If you’re a woman and happen to be driving down Highway 16 from Vancouver to Prince George (in British Columbia, Canada), you should probably lock your doors. The thing is, it’s a long, long drive, and chances are you’re going to need to stop to take a leak or have a bite to eat.
The problem is that there’s a high chance you’re never going to be seen again. On the so-called “Highway of Tears,” there have been 18 official cases recorded between 1969 and 2006 of women and girls gone missing or murdered. But many believe the number is closer to 50.
Meet the women who were taken on the Highway of Tears…
The drive from Vancouver (which is less than three hours away from Seattle) to the city of Prince George in northern British Columbia takes about nine hours. From there, turning west along Highway 16 to the port city of Prince Rupert takes another eight hours.
And it’s that last 416-mile section of the winding, two-lane highway between the two cities that has become known as the Highway of Tears. It’s a thin line of a road that snakes past lush forests, logging towns, countless lakes, and Indian reserves on its way to the Pacific Ocean. The highway is remote and dark and sits along with many native communities that are stricken by poverty.
It’s a road that sees many hitchhikers, including many young Indigenous women, who simply need a means of getting from one place to another. The combination of young, poor, marginalized females and lonely, sick men is a bad, bad mix. The whole thing is a recipe for violence.
“It’s very, very isolated. You can drive for 15 minutes and not see a car. There are rivers and mountains. It’s very heavily forested,” Wayne Clary, a retired RCMP investigator, said. Clary has been working on these cases. With one after another woman going missing or turning up dead, you have to wonder: what the hell is going on here?
Were these travelers or locals? The fact that it’s a highway makes it extremely difficult to track victims and their predators. As Clary describes it: “It’s dark, and the winters are pretty severe. You get a young girl hitchhiking, and no one’s around… there one minute, gone the next.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police formed a special unit called Project E-PANA, officially linked the Highway of Tears to 18 cases from 1969 to 2006. More women have vanished since then, and almost all the cases remain unsolved.
The project was dubbed E-PANA as it was named after the Inuit goddess who cares for souls before they go to Heaven (or are reincarnated). Since the number of women who have gone missing or found dead was so high, the authorities had to establish criteria for the list.
The cases involved women or girls involved in high-risk activities (like hitchhiking or prostitution). They were last seen — or their bodies were found — within a mile or so of Highways 16, 97, or 5 in northern areas of British Columbia.
These are some of the most notable cases…
A 26-year-old mother of two, Gloria Moody became the first of the 18 women identified in the E-PANA project. A member of the Bella Coola Indian Reserve of the Nuxalk Nation, she was last seen on the night of October 25th, leaving a bar in Williams Lake, British Columbia.
She had been on a weekend road trip with her family. She and her brother were leaving the Ranch Hotel; her brother thought she was “right behind him,” but he never saw her again.
The next day, Gloria’s body was found by two hunters a few miles from Williams Lake on a cattle trail off Highway 97. She was naked, beaten, sexually assaulted, and bled to death. Three unnamed men were placed in custody, but no one was ever arrested.
Rumors were running rampant in the area regarding who was involved. However, no one officially came forward. Gloria’s murder remains unsolved. Her daughter, Vanessa Hans, says her family and community are still suffering the trauma of what happened to her mother.
17-year-old Helen Frost left her home in Prince George on the evening of October 13, 1970, only to never be seen again. She lived with her older sister, Sandy, in an apartment while working several jobs, busing tables at a cafeteria, and painting gas stations.
Sandy only reported her sister missing on October 15th, thinking she might have stayed at a friend’s house. As it turns out, Helen was in a dark spot at the time. She gave up her infant daughter for adoption that year, and her boyfriend broke up with her.
On October 13th, Helen told her sister that she was going out for a walk. She was wearing blue pants and a long, navy-blue coat with a fur-trimmed hood. Helen was never seen again, and the truth is she had run away before. But this time, she didn’t come back.
Sandy said it didn’t seem like she ran away because she left behind her clothes, money, and ID. Helen was likely upset that night, but she wasn’t likely involved in drugs or crime. She was, however, a frequent hitchhiker.
Helen and Sandy were born in England, but their parents moved them to Nanaimo, British Columbia, in 1956 when they were young. The two girls were quite rebellious. In the summer of ’67, 15-year-old Sandy and 14-year-old Helen worked as berry pickers.
The summer after that, the sisters spent most of their time hitchhiking and sleeping outside. They were often picked up by truckers, some of whom would buy them a meal. “Why walk when you can hitchhike? The two of us did it all the time,” Sandy admitted. “We never felt scared.”
