From threatening phone calls to violent attacks, Cindy James suffered years of terror before her death — though some investigators think she may have staged every bit of it.
In 1982, Canadian nurse Cindy James received a strange phone call. She had no idea it was the beginning of a chain of events that would lead to years of vicious harassment and only end with her death.
Over a six-and-a-half-year period, James would file nearly 100 complaints with local police for property damage, threatening notes, home invasions, arson, and even violent attacks. But investigators could never determine the source of the harassment.
The Vancouver suburb of Richmond was rattled when James’ body was found in the yard of an abandoned home in June 1989. She was beaten and bruised, and she had a lethal dose of morphine in her system. However, police ultimately determined her death was a clear-cut suicide, despite the fact that her hands and feet were bound behind her back.
James’ family and friends were insistent that she had not taken her own life, but police pointed to the lack of any solid evidence of an outside perpetrator over the nearly seven years they’d been investigating her case. Cindy James, they said, had staged everything.
Cindy James’ Six Years Of Harassment Began With A Simple Phone Call
Cindy James was born Cynthia Elizabeth Hack on June 12, 1944, in British Columbia. Her father Otto was a retired Canadian Air Force colonel, while her mother Tillie was a housewife and loving mother of six children.
After high school, James enrolled in nursing school. There, she met Roy Makepeace, a physician nearly 20 years her senior. James graduated in 1966, and she and Makepeace wed five months later.
Cindy James seemed to be living a happy life working at a treatment center for children with emotional and behavioral issues. When James and Makepeace split in July 1982, however, her dream life became a nightmare.
Just three months after James and Makepeace separated, she began receiving strange calls. According to the Vancouver Sun, the first came on Oct. 7, 1982. While most calls consisted of mere whispers of her name, she once closed her blinds only for the caller to ring back and tell her that there was no use in hiding, as he knew she was in the living room.
But the calls were just the beginning. Over the next two weeks, James reported that a mysterious perpetrator threw rocks through her window, smashed her porch lights, and even broke into her house and slashed her pillow. She received a threatening message pieced together with cut-out letters from magazines that read “Soon Cindy,” and someone cut her telephone line.
James was frequently in contact with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and according to the Evidence Locker podcast, she soon struck up a romantic relationship with Officer Pat McBride. He moved in with her temporarily in November 1982 after more and more threatening notes and images appeared outside her home
Soon after moving in, McBride reported that he came across James’ ex-husband in the alley behind her house with two guns. Makepeace told McBride that he was patrolling the area for James’ safety.
McBride moved out after a month, but the mysterious harassment of Cindy James soon became much more menacing.
Threatening Notes Soon Turned Into Violent Attacks
According to a timeline printed in the Edmonton Journal, the first physical attack on Cindy James took place on Jan. 27, 1983. Her friend, Agnes Woodcock, went to her house for a visit and found her in the garage. James had been attacked with a sharp object and had a black nylon stocking tied tightly around her neck.
James told police she’d heard a knock at her back door and opened it to find a man who forced her into the garage and attacked her. However, she failed two polygraph tests while being questioned about the incident, and she admitted that she had recognized one of the attackers but refused to name him because he’d threatened to go after her family next.
The harassment continued. In October 1983, a year after the first phone call, she found three dead cats hanging from trees in her yard, one with a note tied to it that read, “You’re next.”
James decided to hire a private investigator named Ozzie Kaban. He gave her a two-way radio so they could be in constant communication. This came in handy when Kaban overheard an odd commotion on Jan. 30, 1984.
He rushed to James’ house and found her lying unconscious on the floor with a black nylon stocking tied around her neck and a note stabbed through the back of her hand with a paring knife. It read, “NOW YOU MUST DIE, C—.”
Kaban later said of the incident, “She told me that she noticed a man coming through the gate. The next thing that she remembers is being hit on the side of the head with a piece of wood or something of that nature. She then remembered being held down on the floor, and she remembered a needle going into her arm.”
