Wednesday, December 30

Mass murderer Pickton wrongly convicted, appeal lawyers say

pickton and courtsketch10nw1

Robert Matas

Vancouver — From Thursday's Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009 9:16PM EST Last updated on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009 9:57PM EST

Serial killer Robert Pickton may have been found guilty for activities that are not even criminal, his lawyers say in an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In a bid to overturn his conviction of the second-degree murder of six women, his lawyers also say Mr. Pickton's Charter rights to a fair trial and to respond fully to the charges against him were infringed.

“There was a real risk that the jury convicted [Mr. Pickton] for indirect acts upon which they were not properly instructed, which the defence did not have an opportunity to address, and which might even fall outside the ambit of criminal activity,” Mr. Pickton's lawyers Gil McKinnon and Patrick McGowan state in a 63-page submission to the court.

“Trial fairness is at the heart of this appeal,” they say. “No matter how heinous the crime, an accused has a constitutional right to a fair trial.”

The Supreme Court of Canada is to hear Mr. Pickton's closely watched appeal on March 25. He is asking the court to overturn his conviction and order a new trial. Mr. Pickton was found guilty in a jury trial in December, 2007. The Court of Appeal, in a 2-to-1 decision, upheld the conviction.

Mr. Pickton has also been charged with the murder of 20 additional women. All were dependent on drugs and worked as prostitutes in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, Canada's poorest postal code.

Mr. Pickton's lawyers say Crown prosecutors maintained throughout the trial that Mr. Pickton was the person who killed the six women and that he acted alone.

The trial judge instructed the jurors that they must return a verdict of not guilty if they had a reasonable doubt about whether Mr. Pickton shot the women.

But after six days of deliberating, the jury sent a note to the judge asking if it could find Mr. Pickton was the killer if it inferred he “acted indirectly.”

The trial judge acknowledged he did not know what the jury meant by “acted indirectly,” but did not ask for clarification. He called the jurors back into the courtroom and revised his instructions, saying they could convict Mr. Pickton if they found he shot the victim or was otherwise “an active participant” in the killing.

The trial judge amended the charges against Mr. Pickton “to include an ill-defined, alternative basis for finding [Mr.] Pickton guilty,” the lawyers say.

Two days later, the jury convicted Mr. Pickton of second-degree murder.

Mr. Pickton's lawyers say the issue in the appeal is whether the trial judge's response to the jury, in the context of his previous instructions and the entire trial, compromised the fairness of the trial.

“Put simply, the jury's critical question was incorrectly answered, the ‘goal posts' were changed by the amendment at a very late and impermissible stage of the trial and the Crown gained a significant unjustified advantage,” the lawyers say.

“If [Mr.] Pickton was not the shooter, there was nothing to support a finding that he was present when [someone else] shot the women and that he did some culpable act that significantly contributed toward the cause of death,” they say.

The lawyers say the trial judge erred procedurally when he answered the jurors' question without having a clear understanding of the problem that was troubling them and erred substantively in failing to give a proper response.

Gil McKinnon, Mr. Pickton's lead lawyer, declined yesterday to comment on his written submissions to court. The Crown lawyers have not yet made any submissions.

Mr. Pickton was convicted of murdering Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Marnie Frey, Brenda Wolfe and Georgina Papin.

Globe and Mail

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Friday, December 18

Vancouver police offer $10,000 reward to find prostitute killer

By John Colebourn, The Province

December 1, 2009

Vancouver police erected a billboard on East Cordova in Vancouver on December 1, 2009, to help find Lisa Francis' killer.

Vancouver police erected a billboard on East Cordova in Vancouver on December 1, 2009, to help find Lisa Francis' killer.

Photograph by: Wayne Leidenfrost, The Province

Vancouver police are hoping a billboard ad in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and a $10,000 reward helps solve the murder of sex-trade worker Lisa Francis.

Francis, who worked the streets in the area around the 700-block of East Cordova was found in the Fraser River on July 23 this year.

Police have few clues on her disappearance and murder, said Vancouver Police Const. Lindsey Houghton. “We are hoping the billboard and the $10,000 will help generate calls and tips,” said Houghton.

A passerby found the body of Francis, also known as Lisa Arlene Kireche, floating in the Fraser River July 23 near the 9100-block Bentley Street just west of the Arthur Laing Bridge.

Francis, 41, had been living in a newly-renovated Downtown Eastside hotel owned by the provincial government and run by the Lookout Emergency Aid Society.

She was last seen on July 10 and was reported missing July 17 when she failed to return home after several days.

“The reason we erected the sign here is because Lisa worked in this area,” he said.

© Copyright (c) The Province

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Monday, December 14

Missing and Murdered Women along the Highway of Tears – reporter Lori Culbert will host a live chat at noon on Tuesday, December 15.

Deputy Managing Editor Paul Bucci and reporter Lori Culbert will host a live chat at noon on Tuesday, December 15. In the meantime, you can post questions for Lori in advance or discuss the case and your memories of the women and girls who vanished along B.C. and Alberta highways below.

Women Missing or Murdered
A Five-Part Investigative series

A Vancouver Sun investigation tells the full story, for the first time, of the Highway of Tears victims and raises questions about other similar unsolved cases.

Deputy Managing Editor Paul Bucci and reporter Lori Culbert will host a live chat at noon on Tuesday, December 15. In the meantime, you can post questions for Lori in advance or discuss the case and your memories of the women and girls who vanished along B.C. and Alberta highways below.

VANISHING POINT - The Vancouver Sun

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Sunday, December 13

Possible Highway of Tears suspects haunt detectives

There has never been an arrest in this mystery

Sunday, December 13th, 2009 | 6:40 pm

Canwest News Service


A former Kamloops detective got excited about a possible break in the murder of Colleen Rae MacMillen, 16, when a U.S. man confessed to killing her.

MacMillen's body had been found on a logging road about 25 kilometres south of 100 Mile House about a month after the she went missing in 1974.

