|A billboard warning women to not hitchhike.|
One of my goals with this miniseries was to practice giving information without rambling and repeating myself over and over. So, when I went out and planned in what mysteries I'd do, I wanted a bit of a challenge with what I had. Some of them have been easier than others, while others have been a bit too much for me to tackle due to the amount of detail in them and me not being able to condense it well enough in my eyes. That said, I made sure to keep one of those that I viewed as being “too difficult”: the Highway of Tears.
Arguably Canada's most notorious unsolved case, the infamous Highway of Tears is a suspected serial killer’s (or serial killers) hunting ground; a 450 mile stretch of Highway 16 to be exact in British Columbia. The killer[s] who stalk the road have targeted women. Although an exact number has never been agreed upon, it’s believe that anywhere from 16-40 women been killed while hitchhiking along the highway or simply having disappeared. This has led the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to outright issued a warning telling women to not hitchhike on the highway, lest they become the killers next victim. They’ve also put up a billboard urging women to not hitchhike there (as seen above).
As for the murders and disappearances themselves, I’ll go over ten random ones for brevity's sake. As was the case with the Beacon of Hate however, I’ll leave a link down below if you wish to read over the rest of them. Anyways, they are—in order of year…
1. Traci Clifton (Missing; Last Seen in Prince Rupert, 1970-1979) The exact date that Traci went missing has never been made public, but she's the first woman listed on the Wikipedia page and likely the first victim to the serial[s] name. That said, what we do know for certain is that after getting into an argument with her mom, Traci left home and began walking along Highway 16 and was never seen again.
2. Albert Gail Williams (Murdered; last seen alive in Prince Rupert, August 1989)
24 year old Alberta Williams went missing on August 25, 1989. A month later, on September 25, her body was found in the Tyee Overpass, 23 miles from where she had last been seen. She was strangled and sexually assaulted.
3. Cicilia Anne Nikal (Missing; last seen in Smithers, October 1989)
15 year old Cicilia went missing a year before her cousin, Delphine, vanished along Highway 16—or near it, reports differ. Regardless, Cicilia's family and the RCMP also believe her to be in Vancouver. It also bears mentioning that a few years after Delphine went missing, Cicilia's cousin, Roberta was murdered. What a terrible string of luck.
4. Kimberly Dumais (Murder; last seen alive in Prince Rupert, February 1990)
On February 5, 1990, a fire broke out at the Brooks Bank Building. After fire crews put it out, they discovered the bodies of four individuals: Helga, Sherri, and Pauline Rochon, and Kimberly Dumais. Kimberly was a newborn and the granddaughter to Helga. Law enforcement later ruled the fire to have been deliberate—something later confirmed when the Rochon family received an anonymous letter claiming responsibility for the arson.
This was also the second time the building had set ablaze within a few months.
5. Lana Derrick (Missing; last seen in Thornhill, October 1995)
19 year old Lana was last seen at a service entrance in Thornhill. A rumor claims that she entered a vehicle occupied by two unknown men.
6. Melanie Dawn Brown (Murder; last seen alive in Prince George, December 2004)
31 year old Melanie was found murdered in a basement suite on December 8, 2004. She had been killed via a gunshot.
7. Brittany Giese (Murder; last seen alive in Prince George October 2008)
19 year old Brittany was found dead alongside Garrett McComb in a house on Webber Crescent in Prince George. In spite of being along Highway 16, police believe these murders to be gang related
8. Linda Fredin (Murder; last seen alive in Prince George, November 2010)
On November 24, 2010, 54 year old Linda found herself trapped in her wheelchair as her house was engulfed in flames. Although she was found alive, she died three days later. Law enforcement believe the murder was gang related.
9. Madison “Maddy” Geraldine Scott (Missing; last seen in Vanderhoof, May 2011)
Madison was last seen alive in the early morning hours on May 28, 2011 at Hogsback Lake. She vanished shortly after attending a party there with a friend. She was reported Missing after her truck was found abandoned and her tent flattened. Law enforcement found several important items in, on, and around the truck. Some included liquor, motorbike equipment, a camera, purse, an iPhone 5 and a set of keys. In spite of this, there was no sign of a struggle and Madison remains missing as of the time of this writing.
