Highway of Tears murdered and missing

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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 crimes
Country Canada
Location(s) Prince George, British Columbia
Prince Rupert, British Columbia

The Highway of Tears is a series of murders and disappearances of mainly Indigenous women along a 720-kilometre (450 mi) section of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, from 1969 until present.[1][2]

Numerous municipalities and 23 First Nations communities border the Highway of Tears.[3][4] The rural region is plagued with poverty and lacks public transportation; many residents turn to hitchhiking as a form of transit or partake in high risk lifestyles to survive.[5]

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


Accounts vary as to the exact number of victims. According to the RCMP Project E-Pana list the number of victims is less than 18.[6][7] It should be noted that E-Pana is limited to cases between 1969 and 2006, female victims who had to either be involved in hitchhiking or other high risk behaviour. Aboriginal organizations estimate that the number of missing women (likely murdered) ranges above forty;[8] their estimate includes broader selection criteria than defined by E-Pana.[8][7] It should also be noted that although E-Pana has led to solved cases in other areas, not a single E-Pana case along the Highway of Tears has been solved to date.

The following list contains as comprehensively as possible, all missing or murdered women within the Highway 16 corridor between Prince Rupert and Prince George. E-Pana cases are categorized.

Name Age Fate Last location Year Notes Suspect Category
Helen Claire Frost 17 Missing Prince George 1970 (October) Left her home in downtown Prince George on the evening of October 13, 1970 and was never seen again.[9] There was some thought that Helen may have been suicidal because she had recently given up a baby for adoption. She was living with her sister, Sandy, at the time in an apartment on Queensway. Helen worked a number of jobs around this time, including a bus person at the Prince George HBC cafeteria and for a painting company, painting gas stations between Prince George and Terrace. Sandy didn’t report her sister missing until October 15, thinking at first she might have stayed at a friend’s house. Police took a missing persons report, but Sandy said she got the impression that “nothing was done.”[10]
VIrginia Sampare 18 Missing Gitsegukla 1971 (October) Ginny Sampare went missing on October 14, 1971. Her cousin Alvin was the last person to see her near a bridge on Highway 16 in Gitsegukla. He left Ginny to bike home and get his jacket. As he pedaled back to meet her, he heard a pickup door slam. But when he reached the road, there was no pickup, and his cousin was gone.[11] There was some speculation that Ginny ran away or committed suicide after her boyfriend disappeared, but her family disputes these theories. Her boyfriend's body was found drowned in the Skeena river after she disappeared.[12]
Monica Ignas 14 Homicide Thornhill 1974 (December) She was believed to be going home from school when she was last seen at 11pm on December 13, 1974 in Thornhill. She was walking home alone. Her body was found in a gravel pit or a densely forested area on April 6, 1975, east of Terrace, near Celgar Forest Service Road. Two witnesses reported seeing a car pulled over to the side of the road the night Ignas vanished. The pair saw a man and a passenger who looked like a girl inside the vehicle.[13] Monica had been strangled.[14] E-Pana
Mary Jane Hill 31 Homicide Prince Rupert 1978 (March) Mary Jane Hill was found nude along Highway 16, on March 26, 1978, 34 km (21 mi) from Prince Rupert. Cause of death was determined to be from bronchitis and bronchopneumonia as a result of manslaughter.[15]
Jean Mary Kovacs 36 Homicide Prince George 1981 (October) Kovacs' nude body was found in a watery ditch, 40 km east of Prince George on 11 October 1981. Police said she died from a .22 caliber bullet wound to her head.[16] Autopsy reports show she had 4 gunshot wounds to the head.[17] Kovacs was last seen alive at about 1:30 AM on October 10, 1981, at the intersection of the Old Cariboo Highway and Highway 16 East. The first nations woman was found by a man gathering firewood near Purden Lake.[18] Edward Dennis Issac was charged with the murder of Kovacs in February 1988.[18]
