Missing Michael Dunahee: the abduction theory

Four-year-old Michael Dunahee vanished from near a Victoria school playground while his parents were close by. Victoria police consider the possibility of a stranger abduction almost immediately.

David Finkelhor is the director of the ‘Crimes Against Children Research Center’ at the University of New Hampshire. They research all kinds of crimes against kids; abduction, child abuse, bullying, and internet crimes.

He is reluctant to talk about stranger child abductions as he doesn’t believe it should be top of mind when people think of children’s safety issues. Still, Finkelhor appreciates why 30 years on Michael’s story is so enduring.

“It’s a trauma for a whole community. It’s a trauma in part because it’s something everybody identifies with. It’s something everybody can imagine happening to them if they have children. And it also stays in the news for a long period of time. So they’re reminded of it. So it’s a flashbulb kind of crime,” he says.

Today, Finkelhor stresses that “stranger child abductions are exceedingly rare and getting rarer.” He says that is due to the high level of surveillance that exists in many public places. The surveillance combined with the ubiquity of smartphones makes it much more difficult to carry out this kind of crime and not be detected.

But back on March 24, 1991, when Michael disappeared, there was very little CCTV camera usage outside of financial institutions. Publicly available smartphones were still more than a decade away.

Strangers who abduct children can have very different motivations including replacement, revenge, financial gain, and pedophilia. Sexual motivation accounts for the greatest number of these cases, and as such, it is unsurprising that investigators in the Dunahee case focused their investigation in this area.

Victoria Police Det.-Sgt. Michelle Robertson heads up the Historical Case Review Unit and is the current lead on the Dunahee file.

“Police did an examination of convicted sex offenders at the time, there were 1,200 convicted sex offenders in British Columbia. They narrowed the pool down to locally and to the type of offenders who would offend against a small boy, and they narrowed it down to in the 30s, in the immediate area. We have a very high percentage of dangerous offenders here. We still do. I can’t explain why,” she says, looking back at the case file.

In 1995, Arthur Plint was described as a ‘sexual terrorist’ by the judge who handed down an 11-year sentence to the former residential school dorm supervisor. He was found guilty of sexually abusing dozens of young boys over more than two decades. Plint lived a block and a half away from where Michael Dunahee disappeared. It is later confirmed that police interviewed Plint at the time. Plint was 70 when Michael disappeared and used a cane to walk. Victoria police have ruled out the now-deceased Plint as a suspect.

“Well, they look at every one. And of course, they would look at him, but he’s been excluded. He’s not a current suspect,” said Robertson.


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