Sometime in the late hours of Saturday, November 9, 2002, Dave MacDermott disappeared. No blood, no body, and no evidence of a struggle—but his family believe that MacDermott is dead, killed on that cold November night and most likely at the hands of someone he knew. Investigators have no evidence to support the theory of a murder, but they too think he is dead, and under suspicious circumstances.
This month marks the 15 year anniversary of MacDermott’s suspicious disappearance, a case—like four or five other long-term files stemming from the tri-cities area (Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge, Ontario)—that have been designated to a state of purgatory in the legal system. But his family is persistent and police hope advances in technology may result in new leads in his mysterious disappearance.
MacDermott was 30 years old when he went missing. His family describes him as an enigmatic charmer, fiercely loyal to his friends, whose world revolved around those closest to him. Handsome (he modeled on occasion), he made friends easily, and enjoyed a vibrant social life. A veritable chameleon of work experience, MacDermott did odd jobs, construction and hairdressing—often bouncing between all three at any one time.
On the night he went missing 15 years ago, MacDermott was out with friends on a Saturday in Kitchener’s downtown core to celebrate a birthday. The last time he was seen alive was at the now defunct Club Renaissance, dancing and partying. He was supposed to grab some hockey gear from an ex’s place at 3AM but he never showed up. The next morning, Sunday November 10, MacDermott’s cousin went to pick him up for a ball hockey game, and discovered that his car was missing from the driveway of his rental property and his beloved dog was running loose around the neighborhood. No one answered the front door. He then called Colleen Stevens, MacDermott’s younger sister, to say he couldn’t find her brother.
“The last time I saw Dave, was on the night he disappeared,” Stevens told VICE. “I went over to drop off a bottle of wine and to pre-pay him for the haircuts he was going to do on my son and husband.” That brief moment the night before he disappeared would be the last time that she would see her brother alive. After her phone call with her concerned cousin, Stevens began to call everyone in her brother’s life, hoping to find him crashing on a couch, the victim of a dead cellphone battery.
When Stevens phoned the property that her brother was renting at in Kitchener, she claims one of his roommates answered the phone and told her that “Dave no longer lived there,” and to “stop fucking calling the house”—then abruptly hung up. The roommate did not respond to requests for comment from VICE.
After an agonizing few days with no contact from her brother, Stevens and her sister Rhonda went to the Waterloo Regional Police to file a missing person’s report.
Unbeknownst to the women, several months before his disappearance the police had issued a warrant for MacDermott’s arrest in connection with an alleged assault charge, something the intake officers revealed to Stevens and her sister when they were separated and questioned. Their brother wasn’t on the police’s radar as a “Missing Person” but as a “Wanted Person.”(The warrant was eventually retracted due to time elapsed and the growing belief that MacDermott would not be found alive.)
Later, the live-in owner of the property MacDermott rented told police and the family his version of events from that night. The owner was a friend of the family, a person that Stevens had known since she was ten years old. Stevens says the homeowner told police and the family that MacDermott had come home from the bar that night, packed up his belongings, his dog and with a “big wad of cash” told him that he had “really done it this time” and left. (The landlord did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.)
Although the owner’s version of events were vehemently denied by the family, “at the beginning it seemed the police were really listening to his version of events rather than the family,” says Linda Shaw, MacDermott’s mother. While both Stevens and Shaw acknowledge that MacDermott often escaped up north to Algonquin to fish, both women repeatedly stressed to the authorities that he never would have left without telling the family or without checking in.
Between the warrant out for his arrest and the story the property owner was telling, no one was searching for MacDermott—at least not as a victim. According to a Kitchener Record article, the police at that time ruled out MacDermott owing anyone a substantial debt—although he was considered a bit of a “party boy,” they could not find any connections to the criminal “underworld.”And if he did owe money, there was the curious fact he never picked up his last paycheque from the construction company he worked at.
Weeks went by without any word or sight of him. Two months passed, and in January 2003, MacDermott’s car was located—snowed over at an apartment parking lot around the corner from his place.
