Twenty-one-year search for Arlene McLean

December 1, 2021
Cow Bay, Nova Scotia

News release

On September 9, 1999 at 7:47 p.m., RCMP received a report that Arlene McLean left her residence in Eastern Passage the evening before and hadn't returned. When she left, she gave the impression she wouldn't be long.

Over the next 21 years, RCMP searched the area, interviewed friends, family members and other witnesses, and followed up on reports of sightings and with partner agencies within Canada and the US. Despite the ongoing investigative efforts, there were no confirmed sightings of Ms. McLean or her vehicle.

Her whereabouts and what happened to her remained a mystery, until October 2020 when the RCMP Underwater Recovery Team (URT) located two submerged vehicles in tidal waters near Rainbow Haven Beach when they were conducting an unrelated search. Both vehicles matched the make of Ms. McLean's vehicle. Finally, investigators had reason for hope.

"We were excited about our find and gave the investigators on the McLean case a call. Our examination of the first vehicle though showed that it wasn't McLean's vehicle, and then the timing and weather caught up with us," says Sgt. Mark Bishop, Underwater Recovery Team. Further dives were delayed until spring.

In the attached video Cpl. Troy Murray, lead investigator, and Sgt. Bishop, tell a more complete story of the investigation into Ms. McLean's disappearance and the operation that helped provide answers to Ms. McLean's family.

The RCMP URT, RCMP Forensic Identification Section, Collision Accident Reconstruction Service, the Medical Examiner's Office, the Department of Natural Resources and investigators all worked together with the RCMP/HRP Special Investigation Section of the Criminal Investigation Division to determine the circumstances of Ms. McLean's disappearance Although the timeline of this investigation created some significant investigative challenges, investigators believe that Ms. McLean's disappearance was not criminal and the investigation has been completed. Ultimately the final piece of the puzzle needed to give Ms. McLean's family the closure they have been seeking for 21 years was finding and recovering her vehicle and remains.

Our thoughts are with Ms. McLean's family at this difficult time.

Video - Twenty-one-year search for Arlene McLean

    Twenty-one-year search for Arlene McLean - Transcript

    (The video opens with Corporal Troy Murray standing near a beach.)

    Text on screen: Corporal Troy Murray, Special Investigation Section of the Criminal Investigation Division

    Corporal Troy Murray: On September ninth, 1999, Arlean McLean was reported missing by her common law husband, Clifford Hall. Hall indicated that the evening before they had an argument and Arlene had decided to go for a drive in their family vehicle.

    (Screen fades to four photos of Arlene McLean.)

    Corporal Troy Murray: When she left the residence, she gave the impression that she wouldn't be long. Unfortunately, that was the last time that anyone would see Arlene McLean. The initial stages of the investigation would have consisted of investigators interviewing friends and family.

    Other witnesses canvasing the area and following up on any information related to sightings of Arlene. Although her disappearance was considered suspicious, there was no information uncovered to confirm foul play. Essentially, investigators took every investigative path possible during the initial stages.

    However, despite the ongoing efforts, Arlene's whereabouts and what happened to her remained a mystery. The investigation remained active and the family remained engaged. What made this investigation so difficult was the fact that Arlene and her vehicle essentially vanished without a trace.

    Despite these challenges, the investigation remained active. In October of 2020, when we finally received the break that we needed to move this investigation forward.

    (Screen fades to a photo of a bridge with truck and dive team members.)

    (Screen fades to Sergeant Mark Bishop standing in front of the Underwater Recovery Team vehicle)

    Text on screen: Sergeant Mark Bishop, Underwater Recovery Team

    Sergeant Mark Bishop: On an unrelated search, the underwater recovery team actually located two separate vehicles in the same body of water several hundred meters apart.

    (Video image of RCMP Underwater Recovery Team preparing to go under water.)

    Sergeant Mark Bishop: We set out to identify the first of those vehicles when we dove on the vehicles. We quickly realized that it was actually a Hyundai vehicle that we were sitting on and from the vehicle identification number or VIN number it was not the vehicle that we were looking for.

    (Video image of RCMP Underwater Recovery Team preparing to dive under water then exploring the vehicle underwater. Man standing by the bridge.)

    Voice of sergeant Mark Bishop: In April of 2021, we set out to identify the second of those two vehicles and when the first diver examined the vehicle or arrived at the vehicle underwater, he quickly noticed that there was a license plate just adjacent to the vehicle, which we quickly confirmed was in fact, the license plate of the vehicle we were looking for,

    (Video image of a submerged vehicle.)

    Sergeant Mark Bishop: and we were very quickly able to identify that it was and confirm that it was in fact the vehicle we were looking for.

    (Video image of divers examining the underwater scene.)

    Voice of Sergeant Mark Bishop: We started the painstaking task of examining the scene. It's just like any other crime scene where we have to sort of work our way from the outside and work our way in because of two open windows in the vehicle over the years. The vehicle had filled with a heavy silt and mud, which made it a little difficult for the divers to examine the inside, the visibility for the divers, got quite poor actually because of the mud and the silt in the water, and at that point, we were essentially searching by feel and we excavated the inside of that vehicle literally by hand as the divers scooped the mud out, and during that process, we uncovered some human remains, as well as some other key pieces of evidence related to the investigation.

    (Video image of the RCMP Underwater Recovery Team examining the underwater scene.)

    Voice of Sergeant Mark Bishop: So every day as we go down, we would document it with underwater video, to document our progress in the investigation

    (Video image of a crane and three men near bridge.)

    Voice of Sergeant Mark Bishop: once the vehicle was completely clear and all that mud and silt was out of the vehicle,

    (Video image of a car coming out of water.)

    Voice of Sergeant Mark Bishop: then we had to lift it and recover the actual vehicle itself out of the water. Because of the condition in the age of the vehicle, we were quite concerned that that the vehicle wasn't very stable and wasn't going to lift out of the water easily without breaking it.

    (Video image of a suspended vehicle lowered to tow truck.)

    Sergeant Mark Bishop: So we brought in a crane and lifted the vehicle out so that it could be examined on land.

    (Screen fades to Corporal Troy Murray standing near a beach.)

    Corporal Troy Murray: In September of 2021, the medical examiner's office did confirm that the remains located were those of Arlene McLean.

    Our investigative team worked closely with a number of RCMP specialized units, as well as partner agencies to piece together the events that led to McLean's disappearance. Although the timeline of this investigation created some significant challenges in us determining exactly what led to her death at this time, we do believe that her disappearance was non-criminal in nature and the matter is concluded.

    Text on screen: Our thoughts are with the friends and family of Arlene McLean

    (Screen fades to RCMP crest and signature: Royal Canadian Mounted Police / Gendarmerie royale du Canada)

    (RCMP copyright: © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2021)

    (Screen fades to Canada wordmark)


Contact information

Cpl. Lisa Croteau
Public Information Officer
Halifax District RCMP
Cell: 902-830-5695

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