VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Highway of Tears website launched
Focus is on seven missing or murdered young B.C. women
Saturday, November 26, 2005
A Prince George businessman, concerned that another young woman has gone missing along Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George, launched a website Friday to raise public awareness of seven teenagers and young women who have disappeared or been murdered since 1990 along the so-called Highway of Tears.
CREDIT: Crime Stoppers Handout
The Terrace and Prince Rupert Detachments launched a joint investigation in an effort to locate, Terrace resident Tamara Chipman, earlier this month.
"This is not just a small thing happening," Tony Romeyn said in an interview. "Whether it's a single predator, it's difficult to say. But I thought this is something we need to explore further."
Romeyn, 65, read the story this week about Tamara Chipman, who vanished as she was hitchhiking on the highway near Prince Rupert. She had a two-year-old son, who is being cared for by the child's father.
Romeyn checked Thursday to see if the term Highway of Tears had been taken as a website domain name. When he found it was still available, he registered the name and launched the website (www.highwayoftears.ca/).
He has already posted photographs of Chipman and Nicole Hoar, a tree-planter from Alberta who went missing on June 21, 2002, but is seeking more photos and details of each case.
"I run a company that sells tree-planting and forestry equipment," said Romeyn, who recalled the massive search for Hoar at the time of her disappearance.
She was never found.
Moved by such stories, he decided to set up the website to assist the families of the murdered and missing women.
Romeyn has established other websites in the past -- Doors of Hope, to help crime victims, and Windows of Hope, for cancer victims. The latter site, he said, is being developed to allow cancer victims to be able to talk to family via a webcam while they are in cancer treatment away from home for extended period of time.
"A local woman with a brain tumour had to go to Vancouver for six weeks of treatment and she had five kids at home and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice if she could see her kids,' " explained Romeyn.
Romeyn said every time he hears of a missing young girl, he is moved by what the family must be going through.
He and his wife of 41 years, Rina, have two grown children and six grandchildren. In the mid-1980s, he went with his family to live in the Philippines for four years to work on community development projects, trying to boost agricultural income and reduce child malnutrition.
When he returned to Prince George in 1989, he joined the RCMP as a civil victim services volunteer, doing crisis intervention cases. So he has witnessed the devastation a death can bring to a family, he said.
This week, the latest victim's family appealed to anyone who has seen Chipman to contact the RCMP.
"This is a girl who's loved by her father, stepmother and family. She's loved by all her family," Chipman's aunt, Lorna Brown, told reporters during a press conference at the Terrace RCMP detachment.
Terrace RCMP Staff Sgt. Eric Stubbs said police are concerned that Chipman seems to have vanished without a trace and without contacting family members.
"We're not ignoring the fact that it might be a serial killer at work," he said Friday.
The idea of a Highway 16 serial killer has been discussed for years. But police maintain there is nothing to link the latest disappearance with a serial killer preying on young female victims over the past 15 years.
"There is nothing to indicate there is a serial killer -- nothing -- but you can never close your mind to anything," Vancouver RCMP Sgt. John Ward said Friday.
"The only common thread is the highway," he said. "That's the only road in and out, and it's a desolate area."
He said each of the seven cases is being actively investigated by the North District major crime section based in Prince George.
"There are 10 to 13 investigators who are familiar with all these files," Ward added. "There are seven active files being investigated on and around Highway 16."
One of the links between the cases is that six of unsolved files involve native females. In the past, police have been criticized by native groups, who have said not enough is being done to solve the cases because they were native girls.
"There are some groups who say we're not doing what we're paid to do. We don't accept that criticism," Ward said. He called such comments "irresponsible."
The same allegation was made in the missing women case in Vancouver, where many of the women were drug-addicted native sex-trade workers living in the Downtown Eastside.
Police and the media have been criticized about not paying enough attention as the number of missing women mounted into the double digits and now stands at 68, plus three unidentified DNA profiles found at the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam.