In late 1969, Helen was three months pregnant, but her parents had no idea. By the spring of 1970, Helen went to a home for unwed mothers (it was common in those days). Her daughter was born in May and given up for adoption.
Helen never even got to hold her baby. She moved in with Sandy and her roommate Darlene, who was pregnant at the time. That summer, the sisters went on a trip to visit their parents in Nanaimo, stopping in Kamloops to visit social services. Helen was hoping to get her daughter back.
“I remember she came out of the office just bawling her eyes out,” Sandy recalled. “We never talked about it again.” To make matters worse, her boyfriend – the father of the baby – broke up with her. Helen went to another town for a few months – to get away and make some money.
By the time she came back in October, her roommate Darlene had lived in the apartment with her baby. It was just too much for Helen, even though she never complained or cried. The evening of October 13th was the last time Sandy saw her sister.
Their apartment was nine blocks from Highway 16, very close to Highway 97. Helen’s case wasn’t included in the official 18 E-PANA list. Still, if it had been, at least according to Sandy, Helen’s disappearance would have generated more attention and possibly more leads.
“She has things in common with those girls and women,” Sandy stated. “She hitchhiked. She was in a mental state which could set her up to be a predator. I guess she was fairly easily led at that point. She was 17.”
She wasn’t included in the list because there was no confirmation that there was any foul play. Helen’s boyfriend was questioned, but he was ruled out as a suspect. Helen’s case is still open; it was never determined whether the girl took her own life or whether it was taken from her.
Still, in 2014, authorities created an age-enhanced photo of what she would look like now, were she still alive. There were several sightings of Helen in the early 1970s, but nothing solid resulted from them.
18-year-old Jean “Ginny” Sampare went missing on October 14, 1971. Her cousin Alvin was the last one to see her by a bridge on Highway 16. It was cold, so Alvin had left Ginny to bike home and get his jacket.
On his way back, he heard a car door slam. But by the time he reached the road, there was no car, and his cousin was gone. Some speculated that Ginny ran away or committed suicide. You see, Ginny’s boyfriend went missing himself not long before. Her boyfriend’s body was found in a nearby river after Ginny had already disappeared.
Ginny’s sister, Winnie, said that she wondered if her sister got thrown over the side of the hill and into the water. “I’m always thinking… ‘Are you in a ditch somewhere?'” Investigators and locals looked for Ginny for eight days after she was reported missing.
All these decades later and there are still no clues as to what happened to Ginny. Winnie, now in her old age, thinks about her lost sister whenever she hears John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads, which came out six months before Ginny vanished.
Monica was only 14 years old when she went missing along the Highway of Tears. It’s believed that she was walking alone on her way home from school when she was last seen at 11 pm on December 13, 1974. Her body was only found in April of 1975 in a gravel pit in a densely forested area near Terrace.
Two witnesses reported seeing a car pulled over on the side of the road on the night Monica vanished. They saw a man and a young female passenger inside the vehicle. It was later determined that Monica had been strangled.
Coreen Thomas was 21 years old, pregnant, and just days away from giving birth when she was struck by Richard Redekop’s truck. Coreen had been hitchhiking home on July 3, 1976. Both she and her baby died. Several witnesses reported seeing Redekop, a white man, swerve to hit Coreen, an Indigenous woman.
According to the records, the witnesses were all under 16 and taken in for questioning. After three hours of unsupervised interrogations, the young witnesses were coerced by the police to lie…
The teenaged witnesses were coerced to say that Coreen was playing chicken with Redekop’s truck. The systematic corruption goes even further, as Coroner Eric Turner stated that the death happened by accident.
Later, however, he retracted his testimony after it was made public that Redekop was let off with a minor charge after another drunken hit-and-run death of an Indigenous man ten years earlier. Two years earlier, Turner was the coroner in the death of Larry Thomas, who Redekop’s younger brother killed.
His younger brother, Stanley Redekop, was involved in the hit-and-run, which took place on the same road where Coreen was killed. It was ultimately confirmed that Redekop’s truck intentionally swerved to hit Coreen. The Redekop brothers (whom we might as well call the “hit-and-run brothers”) were bad luck…
Richard Redekop’s girlfriend, Faye Helen Haugen, died within two years of Coreen’s death. Despite the inquiry and the suspicious deaths, the Crown never proceeded with charges. In June 1977, Coreen’s father went ahead with criminal negligence charges against Richard Redekop. Unfortunately, the charges were dismissed due to insufficient evidence.
Mary Jane Hill was older than the rest; she was 31 when killed on the Highway of Tears. Bizarrely, her death on March 26, 1978, was ruled to be from bronchitis and bronchopneumonia, despite being found naked along the notorious highway.