Roswitha Fuchsbichler 13 Homicide Prince George 1981 (November) Rosithwa was reported missing at 6:45 PM on 14 November 1981; she last talked to a friend at 2 AM that morning.[16] Rosithwa's body was found in a wooded area north of Prince George at 9:25 AM on November 21, 1981. Edward Isaac had picked her up hitchhiking and claimed he killed her "to see what it felt like." Her body had been mangled and mutilated but she died from a single stab wound to the heart.[19] Her body had been stripped naked, stabbed and slashed before being dumped.[17] Edward Dennis Isaac was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced on May 11, 1987 to life in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years.[19]
Nina Marie Joseph 15 Homicide Prince George 1982 (August) Nina Joseph's nude body was found on August 16, 1982 in Freeman Park with a cord from her Jacket around her neck.[16] Her body had been stripped naked, stabbed and slashed before being dumped.[17] Edward Dennis Isaac was convicted of manslaughter in connection to Nina Joseph's death on June 1986.[16] He was arrested on February 7, 1986 in Fort St James[20]
Doreen Jack 26 Missing Prince George 1989 (August) The Jack family left their home on Strathcona Avenue in Prince George, heading to a logging camp, where they had been offered jobs. Ronald and Doreen Jack and their two children Russell, 9, and Ryan, 4, were last heard from during the early hours of Aug. 2, 1989, when Ronald called his mother in the Burns Lake area.[21]
Alberta Gail Williams 24 Homicide Prince Rupert 1989 (August) Alberta Williams went missing on Aug. 25, 1989. Her body was found on 25 Sept. 1989, about 37 km (23 mi) east of Prince Rupert, B.C., near the Tyee Overpass. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted.[22] E-Pana
Cicilia Anne Nikal 15 Missing Smithers 1989 (October) Cicilia Nikal was last seen in October 1989, a year before her cousin Delphine Nikal went missing. Reports of her last known location vary. She was last reported in Smithers, near Highway 16[23][24], but family reports she may have moved to Vancouver Island[25] and RCMP reported her last in Vancouver.[26] Cicilia also had a cousin, Roberta Cicilia Nikal, who was murdered a few years after Delphine disappeared.[27]
Kimberly Dumais 0 Homicide Prince Rupert 1990 (February) On February 5th, 1990, at approximately 5:15 AM, Prince Rupert fire crews were called to a fire at 153 3rd Ave West, the Brooks Bank Building. When they arrived, the building was engulfed in flames. Four people died in the blaze, including infant Kimberly Dumais (granddaughter), Helga Rochon (grandmother), Sherri Rochon (daughter) and Pauline Rochon (daughter). At the time, Helga was hosting her daughters and granddaughter in her third floor apartment for an overnight visit. Law enforcement determined that the blaze was set deliberately. And that this was the second time in a few months that a blaze was set deliberately to this building. On October 31, 1989, at approximately 2:45 AM, the same building was set on fire where the cause of the fire was also determined to be deliberate. The RCMP is not ruling out that this was a targeted attack. There was a business on the ground floor of the apartment.[28]
Helga Rochon 45 Homicide Prince Rupert 1990 (February) Died in same blaze that claimed lives of Kimberly Dumais, Helga Rochon, Sherri Rochon and Pauline Rochon.[28]
Sherri Rochon 26 Homicide Prince Rupert 1990 (February) Died in same blaze that claimed lives of Kimberly Dumais, Helga Rochon, Sherri Rochon and Pauline Rochon.[28]
Pauline Rochon 19 Homicide Prince Rupert 1990 (February) Died in same blaze that claimed lives of Kimberly Dumais, Helga Rochon, Sherri Rochon and Pauline Rochon.[28]
Delphine Anne Camelia Nikal 15 Missing Smithers 1990 (June) Delphine Nikal vanished on June 13, 1990. She was last seen hitchhiking along Highway 16 and King Street on her way home to Telkwa, BC [29] At approx. 10:00 pm, Delphine called her uncle to tell him that she was on her way home from Smithers. She was last seen by her two friends hitchhiking in the east bound lane of Highway 16.[30] Delphine went missing about a year after her cousin Cicilia went missing. Delphine also had a cousin, Roberta Cicilia Nikal, who was murdered a few years after Delphine disappeared.[27] E-Pana
Donna Charlie 22 Homicide Prince George 1990


