VANCOUVER — It started with what Vancouver police say was a "violent and unprovoked" attack on Canada Day 2009 near Granville Island, where a young woman was sexually assaulted before a witness intervened.
There would be three more sexual attacks on women over the following 18 months in downtown Vancouver, and the suspect would evade capture for 14 years.
But now, police say they have solved the cold-case sexual assaults, leading to the arrest of a suspect in Regina.
The Vancouver Police Department said Wednesday that Arturo Garcia Gorjon, 45, had been linked to the four "blitz-style" assaults. Deputy Chief Const. Fiona Wilson told a briefing on Wednesday that a break in the case came in light of new physical evidence, but wouldn't provide details.
"Cases like this are the reason police officers get up in the morning," Wilson said. "They're also the things that keep us up at night."
She said Gorjon, who is believed to live in Vancouver but travels for work, went before a judge and has been released in Vancouver with conditions.
A social media account in Gorjon's name recently posted about seeking a roommate to share a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver's West End. The post said the apartment was "perfect for a student or temporary worker."
A man who answered to the name "Arturo" returned a phone call, using a number associated with the social media account. He denied knowledge of the charges and hung up. The posting is no longer visible.
"I can completely understand that the public would have concerns about their safety," Wilson said.
"I don't want people to live in fear or change their behaviour … at the end of the day, you know, a judge made a decision to release the suspect, and he did so with conditions," she added.
Gorjon was only identified as a suspect in the past six to 12 months, and had no criminal history in B.C., nor was he known to police, she said.
A "safety plan" is in place to monitor Gorjon's behaviour to make sure he abides by the conditions of his release, she said.
The investigation stretches back to the early hours of July 1, 2009, when a 20-year-old woman walking near Granville Island was sexually assaulted by a stranger who fled before officers arrived, Wilson said.
In November of that year, a 25-year-old woman was sexually assaulted while entering an apartment building in the city's West End, and a third woman was attacked in the Yaletown neighbourhood seven months after that, Wilson said.
Initially, there was no evidence to conclusively link the three assaults, but another attack under similar circumstances on Christmas Eve 2010 made it "clear that young women were being targeted by a predator in the downtown core," Wilson said.
The break in the case came this January when investigators linked the previous three attacks to the Christmas Eve assault, Wilson said.
Those links led to Gorjon's arrest in Regina last month, she said.
Wilson said the victims in all four cases have been updated on the new developments, but wouldn't comment on how they reacted to the news.
"While it would be completely inappropriate for me to speak for them, I imagine they are now processing a wide range of emotions," she said. " I suspect nothing will permanently erase the trauma they've lived with. However, I do hope this arrest and these charges begin to provide the answers and accountability that has been missing for so many years."
In 2011, police launched "Project Scrimmage," which involved putting up posters in nightclubs in downtown Vancouver with QR codes linking to information about the cases.
At the time, the Vancouver police said there was DNA evidence linking one man to at least three attacks targeting women in the city's entertainment district.
Sgt. Steve Addison, the department's media relations officer, said Wednesday that the charge announcement was meant to "update the public on an investigative success into a series of cold case sex assaults that occurred nearly 15 years ago."
Addison said police can't discuss the new evidence that led to the arrest, adding that police "have not issued a public safety warning."
"We're not prepared to say or do anything that could jeopardize the successful prosecution of a case," he said.
Gorjon's next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 12 in provincial court in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 30, 2023.
Darryl Greer, The Canadian Press