10. Jessica Patrick (Balczer) (Murder; last seen alive in Smithers, September 2018)
18 year old Jessica vanished on August 31, 2018 at Smithers McDonalds or Mountainview Motel; reports vary. It wasn't until September 3rd that Jessica was reported missing, and it wouldn't be until September 15th that a body would be found on Hudson Bay Mountain Road, several feet down a steep bank. Six days later, the body was confirmed to be that of Jessica.
As said before: those are simply ten of the dozens of women who have vanished or been killed. There have been countless suspects and persons of interest through the years in this case—more than I can possibly cover. Some of been accused and convicted serial killers, while others have never been publicly named, but we will cover one in particular later. Some of the killers, however, have been convicted of a few of the missing and/or murdered women however.
Regardless, as more and more women kept vanishing, the RCMP set up a special “project” to assist in the hunt in 2005. The name: E-Pana. The unit was established to investigate and answer if there was one more multiple serial killers to blame for the Highway of Tears murders.
Provincially funded, E-Pana started off in 2005 with 3 cases, increasing to 9 in the following year, and subsequently doubling that number to 18 in 2007. Of these cases, three were laid to rest, with one of them being Colleen MacMillen, 16 year old who was murdered by Bobby Jack Fowler in 1976. Fowler was a serial killer from the United States and was deceased when the crime was solved.
In 2014, a freedom of information requested was submitted and subsequently responded to. It stated that, by 2010, E-Pana's task force of 70 officers had dropped to a mere 12. In spite of that reduction, E-Pana is still operational as far as I'm aware. They don't expect every murder to be solved, but hope to solve more.
While some of the murders have been solved, they've been few and far between. Some have come to blame this on racism. Many of the women murdered were Aboriginal—or were descended from Aboriginal parents. Although some vehemently deny this, it's not the first time the RCMP has been accused of not exactly trying due to the race of the victim[s].
One strong piece of evidence backing this claim up comes from Elizabeth Denham, who was the “Information and Privacy Commissioner” of British Columbia. On October 22, 2015, Denham published a 65 page report stating that government officials in British Columbia had “triple deleted” emails on or about the Highway of Tears murders. She states that triple deleting involves, “transferring an email to the ‘deleted’ folder” on a PC. You then, “delete the email from the folder” and “override the backup” that allows the PC to retrieve any deleted item. Denham also stated that by “triple deleting” the emails, the British Columbia government had effectively erased any way for someone to get information on the case via the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
On the bright side, in November of 2015, a Vancouver lawyer named Mark Jett was appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate the triple deletion of emails. But now we move onto theories and there aren't many.
The first is that this is all the work of one killer. While there have been men and women out there who have killed absurd amounts of people, such as the infamous Ted Bundy, the likelihood of this being the work of one person seems extremely unlikely.
That said, there is a theory that most of these of these are the work of one person. While that's still highly unlikely, that opens up the possibility that a serial killer, such as the aforementioned Bobby Jack Fowler, may have made Highway 16 his hunting ground for a brief period of time before returning to the US. E-Pana has implicated Fowler on a few of the other murders, but not all (if any) have been completely proven. Still, if Fowler did kill more women there, it may at least close a portion of the highway's sordid history.
But not all of it. This brings us to theory two, and the final one. Highway 16 has had multiple killers that have made the long stretch of road their hunting ground.
There have been numerous suspects—some named Fowler, Edward Dennis Issaf (who was convicted of killing a few of the women), and Cody Legebokoff. Others haven't been named due to police lacking sufficient evidence against them. No matter what, this theory has always been a favorite, but also brings to mind a lot more fear as it means that anyone stuck on the highway can't always trust whoever stops to pick them up. It also raises the question as to whether or not the name and notoriety of Highway 16 has indirectly caused more killers to make it their hunting ground to be something of a copycat. This could at least answer any possible inquiries about the chances of three or five or even ten killers making the highway their playground.
Despite numerous suspects and hundreds of man hours poured into the cases, Canadian police are no closer to closing the tear ducts of the highway than when the murders first started. And while current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on his campaign trail that he'd do everything he could to have the murders solved, nothing has come of that. One can only hope that one day we don't have to be reminded as to why the highway bears the nickname it has.