In September 1990, Donna Charlie was reported missing. She was last seen leaving Ingenika Street with Jerry Smaaslet on August 30, 1990. In April 1991, the police located her headless body buried in a shallow grave in downtown Prince George. Her head was never found.[31] In May 1991, Jerry Smaaslet of Fort Ware was charged with the murder. A jury convicted him of second degree murder but the conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal and a new trial ordered. In May 1995, Smaaslet pled guilty to manslaughter and served an additional year to the 38 months served already. Smaalset was arrested again in 2001 for another incident and was sentenced as a dangerous offender for an indefinite period.[31][32]
Ramona Wilson 16 Homicide Smithers 1994


She was hitchhiking from Smithers to attend a dance and stay with friends in Hazelton, BC on June 1, 1994. Ramona's remains were found April 1995 north of Yellich Road near the Smithers Airport. Several items were in a small organized pile a few feet away.

Other objects nearby included a half-buried small section of rope, three interlocking nylon ties and a small pink "brass knuckles" type water pistol.[33][34]

Roxanne Thiara 15 Homicide Burns Lake 1994 (July) 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 August 17, 1994, in the bush along Highway 16, 6 km (3.7 mi) east of Burns Lake. She knew victim Alisha Germaine[35] E-Pana
Alishia 'Leah' Germaine 15 Homicide Prince George 1994 (December) She was found murdered on December 9, 1994, behind Haldi Road Elementary School off of Highway 16 W. outside of Prince George. Leah was stabbed to death. She knew victim Roxanne Thiara[35] E-Pana
Lana Derrick 19 Missing Terrace 1995 (October) She was last seen in October 1995 at a service station in Thornhill.[36] One rumor said she got into the car with two unidentified men.[37] E-Pana
Wendy Ann Twiss Ratte 47 Missing Prince George 1997 (August) Disappeared while shopping in downtown Prince George. Her vehicle was discovered at what is now Value Village after she was reported missing on August 18, 1997.[38] The case idled for years, until husband Denis Ratte was charged with second degree murder in 2008. Dennis was enticed to confess to undercover RCMP officers during a Mr. Big sting. During the operation, Dennis confessed to shooting his wife and dumping her naked body in a swamp.[39] Dennis Ratte was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife, Wendy Ratte.[39]
Amanda Jean Simpson 4 Homicide Prince George 1999 (October) On October 30, 1999, Amanda was taken to Prince George Regional Hospital with massive head and abdominal injuries. She was brought to the hospital by her mother and stepfather, Ronald Rory Polson. She died three days later in BC Children's Hospital. During a coroner's inquest into the case, three different medical experts testified that Amanda's injuries were not consistent with Ron Polson's version of events that Amanda fell. Dr. Margaret Colbourne of B.C. Children's Hospital, who examined the girl before she died, told the inquest that Amanda's head injuries were similar to those that would be suffered in a fall from a three-storey building. Dr Colbourne said: "This wasn't an accident. She was beaten to death." In the doctor's opinion, Amanda had been "battered, shaken, struck, punched, kicked, stomped, and perhaps thrown." The inquest ruled Amanda's cause of death as a homicide.[40][41] Between 1991 and 1999 the B.C. Ministry of Social Services had received 22 child-protection complaints about Amanda’s family.[42] Only after Amanda's death was custody of her three sisters handed over to the ministry.[40] Ronald Paulson was never charged for Amanda's death.
Monica McKay 18 Homicide Prince Rupert 1999 (December) McKay was last seen by friends before midnight December 31, 1999. She was reported missing two days later by family when she didn't return home. Her body was discovered on January 8, 2000, by a passerby.[43] McKay's body was dumped beside a dumpster. Even though this case meets the criteria for E-Pana, RCMP reported that they had no reason to believe this was connected to the Highway of Tears cases. Const. Mike Herchuck of Prince George RCMP stated "When you get the volume of kids we have missing - especially those that are turning up dead, or sexually abused, or kidnapped and tortured, you can't help but want to connect the dots." No suspects have been charged to date.[44]
Savannah Hall 3 Homicide Prince George 2001 (January) Was found gurgling and gasping by foster parents Patricia and Thomas Keene in their Prince George home. A leather harness, the sort normally used to teach toddlers to walk, would be fastened to her chest and shoulders. Straps would then be tied to her crib, to keep her in place.[45]