Vicki Hill, one of Mary’s three daughters, has been searching for answers for decades. Vicki was only six months old when her mom was found dead, and there are still no answers in the now-cold case. If you ask her daughter, she says her mother was left on the highway to die.
Where was she going? And why didn’t anybody do anything? Vicki was never told what evidence the police found. Other than the cause of death being reported as bronchitis and bronchopneumonia, the single-page summary of Mary’s death stated: “We further find that the death of Mary Jane Hill is a result of manslaughter.”
In an email to CBC News, the British Columbia Coroners Service explained that “homicide” was used differently back in 1978. “Culpable homicide” that is not murder is manslaughter. Furthermore, “a killing that arose from gross negligence, but without the intention to kill, is manslaughter.”
No one was ever charged in the “manslaughter” case of Mary Jane Hill, which is not being actively investigated. Mary’s case was also not included in Project E-PANA for unknown reasons. Mary was buried in an unmarked grave, and her daughter had to go through old records to find the graveyard.
Sadly, Vicki doesn’t even know the exact spot where her mother is buried. “They should look into a lot of these cases and keep these cases open so the family can have some answers,” Vicki said.
Jean’s 36-year-old body was found in a watery ditch on October 11, 1981. She died from a .22 caliber bullet wound to the head. In fact, the autopsy reports showed four gunshot wounds. Jean was last seen alive at about 1:30 am the night before she was found at the intersection of the Old Cariboo Highway and Highway 16.
A man gathering firewood discovered the Indigenous woman the next day. It turns out that serial killer Edward Dennis Isaac was charged with her murder seven years later, in February 1988. He had killed two other young women in the same area in the early ‘80s…
Edward Dennis Isaac was convicted of three murders on the Highway of Tears: Jean Kovas, Rosithwa Fuchsbichler, and Nina Marie Joseph. In Rosithwa’s case, she was reported missing on November 14, 1981, after having last spoken to a friend at 2 am that morning.
Rosithwa’s body was found in the woods north of Prince George on November 21, 1981. Isaac had picked her up hitchhiking and confessed to killing her “to see what it felt like.” Her body was mangled, mutilated, and then dumped. The girl was only 13. Before he went to prison, he found another victim on the highway…
15-year-old Nina Joseph’s body was found on August 16, 1982, with a cord from her jacket around her neck. Her body was stripped down and slashed before being dumped, as he did with his other two (and possibly more) victims.
Isaac was eventually caught and convicted of manslaughter in 1986. These cases could have gone unsolved if it weren’t for the testimony of the serial killer’s ex-girlfriend, who helped him dispose of the body. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison.
The Jack family – a family of four – went missing on the Highway of Tears. They left their home in Prince George to head to a logging camp, where they were offered jobs and care for the children.
Ronald and Doreen Jack, both 26 years old, and their boys, Russell, 9, and Ryan, 4, were last heard from on August 2, 1989, when Ronald called his mother. Unfortunately, entire families go missing, too. And sadly, the case remains unsolved, like many of the other cases on the list…
Another case happened in the same month and year as the Jack family. 24-year-old Alberta Williams went missing on August 26, 1989, after last being seen at Popeye’s, a now-shuttered pub in Prince Rupert. Alberta told her sister Claudia that she was going to a house party.
A month later, Alberta’s naked body was found 23 miles east of the town. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted. She was found with several personal items, which were reportedly destroyed by the RCMP. A 2006 article indicated that Alberta’s family wanted her to remain off the Highway of Tears list. Nonetheless, she’s on the official E-PANA list.
Last seen at 2 am on November 22, 1989, 18-year-old Marnie left the Rock Pit Cabaret in Prince George in a grey Toyota pickup truck. The driver of the truck had black shoulder-length hair. Marnie’s remains were discovered on December 11, 1989, by cross country skiers Wilf and Mae Peckham.
Although animals had eaten the remains, she was identified by dental and X-ray records. A year later, 30-year-old serial killer Brian Peter Arp was arrested concerning Marnie’s murder. But no evidence was obtained, and Arp was released. Luckily, he was arrested two years later for another murder and convicted of both crimes using improved DNA technology.
On February 5, 1990, at 5:15 am, the Prince Rupert Fire Department was called to 153 3rd Avenue West to find a building engulfed in flames. Four people died in the blaze, including infant Kimberly Dumais, her grandmother Helga Rochon, her mother Sherri Rochon, and her aunt, Pauline Rochon.
Authorities determined that the fire had been set deliberately. It was the second time in a few months that a fire was set intentionally to this building. Years later, the family received an anonymous letter from an individual claiming to be responsible for the arson.
