Highway of Tears murders

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Highway of Tears Murders
Highway of Tears.jpg
Sign on Highway 16 warning girls not to hitchhike
Victims 16-40+
Span of killings
Country Canada
Location(s) Prince George, British Columbia
Prince Rupert, British Columbia

The Highway of Tears murders is a series of murders and disappearances of mainly aboriginal women along the 720 km (450 mi) section of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada from 1969 until 2011.[1][2] Highway 16 is northern British Columbia's east-west corridor, extending from Jasper in the east to Prince Rupert in the west.[3] This route is a section of the Trans-Canada Yellowhead Highway, also known as the "Park-to-Park Highway", which spans across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.[4] There are numerous municipalities and twenty-three First Nations communities that border the Highway of Tears.[3][5] The region is plagued with poverty and lack of public transportation, forcing its occupants to turn to hitchhiking as a form of transit.[6] Police list the number of Highway 16 victims at nineteen, but estimates by aboriginal organizations range into the forties, largely because they include women who disappeared a greater distance from the highway.[7] Thirteen of the nineteen victims were teenagers while ten out of the nineteen victims were women of aboriginal descent.[7]

External video
B.C.‘s infamous Highway of Tears, CBC Archives, 2:32, June 21, 2006, reported by Miyoung Lee[1]

To date, only one murder has been solved, for which serial killer Cody Legebokoff was convicted, although American serial rapist and suspected serial killer Bobby Jack Fowler, who died while imprisoned in the United States for other crimes, is a suspect in many of the murders. Authorities have persons of interest in several other cases, but insufficient evidence to press charges.


