A chief superintendent with the Mounties made a passionate plea Wednesday to a middle-aged man – missing since he was just three years old – to pick up the phone and call police.
The RCMP’s Gary Graham attempted to speak directly to Jeffrey Dupres, who disappeared from his front yard in Slave Lake, Alta., on April 24, 1980.
“Here’s the interesting thing: Maybe Jeffrey doesn’t know that his family or the RCMP have never stopped trying to bring him home again,” Graham told reporters.
“You’ve probably moved around a lot in your early life. Maybe you even feel like you’re different from the rest of your family. If you believe that you’re Jeff, please call the Slave Lake RCMP.”
Last week, police shared an age-progressed rendering of what Dupres may look like now.
The image was paid for by the family and published in a CTV News Edmonton article in December, along with his mother’s plea for help.
“It’s absurd. I’m old, I’m handicapped. But he’s still my kid, right?” Denise McKee said from her home in the Ottawa area.
“I would just like to find out, what did happen?”
‘A VERY ACTIVE INVESTIGATION’
Graham said there was no new evidence or suspects to talk about Wednesday. But he’s hopeful speaking publicly about the case now will generate new tips.
“I can assure you, this still remains a very active investigation,” he said.
“Investigators over the past 40 years have always maintained that Jeffrey would be alive.”
RCMP Chief Superintendent Gary Graham speaks to reporters about the Jeffrey Dupres case on March 1, 2023.
On the day he went missing, McKee said Jeffrey told her he was going next door to play with his friend. She agreed and went inside to do laundry.
It was when the friend came to the door looking for her son that she realized something was wrong. She called the police and enlisted her neighbours to start a search.
There was one major clue at the time. Several witnesses claimed they saw Jeffrey being coaxed by a man and a woman into a blue 1978-1980 GMC or Chevrolet short-box pickup with chrome wheels.
Graham said police searched databases for similar vehicles in pursuit of that lead, but no suspects were ever found. It remains a key piece of evidence, he said.
The chief superintendent also took time during his address to applaud the initial efforts of officers and community members, who he said searched the town five times in the first week.
“They even emptied a high school, 300 high school students involved in a coordinated and systematic search. Every residence, every building, every vehicle that we could find, that entire town was scrutinized and reviewed,” Graham said.
There was also a wildfire and a fatal plane crash in the area that day, which some have speculated may have been linked in some way, but Graham said police have found no evidence of that.
‘WE WOULD APOLOGIZE THAT SHE’S HAD TO DEAL WITH THAT’
McKee said police have only recently told her that she is not a suspect in the case.
She was given a polygraph shortly after Jeffery disappeared and described the questioning techniques of officers at the time as “interrogation” and “torture.”
Graham confirmed that McKee was given the polygraph and passed it. He said he could understand why that would make her feel like she was the “main suspect” for all these years before expressing his remorse.
“On my review and the feedback I’ve received: The RCMP have not done as good of job as would have been expected in communicating key components of the investigation to the family,” Graham said.
“We would apologize that she’s had to deal with that for the past 40 years.”
Denise McKee in an interview with CTV News Edmonton on March 1, 2023.
McKee appreciates those words were not easy for Graham to say but believes it will take some time, if ever, for her to accept any apology from RCMP.
She explained that the suspicion of police and the public has been hard on her family, including instances of schoolyard kids teasing her sons about their mom being “a murderer.”
“I’d like to say words are cheap. I know that’s not the case in a bureaucracy like the RCMP. Words are hard to come by. But they’re not a lot of good if you don’t follow them up with actions,” she said.
‘I DIDN’T KILL HIM’
As for what happened to Jeffrey that day and since McKee said she’s still not certain but believes he was taken out of Slave Lake.
“We knew at that time that Jeffrey was not in that town, alive or dead, because it was searched that thoroughly,” she said.
“However, that proves that I didn’t kill him, it doesn’t prove that somebody didn’t kill him and take him out or after they took him out.”
The family has since hired investigator Anna J. James, offered a reward and established a Facebook page and tip line in an effort to get closure.
She thanked a “small army” of people who are helping to renew interest in the case online.
McKee still feels Mounties didn’t do all they could to find her son. Despite some hard feelings towards them, she was happy to hear Graham say officers are still looking for Jeffrey.
She also is grateful for the outpouring she’s received from people who still care and are trying to help.
“It feels wonderful,” McKee said. “We’ll be able to die knowing that we tried.”
Anyone with information in this case is asked to call Slave Lake RCMP at 780-849-3999 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).