Donna Charlie, 22, was reported missing in September of 1990. She came to Prince George with her boyfriend Jerry Smaaslet, 30. Both had been smoking marijuana, taking mushrooms, and drinking. They checked into the Sportsman’s Motel, whose owner, Richard Hunter, testified that their room was in shambles and blood on the walls.
In April of the following year, the police found her headless body buried in a shallow grave near the Sportsman’s Motel. Her boyfriend testified that the body was buried after her death, and his cousin, Sheryl Girroir, helped bury the body. Donna’s head was never found, though.
In Smaaslet’s testimony, he said he buried it on Connaught Hill. Smaaslet was charged with the murder, which took place in early September 1990, behind the Sportsman’s Motel. He claimed that he found Donna behind the motel looking blue. Two witnesses testified that Smaaslet had told them that he mutilated Donna while she was still alive.
The jury convicted him of second-degree murder, but the Court of Appeals overturned it. In 1995, Smaaslet pled guilty to manslaughter and served an extra year to the 38 months he had already served. He was arrested again in 2001 in relation to another incident involving a woman in a motel room. He was finally sentenced as a dangerous offender for an indefinite period.
The murder that finally brought serial killer Brian Peter Arp behind bars was that of Therese Umphrey’s in 1993. Therese was last seen drunk outside a convenience store in Prince George on Valentine’s Day of that year.
Some men reportedly gave her a ride, but she couldn’t remember where she lived, so they drove her back to the convenience store. That day, she was found naked and partially frozen on a snowbank about 20 miles southwest of Prince George. She had been strangled to death. Arp was arrested for both her murder and that of Marnie Blanchard.
Leah Faulkner went to Prince George for a year to work but went missing on February 11, 2002. Her body was found the next month, submerged under the ice in a nearby lake after police received a call from a lawyer telling them the location of the body.
She had been strangled to death. Evidence showed that Tyler James Neudorf, her boyfriend, choked her until she passed out. Neudorf, 22, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He was sentenced to seven years. As of 2009, he is a free man.
Barbara Joseph was last seen on September 4, 2004. Her body was discovered the next day with her throat slashed. Her cousin, Winchester Orlando Thomas, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Why did he kill his cousin? It was revealed in court that the two were at a party the night of her death and a fight broke out between them. He choked her, cut her throat, sexually assaulted her, and mutilated her. The official cause of death was asphyxiation from blood in the lungs.
The 32-year-old mother of five was last seen hitchhiking in Vanderhoof on September 8, 2007, by her cousin Joanne. Bonnie was heading to Prince George, where she had a court date the next day. She was almost done with a series of court dates to get her kids back from social services.
She had never missed a single court date until September 9, 2007, when she vanished. She was reported missing in December that year by her aunt Rose Joseph. Bonnie led a high-risk lifestyle and was a frequent lone hitchhiker. Bonnie’s wallet and ID were found near a lake with an un-cashed check in it.
20-year-old Maddy was last seen on the morning of May 28, 2011, at Hogsback Lake. She went missing after a party at the lake, which she attended with her friend, Jordi Bolduc. The two were camping there, but Jordi left Maddy because Jordi was drunk and injured.
Maddy didn’t want to leave her sleeping bag. She was last seen at the party at 4 am but was never heard from again. The following day, Jordi didn’t see Maddy at the campsite, but her tent door was open, and the bedding was pushed to the side.
Jordi didn’t think much of it for some reason and went to work. Over a day later, Maddy’s parents went to check on their daughter and reported her missing after finding her abandoned truck and flattened tent at the lake.
Several of Maddy’s valuables were found on, in, and around her truck, including unopened liquor, gas, motorbike equipment, a camera, and her purse. An iPhone and a set of keys were among some of the items that were missing. According to the police, there was no sign of a struggle, but foul play is suspected.
On the early morning of November 11, 2011, the police and first responders were called to a road in Telkwa, where an unknown woman was found in the middle of a road. She had received life-threatening injuries and died in the hospital.
The authorities treated the death as possibly criminal. They arrested a man who was found at the scene of the crime. He was later cleared as a suspect. The woman and the man knew each other, yet no charges were made at the time. The unnamed woman’s body was flown to Vancouver for an autopsy, but the results were not public.
The most recent recorded incident on the Highway of Tears is that of Christin West, an Indigenous woman, who was found in her apartment by family members on August 7, 2021. Her family reported her missing some time before.
The family reported on social media that a stalker had harassed Christin and that the RCMP was not doing an adequate job. A 36-year-old Indigenous man named Dennis Daniel Gladue was arrested shortly after and ultimately charged with second-degree murder.
Stay safe, ladies!