But the man changed the details of how the murder was carried out, and police later concluded it was a bogus confession, said Ken Leibel.

The suspect, Edwin Henry Foster, 19, made the confession while serving an eight-year sentence for a gas station robbery. He hanged himself in a Washington state prison in 1976.

The prospect of resolution fizzled into yet another frustrating dead end in the unsolved murder of Colleen MacMillen.

Her brutal death is just one of a grim series of disappearances and murders of women in northern B.C. that have haunted Leibel and other detectives over the years.

Leibel said he got excited again when he began investigating another likely suspect, who lived outside of 100 Mile House in the 1970s.

"Somebody came to the detachment and said a man had tried to abduct them and they took down the licence plate," Leibel recalls today.

Police ran the plate and saw that the man, Jerry Baker, had a history of sex offences, had done time in prison and had returned to the Williams Lake area around the time MacMillen was killed – the teenager was last seen hitchhiking to a girlfriend's house about six kilometres away in Lac la Hache.

At the time, Leibel felt the man could have been responsible for other murders as well. His name had surfaced in several other investigations, including the murders of Pamela Darlington in Kamloops in 1973 and Gail Ann Weys in Clearwater in 1974.

He tried questioning Baker about MacMillen's murder, "but he was extremely nervous and denied it."

Fifteen years later, Baker became the prime suspect for the murder of a young girl named Norma Tashoots, 17, whose body was found on July 10, 1989 in a wooded area near 100 Mile House. She had been shot.

She was last seen about a month earlier being dropped off near 100 Mile House while hitchhiking to Vancouver.

A local resident suggested Baker was responsible for the Tashoots murder.

Baker, who had reported his Ruger handgun stolen to police the day after Tashoots was last seen, was interviewed and denied being involved. The investigation eventually dead-ended.

But it was re-opened in 2001 after a complete file review and a decision to try an undercover operation.

Baker eventually confessed to murdering Tashoots to an undercover officer and confided where he had disposed of the murder weapon – the gun he had reported missing – which was recovered. He was convicted in 2003 of the murder.

"Is he responsible for four or five [murders] or one? I don't know," Leibel said of Baker.

He said police considered the possibility of a serial killer being involved in the growing number of unsolved murders that occurred along highways in B.C. 's Interior.

"If you've got somebody driving, you could have one guy," Leibel said. "You can cover a lot of ground in a day."

It could be anyone'

There has been criticism levelled at police and RCMP over the years for failing to solve the majority of the highway homicide cases including those of the 18 girls and women on the Highway of Tears victims' list.

Leibel said the cases were especially difficult to investigate because they seemed to involve a killer who was a complete stranger to the murder victims, many of whom were teenage girls trying to hitch a ride.

"It could be anyone," he said of trying to find a suspect. "It's different than when you're investigating a jealous husband or boyfriend."

There has also been criticism from native communities that police didn't properly handle cases involving some of the aboriginal victims.

But Leibel said police treat every murder the same, regardless of the race, colour or socio-economic background of the victim.

"I always looked at the victim the same: You're my client and I'm going to get some justice for you," Leibel said. "You investigate it as if they were your own brother, sister or parent."

He retired as a Mountie in 1992 and currently works on contract with the RCMP, interviewing people who apply to become Mounties. Even today, he still thinks about the unsolved murder of MacMillen.

"The odd time I'll be walking with my morning coffee and I'll think: Could I have done something different?" Leibel, now 58, recalled.

"I'm a proud sucker," he said, adding he solved dozens of murders over his 21-year career. Those were the days when a murder file was kept in boxes, before computers and modern forensic science, including DNA testing.

"Overall, I had a pretty good success rate but there were ones that got away [with murder]."

Leibel says he still has his notebooks from those days, which he keeps in his basement, hoping one day to get a phone call, asking him to to testify about the cold case if it gets solved and goes to trial.

"One day, you hope for the call," he said.

Keith Hildebrand, the commander of the Quesnel detachment until he retired last year, also finds it frustrating that he could never find the solution to the murder of Deena Braem, 16, who was last seen alive hitchhiking on Sept. 25, 1999. Her body was recovered three months later, on Dec. 10, northwest of Quesnel near Pinnacles Provincial Park.

Hildebrand said the unsolved murder file was already gathering dust when he arrived as detachment commander. He oversaw the Braem investigation and brought in detectives with the Surrey-based Integrated Homicide Investigation Team. They thoroughly went through the file and tried to find any tips that were not probed.

"We had some good leads but they ended in another dead end," explained the 58-year-old retired officer, who now runs the community policing office in Quesnel.

"They are investigating tips," he added about the state of the current investigation.

Hildebrand estimated that over the years, more than $1 million has been spent investigating Braem's murder.

It was frustrating for him, when he retired in 2008, that the case remained unsolved.

"It bugs me the most of all my [36] years of service. It was like a loose end you leave behind," Hildebrand said.

"Usually, when I took on a file, it had a good result to it," he added.

"It was a frustrating investigation for everybody, including her parents," he recalls. "It still bothers me."

Asked if he believes a serial killer is operating along the highways of B.C. 's Interior, Hildebrand said he is uncertain.

"The evidence is that there is something," he said. "Something unusual."

They never leave you'

Retired Mountie Fred Bodnaruk, who was a staff-sergeant when he headed the investigations into the murders of Colleen MacMillan and Pamela Darlington in the early 1970s, admitted that even though he retired in 1977, he still thinks about the cases.

"They never leave you," he said. "You dream about them, especially the ones you don't solve."

He always thought a serial killer could have been responsible for several "highway murders," as they were called then.

At one time, Bodnaruk suspected U.S. serial killer Ted Bundy was responsible for Darlington's murder.

The nude body of the 19-year-old was found at the edge of the Thompson River in 1973 with bite marks on her body – a Bundy trademark in some U.S. killings. But investigators concluded that although Bundy had been known to visit Canada, there was no evidence he was in the area at the time.

