Pictures provide the clues to a daughter's lost life


Saturday, January 28, 2006

CALGARY -- In the absence of a body, and confronted with the unmistakable certainty of a dead daughter, parents and family feel a pressing need to find clues in how a life was lost, how things went wrong.

When Marilyn Kraft examines the photographs of her daughter Cynthia (Cindy) Feliks, tracing her passage from a smug child to an uncertain teenager to a confident young beauty, she now notices the things that were slightly off.

The rip in a stocking, running like a scar down one leg. The flash of a black slip beneath a pink taffeta dress, unnoticed because Cindy was laughing so hard. The one uncontrollable lock falling out of place in an immaculately styled hairdo.

In police files and Crown counsel reports, Cindy Feliks, who disappeared at the age of 43 in December, 1997, was one of Robert (Willy) Pickton's alleged victims.

But to her mother, she was much, much more. The photos Ms. Kraft preserves carefully in frames and in a file folder are proof of that, if only to the woman who raised Cindy from the age of 6.

Technically, Ms. Kraft, who now lives in Calgary after retiring from her federal fisheries job in British Columbia, was Cindy's stepmother. But she raised Cindy and three other stepchildren as a single mom after kicking out the children's abusive father.

The photographs after Cindy became a young woman are fewer, reflecting her spotty appearances and increasingly regular disappearances from her mother's life.

In her late teens, Cindy began using drugs but she pulled herself out in her 20s, got married and had a daughter, Theresa. But for her, a child and husband weren't anchors and Ms. Kraft recalls how Cindy kept slipping away.

In each phone call her daughter made in her last desperate and lonely years, she called Ms. Kraft by the only name she ever used.

"Cindy would always call and I knew when I heard the first word, 'Mom.' It was 'Mom, I need to come home,' or 'Mom, would you come see me in jail?' " Ms. Kraft said.

Ms. Kraft last saw Cindy around Christmas in 1996 and heard from her a few times the year after. But after that, there was nothing.

"I knew something was wrong when the calls stopped."

She knew her daughter was in worse trouble than even jail or drug addiction or prostitution when she stopped hearing from her, and instead began hearing from Cindy's friends, who asked whether she had seen her, or been called recently.

"She always thought she could take care of herself. We thought she could too, even during the bad times," Ms. Kraft said. "When we heard about all that stuff going on at the farm, we told ourselves she wouldn't go out there and leave herself that wide open."

On Dec. 2, 2002, Ms. Kraft's younger daughter Audrey called to tell her the police would be phoning. Forty-five minutes later, she learned that Cindy's DNA had been found at Mr. Pickton's Port Coquitlam farm.

When Ms. Kraft looks at the pictures of Cindy at different stages in her life, she can almost -- almost -- block out words she heard at the pretrial hearing and the scenarios she imagines when she closes her eyes.

She remembers the stubborn defiance of an eight-year-old Cindy who could not be swayed from her opinion that striped socks matched perfectly with her plaid skirt for a school photo.

She notices Cindy's tanned knees in another picture taken at the Pacific National Exhibition one year. While her little sister Audrey, then 5, has a paper crown teetering on her head, Cindy is obviously no longer into pretending. Ms. Kraft points out Cindy's strong, suntanned limbs, the sweater hooked behind her back with one finger and the defiant tilt of her chin.

From these pictures, Ms. Kraft is reassured that her daughter became a strong woman and was happy once.

Cindy's family and friends always held the belief that she was too street smart to be lured into anything too dangerous. But their confidence faded when more time passed and no one heard anything. In 1997, Ms. Kraft reported her daughter as missing.

Cindy is lost and now her daughter, Theresa, is also slipping away. Like her mother, Theresa, the mother of three boys, battled drug addiction. In a letter she wrote to her grandmother from jail, she said she wanted to learn about the mother she barely knew.

Simple questions, like what was Cindy's favourite colour, were easy to answer, but Ms. Kraft doesn't know whether such answers can stop her granddaughter from falling into the life Cindy had before she disappeared and died.

Theresa wants pictures of her mother, and her grandmother is keeping them safe for her.

"I want her to have these one day," Ms. Kraft said. "So she knows that her mom isn't just a name that is going to be spoken at a murder trial."

Copyright 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.




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Updated: August 21, 2016