Ward said the case of Robert Pickton, the man accused of murdering 27 of the Downtown Eastside women, will eventually bring out the problems in the investigation into the Vancouver missing women case.
"There is no question that Pickton will stand revealed, and what was done right and what was done wrong will certainly be exposed as well," Ward said. "That's a good thing because it's important to find out where we've fallen down so that we don't do that again."
But the Highway 16 files are different, he said. "I can assure you, this is not the same situation because these are actively being investigated."
The news of the latest missing victim being native comes while the first ministers were meeting in Kelowna to discuss how to improve the conditions of Canada's first nations communities.
Amnesty International Canada also recently brought attention to the disappearances and murders along Highway 16, suggesting last September that as many as 32 victims have disappeared or murdered along the 724-kilometre stretch of highway running between Prince George and Prince Rupert.
Ward said he doesn't know where that figure comes from. The police maintain the number is seven since 1990.
The first to disappear was 15-year-old Delphine Nikal. She called her family on June 13, 1990, to say she was going to hitchhike home to Telkwa from Smithers, a distance of about 15 kilometres. She was never seen again and her body has never been found.
The next disappearance occurred almost four years to the day later, when Ramona Wilson vanished on June 11, 1994. The Smithers high-school student left home before 10 p.m. and was last seen walking to Highway 16, apparently planning to hitchhike to nearby Moricetown to meet her boyfriend.
Her skeletal remains were found April 9, 1995 in a wooded area on the west side of Smithers. Police have not said how she was murdered.
Less than a month after Wilson disappeared, Roxanne Thiara, also 15, went missing in Prince George on the July long weekend. 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.
Thiara's body was found Aug. 17, 1994, dumped in the bush along Highway 16, six kilometres east of Burns Lake.
A few months later, on Dec. 9, three teenaged boys found 15-year-old Alishia Germaine dead of multiple stab wounds behind an elementary school in Prince George. Germaine, part native, had worked previously as a prostitute, but friends claimed she stopped work two weeks before her death.
The night she was murdered, she attended a dinner for street kids at a native Indian friendship centre. She left sometime between 7 and 8 p.m. and was last seen in the downtown area between 9 and 10 p.m. Her fully clothed body was discovered about 11:15 p.m. There was no evidence of sexual assault.
Lana Derrick, a 19-year-old college student, was last seen at 3:30 a.m. after a night of partying with friends on Oct. 7, 1995. She always called her family if she went away for a few days.
Nicole Hoar was the first non-native to disappear. She was last seen on June 21, 2002, on Highway 16 west of Prince George.
Then 25 years old and working as a tree planter, Hoar had planned to visit her sister in Smithers, about 370 kilometres from Prince George. She was last seen standing along the highway, presumably thumbing a ride.
Her employer, a tree planting firm doing work near Prince George, had expected her to return to work June 27, but the reliable worker failed to come back as expected and the company reported her missing.
Two weeks after Hoar vanished, her parents, Jack and Barb Hoar of Red Deer, Alta., went to Prince George to appeal for the public's help.
"Anything that anybody can do to help us, just absolutely anything, any article of clothing you can find, if you could report it," said Barb Hoar, bursting into tears at the time. "We just need to find a place to get started. We want our daughter back."
One year after the disappearance, the Hoar family doubled the cash reward for information, to $50,000.
Jack Hoar said he hoped the higher reward would lead to clues about other women who have gone missing.
"I'm not suggesting there is an overlying relationship, but I have a real concern about the number of cases that remain unresolved along that road," he said at the time. "There could be a rational link between their disappearance and Nicole's."
News of the latest disappearance brought tears to the eyes of Matilda Wilson of Smithers.
"Every time we hear of someone else missing, it just brings us so much sorrow because we know what the families are going through," Wilson said.
It has been more than 10 years since Wilson's daughter, Ramona, disappeared, but the pain has been renewed with the latest vanishing.
