The Calgary Sun

By: Peter Smith

July 14, 2002

It's the living nightmare too unthinkable to imagine.

One minute, bubbly outdoor-loving Red Deer woman Nicole Hoar is hitchhiking to a remote corner of B.C. aiming to surprise her sister by turning up out of the blue.

The next, she may have crossed paths with a murderous predator lurking out on Hwy. 16 just waiting for the next hitchhiking victim to step into his trap.

Falling prey to a serial killer may be the explanation for 25- year-old Nicole's mysterious disappearance, though police insist they' ve found no evidence to suggest she met with foul play.

No one wants to consider it, least of all Nicole's family who remain impressively optimistic, but no one can escape the haunting background of this particular stretch of Hwy. 16, between Prince George and Smithers where six women and girls mysteriously disappeared in the mid 1990s prior to Nicole.

Tragically, the bodies of four of them were later recovered from where they were murdered and dumped, no trace was ever found of the other two, and no one was ever caught or charged.

A classic serial killer scenario.

One-time Mountie and now private investigator, Fred Maile, who studied the earlier Hwy. 16 disappearances, blames a serial killer.

"It's obvious a serial killer has been on the loose along the highway for years," he said.

The deaths and mysterious disappearances have earned this stretch of road the haunting title of the "Highway of Tears."

Cold case squad detectives and the cream of Canada's serial killer profilers, trained by the FBI, together with violent-crime analysts, were called in to review the files in the mid-1990s.

The net result of individual homicide investigations into each death, and collective reviews by this team of profilers was they could find no evidence of a serial killer stalking hitchhikers on Hwy. 16.

That angers critics who still feel police are making a big mistake.

Critics like Leonie Rivers, executive director of the B.C. Native Women's Society, who feels the police in northern B.C. are failing to acknowledge a serial killer in their midst.

She says this exactly mirrors the mistake of police involved in the tragedy of the missing Vancouver women in southern B.C.

Families of the missing women in Vancouver spent years trying to persuade disbelieving police their daughters were being taken by a serial killer until more than 50 had disappeared.

Now it seems the families may have been right.

Today, as police continue scouring a Port Coquitlam man's sprawling pig farm for human remains, they have found remains of seven of the missing 50 women -- and pig farmer, Robert Pickton, is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder.

Rivers points out the glaring similarities with the missing women and teenaged-girl hitchhikers along the "Highway of Tears."

"When our families first went to police reporting our girls missing, they were told they were only runaways who'd gone to bright lights of Vancouver," she said.

"Now, in the middle of all this publicity, this would be the prime time to reopen all the cases of our missing girls.

"Our families would like someone to be brought to justice, so they can obtain some closure."

The string of unsolved murders and disappearances among the hitchhikers on this stretch of road began on Sept. 25, 1988 when the body of murder victim Alberta Williams, 24, was found after she'd been reported missing a month earlier.

Then, on June 11, 1994, Ramona Wilson, 15, was hitchhiking to a friend's home and vanished.

Her body was found a year later near Smithers Airport, where every year since, her family members have gathered for a heartbreaking memorial service.

Five months later, in November 1994, Roxanne Thiara, 15, disappeared from Prince George, and she became a confirmed murder victim when her body was discovered dumped near Burns Lake.

Within a month, the death toll rose to four when the body of Alishia Germaine, 15, of Prince George, was discovered on Dec. 9.

When Delphine Nikal, 16, disappeared from Smithers on June 13, 1995, while hitchhiking, fear spread through the little community of Telkwa, where she was a popular teenager.

To this day she's never been seen again, and her disappearance prompted girls and women going round in pairs for protection.

Four months later, Lana Derrick, 19, who'd been enrolled in forestry studies in a nearby college, vanished while walking down Main St. in Terrace, and has never been seen again.

It was against this background that Nicole made her fateful decision on June 21 to hitchhike along Hwy. 16, in all probability totally unaware of the notorious and deadly history attached to that stretch of road.

But her disappearance is in no way like the six before her, whose names are almost unknown, except to their grieving families.

The desperate search to find Nicole, or any trace of where she may be, is major news throughout Western Canada, and quite rightly so.

As it happens, Nicole is a very close friend of star speed skater Steve Elm, a leading light in Canada's Olympic team at the Salt Lake Winter Olympics, who is distraught by her disappearance.

Nicole was Steve's high school grad date in 1993, when he graduated from Red Deer's Lindsay Thurber comprehensive high school.

Just yesterday, Steve, assisted by his fellow Canadian speed skaters, Kevin Marshall, Jamie Ivey, Peter Volcic, Mark Jesney and Tyler Johnson, attracted a big crowd to Calgary, where he smashed the world 3,000 metres speed skating record in Nicole's name, for the very purpose of making more people aware of her plight.

His effort raised $1,800 to add to the $15,000 in the Nicole Hoar trust fund, which will be spent to help find her.

And back in Red Deer, where Nicole and her family live, the entire city knows she's missing.

The Hudson's Bay Co. in Red Deer, where Nicole's father has worked for more than 30 years, has put up a $25,000 reward for information which helps find her.

Prince George RCMP Const. Mike Herchuk credits the $25,000 reward for prompting many of the 220 tips, which have flooded into the nerve centre of the search.

In the first days after Nicole was reported missing, one of the biggest ground and air searches ever in northern B.C. was launched for her.

Spearheaded by 66 professional search and rescue team members, backed by 200 volunteers, and with more than 50 tree-fellers and loggers from the reforestation service where Nicole worked helping, teams scoured the ditches alongside the highway for miles.

Above them, RCMP aircraft and helicopters covered the search area, and a huge poster campaign left pictures of Nicole on every available post and pole from Prince George to Smithers.

And at every turn, Nicole's family members -- father, Jack, mother, Barb, and her uncles and sister -- were at the heart of the search, inspiring everyone with their confidence they would find their daughter.

The same mixture of intense hope tempered with the nagging fear of bad news, was reflected in the eyes of Nicole's cousin, Susan Cleall, who helped promote yesterday's speed-skating event.

The terrible burden of understanding the reality of the situation was written on her young face.

While she was pleased a full-scale criminal investigation had been launched into her cousin's disappearance, she recognized what this meant -- that Nicole may have become a victim of crime.

While she expressed the family's gratitude at the overwhelming support they had received in the enormous search for Nicole, she also recognized the significance that no trace of her had been found.

Anyone who's seen the anguish in her eyes can only hope she and the rest of Nicole's family are rewarded for their dogged optimism.

And maybe everyone who's prayers have been with Nicole's family, will extend their prayers to the six other families who years ago went through every minute of the nightmare they are living today, but the families in those Native homes were alone without any community support.

"Maybe some of the publicity for Nicole might help everyone remember there were six missing women and girls before her," said Rivers.

ILLUSTRATION: 1. photo by CP\DISAPPEARANCE ... A searcher checks along Hwy. 16 in Prince George, B.C., lastweek, near where the last spot Nicole Hoar was seen. \2. photo\Jack and Barb Hoar, at top, parents of Nicole, talk to some of the \searchers.\3. photo of NICOLE HOAR\4. photo\SUPPORT ... Speed skater Steve Elm signs autographs for fans after breaking aworld record. Elm stands next to Nicole at their 1993 high school grad prom. \5. photo\Nicole's cousin, Susan Cleall, holds up a poster alerting the public ofNicole's disappearance. \6. photo\Ramona Wilson, who has been missing since 1994 after hitchhiking along thesame road as Nicole.


Calgary Sun-Top Story-Aug 9, 1999



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