Missing & Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls
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UPDATE: Winnipeg police announce second-degree murder charge in Simone Sanderson’s death. After the arrest was made, Sanderson’s family came forward with ‘serious concerns’ about how the police investigation was handled.

Every time Bettyann Sanderson steps into her home on the O-Chi-Chak Ko Sipi First Nation she thinks of her granddaughter Simone Sanderson.

That’s because Simone decorated the interior.

“Painting. Designing stuff. She was very creative that way,” Bettyann said.

Beyond her designer skills, Simone had a knack for the outdoors.

“She liked to go out camping and fishing. And she liked gardening and she liked flowers,” her grandmother said.

Simone raised her own son, Nigel Jr. on reserve.

In May 2012, Simone’s son was put into the care of Child and Family Services (CFS) with his paternal grand parents, after a dispute between Simone and her baby’s father.

Because of CFS involvement Simone had to take numerous programs including a month’s stay at a detox centre. Her grandmother says she completed everything but continued to face barriers by CFS.

That’s when Bettyann says Simone reached out to her son’s paternal family.

“When someone would say something to her or do something to her she would go up to that person and ask for forgiveness. And that’s what she did with that family,” Bettyann said.

“She came out crying and she explained what happened… and they told me they don’t believe in forgiveness. That’s what she told me.”

Not long after that encounter, Simone moved full time to the family’s second home in Winnipeg’s north end.

Bettyann says she became involved with a new boyfriend. She started staying at his place on a regular basis and then slowly the family began to hear from Simone less and less.

She knows that Simone was involved with drugs and those who sold it. But she says it was a temporary struggle.

Her grandmother figured it would end when she started school on September 10, 2012.  Simone had plans to complete her high school diploma that year. She was also enrolled in courses at the Behavioral Health Foundation in St. Norbert.

On August 31, 2012, the Winnipeg Police Service asked for the public’s assistance in locating the 23-year-old. The WPS wrote Simone was last seen on August 26, 2012 around 5 pm in the West Broadway area of the city.

Two days after that media release, on September 2, a body was found at an old car lot on Burrows Avenue and Main Street.

On September 4, the WPS identified the remains as those of Simone. One day later, the WPS revealed the case was now being investigated as a homicide.

The police gave an update to the public in December 2013, saying Sanderson had been involved in the sex trade. They believe she used social media such as Facebook to make contact with potential clients.

But the family says this isn’t the case.

“I know Simone’s facebook password and I looked through all her messages and there was nothing of that,” said Simone’s younger sister Ashley Sanderson.

The siblings were two years apart and shared everything with one another, including passwords to social media sites.

Ashley is upset with the label they put on her older sister.

“She wasn’t like that to go and stand on the corner … they turn around and said she was a hooker. Just because she was on Burrows there,” Ashley said.

The Sanderson family categorizes the investigation as one of the worst. 

“They lied to me about that (information) and the description they brought with it,” she said explaining the fact she’s given leads to investigators but they haven’t followed up on them thoroughly.

Bettyann says Simone’s death has taken a toll on her family. Her own daughter -- Simone’s mother Jacqueline Sanderson -- passed away in August 2014 due to health concerns.

“She never found answers,” she said.

Simone’s family is in favor of a national inquiry into missing and murdered women and girls. They believe an inquiry will help bring forward discrepancies in the investigations.

Their last point of contact with The Winnipeg Police Homicide unit was early January 2015.

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CBC News continues to investigate missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, looking at the unsolved cases and telling the stories of the families and communities.