In 2003, Thomas Keene sued the BC government for "loss of profits" (BC Civil Court file 14097/03)[45][46]

A coroner's inquest was held which determined the cause of death was homicide.[47] No charges were ever laid.
Ada Elaine Brown 39 Homicide Prince George 2001 (April) Body found on April 9, 2001 in a hotel room in Prince George. The post-mortem mentioned previous assaults, and it even noted that Brown had two black eyes when she died, the coroner's office determined that "this death is classified as undetermined."  [48] No one was ever charged in Brown's death.
Kayla Rose McKay 13 Homicide Prince Rupert 2004 (April) McKay's body was found April 15, 2004, near the Prince Rupert harbor front on George Hills Way.[49] Although RCMP stated that they are confident McKay didn't die from murder or suicide, investigators said they weren’t ruling out the possibility of “criminal involvement” in her death.[50]
Nicole Hoar 24 Missing Prince George 2002 (June) Nicole Hoar was last seen hitchhiking to Smithers. Originally from Red Deer, Alberta, Nicole was last seen at a gas station at 5952 Gauthier Road, west of Prince George, on June 21, 2002 at approximately 14:50 talking to a 30-ish year old caucasian man in an orange car[51] Police investigated convicted murderer Leland Vincent Switzer and searched his Isle Pierre property but didn't find any human remains.[52][53][2] E-Pana
Helena Jack 71 Homicide Burns Lake 2004 (July) Jack was murdered on 29 July 2004. Her badly beaten and burned remains were found in her burnt out garage next to her home in the 600 block of Highway 16. Evidence in the garage led to a local hotel room where evidence was found to convict Vincent Sam.[54] Vincent Sam was charged with murder on 4 September 2004. He was later convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.[54]
Barbara Joseph 43 Homicide Fort St. James 2004 (September) Barbara Joseph was last seen on September 4, 2004. Her body was discovered on September 5, 2004. Her throat had been slashed.[55] Joseph's cousin Winchester Thomas was convicted of manslaughter in the case and sentenced to 12 years[56]
Melanie Dawn Brown 31 Homicide Prince George 2004 (December) Found deceased in a Prince George basement suite on December 8, 2004. Cause of death was a gunshot wound[57][58]
Mary Madeline George Missing Prince George 2005 (July) Mary was reportedly walking to a clinic in Prince George when she was last seen on July 24, 2005 at 6pm.[59]
Tamara Lynn Chipman 22 Missing Prince Rupert 2005 (September) Last seen in Prince Rupert, on September 25, 2005, while hitchhiking east on Highway 16 near the Industrial Park.[60][61] E-Pana
Aielah Saric Auger 14 Homicide Prince George 2006 (February) The body of Aielah Saric-Auger, 14, was found February 10, 2006 shortly after she went missing on February 2, 2006.[35] After going to the mall with her brother and sister, Aielah went to a friend’s house for a sleepover. Overnight, she was spotted walking north, in the 2100 block of Quince Street. Video surveillance shows Aielah walking towards her home and passing the Save-On-Foods gas bar at 100-1600 15th avenue at around 1 a.m.[62] A motorist found Saric-Auger in a ditch on Highway 16 near Tabor Mountain, nearly 20 km (12 mi) east of Prince George. E-Pana