Bundy, a former Seattle resident, was caught and sentenced to death in Florida for three murders. Just before Bundy was executed in 1989, he confessed to committing more than 20 murders but investigators felt he was responsible for many more.

"Bundy didn't confess anything until the end," Bodnaruk said. "I felt police here should have gone down to talk to Bundy."

Bodnaruk also compared notes "all the time" with Seattle detectives investigating the serial murder case known as the Green River killer. The man eventually caught, Gary Ridgway, pleaded guilty in 2003 to killing 48 women.

Now 78, Bodnaruk recently watched a TV documentary about a man named Wayne Clifford Boden and felt he might be a suspect. Boden was a travelling salesman who killed three women in Montreal before moving to Calgary, where he killed again and got caught in 1972.

He was known as the Vampire Killer because he left bite marks on all his victims, similar to Darlington.

The TV documentary detailed how Boden travelled through Kamloops to Vancouver.

Boden, however, was arrested in Calgary in 1972, convicted of four murders and died in prison in 2006.

Surrey private investigator Ray Michalko has been investigating the Highway of Tears cases on his own time since 2006.

"I was watching the news about the second anniversary of Tamara Chipman going missing [in 2005] and I complained to my wife that nobody seemed to be doing anything, and she said You're a PI, why don't you do something'," he recalled.

He started investigating the initial eight mysterious disappearances and murdersalong Highway 16. He estimates he spends up to 40 hours a month pursuing tips he receives by e-mail or on his toll-free line, which he publicizes using letters and posters, including some posted in federal prisons and provincial jails in B.C.

He said when he receives a paying job in the north, he stays a few days longer to do follow-up on the Highway of Tears tips.

Michalko, 62, a former North Vancouver Mountie, said there is no shortage of theories and rumours about who is behind the murders and disappearances.

Some say it's a cop or a long-haul trucker preying on young girls walking along the highway alone, he said.

"I have seen no evidence of that," Michalko said of the rumours. "There's a million places to pull off and go undetected, but not in a tractor-trailer."

One name popping up

He's also been told that the girls were abducted and used in some sort of sex trafficking ring. Again, he discounts that theory because he has received no solid tips of it happening.

He initially believed there was a serial killer cruising the highway "but I don't believe that now. But until you catch somebody, you don't know."

Despite "one name that keeps popping up" – he wouldn't reveal the man's name, other than to say he is linked to a community close to Prince George – there is little to link the unsolved cases together, other than the fact the girls and young women were last seen on the highway, many of them hitchhiking.

He now believes the murders were likely crimes of opportunity committed by various men living in the local communities where the tragedies took place or passing through those communities.

"That's scarier than having a serial killer," Michalko explained, adding it means more than a dozen men got away with murder and are still walking free.

60 people assigned

Currently there are 60 people, including retired homicide detectives working on contract, assigned to the Project E-Pana investigation, which is conducting homicide probes of 18 female victims along Interior highways.

Investigators descended last August on a piece of property in the Isle Pierre district west of Prince George looking for evidence related to the 2002 disappearance of Nicole Hoar, 25, who was from Red Deer and working as a tree planter when she was last seen hitchhiking near a gas station west of Prince George.

At the time of Hoar's disappearance on June 21, 2002, the property searched by police was owned by Leland Switzer, a welder who told police in 2004 that the night Hoar disappeared he and a friend stopped and urinated near the Mohawk gas station – Hoar's vanishing point.

Switzer told police about this because he said he didn't know if police used a "fine tooth comb" to search the scene.

During his police statement, which was obtained by Global TV and provided to The Sun, Switzer provided the name of a friend and neighbour whom Switzer claimed had broken down crying when Switzer asked if he was responsible for all the "girls" going missing along Highway 16.

"My daughter heard a gun shot that night," Switzer added. "When Nicole Hoar went missing, right?"

He said his wife and daughter were home that night but Switzer said he was at a dance and maintained 33 people saw him there.

Two days after Hoar's disappearance, Switzer fatally shot and killed his older brother, Irvin Switzer, at his parents' property, near his own home. He now is serving life for that murder.

Police confirmed last week that investigators seized a vehicle and other exhibits during the search related to Hoar. The exhibits now are being tested in the RCMP forensics lab.

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Saturday, December 12

VANISHING POINT – The Highway Murders

A Five-Part Investigative series
A Vancouver Sun investigation tells the full story, for the first time, of the Highway of Tears victims and raises questions about other similar unsolved cases.

Ramona Wilson

Ramona Wilson's family say she was known for her good looks and for being a supportive friend.

Gladys Radek
Tamara Chipman was 22 when she was last seen. Her aunt says the number of women who have been lost is much higher.

Claudia Williams
Alberta Williams, 24, was last seen alive on Aug. 27, 1989 leaving a night spot in Prince Rupert.

Sally Gibson
Lana Derrick's aunt says her niece was studying forestry in college and enjoyed the outdoors.

Paula and Jim Braem
The parents of Deena Braem question how police conducted the grid search for their daughter.

Roddy & Winnie Sampare
The siblings of murder victim Virginia Sampare would like her remains to be returned to put her spirit to rest.

Connie Menton
Connie Menton shared a close bond with her niece Leah. She urges anyone with information about her death to come forward.

Vicki Hill
Vicki was a baby when the life of her mother Mary Jane Hill was taken. She wants to see justice for all the missing and murdered women.



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In Loving Memory of Cynthia Feliks (1954 - 1997)

Cynthia Feliks and her daughter.

Please remember Cynthia Feliks in your thoughts and prayers on this very
special and sad day for her mom Marilyn and family. Cynthia was born on
Dec 12, 1954 and would have been 55 years old this day. Cynthia
disappeared on the downtown Eastside of Vancouver in December of 1997.

In Loving Memory -

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Friday, December 11

How the Vanishing Point series developed

December 11, 2009

Many women have vanished or been found murdered along the highways of B.C. and Alberta over the past 40 years.

Many women have vanished or been found murdered along the highways of B.C. and Alberta over the past 40 years.

