Haunting connection to murder case


Murdered Sarnia teen Karen Caughlin disappeared from the same street where I grew up. In fact she was last seen just across the road from where I lived on Brock St. S.
OPP brought the case forward again this month on the 41st anniversary of her disappearance.
In the early morning hours of March 16, 1974, I would have been sleeping soundly in my bed when the 14-year-old was taken and murdered.
My second-floor bedroom window looked down on that side of the street and the house where she was dropped off by friends just before 1 a.m. was visible from my vantage point. It was the home of two girls who used to babysit my brother and I. Their family was expecting her.
I often looked out my bedroom window onto the street below, but not that night. At least not that I remember. I was too young and have no memory of what happened at the time. It was only as I grew older that I learned about Karen’s murder and disappearance.
Karen lived farther up on Brock Street. I walked by her house often through the years.
OPP Det.-Insp. Chris Avery talks about the case in a seven-minute video that was created last year and released again this year with the hope the information revealed may lead to some tips. Apparently it has, with police saying the video generated new information.
Karen’s body was found on Plowing Match Road near Petrolia, nine hours after she was last seen.
My mother remembers learning the terrible news.
Like other parents in the neighbourhood, she became hyper-alert.
Was a killer lurking?
She says the police never came to talk our family to see if anyone might have seen something that night.
Whenever I think about this case, I remember a man who walked along Brock Street when kids would be coming home from school. There were a lot of children in our neighbourhood.
He would invite kids into his house. I don’t know where he lived, but it must have been nearby as I saw him frequently. Nobody ever took him up on the offer that I know.
The man had a sly smile on his face that was always present. I used to think how fake he seemed. I wondered why he never talked to adults.
I was afraid of him. Even as a child I knew to avoid him because of the unequivocal negative reaction I experienced whenever I saw him.
I pointed him out to my mother one day when I spotted him in a grocery store. She took one look and told me to stay far away from him.
There may be no connection to the Caughlin case, but he was a sinister presence in my neighbourhood. Certainly the kids who lived along Brock Street would often see this stranger walking by whenever there were a lot of children present.
A few years after the tragedy, my father was offered a teaching position at the high school in Petrolia and we moved out to the county.
That re-location gave me cause to drive by Plowing Match Road many times. I don’t know the spot where Karen’s body was found. I don’t want to know.
It sparks some fear in me, all these years later and it’s a case I feel connected to. As time passes, I still think about the Caughlin family.
I can understand their sorrow more now than when I was a child. I also have a 14-year-old of my own.
He loves to hang out with his friends and longs for independence. Are my decisions about what I allow him to do clouded by Karen’s fate?
The face of a beautiful young girl who disappeared on the street below where I slept peacefully can’t be forgotten.


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