Cusworth murder consumed city after discovery of body

Neil Snelson was familiar with Kelowna’s less travelled areas, specifically Swamp Road, his ex-wife testified at his murder trial on Thursday.

Neil Snelson was familiar with Kelowna’s less travelled areas, specifically Swamp Road, his ex-wife testified at his murder trial on Thursday.

Katherine Oystryk, who was in a relationship with Snelson from 1986 to 1996, was asked as a witness for Crown counsel, to reflect on how she came to know the rural route.

“Neil showed me that (Swamp Road) was a shortcut to the Mission,” Oystryk said, noting she’d never taken the route before it was introduced to her in the weeks or months before Cusworth’s body was found.

“It was a secluded area…At that time it was a backroad not many people travelled on.”

It was one of several things she had time to think about after Cusworth’s body was found on Oct. 17, 1993.

Oystryk explained that Cusworth’s image and the mystery that surrounded her murder was omnipresent in Kelowna in the weeks, months and years that followed.

Very soon after her body was discovered, her photo was distributed and a Crime Stoppers video re-enactment of her last hours and the recovery of her body on Swamp Road, was circulated.

Her face, said Oystryk,  was “on the news, in store windows, newspapers…everywhere.”

Especially focusing Oystryk’s attention on the matter was that she worked at Splashes nightclub, and all club goers and employees were asked to keep the young woman’s face in mind, just in case it triggered a memory that would aid police in their investigation.

She also knew she would have been driving down Bernard Avenue— where some reports have put Cusworth—in the early hours of Oct. 16, 1993.

Oystryk and Snelson lived at 888 Glenmore Dr., and the only route there, at the time, would have been up Bernard and then onto her street.

“The route from Clement didn’t exist at that time,” she said.

That said, she never could drum up a memory of Cusworth either walking home or at the club.

However, she testified, she had a conversation with Snelson about how strange it was that he and Cusworth had been at the same party that night.

Until a week or so later, when the police came to her house with a survey they were distributing to everyone at the party, they didn’t discuss it.

“(The survey) was several pages long, and I remember being surprised by some of the questions,” she said.

Not only were police asking if they saw Cusworth, the questionnaire asked things like, “Do you know who murdered Jennifer Cusworth?”

It also asked respondents to explain how they would have killed Cusworth had they been her assailant.

Snelson responded, but Oystryk never saw his answers or asked about the survey.

Although the court wasn’t made privy to the answers on that survey from years earlier, testimony about how Snelson reacted to police when the investigation focused on him a second time was presented to jurors yesterday.

Sgt. Ian MacPherson testified that Snelson was just one among many who had yet to be ruled out, and required further investigation.

Being as some of those who hadn’t been checked off lived as far away as Maui, the investigation stayed local.

When the Kelowna list had been whittled down to two, MacPherson said the decision on who to tail to find cast-off DNA came down to a matter of chance, and Snelson was pursued.

Surveillance started May 28, 2009, when they tracked Snelson to a Burger King, where he was eating with his family.

They watched him eat a meal, drink his beverage, then clean up his family’s  stuff and discard it.

His own napkin and straw were picked up and taken out to his vehicle.

Surveillance that day, was for naught, but investigators continued and on June 1, 2009, they were led to a mall area where Snelson parked.

He stopped, then drove away in another direction.

“He then moved the vehicle in a position that I had to line up with him,” MacPherson testified.

“(Snelson) leaned over and mouthed profanities.”

The surveillance had then “been burned” which sparked a decision to take a more direct route and go to Snelson’s house.

As she does regularly, Justice Alison Beames reminded the jury that Canadians have no obligation to speak to police or offer DNA samples. A decision to exercise that right can not be used as a measure of guilt.

 

kmichaels@kelownacapnews.com

 

 

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