Photograph by: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun

For the first time, a Vancouver Sun investigation reveals the full story behind the Highway of Tears victims and raises questions about other similar unsolved cases in B.C. and Alberta.

The cases date back to the murder of Gloria Levina Moody in 1969 and end with the murder of a 14-year-old Prince George high school student in 2006. The youngest victim to meet violence along the province's highway was 12.

Neal Hall has covered many high-profile cases for the Vancouver Sun, including the court proceedings in the Clifford Olson case. He teamed up with Lori Culbert on the Robert Pickton case and has been reporting on the Highway of Tears since the beginning.

Hall and Culbert joined forces for the Vancouver Sun's investigative series on the missing and murdered women along the highways of B.C. and Alberta. Culbert recently travelled to northern B.C. with photographer Ian Smith for the series.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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Quesnel parents wonder if daughter’s unsolved murder linked to Highway 97

By LORI CULBERT, Vancouver Sun

December 11, 2009

Paula and Jim Braem's daughter, Deena, was 16 when she went missing in 1999 from Quesnel. She was found murdered two and a half months later.

Paula and Jim Braem's daughter, Deena, was 16 when she went missing in 1999 from Quesnel. She was found murdered two and a half months later.

Photograph by: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun

QUESNEL — It was Friday, September 24, 1999, and Deena Braem planned to celebrate her 17th birthday that weekend with her high-school friends in Quesnel.

Her father, Jim Braem, knew Deena would stay over at a friend's house, instead of returning home. His last words to his daughter were for her to enjoy her night out.

"That was the last time I saw her alive. I remember saying, 'Happy birthday. Have a good time, beautiful.' I remember seeing her hair flipping around with her backpack on her back," he recalled. The memory is still difficult.

When Deena didn't come home that Saturday, her parents thought it was unusual. She hadn't even phoned to ask for some more money.

By Sunday they began to worry, especially when one of their daughter's best friends called to speak to Deena - she should have been with her.

However, the Braems were certain that by Monday - Deena's actual birthday - they would hear from their daughter. At 10 a.m. that day, Jim phoned the school, only to learn his daughter hadn't shown up for class. He met the bus after school, and discovered none of Deena's friends had seen her that day either.

There would be no birthday celebration in the Braem house that night.

"Instead, we reported her missing on her 17th birthday," Jim said during a recent interview.

When they drove home from the police station that evening, Jim and Paula noticed their daughter's shoes weren't in their regular spot by the front door. They were overcome by an intense sense of loss, one that still haunts them today.

"I never went back to work after Monday, for a whole year," said Jim, who is employed at a local mill.

"I died," his wife Paula added bluntly, her eyes red with emotion.

Police searched the local area. Jim drove his truck to Prince George and back, but didn't even know what he was looking for.

"There's not much else you can do. You really find out how much control you have over your life at times like that. You think you are in control of your destiny, but you're not," he said.

Deena was a typical teenager with a stubborn streak and a mind of her own. She was learning to drive. She was starting to focus more on school, as she planned to moved to Victoria once she graduated. She wrote in her journal that she would like to become an actress.

She had a horse on her parent's property near Bouchie Lake on the northwest outskirts of Quesnel, a city of 10,000 people on Highway 97.

Cpl. Ray Kinloch of the Quesnel RCMP said Deena had been with a group of friends at a four-by-four track southeast of the city earlier in the evening. They then went to another party on the west end of town but Deena didn't want to stay, and decided to hitchhike home despite the pouring rain outside.

A friend she was out with that night, but who stayed at the party, last saw Deena hitchhiking about 4 a.m. Saturday morning on North Fraser Drive, which runs parallel to the Fraser River. People working the early shift at the local mill also saw her standing on the side of the road.

Deena usually phoned her parents for a lift but this time she didn't. She was less than 10 km from home.

Investigators asked the Braems if Deena might have run away, a suggestion Jim rejected outright. He didn't know where his daughter was, but he held out some hope that they would find her.

Paula was less certain their daughter was still alive. "It just wasn't like her. Everything from that Saturday on just didn't feel right," she said.

Unfortunately, Paula's worst fears were proven true.

On Dec. 10, 1999 - two and a half months after Deena disappeared - a hunter stumbled upon human remains buried under a pile of brush in a wooden area near Pinnacles Park. It is about "two miles as the crow flies" between the spot where Deena was last seen and where her body was found, Jim said, but about an eight-mile drive.

Residents in Quesnel raised reward money, and Paula was sure somebody in the community would provide some crucial evidence to police.

"I would have thought someone would have been arrested in a year. But it's been 10 years," she said. "It's exhausting. It takes your life away."

The lack of answers is so consuming, Jim said, that he starts to think of everyone he sees as a possible guilty person.

Jim is frustrated that the police search of the area stopped 50 feet short of where his daughter's body was lying because officers left the area to pursue a new tip. Had they found her months earlier, would there have been more evidence to lead to an arrest? It is those unanswerable questions that haunt Jim, who has not been entirely pleased with the police investigation into his daughter's death.

"People say you get closure," Jim said. "The only thing you get closure on is a door. Every day that goes by it gets worse, it just gets worse in a different way. It's like a bigger bag that you keep dragging around."

Deena's name was informally associated for a long time with the Highway of Tears case, as she was frequently mentioned in media stories about the unsolved cases of highway murders in northern B.C. But she was not included in the official list when the RCMP expanded it in 2007.

At first, the Braems weren't sure Deena's case was similar enough to the others, as she disappeared from a secondary road. But they now wonder about the possibility their daughter was picked up by one of the logging trucks working in that area.

The road Deena was standing on runs parallel to Highway 97 but the two routes are separated by the Fraser River; it is a several-kilometre drive back into Quesnel to get back onto Highway 97, which runs from Prince George to Kamloops.

"I can't rule that out anymore," Jim said of the possibility his daughter's case belongs on the Highway of Tears list.

At least adding Deena's name to the list, Paula said, could give the case more attention and jog someone's memory.