Bonnie Marie Joseph 32 Missing Vanderhoof 2007 (September) Bonnie, a mother of five, was last seen in Vanderhoof on the afternoon of September 8, 2007 by her cousin Joanne. Joseph was seen hitchhiking from Vanderhoof to Prince George, where she had a court date the next day. She was nearing the end of a series of court dates to get her children back from the government. She was close to getting her children back and never missed a single court date until September 9.[63] She was reported missing in December 2007 by her aunt Rose Joseph.[63] Police say she led a high-risk lifestyle and was known to hitchhike alone between Fort St. James, Vanderhoof and Prince George; thus, Joseph's case matches all criteria for E-Pana investigation but was not chosen as part of the E-Pana list for unknown reasons. Her family considers her disappearance to be out of character.[64][65][63] According to her cousin Vanessa Joseph, before Bonnie was reported missing and after she was last seen, her wallet and ID was found near a lake with an un-cashed cheque still in it. It was turned into the RCMP, who reported this discovery to Bonnie Joseph's sister Sharon a year later.[63]
Brittany Giese 19 Homicide Prince George 2008 (October) On October 7, 2008 police were alerted by phone to a house on Webber Crescent in Prince George,[66] where Brittany Giese and Garrett McComb were found dead.[67] It is believed that the deaths were gang related[67]
Jill Stacey Stuchenko 35 Homicide Prince George 2009 (October) Her body was found in October 2009 in a gravel pit on the outskirts of Prince George. She had died from multiple blows to the head. She was known to be engaged in sex work. She left behind five children.[64] Cody Legebokoff was arrested in November 2010 and convicted of first degree murder on September 11, 2014.[68][69]
Cynthia Frances Maas 35 Homicide Prince George 2010 (September) The remains of Cynthia Frances Maas were found in L.C. Gunn Park, near Prince George, on Oct. 8. Maas was last seen Sept. 10 in the area of Juniper Street and 19 Avenue In Prince George.[70] She was reported missing by family members and friends on Sept. 23 after she failed to check in with them.[70] She had died from blunt force trauma and penetrating wounds to the chest. She had defense wounds and her pants were rolled down to her ankles. She was known to be engaged in sex work.[64] Cody Legebokoff was arrested in November 2010 and convicted of first degree murder on September 11, 2014.[68][69]
Natasha Lynn Montgomery 23 Homicide Prince George 2010 (September) Montgomery was last heard from August 26, 2010 when she called her parents to "touch base."[71] She was known to be engaged in sex work. Serial killer Cody Legebokoff was convicted of her murder, though Natasha's body has never been found. Natasha's DNA was discovered on Legebokoff's shorts, hoodie, throughout his apartment, and on his axe.[64] Cody Legebokoff was arrested in November 2010 and convicted of first degree murder on September 11, 2014.[68][69]
Linda Fredin 56 Homicide Prince George 2010 (November) Linda Fredin was trapped in her wheelchair when her home was consumed by fire on November 24, 2010. She was transported to Vancouver General Hospital where she died three days later.[72] Police believe that the crime may have been linked to gang violence.[72] No charges have been laid.
Loren Donn Leslie 15 Homicide Vanderhoof 2010 (November) Was an acquaintance of serial killer Cody Legebokoff, whom she met online. Her body was found in November 2010 on a remote logging road just off Highway 27 near Fort St James. Legebokoff was pulled over by police on November 27, 2010 and was in possession of Loren's belongings and covered in Loren's blood.[69][73] Cody Legebokoff was arrested in November 2010 and convicted of first degree murder on September 11, 2014.[68][69]
Chassidy Charlie 17 Homicide Burns Lake 2011 (January) Burns Lake RCMP were called to an Uncha Mountain Road home at approximately 3:45 p.m. on January 26. 2011 following the report of an unconscious girl at the home.[74]

The girl's mother, Geraldine Charlie, said "Her face was burnt, half of her hair was gone and her cell phone is missing," [74]

In May 2012, a 17-year-old Burns Lake male was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of Chassidy Charlie. The male "was known to Chassidy,"[75]
Madison Geraldine Scott 20 Missing Vanderhoof 2011