No. Name Age Fate Last location Year Notes
1 Gloria Moody 26 Homicide Williams Lake 1969 She was last seen on October 25, leaving a bar in Williams Lake. Her body was found in the woods at a cattle ranch 10 km away.
2 Micheline Pare 18 Missing Hudson's Hope 1970 Last seen on Highway 29 at the gates of Tompkins Ranch situated between Fort St. John and Hudson's Hope. Two women who had given her a ride had dropped her off there.
3 Gale Weys 19 Homicide Clearwater 1973 (October) Disappeared while hitchhiking from Clearwater to Kamloops. Her body was found in a ditch on Highway 5 south of Clearwater.[8] Bobby Jack Fowler prime suspect
4 Pamela Darlington 19 Homicide Kamloops 1973 (November) Vanished from Kamloops while hitchhiking to a local bar. Her body was found the next day.[8] Bobby Jack Fowler prime suspect
5 Monica Ignas 14 Homicide Thornhill 1974 (December) She was believed to be going home from school when she was last seen on Dec. 13, 1974 in Thornhill, B.C. Her body was found on Apr. 6, 1975, east of Terrace. She had been strangled.
6 Colleen MacMillen 16 Homicide 100 Mile House 1974 (August) Last seen leaving her home in Lac La Hache to hitchhike to a nearby friend's house.[8] Suspect Bobby Jack Fowler's DNA was found on her body in 2012.
7 Monica Jack 12 Homicide Merritt 1978 For 17 years her fate was unknown; In June 1995, forestry workers found skeletal human remains in a ravine off a logging road on Swakum Mountain, about 20 km from where Monica's bike had been located. Dental records and DNA testing confirmed her identity. In December 2014, a serial rapist named Garry Taylor Handlen was charged with the murder of Monica Jack and 11-year girl named Kathryn-Mary Herbert, who has also been speculated as being a victim of the Highway of Tears murders. Police said that he was previously a suspect, but there was not enough evidence to charge him. The December 2014 arrest was attributed to new advances in DNA analysis, but the specific details have not yet been released.[9][10]
8 Maureen Mosie 33 Homicide Kamloops 1981 Maureen Mosie, 33, was believed to be hitchhiking from Salmon Arm to Kamloops in the B.C. Interior, when she was last seen on May 8, 1981. Her body was found the next day by a woman walking her dog along a road off the Trans-Canada highway about 16 kilometres east of Kamloops. She had been severely beaten.
9 Shelly-Ann Bascu 16 Missing Hinton, Alberta 1983 Several days after disappearing, personal items including clothing and blood droplets matching her blood type were found near the Athabasca River.[11]
10 Alberta Williams 24 Homicide Prince Rupert 1989 The body of Alberta Williams, 24, was found on Sept. 25, 1989, about 37 km east of Prince Rupert, B.C., near the Tyee Overpass. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
11 Cicilia Anne Nikal 15 Missing Smithers, British Columbia 1989 Cicilia Anne Nikal disappeared in 1989, a year before her cousin Delphine Nikal. She was last reported in Smithers, B.C. near Highway 16.[12][13]
12 Delphine Nikal 16 Missing Smithers, British Columbia 1990 Delphine Nikal vanished on June 13, 1990. The 15-year-old teenager was hitchhiking east from the town of Smithers, B.C.
13 Ramona Wilson 16 Homicide Smithers 1994 She was hitchhiking to her friends home in Smithers, BC on June 11, 1994. Ramona's remains were found April 1995 near the Smithers Airport.
14 Roxanne Thiara 15 Homicide Burns Lake 1994 She went missing in Prince George on the July long weekend in 1994. She had worked as a prostitute and told a friend she was going out with a customer. She walked around the corner of a building and was never heard from again. Her body was found Aug. 17, 1994, in the bush along Highway 16, six kilometres east of Burns Lake.
15 Alishia 'Leah' Germaine 15 Homicide Prince George 1994 (December) She was found murdered on Dec. 9, 1994, behind Haldi Road Elementary School off of Highway 16 W. outside of Prince George. Leah, 15 years old, part-native was stabbed to death.
16 Lana Derrick 19 Missing Terrace 1995 She was last seen in October 1995 at a service station in Thornhill. Fowler was apprehended (for crimes in USA) in June 1995, and could not have committed this crime.
17 Nicole Hoar 25 Missing Prince George 2002 Fowler was imprisoned in 1996 until his death in 2006, and could not have committed this or later crimes
18 Tamara Chipman 22 Missing Prince Rupert 2005 Last seen in Prince Rupert, British Columbia while hitchhiking east on Highway 16.
19 Aielah Saric Auger 14 Homicide Prince George 2006 The body of Aielah Saric-Auger, 14, was found shortly after she went missing on Feb. 2, 2006. A motorist found Saric-Auger in a ditch on Highway 16 near Tabor Mountain, nearly 20 kilometres east of Prince George.
20 Loren Donn Leslie 15 Homicide Vanderhoof 2010 Cody Legebokoff was convicted of first degree murder on September 11, 2014.[14] In September 2016 the BC Court of Appeal confirmed the original conviction.[15] Legebokoff was age 21 at the time of the murder.
21 Madison Scott 20 Missing Hogsback Lake 2011


20-year-old Madison Scott vanished near the infamous road on May 28, 2011 after attending a party. Police located her tent and truck, but the young woman remains missing.

Madison was last seen during the early morning hours of May 28, 2011 at Hogsback Lake, 25 kilometres southeast of Vanderhoof.[16][17]

Investigation and suspects[edit]

In 2009, police converged on a property in Isle Pierre, in rural Prince George, to search for the remains of Nicole Hoar, a young tree planter who went missing on Highway 16, on June 21, 2002. The property was once owned by Leland Vincent Switzer, who is currently serving a prison sentence for the second-degree murder of his brother. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) also searched the property for the other missing women from the Highway of Tears; however, no further actions followed the investigation.[2]

On September 25, 2012, the RCMP announced a link between the murders and deceased United States criminal Bobby Jack Fowler. His DNA was found on the body of Colleen MacMillen, one of the presumed victims.[18] Investigators first compiled a DNA profile of the perpetrator in 2007, but technology available at the time did not yield a strong enough sample. New technologies allowed police to re-examine the DNA in 2012, leading to the identification.[8] Fowler is also strongly suspected to have killed both Gale Weys and Pamela Darlington in 1973. The RCMP believe that he may have also killed as many as ten or possibly even twenty of the other victims.[18][19] Several of the murders took place after Fowler's arrest in June 1995.