E-Pana, the RCMP unit investigating the Highway of Tears cases, said Deena was not included on the list because of "geography." Although her case met two pieces of criteria - she was female and involved in a high-risk activity like hitchhiking - she did not meet the third criteria: when she was last seen, she was more than a mile from a major highway.

Kinloch said the Quesnel RCMP is still actively investigating the case, but noted there have been no new solid leads in recent years. And Deena's body was very decomposed, so some evidence - such as whether she was sexually assaulted - was lost.

Police continue to search for the backpack Deena was carrying that night and to appeal for new tips.

"I firmly believe that there are people out there that know exactly what happened to Deena Braem, and it's just a matter of time here before they open their mouths and confess to friends and relatives," Kinloch said.

"As to whether it's a local person who is responsible, I don't know. It could be someone from outside the area, it's just a matter of time before that person speaks."

Officers are also still trying to find two young men wearing hoodies who were seen walking along North Fraser Drive the same time Deena was hitchhiking on the road. "They are persons of interest. We'd be interested in knowing who they are and what they know," Kinloch said.

"It's just tragic that [the Braems] don't know what happened to their daughter. I sure wish I could help them out."

Still, even if a killer is caught that won't bring justice, Jim said, it will just "take a little bit off our mind."

"And it won't bring Deena back," Paula added.

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Cloak of mystery still surrounds Virginia Sampare’s disappearance

By Lori Culbert, Vancouver Sun

December 11, 2009

Siblings Roddy and Winnie Sampare hold a photograph of their sister Virginia Sampare.

Siblings Roddy and Winnie Sampare hold a photograph of their sister Virginia Sampare.

Photograph by: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun

GITSEGUKLA — On October 14, 1971, teenager Virginia Sampare and her cousin Alvin were hanging out near an old bridge on Highway 16, outside their home town of Gitsegukla.

The day was cool, so Alvin hopped on his bicycle to go home and get a jacket. He told Virginia he'd return shortly.

On his way back, as he cycled toward the highway, he heard a pickup door close; by the time he reached the road, Virginia was nowhere in sight.

She has never been seen again.

That is all that her brother and sister, Winnie and Roddy Sampare, have been able to piece together about the mysterious disappearance of their younger sibling nearly four decades ago.

"It was just so strange how she disappeared. Everyone looked and they didn't find anything. Not a piece of clothing," Winnie said in a recent interview in Gitsegukla, a native community between Terrace and Smithers.

"It still feels like it just happened yesterday."

According to brief stories in The Vancouver Sun in 1971, RCMP officers, civil defence personnel and local residents began searching the dense bush around the village about a week after Virginia vanished.

No trace of the pretty teenager with the delicately chiselled features and almond-shaped brown eyes was found.

After eight days, the effort was called off.

Her brother Roddy, who was then 23, helped with the official search, and also combed the local river and nearby mountains.

"I think the whole community took part in that search. There were people cooking, and others in the bush," Roddy recalled. "They came up with nothing."

Virginia was born in 1953, one of six kids in her family. She was a quiet girl who loved to sing teasing songs to her sisters, Winnie recalled. She worked at a cannery.

Winnie said her sister would usually let someone know her plans, and it would have been out of character for her to run away.

Sampare's file was re-opened in 2001. New Hazelton RCMP Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth re-interviewed her family and some witnesses, and gathered samples to create a DNA profile for the missing woman.

Wrigglesworth noted that Virginia vanished after the sudden disappearance of her boyfriend, and before his body was found drowned in the Skeena River. Virginia was upset that cold day and had left the house without a jacket.

"No one knows where she went or what she did: If she committed suicide. If she relocated herself back to Vancouver. She's had no contact with anyone," Wrigglesworth said. "There is speculation of wrong-doing, but no proof."

Virginia was depressed at the time by the disappearance of her boyfriend, Roddy concurred, but he doesn't believe his sister committed suicide. "My mom and dad were always preaching we couldn't do anything to harm ourselves."

The Sampares feel someone must know something about their sister, and are begging that person to come forward. "We just keep hoping and praying she's alive," Winnie said.

They believe adding Virginia to the official Highway of Tears list could bring a break in the case and possibly generate some new tips. "We asked the police when we went to Prince George, and we didn't get any response," Roddy said.

Sampare's file meets two of the three pieces of criteria required for an unsolved case to be put on the Highway of Tears list: She is female and she was last seen within a mile of the highway.

However, Staff Sgt. Bruce Hulan, who runs the E-Pana investigation which is looking into the Highway of Tears cases, said foul play had to be confirmed in a case before it was considered for the official list.

In five of the 18 cases on the list no body has been found but, Hulan said, in each of those files investigators are convinced the victim was murdered.

Roddy Sampare said he was pleased with the initial police response to his sister's disappearance, but he remains frustrated that he doesn't have more answers. He is determined to keep searching.

In recent years, the RCMP collected DNA from Virginia's family members, in the off chance they might find evidence of her on Port Coquitlam serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton's farm.

Roddy hopes the expansion of DNA science will lead to answers for his family. "That is the biggest thing I keep hoping with the new technology that is out there now," Roddy said.

Virginia's disappearance hit their parents hard, Roddy said.

When their mother was dying in 2001, she kept thinking Virginia would visit her on her death bed. Their father is haunted by his daughter's ghost, often thinking that he's caught a glimpse of her or had a conversation with her.

When Roddy and other family members visit Vancouver, they search the sea of faces for a middle-aged woman who resembles Virginia, or a younger woman who could be her daughter.

"It would be nice for us to have closure. If she's alive it would be nice to see her again. And if she's gone, it would be nice to put her to rest and have a feast and put a marker up."

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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Daughter searches for answers in mother’s 1978 murder

By Lori Culbert, Vancouver Sun

December 11, 2009

Vicki Hill in front of a picture of her mother Mary Jane Hill when she was three years old.

Vicki Hill in front of a picture of her mother Mary Jane Hill when she was three years old.