Madison was last seen during the early morning hours of May 28, 2011 at Hogsback Lake, 25 km (16 mi) southeast of Vanderhoof. Maddy vanished after attending a party at Hogsback Lake with a friend Jordi Bolduc, who left her there because Jordi was drunk and injured. More than a day later, Madison's parents went to check on Madison and reported her missing to the police shortly after discovering her abandoned truck and flattened tent at the lake. Numerous items of value were found on, in and around the truck, which included unopened liquor, gasoline, motorbike equipment, camera and purse. An iPhone 5 with a blue case and a set of keys with a gothic themed lanyard are among some of the items known to be missing. Police said that there was no sign of a struggle and that foul play is suspected.[76][77]
Maria Rego 47 Homicide Kitimat 2011 (October) On October 9, 2011, around 7 a.m., Kitimat RCMP were called to a residence in the area of Whitesail road for an alleged break and enter with assault, whereby officers found a man and woman, who had been assaulted and were in need of immediate medical help. The woman, Maria Rego, succumbed to her injuries and died; the man, her husband, survived. A nineteen year old man was arrested nearby without incident.[78] Tyler Scott Eli was convicted to life imprisonment for second degree murder on March 25, 2015.[78]
Destiny Rae Tom 21 Homicide Fraser Lake 2013 (March) Was found dead On March 23, 2013 outside a home on the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation in northern B.C. She had been severely beaten. Destiny left behind one daughter. Garrett Steven George was charged in February 2015 of second-degree murder in the case. George had a criminal record that includes convictions for assault, assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm.[64]
Immaculate Basil 26 Missing Fort St. James 2013 (June) Mother of a five-year-old son, "Mackie" had recently broke up with the father of the child, her common law husband. Her family described her as a "home body" who didn't have drug problems. The night she went missing, she was at a house party on Thursday 14 June 2013, a 20-minute walk away from her house in Fort St James, she left at midnight. She was last seen after the house party, heading to a cabin in the Leo Creek area, north of the Tachie Reserve, north of Fort St. James. Mackie was with two men, one her cousin Keith, and the other a man named Victor in a white truck and heading towards a cabin north of Tachie reserve. They had been drinking and were going to pickup tin. When the truck got stuck after an accident, she separated from the two and headed for the cabin alone. Reports differ as to last witnesses, but Immaculate was reportedly seen last by either a truck driver or "forestry workers".[79][80][81] Mackie would usually call her sisters every day. Her sister, Chrystal became alarmed after a few days of not receiving a call. Mackie was reported missing to the RCMP Monday June 17, 2013 by Chrystal. The RCMP came to Fort St James to file a missing persons report on June 18, 2013. Mackie didn't bring an extra set of clothes or makeup, which she changed daily, and her family considers her disappearance to be out of character. The police had conducted a polygraph test of both Keith and Victor and reported that both were "cooperative." A police psychologist also conducted an interview of both men, and didn't report anything suspicious to the public. Numerous witnesses reported seeing Victor in Fort St James at 10 am the day after Mackie's disappearance, "walking down the road, clothes wet up to his chest." Mackie went missing one hours drive away by vehicle from Fort St James, at a place called "16 kilometer."[82]
Jessica Patrick (Balczer) 18 Homicide Smithers 2018 (September) Patrick was last seen at the Smithers McDonalds or the Mountainview Motel, early August 31, 2018.[83][84]

News of her death was released on September 16, 2018, before police officially released identity of human remains found.[85]

According to RCMP, the body was found on Hudson Bay Mountain Road, at a large pull-out, about 15 meters down a steep bank on Saturday, September 15[86]

Investigation and suspects[edit]

To date, a number of people have been convicted in cases related to the Highway of Tears, but only one serial killer, Cody Legebokoff. Bobby Jack Fowler was strongly implicated in a number of cases related to E-Pana.

On September 25, 2012, the RCMP announced a link between the murders and Fowler. His DNA was found on the body of Colleen MacMillen, one of the presumed victims.[87] 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.[88] In addition, Fowler is also strongly suspected of having 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.[87][89] Several of the murders took place after Fowler's arrest in June 1995.