Canadian serial killer Cody Legebokoff was convicted of one of the murders in 2014.

Despite identifying Fowler as the killer in these cases, investigators are doubtful that they will ever solve all of the murders. They do have persons of interest in several other cases, but not enough evidence to lay charges.[8]

B.C. government email scandal[edit]

On October 22, 2015, Elizabeth Denham, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia, published a 65-page report outlining how B.C. government officials had "triple deleted" emails relating to the Highway of Tears.[20] In her report Access Denied, Denham describes the act of "triple deleting" as transferring an email to the "deleted" folder on a computer system, deleting the email from the folder and then overriding the backup that admits the system to retrieve deleted items.[21] By deleting these files, Denham states the government had breached the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.[20] Denham became aware of the scandal in May 2015 after she received a letter from Tim Duncan, the former executive assistant to Transportation Minister Todd Stone.[20] Duncan claimed that as he was responding to a FOI (Freedom of Information) application, ministerial assistant George Gretes ordered for Duncan to search his records for any files pertaining to the Highway of Tears and missing women.[20] Once the files were located, Duncan testified that Gretes ordered for them to be deleted. When Duncan hesitated, Gretes allegedly took the keyboard and "triple deleted" all of the emails relating to the Highway of Tears.[20] According to Denham, Gretes originally denied this claim but later admitted to the triple deletion during a second police interview.[22] Denham states that Gretes—who resigned from his job in October 2015—would have then lied under oath.[22] A year earlier in the summer of 2014, a team from the Transportation Ministry toured Highway 16 and conducted numerous meetings with Aboriginal leaders and communities.[20] The significance of this project was to produce safer travel solutions for women living along Highway 16, many of whom had turned to hitchhiking as a way of transportation. In November 2014, the NDP made the FOI request seeking all government files pertaining to missing women, the Highway of Tears and meetings arranged by the ministry: the report Duncan would later respond to.[20] Despite a two-month tour and multiple meetings, the B.C. government claimed the FOI request produced no files relating to the Highway of Tears.[20] According to Denham's report, these records did exist until government officials destroyed them in order to "skirt freedom of information laws".[23] In Access Denied, Denham called upon the RCMP to further investigate the triple deletion of government files.[22] In November 2015, Vancouver lawyer Mark Jetté was appointed as special prosecutor within the RCMP investigation. Jetté will act as the RCMP's independent legal advisor as well as administer an independent assessment of the evidence. He will also pursue any criminal charges that may be found appropriate.[24]

Project E-PANA[edit]

In 2005, the RCMP launched project E-PANA which focussed upon the unsolved murders and disappearances of young women along Highway 16 throughout the past thirty-seven years.[25] E-PANA sought to discover if there was a single serial killer at work or a multitude of killers operating along the highway.[25] The unit investigated nine cases in 2006, but by 2007 its caseload had doubled to eighteen.[25] The victims involved within the E-PANA investigation followed the criteria of being female, participating in a high risk lifestyle, known to hitchhike and were last seen or their bodies were discovered within a mile from Highway 16, Highway 97 and Highway 5.[25] In the 2009/2010 year, E-PANA received over five million dollars in annual funding but has since dramatically declined due to budget cutbacks; receiving only $806,109 for the 2013/2014 year.[26] In 2013, Craig Callens, the RCMP Deputy Commissioner, warned that further budget reductions from the provincial government would greatly affect the Highway of Tears investigation.[27] A 2014 Freedom of Information request stated that the task force had dropped from seventy officers to twelve officers over the past few years.[26] E-PANA is responsible for solving the murder of sixteen-year-old Colleen MacMillen, who was killed in 1974 by the now deceased American serial killer Bobby Jack Fowler.[28] E-PANA now considers Fowler a suspect in the murders of two other highway victims, Gale Weys and Pamela Darlington, both of whom were killed in the 1970s.[29] In 2014, investigations by E-PANA and the Provincial Unsolved Homicide Unit brought murder charges against Garry Taylor Handlen for the death of twelve-year-old Monica Jack in 1978.[30] E-PANA is still investigating the remaining unsolved cases although it is unlikely that all the murders and disappearances will be solved.[31]