Photograph by: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun

PRINCE RUPERT — Vicki Hill was just six-months old when her mother was found dead along Highway 16.

Thirty years later, the case remains unsolved.

Vicki, now 32, is now trying to piece together what she can about the mother she never knew.

Three decades after her mother's death, Vicki tracked down a copy of her mother's death certificate at a Prince Rupert funeral home. It notes Mary Jane Hill died on Highway 16 on March 26, 1978 at the age of 31.

In 2004, a victims' services worker helped Vicki get a copy of the findings of a coroner's inquest into her mothers death.

The five jurors ruled the cause of death for Mary Jane, whose body was found 21 km east of Prince Rupert, was bronchitis and bronchopneumonia.

But the one-page document eerily adds: "We then find that the death of Mary Jane Hill as a result of manslaughter."

There are no further details. Vicki believes that someone left her mother on the highway to die.

Mary Jane was buried in an unmarked grave in a Prince Rupert cemetery. With the help of a caring outreach worker, Vicki has uncovered the coordinates of the plot. She must now find the exact location of the piece of grass under which her mother's remains lie.

"I would say this is a puzzle that I'm on, and there's pieces I don't have. But they are all the pieces I could find of her," Vicki said during a recent interview.

She wore a community event T-shirt that reads "Take Back the Highway" on the front and "There's a killer on the highway" on the back.

Although Vicki's mother was found dead along Highway 16, her name has not been added to the Highway of Tears list.

Vicki doesn't know why. She is frustrated by the Prince Rupert RCMP investigation that, in three decades, has produced no answers.

About two years ago a support worker helped Vicki contact Tony Romeyn, a Prince George businessman who runs a website dedicated to the Highway of Tears case. Romeyn added a photo and story about Mary Jane to his memorial page.

Mary Jane's file meets two of the three pieces of criteria required for an unsolved case to be put on the Highway of Tears list: She is female and she was last seen or her body was found within a mile of the highway.

However, Staff Sgt. Bruce Hulan, who runs the E-Pana investigation that is looking into the Highway of Tears cases, says the uncertainty of foul play eliminates this file a candidate for the official list.

While the coroner's jury concluded Mary Jane died of manslaughter, the autopsy results, Hulan said, leaned more towards death by natural causes.

He added that the original investigators could not determine how Mary Jane got to the spot on the highway where her body was found.

Vicki hopes to find one of the coroner's jurors, who she understands is still living in Prince Rupert, to find out if he remembers more information.

"The RCMP, I don't think myself, they are really looking into these old cases," she said quietly. "I'm quite sure they will find something along the line if they look into it. I want to find out where is my mom's evidence? . Where are her clothes? Was anything done? I'm sure she would have fought. Where is the DNA, the blood samples?"

Vicki remains disappointed by what she perceives as a lack of interest by politicians, native leaders, the public and the media in her mother's file and those of other unsolved cases in northern BC.

"I think it is important that there should be more attention to all these women who are gone, because I know what it's like to lose a loved one. Because I know the pain," said Vicki, who was born in Prince Rupert and was raised by her father's family after her mother's death.

In one of a handful of photos that Vicki has, her mother Mary Jane, a Nisga'a, stands on the government dock in Kinkolithis. She is smartly dressed in stylish clothes, wearing glasses and a short haircut that was popular in the 1960s.

During Vicki's childhood, including some unhappy years in the native town of Gitsegukla, she was not told much about her mother. Then, when she was in her early 20s, an uncle finally told her that he and her mother attended a concert on the evening she disappeared, and that he turned around and she was gone.

"They said I looked like her. She loved to play sports," Vicki said.

"Growing up without her was really hard. Especially around this time of year. I never even got to see her," added Vicki, the mother of two children, Erik, 12, and Zoey, 7. "It's not fair.... I just wish she was here to see my kids."

Hill is determined to soldier on in her search for answers, out of respect for her mother and the other missing and murdered women from Northern BC.

"I want justice. And more awareness of all the missing and murdered women. They are all human. They all had heart beats."

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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Advocates share tears and stories about unsolved cases

By Lori Culbert, Vancouver Sun

December 11, 2009

Gladys Radek (right) and Bernie Williams, organizers of the Walk4Justice,  stop at the last place Radek's niece Tamara Chipman, 22, was seen.

Gladys Radek (right) and Bernie Williams, organizers of the Walk4Justice, stop at the last place Radek's niece Tamara Chipman, 22, was seen.

Photograph by: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun

Gladys Radek and Bernie Williams are the founders of Walk4Justice, an annual long-distance walk to demand a public inquiry into the unsolved cases of missing and murdered women from northern BC.

Besides being a native activist, Radek has a deeply personal connection to the story: Her niece, Tamara Chipman, who was last seen on Sept. 21, 2005, is one of the 18 victims on the RCMP's Highway of Tears list.

Williams' activism around the plight of murdered and missing women in B.C. began on Vancouver's downtown eastside after several women she knew were linked to disappearances linked to Robert (Willie) Pickton.

Radek and Williams traveled with the Vancouver Sun team to northern B.C. in November, to introduce us to families they have met along that route and to share their personal experiences of Highways 16 and 97.

One of our first stops was on the outskirts of Prince Rupert, where a pair of running shoes Williams wore on a walk for justice lie in a ditch, marking the spot where Chipman was last seen.

Later the next day, as we drove by Moricetown, a native community north of Smithers, we stopped to view a billboard bearing the photos of three missing local young women: Radek's niece Chipman, and missing cousins Delphine and Cecilia Nikal.

Radek was emotional as she gazed at the billboard, struck by the youth of these missing women, many of whom never had the opportunity to become mothers; others that left motherless children behind.

Chipman had a toddler son, Jaden, who is now growing up without his mother.

It was an emotional 835 km journey for both women. The trip took us to Prince Rupert, Terrace, Gitwangak, Gitsegukla, Smithers and Prince George along Highway 16, before we turned south along Highway 97 to Quesnel.