Fowler was linked to the Highway of Tears cases mainly because he worked for a now closed Prince George company called Happy's Roofing in 1974.[90]

In 2014, Canadian serial killer Cody Legebokoff was convicted in the murder of Loren Donn Leslie in 2010. He was convicted of first degree murder on September 11, 2014.[68] In September 2016 the BC Court of Appeal confirmed the original conviction.[91] Legebokoff was age 21 at the time of the murder.

In December 2014, a serial rapist named Garry Taylor Handlen was charged with the murders of Monica Jack and 11-year-old Kathryn-Mary Herbert. Police said that Handlen was previously a suspect, but they had not had enough evidence to charge him. The December 2014 arrest was attributed to new advances in DNA analysis, but the specific details were not released.[92][93]

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]

Despite Fowler and Legebokoff having been identified as two of the killers 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.[88]

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.[94] 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.[95] By deleting these files, Denham states the government had breached the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.[94] 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.[94] Duncan claimed that as he was responding to an 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.[94] 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.[94] According to Denham, Gretes originally denied this claim but later admitted to the triple deletion during a second police interview.[96] Denham states that Gretes—who resigned from his job in October 2015—would have then lied under oath.[96] 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.[94] 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.[94] 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.[94] According to Denham's report, these records did exist until government officials destroyed them in order to "skirt freedom of information laws".[97] In Access Denied, Denham called upon the RCMP to further investigate the triple deletion of government files.[96] 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.[98]

Project E-Pana[edit]

Awareness campaign for Madison Scott, missing in 2011 along the Highway of Tears.

In 2005, the RCMP launched project E-Pana which focussed upon the unsolved murders and disappearances of young women along Highway 16 throughout the years between 1969 and 2006.[99] E-Pana sought to discover if there was a single serial killer at work or a multitude of killers operating along the highway.[99] The unit investigated nine cases in 2006, but by 2007 its caseload had doubled to eighteen.[99] 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.[99] 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.[100] 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.[101] A 2014 Freedom of Information request stated that the task force had dropped from seventy officers to twelve officers since 2010.[100] 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.[102] 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.[103] 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.[104] E-Pana is still investigating the remaining unsolved cases although it is unlikely that all the murders and disappearances will be solved.[105]

It should also be noted that although E-Pana has led to solved cases in other areas, not a single E-Pana case along the Highway of Tears has been solved to date.


Some critics argue that the lack of results arising from this investigation is the result of systemic racism.[106] 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".[107] 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."[107]

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.[108] Many of the Highway of Tears victims were last seen or reported to be hitchhiking before their disappearances.[109] In March 2006, various Aboriginal groups hosted a two-day Highway of Tears symposium at the CN Center in Prince George.[110] In attendance to the event were the victim's families and over 500 Aboriginal leaders from across British Columbia.[111] 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.[112] 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.[113] These propositions are part of a long-term recommendation to directly confront the issue of First Nations intergenerational poverty.[114] 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.[115] 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.[115]

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.[116] The symposium included Aboriginal communities and municipalities along Highway 16 and focussed on the issue of medical and non-medical transportation in those regions.[116] Discussions included and expanded upon the 2006 Highway of Tears Symposium Recommendation Report and the 2012 Missing Women Commission of Inquiry recommendations.[116]

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.[117]

In June 2017, a subsidized transit service began operations on alternating days along a 400 kilometres (250 mi) section between Prince George and Burns Lake.[118]

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.[119][120] 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.[121] Welsh uncovers the social, economic and historical factors that contribute to this grim statistic.[121] 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.[121]

In March 2014, a documentary was released by Canadian filmmakers Matthew Smiley and Carly Pope named Highway of Tears.[122] 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.[123] 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."[124]

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.[125] VICE also offers numerous online articles pertaining to the Highway of Tears murders and disappearances.[126]

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.[127]

An episode of the series 48 Hours about the Highway of Tears murders aired on November 17, 2012.[128]

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.[129]


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External links[edit]