibi. You mentioned this other shrink they knew who was accused of misconduct, but he was acquitted later on, so presumably he doesn’t have a criminal record either.

    The scene of her death seems to be the most problematic part of the story, but I wouldn’t say it’s open and shut. You didn’t say how close the yard was to the road where she would have been visible, but unless it was right on the road I don’t think it’s that weird that no one noticed her there. People driving down the road are looking where they’re going. The fact that the neighbor didn’t notice her body there until the police arrived sounds more to me like he just didn’t look in that direction very often. I mean, the fact that he never noticed her there at all sounds more like he just didn’t notice anything in the yard in general, than that she had been put there recently. And the fact that he never smelled a decomposing body could easily be explained by the direction of the prevailing winds. Or maybe he smelled something and assumed it was a raccoon or a dog.

    It seems strange to hog-tie oneself before committing suicide, but all of this woman’s behavior was strange to begin with. And since it was demonstrated that she could have tied herself up and done everything else to herself, I think the argument that it would be difficult or unlikely doesn’t hold a lot of weight.

    I agree with you that this is a tragic story, and this poor woman led a tortured life, but I have to agree with the police here, that the overwhelming weight of evidence is towards her being tormented by her innner demons and apparently not by any real world human being.

    • Hey there, thanks for listening. That’s a pretty excellent analysis. What’s so fascinating about this case is that you can provide explanations to support suicide and murder and it’s hard to completely debunk them. Like you outlined, there are rational explanations for most of the suspicious things to happen to Cindy, though I still find it incredible that she could stage nearly 100 incidents over the course of 6.5 years and not leave behind any incriminating evidence.

      FYI, if you’re wondering how close the yard was to the road, Ozzie Kaban takes the camera crew to the exact spot Cindy’s body was found at the 6:30 mark of this segment from “W5”. When you see the amount of traffic passing by, it’s hard to imagine that her body could have been there the full two weeks without at least one motorist noticing her:

      • Yes, I did look at that later on when I did some research on YouTube. From the photograph, it appears that her body was lying on the ground, and was near some shrubbery. There was grass and weeds in the area, and she wasn’t all that visible to begin with. From a distance her body looks like it would have been partially hidden by weeds and tall grass, and if anyone had noticed it at all, I think it would have looked like a pile of old clothes. In fact, when I first saw the picture, that’s what it looked like to me, and I couldn’t see her body at all. (I don’t mean at all to be disrespectful to the memory of this poor woman. I’m just saying people probably didn’t notice her or thought she was a pile of old clothes.)

        I just can’t get past the idea that she said someone had threatened to kill her family, and yet wouldn’t warn her family about it. Or that this person supposedly threatened to kill her family if she talked about these things, and yet she talked about them to everyone and no one did anything to her family. I don’t see any rational explanation for those things.

        I listened closely to the voice on the answering machine, and it’s unmistakably a woman’s voice, I would even say a woman in her 40’s. Sure, it’s somewhat disguised, but not all that much.

        When you say she didn’t leave behind any incriminating evidence, I’m not quite sure what you have in mind. How hard would it be to cut some pictures of dead people out of a newspaper, leave them on her porch, and throw the clipped-up paper in a public trash can? Or she probably wouldn’t even need to do that, since we don’t know the police even searched her house for something like that. If they had, maybe they would have. But I think they put her on the “crank list” after they watched her house several times and nothing came of it.

        I did read one theory on the internet that she may not have killed herself intentionally, and I think this is possible. She may have wanted to stage another incident, and expected herself to be found in time, but accidentally took more drugs than she should have.

        Oh well. It was a sad story, whatever the explanation. But I gotta say this again — this story is the best case you have covered to date! In fact, it’s probably one of the most fascinating true crime stories I have ever heard in my life. Thank you!

        • Just as an example of Cindy not leaving behind any evidence, there’s the paring knife which was stabbed through her hand. I’d like to think the police weren’t completely incompetent and checked the knife for fingerprints, but if they did, I’m sure they didn’t find Cindy’s prints. So if Cindy stabbed herself through the hand, was she able to wipe the prints off afterward? If she wore gloves or used a cloth to wipe the prints, how did she get rid of them with her hand pinned to the floor? Stuff like that gives me pause about her bring able to stage everything even though there were a lot of suspicious elements to her story.

          But anyway, I’m glad you liked the episode. It sounds like quite a few listeners hadn’t heard of this case before today and were fascinated by it.

          • Interesting point about the knife. I wonder if you can get prints off a wooden knife handle like they mostly were back then. But even if her prints had been on the handle, I’m not sure what that would prove. If someone stabbed my hand to the floor, I would probably grab the handle in an attempt to pull it out.

            I did wonder, though, if they examined her head when she claimed to have been hit on the back of the head in her garden, to see if she had a lump there.

  • Great episode! Do you know at what point during the police investigation that they became suspicious of her? Her family seemed unimpressed with the work police did. It’s hard to tell if the family had unrealistic expectations or if the police just wrote Cindy off rather quickly and weren’t devoting much time to it. Also, didn’t Cindy and Officer MacBride’s relationship not raise some eyebrows? The small amount of information I’ve read about it just mentions it in passing, as though it wasn’t odd.