Radek and Williams shared tears and stories about good times and bad, about their troubled childhoods and determined adult years - and they shared a steely reserve to keep fighting for justice in these cases.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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Thursday, December 10

Vancouver women warned as Downtown Eastside killer released

By Katie Mercer, The Province

December 10, 2009 8:38 PM

Vancouver police fear Paul Richard Haley may kill women after his release from prison. The murderer served his full sentence.

Vancouver police fear Paul Richard Haley may kill women after his release from prison. The murderer served his full sentence.

Photograph by: Handout , For The Province

Vancouver Police are warning the public that a violent offender who poses a risk to women is living in the city.

Paul Richard Haley, 40, was released from federal custody after serving his full six-year sentence for the 2003 murder of his girlfriend.

Police say Haley “poses a risk of significant harm to female acquaintances and prospective intimate partners.”

While in custody, Haley was assessed as a high risk to reoffend against women.

He also has a history of domestic violence, including assault, mischief and theft charges.

Haley was deemed too dangerous to be released on parole and such was held in custody for the entirety of his sentence.

Haley had been living with his 19-year-old girlfriend in the Downtown Eastside's Regent Hotel when he killed her with a blunt object in May 2003.

He was originally charged with second-degree murder which was later downgraded to manslaughter.

Police describe him as a white male, five foot nine and 170 pounds. He has brown hair, blue eyes and tattoos of a dragon and a skull on either side of his neck.

Haley is ordered to abstain from drugs and alcohol, cannot enter any licensed establishment, cannot have contact with sex-trade workers, cannot possess any weapons and must obey a 10 p.m to 6 a.m. curfew.

Anyone witnessing Haley in violation of any of these conditions is asked to call 911.

© Copyright (c) The Province

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Wednesday, December 9

Police hope billboard will generate clues to killer’s identity

Body of the sex-trade worker was found in the Fraser River in July

By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun

December 3, 2009

Vancouver police billboard asks for information regarding the death of Lisa Francis in July.

Vancouver police billboard asks for information regarding the death of Lisa Francis in July.

Photograph by: Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun

Police are hoping a billboard featuring slain sex-trade worker Lisa Francis will help generate clues and help them find her killer.

Francis's body was dumped in the Fraser River on July 23.

Vancouver police homicide investigators hope the billboard, along with a $10,000 reward authorized by the Vancouver police board, will help them establish a timeline of Francis's activities and whereabouts leading up to her death.

The billboard is at 700 East Cordova in the Downtown Eastside. This is only the second time police have used a billboard to generate tips; in the other instance they used a billboard to solve the murder of Tracy Guthrie.

Guthrie's body was found under a rhododendron bush at Vancouver city hall in January 2007 after she checked herself out of Vancouver General Hospital, where she was being treated for tuberculosis.

Anyone with information is asked to call 604-717-2500 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222 8477.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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Saturday, December 5

Violence against women is still deadly serious

There are encouraging signs, but a renewed effort to protect women and girls is paramount

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun

December 5, 2009 1:13 AM

Suzanne LaPlante-Edward with son Jimmy during a memorial service in Montreal in 1999. Laplante-Edward's daughter Anne-Marie Edward was one of the 14 victims of the 1989 Montreal massacre.

Suzanne LaPlante-Edward with son Jimmy during a memorial service in Montreal in 1999. Laplante-Edward's daughter Anne-Marie Edward was one of the 14 victims of the 1989 Montreal massacre.

Photograph by: Shaun Best, Reuters, Vancouver Sun

Armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle and hunting knife, 25-year-old Marc Lepine walked into Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique 20 years ago this weekend, culled 14 female students from the mainly male student body and murdered them.

If his choice of victim was not message enough, Lepine wrote in his suicide note: Feminists have ruined my life.

The 1989 Montreal massacre -- as it has come to be known -- was a watershed moment in Canadian history. It was misogyny, a hate crime against women.

The gun-control lobby was born in the massacre's aftermath. One of its leaders is Suzanne LaPlante-Edward, whose daughter Anne-Marie was murdered at Ecole Polytechnique.

Then as now, the lobbyists emphasized that controlling access to firearms isn't only about preventing random -- albeit targeted -- acts of violence against women.

Both they and virtually every police officer in Canada believe it to be a means of preventing the 83 per cent of female homicides where the killer is a man who had loved or been loved by his victim.

Only six years after the Montreal massacre, the Canadian government passed new laws that included stiffer penalties and the long-gun registry, which has been under sustained attack almost since its inception despite having the support of virtually every police force in the country.

Last month, members of Parliament voted 164 to 137 to kill the long-gun registry.

The Montreal massacre vaulted the issue of all forms of violence against women onto the front pages of newspapers and the top of news broadcasts. Suddenly, it was something that everybody, not just women, had to talk about.

Only eight years earlier, Vancouver Rape Relief opened this city's first transition house. It didn't get any funding from the government then. By choice, it still doesn't, even though B.C. has funded transition houses for more than a decade.

Only seven years before the 14 engineering students were hunted down and killed, then-Vancouver East MP Margaret Mitchell had been laughed at in the House of Commons when she said that one in 10 Canadian men beat their wives regularly.

It only highlighted Mitchell's contention that Parliament and the justice system were failing to protect women and failing to prosecute wife-beaters and rapists.

Since 1989, it's political suicide to laugh about domestic violence or any form of violence against women.

And for a while, it seemed that violence against women in its many forms, from murder to domestic abuse to rape, would no longer be ignored. But it didn't take long for it to disappear once again from both the political and news agendas.

Although 83 per cent of women are killed by a spouse, family member or acquaintance, it took the arrest in 2002 of another random, mass murderer -- Robert (Willie) Pickton -- to put violence against women back into focus.

Yet it was the very inattention of police, political leaders and the public that allowed more than 50 women to go missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside before Pickton was accused of murdering 32 of them, one at a time over 24 years.

It was only last week that Vancouver police finally voiced support for long-standing calls by victims' relatives for a public inquiry into how the investigation was handled.

