Highway of Tears Revisited Looking for Answers

By Jonina Kirton

It has been said that you can feel the spirits of the murdered/missing Aboriginal women on the Highway of Tears, and many families and friends of the Aboriginal women who are murdered or missing across the country recount stories of dreams or visitations from the women. In some cases the women asked to be brought home. I am reminded of the title of Gregory Scofield’s book Singing Home the Bones. Not knowing what has happened to their loved ones leaves holes in the fabric of a family and their greater community.

In 2007 the RCMP expanded their Highway of Tears investigation to include 18 women who are missing or murdered since 1969. The geographical scope now includes other major highways in BC; Hudson Hope, Kamloops, Merritt, 100 Mile House and as far as Hinton, AB. Their list of murdered or missing women now includes:

1969 Williams Lake – Gloria Moody – murdered

1970 Hudson Hope – Micheline Pare – murdered

1973 Clearwater – Gale Weys – murdered

1973 Kamloops – Pamela Darlington – murdered

1974 Terrace – Monica Ignas – murdered

1974 100 Mile House – Colleen MacMillen – murdered

1978 Merritt – Monica Jack – murdered

1981 Kamloops – Maureen Mosie – murdered

1983 Hinton, Alb – Shelly-Ann – missing

1989 Prince Rupert – Alberta Williams – murdered

1990 Smithers – Delphine Nikal – missing

1994 Smithers – Ramona Wilson – murdered

1994 Burns Lake – Roxanne Thiara – murdered

1994 Prince George – Alishia Germaine – murdered

1995 Terrace – Lana Derrick – missing

2002 Prince George – Nicole Hoar – missing

2005 Prince Rupert – Tamara Chipman – missing

2006 Prince George – Aielah Saric Auger – murdered

Thirteen of the women were found murdered and five remain missing. Some say the list should be longer; that there are far more women missing and possibly murdered. Some speculate that there is a serial killer on the loose.

According to police reports, there have been few leads on most of these cases. Many of the families and friends of the murdered/missing women remain skeptical that these cases are being given the attention they deserve. Some suspect racism accounts for the lack of action.

Recently law enforcement zeroed in on a five-acre property at 31645 Pinewood Road in Isle Pierre, northwest of Prince George that was previously owned by Leland Switzer. Close neighbours to the property, Cindy Mortimer and Wally Anderson, have both said in the press that they have been forwarding tips to the police about Leland Switzer for a number of years.

In November 2008, Anderson located a bag of bones in an abandoned freezer at a dump site near the Switzer property. At that time, he did not feel the police took his find seriously. However, almost a year later Nicole Hoar’s father, Jack Hoar, advised opinion250.com that the RCMP had contacted him to say that they had found what may be her remains “ but they can’t be certain”. Law enforcement has not officially named Leland Switzer as a suspect, but Cpl. Annie Linteau has been quoted as saying “I can say a previous owner is a person of interest in this investigation”.

Switzer has been in jail since 2005 for the murder of his brother, whom he killed two days after Nicole disappeared. Law enforcement has said that there is no need for the public to be concerned for their safety as “the person of interest” in Nicole’s case is in custody.

Given the time span and the geographical distribution of the murders, it is unlikely that all these deaths are the acts of one man. Angela MacDougall, the Executive Director of Battered Women’s Support Services, has a theory about where law enforcement should look next. Upon reading a FBI report that had noted the relationship between murdered women along highways and long haul truck drivers, she learned that in the US there were 10 long haul truck drivers in custody for over 30 murders and that there were 200 more suspects, most of which were long haul truckers. It occurred to her that perhaps the same thing might be happening along the Highway of Tears, as well as elsewhere in Canada. She has been actively seeking support from communities and law enforcement across western Canada to investigate the possibility.

On hearing this, one cannot help but think of the murder of Chesley Acorn by Jessie Blue West, a long haul trucker, and his son, Dustin Moir. It is a well known fact that most of the murdered or missing women across Canada are Aboriginal, sex trade workers. It is also known that the sex trade is rampant at truck stops. Angela likened the situation to that of a pedophile who seeks places of employment where children are present. This is not to say that all who work with children are pedophiles no more than it is fair to say that all truck drivers are serial killers. However, it seems obvious that a serial killer would likely choose an avocation that would provide access to easy targets and a trail that is challenging to follow.

MacDougall points out that a long haul driver is constantly on the move. He could easily pick up a sex trade worker, rape and kill her, only to dump her body in the next province making it difficult to either determine the victim’s identity or locate a killer in the vicinity.

Whether or not it is a long haul truck driver, one serial killer or many, what has become more and more apparent is that racism is at play on all sides. MacDougall pointed out that “Marginalized is a sanitized word. Disdain and overt hatred of Aboriginal women is rampant.” The report, Voices of Our Sisters in Spirit, compiled by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, states that there is in fact “racialized, sexualized violence against Aboriginal women in Canada”. In some cases, adding to this racialized, sexualized hatred is the fact that some of the missing/murdered women are sex trade workers. Steven Egger an associate professor of criminology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and the author of The Killers Among Us, has been saying that, “People just don’t give a damn about prostitutes,” and that they are somehow considered the “less dead”. As evidenced by those experiencing the dreams and visits from the spirits of those that have passed, whether they are sex trade workers or not, they are far from “less dead”. For the families and friends, these women are sisters, daughters, mothers, aunties and wives first and foremost. They continue to “sing home the bones”.