    • Thanks. I think the police first became suspicious of Cindy when she appeared to be withholding information after the first time she was assaulted, but really started doubting her after the long periods of time when they put surveillance on her and nothing happened. It sounds like McBride’s career was negatively hampered by his relationship with Cindy, but the police never really considered him a serious suspect. I wish they would have looked at McBride again after he was charged with sexually assaulting those two women, but since this occurred years after Cindy’s death and they considered the case closed, they probably didn’t care by that point.

      • Thanks for the info! It is interesting that they didn’t even look at case again after his trial. Even without taking into account what happened to both Pat and Cindy after the relationship, it just strikes me as a really bad idea for either of them to begin dating and moving in together during the investigation. Then again, maybe it made her feel safer and made him feel like he was better able to protect her.

      • How could McBride be a suspect? Wasn’t all this stuff going on before Cindy went to the police? Presumably these stalking events were happening before Cindy and McBride even met, right? That’s what I thought I understood.

        • McBride was actually the very first police officer to respond to Cindy’s complaints. I believe the only events that would have occurred beforehand were the phone calls. The majority of the physical attacks would have taken place after the two of them broke up.

  • The Cindy James case has always fascinated/intrigued me. I’m still torn on what to believe, I think the police bungled this case from start and I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure what happened to her. Though I do wonder if the police ever looked into any former disgruntled patients of her ex.

  • What an interesting case indeed! Ok, now its my turn I guess so here I go throwing in my own monkey wrench analysis of what I think happened. This poor mentally ill women in fact had some mental issues and enough of them to drive her to write a note describing her intentions to commit suicide. Taking everything in totality I think first, when she got divorced from her doctor husband, she may have received a cold reception from friends & family. She was expecting pity from them so she lashed out in a way that hopefully they would coddle her in to their arms where she could then start to tell them what happened in the marriage and what led to the divorce once she got that far. Sad for her, the stories of threats were not taken seriously by anyone because she wasn’t able to get anyone to buy the stories because of the ” I can’t say because they’ll kill you too Mom&Dad&friends” the fact she wouldn’t cooperate with police in providing any help in catching the person because there wasn’t anyone. So the police monitor her closely as described in the story here. Fast forward a little. An officer ( McBride) assigned to her situation whom she has NO romantic feelings for , divises a plan in exchange for sex. The plan is for McBride to assist her in a series of “physical threats” aimed at her parents/friends for the pity thing going on in her head and for revenge if they don’t pity her, the terror threats to make all of them equally uncomfortable! But before they got started he had to leave and the impression that they had broken up and him moving out had to happen. So the show begins and the attempt to embezzle pity out of them is tried. They go without a hitch but you think “they” would want the (other) police to find her bound up and an investigation started, especially after they determined her Nuts before ??? NOPE! Welcome everyone to the “Private Investigator” on the scene to report to who.?? Yes, her family, not the police, oh nay nay.!! After all these events are rendering fruitless, these demons ( which I believe to be true btw) have driven her to a point in which thoughts of …. “police officer assisted suicide” may be an option she is considering. But she cannot let him ( McBride ) know that she is about to truly take her life but only “once again ” tie her up and take to that ?barn? and in the shrubs where she can crawl to the road where people can see her and her need for help and once again have someone save her. ….OR….. McBride does know he is assisting in the suicide for $$$$ , That’s right, Life Insurance money $$$ and ?? whatever else….As the story goes she dies and we’ll never know because it would take the bought off Police to launch an investigation into that which they’ll never ever do and what her Father said they should and must do. The police don’t care because it was a suicide and they made money off of it all. Sad to say but they will never admit that they were participants in it and she did not want anybody going to jail for murder either. However , if the FBI would get involved ( which I think the state has to make that request) this could have a different ending🙂

    • That’s an interesting theory I’d never heard before. I’ve always been perturbed by the timing of McBride committing one of his sexual assaults only months after Cindy’s death and allegedly telling one of Cindy’s victims that she looked like her. I know he tried to excuse his actions by saying that Cindy’s death took an enormous toll on him, but that might make sense if Cindy had used him as a pawn in an elaborate scheme like this.

      • That’s interesting also your point about him being used as a pawn. One of the first things it seems he did after her death was to immediately go out and meet women whom he shortly after sexually assaulted and got caught. That’s weird. Was he “venting ” out some sort of emotional stresses that he felt he had to release and that was the way he did it. I know, I had a Long term relationship years ago that lasted about seven years. After we broke up I met this woman who I kind of fell for and I know I was acting really weird myself like as if I was a kid in a candy shop . I’m scratching my head over this one for sure.

