Ashes and the unavenged: The murder of Jillian Fuller

Jillian Fuller’s body was left to burn. As the flames set by her unknown killer started to consume her apartment in 109-8700 Granville Street in Vancouver, BC, a newspaper deliveryman spotted the fire and called 911 at approximately 4 am on 4 March 1993.

Firefighters arrived and saved the building, discovering Jillian’s body in her bed, untouched by the fire. Almost 30 years later and her remaining family (both parents have since passed away) are no closer to any answers than they were in 1993.  

The entrance to her apartment building

Police quickly ascertained that the fire was set deliberately to cover up the murder, although the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) never disclosed the cause of death, or whether there were any signs of sexual assault, despite her naked body at the scene.

After countless police hours, the case remains unsolved. Questions persist as to who her murderer was, and surprisingly, who Jillian was too.

Jillian Fuller

Her final hours

Jillian, 28, was last seen leaving the Fraser Arms Hotel at 12:30 am, heading downstairs to the Rock Cellar Pub where she stayed from 1:30 to 1:40 am, shortly before her murder. A waitress told police that Jillian left with a man, who the VPD later described as 6 feet tall, olive-skinned, with dark curly hair, thick eyebrows and dark eyes. Other witnesses said they had left separately but agreed to meet at her place. Or that she had left first, and he followed. Regardless, the man remains a person of interest.  

The unknown man she was last seen with

As there were no signs of forced entry in her apartment, it’s most likely that she knew her killer. There is no way to know for sure if the man she was last seen with was the last person she ever saw. That was the last known sighting of Jillian until her body was found among the ashes. According to an article from the Provence at the time, her neighbors stated that they saw blood in the apartment.

The front door frame of her apartment, showing no forced entry

Two years after her murder, the VPD and the Fuller family offered a $10,000 reward for any information about the case.

“There’s somebody out there who knows something,” Constable Anne Drennan told the Province in 1995, “The suspect has talked to somebody, been bragging or been drunk somewhere and blurted it out.”

Three decades later and sadly there has been no such slip up that we know of.

The burnt contents of a drawer

Victim blaming?

The media coverage that followed was perplexing. Perhaps in the absence of any real information about the crime scene or the murderer, the media’s attention could only focus on what they did know for sure: the victim.

Unable or unwilling to attempt to reconcile or understand the inherent duality of all human beings, newspapers either focused on portraying Jillian as either a “loner”, as she was described by some that knew her, or as an “accomplished young woman”.

On the one hand she was described as compassionate, intelligent and outgoing. Even accomplished to a certain degree, having once ranked 23rd among Canadian women outdoor speed skaters. She was also fluent in French, played the piano and was a competitive runner.

On the other hand, other media reports describe her as a loner who drank heavily and was involved with “questionable characters”. One report noted that she had initially moved into her apartment with a man she met at a treatment program for alcoholism, but she lived alone at the time of her murder. Adding to this, the newspapers disclosed that she was receiving government assistance, the relevance of that particular detail especially tenuous.

The inside of her apartment

All of these reports seem to almost imply that Jillian was somehow responsible for her own death due to her decisions, and her circumstances. Essentially victim blaming. Whether intentionally or inadvertently, the reports painted an incomplete and lopsided picture of an undoubtedly complex and multifaceted person, who unquestionably deserves to be avenged.

Jillian’s troubled personal history does raise some questions as to who could have committed this terrible crime. For instance, in January of 1993, police took her home after she had been injured in a drunken altercation. In fact, Jillian was reported to have been assaulted by drinking companions at least twice in the months prior to her murder. Her father, who was usually reticent with the media, was quoted by a local paper as saying that she was once engaged to a man with a lengthy criminal record.

A mysterious letter arrives

Police admitted to hitting a brick wall fairly quickly, until the VPD received an anonymous letter from Washington, DC that seemed to implicate a person as the murderer. The police have released an almost entirely redacted copy of the letter, so as not to harm the investigation. Sadly, they were not able to lift any usable evidence from the letter, nor did its contents, whatever they were, lead anywhere.

The heavily redacted letter

Wounds too deep to heal

On the 20-year anniversary of her murder in 2013, her sister Jane wrote a letter which illuminates just how deep of a wound Jillian’s murder made:

“The toll that my sister’s death has caused my family over the last twenty years is truly immeasurable. It cast a dark cloud on our family that has never been lifted. Her loss has left a deep wound in all our lives, and the fact that her killer was never found means that wound will always be unhealed.”

Her name lives on through an endowment fund at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, set up by her parents in 1993.

If you have any information about this case, contact coldcase@vpd.ca or call (604) 717 2500, and help bring her killer to justice.

You can read about another unsolved murder here.

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