Dateline   |  June 14, 2013

Deception, Part 2

By the time Wendy Ratte vanishes, at least fifteen women had either gone missing or been found dead.  Was a serial killer on the loose?

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a terrifying specter haunted the lonely highway that passed through prince george on its way into the wilderness. the highway of tears . 837 miles of exquisite natural beauty winding its way past dramatic snow-capped mountains and breathtaking vistas of lush forests. clear lakes reflecting the blue skies above. and also past the sights of unsolved mysteries --

>> you say there are six active investigations --

>> abc news --

>> tonight, more missing women on the highway of tears --

>> discovery of a body --

>> by the time wendy ratte vanished, at least 15 women had either gone missing or been found dead. somewhere along this highway. word was a serial killer was on the loose.

>> for me as a reporter, it became sickening after a while to hear the police issue another release that another girl had gone missing.

>> had wendy become highway victim number 16? her abandoned van wasn't far from the highway.

>> you couldn't not look at it as a possibility. it's another woman gone missing in unsubstantiated ways. for some, that's all that's needed. in many ways it's perfectly valid.

>> as reporter frank peebles dug into the story, he found another so far unsubstantiated theory making the rounds around town.

>> i know that the police spend a lot of time thinking about and investigating the jones theory.

>> the jones family . once neighbors of the rattes, not exactly friends. in fact, just four months before she disappeared, wendy complained very publicly about the joneses, appearing in the newspaper accusing the family of mistreating their animals and using their land as a garbage dump.

>> she was able to get a fairly big news story happening which made the city react and get them kicked off the property. and the animals taken away.

>> it was not only damaging for the joneses, it was humiliating. not the sort of thing they were inclined to take lying down.

>> allegedly there were threats from the joneses to the rattes.

>> the family matriarch sent a scathing letter to the " prince george citizen " bad-mouthing wendy and her family. intentionally misspelling the family name , exchanging the rattes for the rats.

>> i never met the joneses, but thstors i heard were tha indeed people would not have been surprised if they had acted out some of the threats that they were alleged to have made.

>> oh, and there was no question, said gabriel, his mom did feel threatened by the joneses. they did not make their anger secret.

>> they would hoot and holler as she was passing. that was one of the examples of her community activism. having a bad neighbor and --

>> doing some being it. fearlessly it appeared because she must have known they would not like this, obviously.

>> yeah. and they might have -- she made an enemy for she.

>> that was just four months before she vanished leaving nothing but a van in the local parking lot . a van with a dent in the door that nobody could remember seeing before.

>> it was a pretty sizable dent. so what was it? could it have maybe been some kind of a sign of a struggle? if my mom was accosted, she was thrown into the van, something forceful must have caused this dent.

>> and you know how people are -- they talk. and the longer wendy stayed missing, the more they talked about the joneses.

>> so even in the newsroom that was a leading theory. that's one of your clear first steps in any disappearance or murder case is what's the motive. and the joneses could have a motive.

>> there was a grudge. certainly there was some differences. and it certainly was in the media. we looked at that angle.

>> prince george detective judy thomas was leading the police inquiry into wendy 's disappearance. this early in the investigation, any lead was welcome. what became your focus?

>> this is the difficulty with missing person files. you don't -- there's no real starting point. you don't have a scene. you don't have remains. and it makes it difficult.

>> thomas decided to focus her investigation closer to home. she discovered that none of wendy 's clothes or personal things were missing from the house except for her passport. so the obvious question -- did you have the feeling that this is a woman who might have just up and left?

>> we had to look at all possibilities. you have to keep an open mind when you start on these investigations because we had at that point very limited information on who wendy was.

>> where do you start? maybe a phone call to wendy 's family back in the states.

>> and i hear thisoratory a story and think for crying out loud, she's done it again.