"You know, I live one day at a time," Wilson said Friday. "When this first happened, I couldn't sleep or eat. I figured she was held up somewhere. But, after a couple of weeks, I kind of had the idea she was dead. The only thing was to find her body."
Wilson said she doesn't believe her daughter's murder is linked to the disappearance or deaths of other young women in the area. The person who killed Ramona knew the area well, Wilson said.
But she believes police should be looking for a serial killer in connection to the other young women -- perhaps a trucker, or a passenger from the ships that regularly dock in Prince Rupert.
"You don't know how many people get off the shipliners, no one keeps track of them," she said. "What if someone got off [in Prince Rupert] and is going back and forth from their country to here?"
What she does know, she said, is that no young woman is safe in the area until the killer or killers is caught.
"It's going to keep on happening and I don't know how we're supposed to prevent it. It's just so sad," she said.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
1) Delphine Nikal
Age at disappearance: 15
Last seen: June 13, 1990, hitchhiking from Smithers to her home in Telkwa
2) Ramona Wilson
Age at disappearance: 16
Last seen: June 11, 1994 hitchhiking between Smithers and nearby Moricetown
Status: Found dead April 9, 1999 in Smithers
3) Roxanne Thiara
Age at disappearance: 15
Last seen: July, 1994 in Prince George
Status: Found dead along Highway 16 near Burns Lake
4) Lana Derrick,
Age at disappearance: 19
Last seen: Oct. 7, 1995, at a service station in Thornhill, west of Terrace
5) Alishia Germaine
Age at disappearance: 15
Last seen: December, 1994 in Prince George
Status: Found dead in Prince George
6) Nicole Hoar
Age at disappearance: 25
Last seen: June 21, 2002 west of Prince George.
7) Tamara Chipman
Age at Disappearance: 22
Last seen: Sept. 21, 2005 hitchhiking on the highway outside Prince Rupert
Timeline on the 'Highway of Tears'
The idea of a serial killer preying on female victims along Highway 16 has been contemplated for years. Here is a timeline of the victims and the investigation:
1990: Delphine Nikal, 15, was the first to disappear. She was last seen June 13, hitchhiking east on Highway 16 from Smithers to her home in Telkwa. She is still missing.
1994: Ramona Wilson, 15, disappears. She was last seen on June 11, hitchhiking from Smithers to a friend's home in Moricetown. Her body was found April 9 the next year in the woods by the Smithers airport.
Roxanne Thiara, 15, disappeared in Prince George. She was seen on the July long weekend. Her body was discovered in the bush along Highway 16, near Burns Lake.
Alishia Germaine, 15, was found dead Dec. 9 of multiple stab wounds in Prince George.
1995: After three girls had disappeared along the highway, RCMP investigators in Prince George brought in violent crime analysts and psychological profilers to go over a number of unsolved files. A dozen officers examined the possibility a serial killer was roaming the area.
Months after the conference, 19-year-old Lana Derrick disappeared. She was last seen Oct. 7, 1995. She is still missing.
Late 1990s: Fred Maile, one of the RCMP investigators who solved the Clifford Olson serial murder case was invited to look into the case by the Calgary-based Missing Children Society. He told a Calgary newspaper that he was convinced the Highway 16 disappearances were the work of a serial killer.
2002: Nicole Hoar, 25, disappears west of Prince George. Last seen June 21. She is still missing.
2005: Tamara Chipman, 22, of Terrace, disappeared Sept. 21 while hitchhiking outside Prince Rupert. Terrace RCMP Staff-Sgt. Eric Stubbs said police cannot rule out the serial killer theory. "That's something we have to consider," he said Friday.
Ran with fact box "Gone but Not Forgotten" and "Timeline on the 'Highway of Tears'", which has been appended to the end of the story. Riding Profiles
© The Vancouver Sun 2005
Updated: September 16, 2014