“That was part of our frustration with the police,” said Stevens. “We felt the original officers didn’t do enough of an investigation, or they would have easily found the car so close to his place. Instead they listened to the [owner’s] theory.”
The initial investigation eventually petered out and the trail went cold for years with no evidence. It wasn’t until December of 2008 that the case was reopened—this time as a homicide.
Detective Constable Duane Gingerich was a recent addition to the homicide unit that year, and was assigned to the MacDermott investigation. “We had received some new information that had come forward suggesting that Dave may have been murdered and this was a homicide, and what we did was conduct an extensive investigation and worked with that information for several months,” he told VICE.
But the investigation came to a halt when the information was revealed to be “bogus.”
“The information that they shared led us to believe that they had direct knowledge that a homicide had occurred, but in sourcing that information and looking into it in much greater detail, the people we talked to—especially the people that this person was implicating—there was no indication that any of that had occurred,” said Gingerich. “We are confident that it did not occur that way. Nothing added up.”
For the family, it was a harrowing six years between the initial disappearance and the reopening of the case, plagued with more questions than answers. “We watch old home movies to hear his laughter,” said Stevens. “Dave was someone who would do anything for anyone, he loved his family and he took care of us and loved us fiercely.”
For Stef Shaw, MacDermott’s half-sister, the most prolific memory she has from that time was watching her mother suffer, looking for an explanation, searching for her son.
“I was in Grade 8 when Dave disappeared, and I can still remember the principal calling me out of my class and my mom being there to pick me up from school,” she told VICE. “What I remember most about that time is this memory of my mom sitting out in the garage, calling people.“
In the 15 years since his disappearance, Stevens, Shaw, and the rest of MacDermott’s family have spent hundreds of hours setting up information websites, handing out posters, offering rewards, knocking on doors, and chasing leads. At one point MacDermott’s mother Linda put a $10,000 reward up for any information that lead to determining her son’s whereabouts. They have their own suspicions about what occurred that night so long ago.
“We think Dave came home from the bar that night and got into an argument with someone in that house,” said Stevens. And although pure speculation on their part, and without any physical evidence, the family believes MacDermott died in the house that night, murdered by someone he knew.
Police also surmise the likely scenario involves someone known to MacDermott.
“I think it’s fair to say, that as a police officer, knowing cases like these in the past…you’re always going to look at the people who are closely connected to the person first. I think that’s much more likely than some stranger just encountering Dave [MacDermott] that particular night,” says Gingerich, “but we just have nothing to prove that one way or another anything happened.”
When the police reopened the case in 2008 as a homicide, the property owner had since sold the Mill Street house, but the new owner allowed the officers to do a search of the house, land, and detached garage. In a mechanic’s hole underneath the floor of the garage, a large plastic sheet was found with unknown substances on it. Forensic analysis was inconclusive, and no sign of MacDermott’s remains were discovered.
With another fruitless search for MacDermott’s remains having occurred, the police will now have to rely on “new forensic technology that did not exist when the original evidence was obtained,” said Gingerich, adding that items like the plastic sheet found in the garage and other physical clues can be retested. As time goes on, the family clings to hope that something will come of the retesting, anything that can divulge a clue that will lead them to his remains.
As recently as November 14 the Waterloo police went on a search related to the case, but came away empty handed. Gingerich said the WRPS “searched the green spaces and surrounding neighborhood,” of MacDermott’s last known whereabouts, but “did not find anything.”
The strain of 15 years is felt among the police force, too. Currently listed as “missing under suspicious circumstances,” MacDermott’s file will continue to stay open—a thought that Gingerich said “will hang over him” even after he retires.
For the family, all they want is the opportunity to lay MacDermott to rest after so many agonizing years. “We know that somebody knows something,” Shaw told VICE. “All we want is the chance to say goodbye.
“I can’t remember the sound of my brother’s voice. And it hurts so much to know I will never get that relationship with someone you are supposed to be so close to in your life.”
Follow Christy on Twitter.
If you have any information about Dave Macdermott’s disappearance, please contact the Waterloo Regional Police Detectives Gingerich and Jessome at (519) 653 7700 x 8738 or Crime Stoppers at1-800-222-8477