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The Masee mystery: It's been 18 years since the North Van couple vanished
It was August 10, 1994. Nicholas and Lisa Masee had reservations at Trader Vick’s, a popular tiki lounge at Vancouver’s Bayshore Inn. They’d told a friend they were meeting with a potential business partner to discuss a $10-million deal.
At the time, Nicholas, 55, a former bank executive, was working for a company called Turbodyne Technologies and was also a stock promoter. Lisa, his second wife, worked in a hair salon.
A waiter later recalled seeing the North Vancouver couple at the restaurant that night, but his recollection was vague. The next morning, Lisa called both of their workplaces, saying they’d be “away for a few days.”
Then, they vanished. Now, 18 years later, nobody — not police, family or friends — really knows with any certainty if the couple met with foul play or they planned to disappear all along.
When Cpl. Gord Reid, a veteran investigator with the North Vancouver RCMP Serious Crimes Unit, first reviewed the Masee file last year, he was riveted to the compelling narrative.
“It has been a Maclean’s article and it deserves to be a Maclean’s article because it’s more of an intriguing mystery than most of them.
“It wasn’t your typical missing in that, as far as I could tell, neither of the people seemed to live what we would call high risk lifestyles or had serious mental health issues or had gone hiking in the North Shore mountains,” explains Reid.
“They went out to dinner apparently and that was it. They were never seen again. And there was no crime scene per se — there was nothing like that. So that’s kind of what struck me [was] how much of a whodunit it was,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s a homicide or a missing person — ie, they’re missing and still alive. I just don’t know — and there’s reason to believe both things as far as I can tell.”
Police have always believed somebody holds a key piece of information about the couple's disappearance.
In a 2008 RCMP press release, the couple is described as having a social circle that “included high-level businesspeople, community leaders and affluent friends.”
It continued, “Since they were so well known, it is certain that someone has key information regarding their activities before they disappeared.”
But no case-solving tips have come in.
Through the years, there’s been a lot of speculation about the couple’s disappearance. While Reid points out none of the theories have come from the Mounties, he does say this: “But I guess some of the theories — and here you have to understand we’re just speculating — they might have wanted to disappear because someone was mad at them. Or because they owed money — and I don’t know this — but it’s a possibility. It’s also a possibility that someone was upset with them and it would have, in my mind, had to be a very professional thing if they [met] with foul play — just because there’s no evidence, there’s no crime scene, there’s no bodies.”
Cpl. Sue Tupper is the North Vancouver detachment’s missing person coordinator, a new position created last November. She also handles unsolved homicides.
Curious by nature, she has a background in biochemistry and a scientific way of thinking.
“And I’m very tenacious — I don’t give up, so I think I’m well suited for this job,” says Tupper, seated next to Reid inside the SCU’s office. “I just like the whole idea of solving mysteries, getting answers.”
Day-to-day, Tupper is responsible for overseeing all the missing persons files that come in. And that keeps her busy. For the first three months of this year, 128 people were reported missing in North Vancouver.
In addition to the steady stream of new missing persons cases, she’s also looking at long-term missings and historical homicides.
“As far as long-term missings, including the Masees, we have 41 long-term missing people in North Vancouver since 1964.”
If missing people aren’t located, their files remain open for 100 years.
“I’d say of all our missing persons files historically, [the Masee case is] the biggest investigation that’s been done.”
The entire Masse case resides inside four cardboard bankers boxes.
The boxes contain all relevant details about the nearly two-decade-old mystery: interviews with associates, banking records, travel records, photos of the house, documents found inside the house, pictures of the couple.
In the early years of the investigation, there were reported sightings of the couple around the globe, from Hawaii and Croatia — but none proved credible.
“From what I understand none of the Masee tips have had the kind of traction that has allowed investigators to nail it down,” says Tupper.
There’s also been a number of possible suspects crossed off the list over the years.
“There’s nothing that’s substantiated that a murder happened,” explains Tupper, who adds “definitely that theory has been investigated thoroughly, lots of avenues have been followed up — but they’ve all come with dead ends.
“I know there were some leads followed-up in the 1990s and there was quite a bit of work done, but the suspects have been eliminated.”
Is it possible that the couple could disappear without a trace, create new identities and live happily ever after abroad, undetected?
“I think it is,” says Reid. “And if you want to think about somebody who would have the wherewithal to make that happen, they’re both international people, in that they’d come from other countries and were familiar with other parts of the word, and he, in particular, was the vice-president of a bank, and dealt with investments and stuff and he knew how to move money around and stuff like that. I’m thinking he’d be a lot more successful than a lot of people who are a lot less sophisticated and are successful in creating a new identity for themselves and living below the radar for years.”
In the 2008 RCMP release it stated “the Masees were known to visit the Grand Cayman Islands, Hawaii and the Netherlands for both business and pleasure.”
Still, Reid admits he’s not tied to either theory — missing persons or murder.
Nicholas Masee’s son from a previous marriage, Nick Jr., doesn’t believe his father or Lisa are capable of living under assumed identities all those years.
“No, in my mind from not long after they were last seen, I convinced myself that they must not be alive. I could just not imagine my father and Lisa putting my family or Lisa’s through this,” writes Nick Jr. in an email from his home in Tokyo.
Living in Singapore at the time of the disappearance, Nick Jr., who works in specialized international moving, was immediately concerned about the news he got from back home.
“I guess right from the start I had a bad feeling about the whole thing because by the time I heard that they were last seen on August 9, I believe it was about a week later. As the other details started to become known to me, it just seemed as if the most likely explanation is that something serious must have happened. The front door of the house was found unlocked, car in the driveway, cat left behind.”
Shortly after, Nick Jr. hired a renowned local private investigator named Ozzie Kaban to search for clues about the disappearance of his father and his wife but he “did not come up with anything compelling,” writes Nick Jr., who along with his mother met with Cpl. Reid last year to discuss the unsolved case.
“It’s always open,” Tupper says of the case that’s gone cold. “There’s always an investigator that’s going to be assigned to the file.”
“I can tell you the file started August 10th when they were last seen. They were reported missing within the week and since that time right through the 1990s, there was a ton of investigation done into the 2000s. Basically at the end of the day, it’s still a mystery.”
What will heat up this cold case?
While the Masee disappearance is an intriguing mystery, it’s only one of the files that Tupper is tasked with solving.
She’s got stacks of cases.
“In terms of priority you look at the viability, how solvable is it.”
“There’s a lot of files,” says Tupper who’s currently working a pair of missing persons files, one from 1983 and the other from 2009.
She needs to play the percentages.
For the Masee case to heat up, they need a fresh lead. “What causes us to divert our attention back to say an old cold case file is if information does come in.”
“Really what this file needs is a good piece of information. Because the reality is, doing a release like this, a story like this may generate something, but we need people to come forward if they know something.”
As is often the case in historical cases, time often has a way of getting to the truth.
“It’s 1994, it’s 18 years later,” says Reid, “it’s entirely possible that someone who is now 75 and got cancer had knowledge that they were holding close to their chest and they want to unburden themselves.”
While Tupper doesn’t believe police are close to solving the 18-year-old mystery, she strongly believes somebody has a key piece of information that could turn the investigation.
“Has to be,” says Tupper. “Either theory, there has to be somebody who knows something.”
—If you have any information about the disappearance of the Masees, email NVCOLDCASE@rcmp-grc.gc.ca