And it's clear that Pickton wasn't the only person murdering women and getting away with it over the years. There's a Canadian registry that has the names of 1,559 women whose disappearances -- and likely deaths -- remain a mystery.

A third of them are aboriginal. It's so disproportionate that a United Nations committee that monitors countries' compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) recommended last year that the government urgently investigate their cases, determine whether there is a racialized pattern, address it and examine the reasons why the system has failed so badly.

Since 1969, at least 18 women have disappeared on what's become known as the Highway of Tears, the remote, 750-kilometre stretch of Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George. A special RCMP investigation was begun only after a non-native woman went missing. The investigation wrapped up last month. No one has been arrested or charged.

That said, there have been some encouraging changes in the past 20 years. Last year, the rate of women killed (0.87 per 100,000 population) and the proportion of female homicide victims (24 per cent) were both at their lowest levels since 1961.

Statistics Canada provided two possible explanations. The first is a positive one -- a drop in rates of spousal homicide. The second is less so -- a 10-year trend to increased gang-related murders that usually involve men.

Domestic violence against women still accounts for 12 per cent of all police-reported violent crimes nationally, but spousal abuse has steadily declined over the past decade to 15 per cent.

There is cause for concern, however. The CEDAW committee raised red flags that the justice system is now more likely to divert men from prison and use mediation in domestic violence cases than in the past.

West Coast LEAF recently released a CEDAW report card that noted B.C. Crown counsel are no longer required to take a rigorous approach to laying charges in cases of domestic violence, B.C. law prohibits judges from considering violence in a relationship as relevant in child custody and access decisions and that, as in the rest of Canada, the incidence of charging both spouses with abuse (even though the man is the primary aggressor) remains high.

So as important as it is to remember how 14 young women died 20 years ago, the most fitting tribute is a renewed determination to keep all girls and women safe as they go about the mundane routines of their daily lives.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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Friday, December 4

Have we forgotten the dead?

have we forgotten the dead

Stevie Cameron

From Friday's Globe and Mail

Published on Thursday, Dec. 03, 2009 6:35PM EST

Each of us remembers exactly where we were the night of Dec. 6, 1989, when we heard that a gunman had killed 14 women at Montreal's L'École Polytechnique. The shooter, 25-year-old Marc Lépine, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, his rage fuelled by a hatred of feminists whom he blamed for his failure to be admitted to the university, then turned his rifle on himself. I heard the news on the radio as I drove home from this newspaper after a day of work; I pulled over in shock and wept. My two daughters were students just like these girls.

The next morning in the newsroom, everyone felt as I did. Men and women. And so did men and women across the country. If there were anything good about this horror, it was that it united a country in grief and forced us to deal with the issue of violence against women.

Dec. 6 is now a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Memorial services will take place across the country in cities, towns and villages, in universities and colleges, in churches and community centres, in hospitals and legislatures, in libraries and parks.

For a long time, we believed these murders, heartbreaking as they were, had changed our country for the better. Men suddenly got it. Many became activists in the struggle to end violence against women. And as a direct result of demands from the public, Parliament passed a law requiring people to register their rifles and shotguns, making it easier to trace the owners and more difficult to obtain the weapons.

But events of the past few years are worrying. Had we really absorbed the lessons of Dec. 6, 1989? Just look at Vancouver's 69 missing women, most of whom lived in Canada's national disgrace, the city's Downtown Eastside. Robert Pickton was charged with killing 27 of them, but a judge saw fit to let him stand trial on only six counts of murder, leaving the families of the rest to lose faith in our justice system. Although Mr. Pickton was found guilty, the Supreme Court will hear his appeal, based on the trial judge's instructions to the jury, in March.

The Pickton case exposed the tragedy of a desperate community that, to this day, still has only six detox beds at the Salvation Army for women trying to kick their habit, with no place to go afterward for rehabilitation. So they leave the building and go back to the street, selling sex to buy another fix.

Getting killed on Mr. Pickton's farm was just the last act of violence these women suffered. As children and adolescents, most endured rape, beatings, a cascade of foster homes, bad boyfriends otherwise known as pimps, vicious dealers, slum housing, indifferent care. Yet, they had survived to create a community of people who loved them, whether they were the pals at the drop-in or the street nurses who mended their ravaged bodies or the church ladies who fed them. Their neat little bedrooms in the slum hotels were papered with pictures of their children. What those of us who worked on this story learned is that everyone cared far too late.

Then there are the 18 women who disappeared or were killed along Highway 16 – “the highway of tears” – between Prince George and Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia. There are other cases of missing and murdered women in Edmonton and Winnipeg. It gets worse. We are now seeing what may be honour killings by Islamic fundamentalists who insist on controlling the lives of their daughters. Aqsa Parvez, a high-school student from a Muslim family in Mississauga, Ont., was strangled three years ago after her father allegedly threatened to kill her for adopting Western tastes. Both her father and brother have been charged with first-degree murder.

And then there is the shameful example of the teenage girls in Bountiful, B.C., who are given to older men who have many wives, men who pick out the cutest girls and take them to their beds. When boys become teenagers, most are pushed out, left on the side of roads to fend for themselves, ensuring there is no competition for these plump, chuckling men who want these girls all for themselves. Prosecutors refused to touch these cases for years; when one finally tried and succeeded, the case was thrown out because a judge said the province's attorney-general had deliberately chosen a prosecutor who would lay charges. Of course he did. Why shouldn't he?

Now, 20 years after the Montreal massacre, our parliamentarians are planning to dismantle a law that was passed – because of the massacre in Montreal – to protect women. Is it such a big deal to register a gun? Is it too much to ask in memory of these women who died in panic and horror? Dec. 6 had taught men that real machismo was ending violence against women, not whining about filling out a form.

Have we forgotten?

Stevie Cameron is a journalist and author.

© Copyright 2009 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Globe and Mail is a division of CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc., 444 Front St. W., Toronto, ON Canada M5V 2S9
Phillip Crawley, Publisher

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