Neighbours worried accused ‘woodland rapist’ may return to Vancouver Island home

Neighbours worried accused 'woodland rapist' may return to Vancouver Island home
A photo of Richard Neil being held by a police officer is shown.

WARNING: This story contains descriptions of sexual violence

Richard Neil, who was arrested a month ago in connection with a series of child sexual assaults that set off an Ontario manhunt in the 1990s, has been granted bail and plans to return to B.C.

Neil, 64, is charged with 20 counts, including kidnapping, sexual assault with a weapon and making child pornography. The allegations against him have not been proven in court.

The charges stem from three separate attacks on two boys and one girl between 1992 and 1995 in Kitchener, Brampton and Oakville, ON.

Dubbed the ‘woodland rapist,’ DNA ties one suspect to the three locations where all three children were lured into a wooded area, tied to a tree, administered a noxious substance (urine), and then sexually assaulted.

At the time, investigators made dire public warnings of a child sex predator on the loose. The lead detective on the case remembers the impact to this day.

“I had the opportunity to read all the witness statements at the time,” said Graham Barnes, retired Halton Regional Police detective. “Clearly they were all devastated by it.”

Thirty years later, Peel Police believe they’ve found the woodland rapist and arrested Neil in Ontario on March 3.

The Vancouver Island connection

“It’s weird to know he lived upstairs and almost a part of your home,” said Angelika McLenan.

McLenan says Neil lives part-time above a family member in a Vic West split-level duplex. The same day he was arrested in Ontario, McLenan says Neil’s Vic West home was also searched.

“The card said ‘special victims unit.’ That kind of raised a lot of flags for us for sure, and that they spent a long time upstairs searching,” said McLenan.

She says Neil was a quiet neighbour who usually kept to himself, who told her he worked in the film industry and was only in Victoria a few months of the year.

CHEK News reporter Kori Sidaway visited the duplex that neighbours say is Neil’s. No one answered.

Facing 20 charges

So far, the 20 charges Neil is facings are all historical, all of them linked to the 1990’s in Ontario. No charges are currently linked to his Victoria residence. Victoria Police said their historical case team doesn’t have any information linking Neil to any historical files in Victoria.

Peel Police investigators believe there may be additional victims and are asking for them to come forward.

So far, investigators have declined to say what led them to Neil.

A growing number of high-profile cold cases across North America have been solved in recent years with the help of genetic genealogy. The technique often involves the analysis of relatives’ DNA samples voluntarily submitted to ancestry websites.

Neil ‘shocked’ at the arrest and allegations

Neil maintains his innocence, saying through his legal team in Ontario that he has no knowledge of the crimes.

“He was shocked at the arrest and the allegations,” said Leo Adler, Neil’s defence lawyer.

Neil has been released on bail with strict conditions including wearing a monitoring device. He told the Ontario courts he plans to live with family in B.C.

‘Concerning’ return to B.C.

Neil’s Victoria-based neighbours are concerned he may come back to live in Victoria. His upper level Vic West duplex overlooks a small park along the Songhees walkway.

“My concern is that he is coming back to the Island,” said McLenan. “This is a very public area, where kids can come and play. I wouldn’t want to be walking past here if I had a family.”

Neil is scheduled to make his next court appearance May 6 in Brampton. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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