Some critics argue that the lack of results arising from this investigation is the result of systemic racism.[32] This was also believed to be an issue in the case of Vancouver's missing women and the Robert Pickton murders. The issue of systemic racism in these cases is explored in Finding Dawn, the 2006 documentary by Christine Welsh whose film includes a section on the Highway of Tears victim Ramona Wilson, including interviews with family and community members. Often overlooked in reports on the Highway of Tears is the fact that over half of the missing women are First Nation.

Activists argue that media coverage of these cases has been limited, claiming that "media assign a lesser value to aboriginal women".[33] Furthermore, despite the fact that these disappearances date back as far as 1969, it was not until 2005 that Project E-Pana was launched, investigating similarities between the cases. In addition, the individual case which has received the most media and police attention thus far is that of Nicole Hoar, a Caucasian woman who disappeared in 2002. Hers was the first of the Highway of Tears cases to be covered in The Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun, and Edmonton Journal. Gladys Radek, a native activist and the aunt of victim Tamara Chipman, "believes that if it weren’t for Hoar, the police would have invested less effort in investigating cases, and the media would have done little, if anything, to inform the public about the tragedies along the road."[33]

Recommendation reports[edit]

Poverty and a lack of public transit has forced many disadvantaged Aboriginal women to turn to hitchhiking as a cheap means of transportation along Highway 16.[34] Many of the Highway of Tears victims were last seen or reported to be hitchhiking before their disappearances.[35] In March 2006, various Aboriginal groups hosted a two-day Highway of Tears symposium at the CN Center in Prince George.[36] In attendance to the event were the victim's families and over 500 Aboriginal leaders from across British Columbia.[37] Shortly thereafter, the Highway of Tears Symposium Recommendation Report was issued with 33 recommendations to improve public transit, deter hitchhiking, and prevent violence towards Aboriginal women.[38] Some of the recommendations from the report include a shuttle bus operation along Highway 16, improved educational, health and social services for Aboriginal people as well counseling and mental health groups organized by Aboriginal workers.[39] These propositions are part of a long-term recommendation to directly confront the issue of First Nations intergenerational poverty.[40] The Highway of Tears Symposium Recommendation Report was endorsed by B.C. inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal in his 2012 Missing Women Commission of Inquiry recommendations.[41] Oppal's public inquiry report into the Robert Pickton case demanded urgent transportation improvement along Highway 16. Like the Highway of Tears Symposium Recommendation Report, Oppal's report also suggested implementing a shuttle bus service along Highway 16 to deter young women from hitchhiking.[41]

On November 24, 2015, the First Nations Health Authority and B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure held the Northern Transportation Symposium in Smithers, British Columbia.[42] The symposium included Aboriginal communities and municipalities along Highway 16 and focussed on the issue of medical and non-medical transportation in those regions.[42] Discussions included and expanded upon the 2006 Highway of Tears Symposium Recommendation Report and the 2012 Missing Women Commission of Inquiry recommendations.[42] In June 2016 Transportation Minister Todd Stone announced that as the result of collaboration across local communities, a bus service would become available along Highway 16. The project will be joint funded by the federal government and the government of British Columbia.[43]

Popular culture[edit]

