Highway of Tears – a lesson in regionalism and racism

Highway of Tears: this is a lesson; a lesson in regionalism (Theresa Allore investigation) and racism (The Missing Women of Rocky Mount, North Carolina):

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Highway of Tears missing-women inquiry ‘not ruled out’

But attorney-general says priority is solving 18 aging cases

BY SAM COOPER, THE PROVINCENOVEMBER 13, 2009
B.C. Attorney-General Mike de Jong says a public inquiry into the Highway of Tears investigations is possible, but the first priority is solving the 18 cases.

“It’s premature at this point to say anything other than there are a lot of people that have too many unanswered questions,” [but] “we’re in an investigation process,” de Jong told The Province.

Pressed on whether an inquiry could proceed, de Jong said: “I don’t rule it out.”

B.C. private eye Ray Michalko is a retired RCMP officer, but he’s no fan of the way the Mounties have handled the Highway of Tears murders.

That’s why he has been “poking around” an unnamed Prince George-area hamlet, conducting interviews about a man whose name “keeps popping up” — all part of Michalko’s personally funded investigation into nine of the 18 Highway of Tears cases.

With a database of 600 people, Michalko has interviewed hundreds. The vast majority won’t talk to the police, he says, because they don’t expect to be taken seriously.

“When I’m asking [tipsters], ‘Have you gone to the police?’ and they say, ‘Are you nuts?’ — that’s a problem,” Michalko said.

All but one of the missing women are aboriginal, and First Nations Highway of Tears co-ordinator Mavis Erickson hints that racism could be a factor in botched cases.

Erickson recently met with de Jong and B.C. Solicitor-General Kash Heed, pushing for a public inquiry into the Highway of Tears investigations.

“As a First Nations mother and grandmother, I feel really angry because not a lot has been done to solve these murders,” she says. Investigations went cold because more than once young women were reported missing and police didn’t act, Erickson said.

The case of Ramona Wilson seems to bolster Erickson’s point.

Her sister, Brenda Wilson, told The Province that the 16-year-old said she was going to visit a friend on Saturday, June 11, 1994. Her family became worried when they didn’t hear from her the next day, and they reported her missing to Smithers RCMP. But police didn’t respond until two weeks later, according to Wilson.

“We were told, ‘She’s probably just with some friends,'” she said. “We felt very helpless.”

And four months before Wilson’s remains were accidentally turned up by off-road sport drivers, a tipster believed to be an aboriginal male called the Smithers RCMP, saying the teen’s body was near the Smithers airport. But the RCMP did not tape the call, and couldn’t follow up the lead, Wilson’s mother, Matilda Wilson, said.

While there are theories that a serial killer, possibly a trucker, is the murderer behind the disappearances, Michalko believes at least several men living near the highway are involved.

On Oct. 26, 35-year-old Jill Stacey Stuchenko — a Prince George prostitute with addictions problems — was found dumped in a gravel pit outside town.

RCMP say it is too early to link the case to the 18 Highway of Tears files, but cold-case investigators are receiving information on the Stuchenko murder.

RCMP Cpl. Annie Linteau said she can’t comment on criticism that past Highway of Tears investigations by the RCMP were flawed, but she maintained Mounties are now pursuing the cold cases vigorously.

E-mail reporter Sam Cooper at scooper@theprovince.com

© Copyright (c) The Province

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