At this point, police became suspicious. There were no signs of forced entry, and though there was a needle mark on James’ arm, there were no substances in her system. They still continued to investigate the case, though, and they brought Makepeace in for questioning after James admitted to them that he had been violent on several occasions during their marriage.
James was attacked again in July 1984, once again with needle marks on her arm and a black nylon stocking tied around her neck. Police tapped James’ phone and stationed officers to monitor her house in shifts, but they stopped after months passed with no further incidents. They’d spent nearly $1 million on the investigation at this point and were no closer to finding answers.
On Dec. 11, 1985, she woke up in a ditch six miles from her house with the same needle marks and stocking that had become a signature of her attacks.
Soon, Woodcock and her husband began staying with James in the hopes the harassment would stop. One night in April 1986, James ran into their bedroom and said she’d heard a noise. Tom Woodcock said he’d heard it too, and he ran downstairs to investigate only to find James’ basement in flames. He told investigators he’d seen a man standing outside on the street who ran away when he approached him, but police believed Cindy James had set the fire herself.
According to Unsolved Mysteries, reporter Neal Hall wrote after the incident, “There was no dust or fingerprints disturbed on the outside of the windowsill. But somebody set the fires from inside the home. And would’ve had to climb through that window.”
Cindy James was soon admitted to a psychiatric facility. She spent ten weeks there, and two different psychiatrists determined she had been staging her own attacks while suffering psychotic breaks. James also wrote in a journal while there, “I still feel suicide is my best option in an unbearable situation and as soon as I get out of here I will carry out my plan.”
After she was released from the facility, James was fired from her job, changed her last name from Makepeace to James, and moved into a new house. While seeing a therapist during this time, her mental health seemed to be improving remarkably. And for about a year, she didn’t report any harassment — but the attacks soon started again.
Was Cindy James Murdered Or Did She Take Her Own Life?
In October 1988, Cindy James was found unconscious in her car at home, naked from the waist down, hogtied, and with another black nylon stocking around her neck.
James told police during this time that she believed her ex-husband was behind the attacks, but he continued to deny his involvement — he had even been out of the country when one of them took place.
Then, on May 25, 1989, Cindy James disappeared. The day she vanished, she had deposited her paycheck from her new nursing job, purchased a gift for a friend’s son, gone to a beauty salon, and bought groceries. But when Woodcock showed up at James’ home that night for a planned card game, she wasn’t there.
Her car surfaced at a shopping mall parking lot with blood on the driver’s side door and items from her wallet beneath the vehicle, with the groceries and wrapped gift still in the back seat. But James was nowhere to be found.
But two weeks later, on June 8, 1989, Don Vinish, a city employee, stumbled upon her body in the yard of an abandoned house. “Her face was completely black — I think it had been punched in. A cord was wrapped around one ankle and a wrist,” he recalled.
“This definitely wasn’t a suicide,” Vinish said. “You couldn’t possibly put yourself in that position.”
But police didn’t agree. She had a lethal dose of morphine in her system, but they argued it would have taken at least 15 minutes to take effect, and a knot specialist determined that James could have tied herself into the bound position in just three minutes.
Otto Hack, James’ father, later recalled, “The police did not investigate the possibility of homicide, of somebody murdering her, but zeroed in on trying to prove that she committed suicide.”
He continued, “There is no way that she could have been able, after ingesting that amount of drugs, to tie herself up. There was absolutely nothing at the crime scene to indicate that she had used any form of syringe.”
But once police had ruled her death as suicide, they didn’t investigate any further.
Countless questions remain about James’ death. If she planned to kill herself, why did she buy groceries and go to the salon? If she had staged all the phone calls and threatening notes, how did she still receive them when other people were around?
There may never be answers to these questions. But what’s undeniable is, as forensic psychiatrist Anthony Marcus once put it, “This woman was under siege from whatever source — inside or out.”
After learning about the eerie harassment and suspicious death of Cindy James, read about the unsolved murder of Denise Johnson, the North Carolina woman who received strange calls before her death. Then, discover six more unsolved murder cases that will keep you up at night.