One of the victims found alongside the highway, 16-year-old Ramona Wilson, was a subject of a 2006 documentary film by Métis filmmaker Christine Welsh, entitled Finding Dawn.[44][45] Welsh's documentary highlights the tragic reality that Aboriginal women face today; in the past 30 years, an estimated 500 Aboriginal women have gone missing or have been murdered in Canada.[46] Welsh uncovers the social, economic and historical factors that contribute to this grim statistic.[46] Finding Dawn honours the women whose lives were lost and instills hope within a deeply wounded culture. The film can be accessed online on the Nation Film Board web page.[46]

In March 2014, a documentary was released by Canadian filmmakers Matthew Smiley and Carly Pope named Highway of Tears.[47] The 80-minute documentary is narrated by Canadian-born actor Nathan Fillion and was featured in numerous film festivals since its release. Highway of Tears raises awareness about the notorious stretch of highway and those women who have seemingly been silenced.[48] In a 2014 interview with CBC, Smiley reveals that during the editing of the film "over 400 [missing and murdered indigenous] women were estimated to be missing and or murdered across Canada. By the time we premiered the film, the number was over 600 in March of 2014, then the numbers increased to 900 and now over 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada. We cannot turn a blind eye to this."[49]

In 2015, the online newscast VICE produced the mini series Searchers: The Highway of Tears. The program highlights the story of various Aboriginal women who have disappeared along the Highway of Tears and brings attention to the family, friends and detectives fighting for justice.[50] VICE also offers numerous online articles pertaining to the Highway of Tears murders and disappearances.[51]

CBC's flagship news program The National has aired fourteen short episodes about Canada's Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. All episodes can currently be found online at The National's YouTube channel under the playlist Canada's Missing & Murdered Aboriginal Women.[52]

An episode of the series 48 Hours about the Highway of Tears murders aired on November 17, 2012.[53]

Lorimer Shenher was nominated for the B.C. Book Prize for his memoir, That Lonely Section of Hell: The Botched Investigation of a Serial Killer Who Almost Got Away (Greystone). Shenher writes from the perspective of a former reporter and the first police detective to be assigned to the case of the missing women, they also cover the highly problematic police culture in detail.[54]