  • I grew up in Richmond, BC and never heard of this case until a few months ago while reading up on strange unsolved crimes. I do think that she had mental health issues, most likely ,my original theory: split personalities…. the other personality was trying to kill the Cindy personality . This can explain the cut phone lines, the voicemail’s with the female voice, the knife through her hand, the notes (all easily self inflicted) and why nothing happened during police surveillance. This also explains why she contacted the police a lot (cause she had no friggin idea what was going on, and how could she tell if she had another personality trying to kill herself??), but it doesn’t explain why she didn’t cooperate, could it be due to the metal illness as well? I feel like there isn’t much solid evidence that she didn’t cooperate, so not sure if I even 100% believe that part(maybe I missed something).

    Since reading David’s theory I am leaning more towards his ideas on McBride, coupled with her illness. His actions and arrests after Cindy’s death are very suspect to say the least. So thank you David for a very probable theory. And of course, thank you Robin for doing this podcast on such a fascinating, yet tragic story, I stumbled upon this podcast after reading your cracked article, and am happy to have found another true crime podcast to get addicted to.

    Ozzy (the PI) is still up and running, he has 2 offices in East Vancouver that I drive by everyday on my way to and from work and reminds me of this case daily. His window decals proudly displaying the phrase “never give up” .

    RIP Cindy.

    • Thank you for listening the podcast. Glad to hear from a resident of Richmond. Interesting that Ozzie Kaban is still going. I’ve heard good things about him, so I think it helps Cindy’s credibility a bit that he always lobbied for her. Hopefully, we’ll learn the truth someday.

  • I’ve never worked in a hospital, but I was under the impression that they keep pretty good records of how much they have of any particular drug on hand, particularly ones like morphine and flurazepam. If police thought Cindy stole the drugs that killed her from her work, did they ask the hospital if they were missing any of them? Unless she planned this as a finale a long time in advance and stole them in small amounts that could be chalked up to administrative error, I’d definitely expect the hospital to notice that 80 tablets of flurazepam went missing shortly before an employee turned up dead from an overdose of the same drug.

    • Yes, while I can’t be 100 % certain, from what I’ve heard, Cindy’s hospital did keep an inventory of their drugs and found no indication that a large quantity of morphine and flurazepam was missing. It just adds another layer of ambiguity to this case.

  • I have worked in hospitals and I believe it was close to the turn of this century before they truly made it nearly impossible to check out medicine without some sort of reference to who took out such and such medicine and who it was intended for. Up to that point it could be ordered much of the time, not used nor returned without drawing too much attention. Especially if she built them up over a period of time. Also, a lot of people would bring bottles of medicine in to their rooms with them and medicine would go missing that way. That’s part of the reason you aren’t allowed to keep medicine in your room if you do bring it. I had a hospital stay last year for a gallbladder removal and one visiting nurse asked if I could try taking half my morphine (one tab instead of two). Later when I told him I needed the second tablet he pulled it out of his pocket which is a big no-no. I’m convinced he would have left the hospital with that extra morphine and no one would have been the wiser had I not needed it. So there is still ways to get access to controlled substances if you try hard enough.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents of knowledge from working both ER and on the floor of a hospital.

    Im just starting your podcasts Robin, and am working my way from the first to the most recent. This is my first exposure to serial podcasts and im definitely hooked! Awesome job and I’m glad these are weekly now because, once I catch up, I won’t go through withdrawals waiting for the next one.

    • Thank you very much for your insight and for listening to the podcast, Tracie Ann. I’m glad you’re enjoying it and a lot of people tell me they get sad once they finish bingeing the show and have to wait a whole week for a new episode, which I take as a huge compliment.

  • Robin said that he believed that there was originally a stalker, who caused Cindy to become mentally unstable. Maybe this person decided to push her over the edge and convince her to commit suicide. She could possibly even have been in the same room/place with her stalker, with him encouraging her to take the flurazepam as to make sure to not let her back out. A possible motivation could have been him wanting to feel like he had power over her or some twisted form of getting closure with the victim that he had tormented for so long.

  • Just listened to this one. I think Robin is on the right track…I think she was legitimately harassed at first, and then something like Munchhausen’s could have taken over and her mind played out the rest of the harassment until eventual suicide. If you’ll notice, the physical harassment started only after she started interacting with McBride, before that point it was months of calls and notes. His abuse of women immediately after their relationship ending could be a sign of him being the perpetrator of her demise, but it’s a bit more plausible to think that he could be what triggered her mind to amp of the physical harassment. The fact that she was evasive with details, could never remember who attacked her each time, nothing ever being seen whenever there was surveillance (that she was aware of each time). Even things like there being no prints on the paring knife through her hand. What if there were — her own. That’s easily explained away, as it was HER knife so of course her prints will be on it. As for where could she have been hiding during the determined one week she wasn’t laying dead out on the lawn…how about IN the house. It was an abandoned house, and that’s where she was found. It was a known party house, but she could have easily hidden somewhere in the house when that party was going on and no one would have known she was in there.

    I’m not discounting that McBride could have been her eventual killer, or even just an unknown stalker (plenty of nurses have talked about being stalked by former patients that they did not remember at all, for example). But given all the details, I feel the most logical explanation is there was harassment to start…and then her mind took over.

Leave a Reply