  1. ^ a b Lee, Miyoung (November 17, 2009). "BC's infamous 'Highway of Tears'". CBC Digital Archives. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  2. ^ a b "Highway of Vanishing Women", Daily Beast, July 10, 2011
  3. ^ a b "Highway 16 Transportation Symposium Focused on Practical Solutions". Province of British Columbia. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  4. ^ "It's Road Trip Time!". Go Yellowed. 
  5. ^ "British Columbia". British Columbia. 
  6. ^ "B.C. Highway of Tears study polls hitchhikers' habits". CBC. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  7. ^ a b Human Rights Watch, 2013, Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada. http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/canada0213webwcover_0.pdf
  8. ^ a b c d e Culbert, Lori (September 26, 2012). "Victim's family still heartbroken after dead U.S. sex offender linked to Highway of Tears slaying". 
  9. ^ http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/garry-taylor-handlen-charged-in-2-child-slaying-cold-cases-1.2856285
  10. ^ http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Suspect+killings+well+known+police+serial+rapist/10431704/story.html
  11. ^ "DF - 771BC563". Missingincanada.angelfire.com. 1983-05-03. Archived from the original on 2013-01-17. Retrieved 2012-09-26. 
  13. ^ CBC News http://www.cbc.ca/missingandmurdered/mmiw/profiles/cecilia-nikal.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ CP, Mark NIELSEN &. "Legebokoff guilty". Prince George Citizen. Retrieved 2016-11-05. 
  15. ^ Nielsen, Mark. "Legebokoff appeal dismissed". Prince George Citizen. Retrieved 2016-11-05. 
  16. ^ Makepeace, Civility. "Help Find Madison Scott". 
  17. ^ Makepeace, Civility. "Prince George Citizen Local News". 
  18. ^ a b Sep 25, 2012 10:59 AM PT. "Deceased U.S. convict linked to 3 B.C. cold cases - British Columbia - CBC News". Cbc.ca. Retrieved 2012-09-26. 
  19. ^ http://katu.com/news/local/suspect-named-in-1995-double-homicide-linked-to-20-others-11-19-2015
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h "B.C. government ‘triple deleted’ e-mails related to the Highway of Tears". The Globe and Mail. 
  21. ^ "B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone admits to 'triple deleting' his emails". CBC. 
  22. ^ a b c "Highway of Tears email deletion referred to RCMP by B.C. privacy watchdog". CBC. 
  23. ^ "Email scandal uncovered a culture of 'delete, delete, delete' in B.C. government". CBC. 
  24. ^ "Special prosecutor appointed to help investigate triple deletion of emails". CBC. 
  25. ^ a b c d "Project E-PANA". BC RCMP. 
  26. ^ a b "Police budget, officers cut in Highway of Tears probe Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Police+budget+officers+Highway+Tears+probe/10196415/story.html#ixzz3tj1g7IN5". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 8 December 2015.  External link in |title= (help)
  27. ^ "E-PANA Announce Significant Development and Request for Public Assistance". BC RCMP. 
  28. ^ "Police budget, officers cut in Highway of Tears probe Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Police+budget+officers+Highway+Tears+probe/10196415/story.html#ixzz3tj2RGcBo". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 8 December 2015.  External link in |title= (help)
  29. ^ "Victim's family still heartbroken after dead U.S. sex offender linked to Highway of Tears slaying (with video) Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Video+RCMP+believe+there+more+than+Highway+Tears+killer/7296937/story.html#ixzz3tj2lGMci". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 8 December 2015.  External link in |title= (help)
  30. ^ "Garry Taylor Handlen charged in 2 child slaying cold cases". CBC. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  31. ^ "Police budget, officers cut in Highway of Tears probe Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Police+budget+officers+Highway+Tears+probe/10196415/story.html#ixzz3tj4PltCu". Vancouver Sun.  External link in |title= (help)
  32. ^ "Murder and racism along the Highway of Tears". Canada.com. 2009-08-29. Retrieved 2013-06-17. 
  33. ^ a b Rolston, Adriana (2010). "Highway of Tears Revisted" Ryerson Review of Journalism, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2012-10-01. 
  34. ^ "What to do about safety on Highway of Tears? B.C. already has its answer". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  41. ^ a b "Missing Women Commission of Inquiry". Missing Women Inquiry. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  42. ^ a b c "Highway 16 Transportation Symposium Focused on Practical Solutions". First Nations Health Authority. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  43. ^ "B.C. government approves regular bus service for Highway of Tears". www.cbc.ca. Retrieved 2016-06-16. 
  44. ^ O'CONNOR, JENNIFER (Winter 2009). "FINDING DAWN". Herizons. Bnet. 
  45. ^ de Vos, Gail (January 11, 2008). "FINDING DAWN". Canadian Materials. Manitoba Library Association. XIV (10). 
  46. ^ a b c "Finding Dawn". National Film Board. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  47. ^ IMDB Entry about "Highway of Tears"
  48. ^ "Film shines light on ‘forgotten’ Highway of Tears women". Vancouver Sun. 
  49. ^ "Highway of Tears documentary: Q&A with director Matthew Smiley". CBC. 
  50. ^ "Searchers". VICE. 
  52. ^ "Canada's Missing & Murdered Aboriginal Women". YouTube. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  53. ^ "Episode Detail: Highway of Tears - 48 Hours". Retrieved 19 November 2012. 
  54. ^ Smith, Charlie. "Recovering cop and author Lorimer Shenher richly deserves his nomination for a B.C. Book Prize". Straight.com. VANCOUVER FREE PRESS. Retrieved 11 July 2016. 

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