Who is Andrea Giesbrecht? Competing pictures emerge of woman who hid infant remains

After a judge sentenced Andrea Giesbrecht to eight and a half years in prison for concealing the remains of six dead infants, questions remain about the case and the woman at the centre of it.

Defence cast her as a caring mother, Crown as a serial deceiver

Andrea Giesbrecht is shown in this surveillance camera image from the McPhillips Street U-Haul facility in Winnipeg on Oct. 3, 2014. The video footage was presented at Giesbrecht's trial, which began Monday. (Court exhibit)

After a judge sentenced Andrea Giesbrecht to eight and a half years in prison for concealing the remains of six dead infants, questions remain about the case and the woman at the centre of it.

How did the infants die? And what motivated the 43-year-old married mother of two to rent a storage locker and keep the remains there, amid children's clothing and toys? 

Giesbrecht showed little expression throughout the trial. When listing aggravating factors in the sentencing, Thompson's decision noted that Giesbrecht "has not demonstrated any remorse."

She was convicted in February of hiding the bodies of six infants in a U-Haul storage locker she rented. The remains were found Oct. 20, 2014 by employees at the facility, after she failed to pay her bill. 

Answers about the infants' deaths are not likely to be forthcoming. The judge said by concealing the remains, Giesbrecht thwarted any possible police investigation that would determine how they died.

As for Giesbrect's motives, Giesbrecht's lawyer hinted that more might be revealed. 

"I will talk about Andrea as a person when I do the bail application that may be made if we decide to appeal," he told reporters Friday after the judge read his decision.

Compassionate or cold? 

Until that happens, two competing pictures of Giesbrecht as a person emerged during the trial, with the defence describing her as a "caring, compassionate, charismatic and a patient individual" who enjoys being a mother, while the Crown drew a picture of a serial deceiver with a gambling addiction.

Giesbrecht was addicted to lottery VLTs and card gambling, betting $500 for hours several days a week and losing thousands of dollars.

"After exhausting her own resources, the finances of her parents including their credit cards and lines of credit, and her inheritance after her parents died, she turned to defrauding a close family friend of her parents," Thompson said.

Giesbrecht has two convictions for fraud over $5,000. In addition to defrauding a family friend, Giesbrecht was found guilty of defrauding the Employment and Income Assistance program.

Despite going to counselling for her addiction, Thompson said Giesbrecht has shown a "lack of empathy" and disregarded the consequences of her actions. 

Reading his sentencing decision of Friday, Judge Murray Thompson said Giesbrecht has "a well-documented history of deceiving others," demonstrated by her gambling addiction, the frauds she committed, and the deception involved in concealing the remains.

Family history of gambling

Details about Giesbrecht's relationships with friends and family members also emerged during the trial.

"She has an unremarkable upbringing as the sole child of her parents, with the exception that her parents had a gambling habit and indulged it frequently," Thompson said.

The defence highlighted Giesbrecht's relationship with her children. Friends and acquaintances described her as a good mother to her two surviving children, and Thompson noted that she visited regularly with them while on bail.

Defence lawyer Greg Brodsky said the prison sentence will mean further separation from her children.

"She's very upset with the fact that she's going to be away from her children and her family for a longer period of time," he said after the sentencing decision.

Lyn Burdett testified that she met Giesbrecht in 2000 at McPhillips Station Casino, where Burdett was working. Burdett told court that Giesbrecht, who was married, was dating a man who worked in the casino.

At one point, Giesbrecht asked Burdett to lie to her husband and say that Giesbrecht had gone on a trip with Burdett, when in fact she had gone with her boyfriend, Burdett said.

Elizabeth Fry letter debated

As part of her bail conditions, Giesbrecht was under supervision by the Elizabeth Fry Society, which wrote a "glowing letter of support," Thompson said. Thompson discounted the letter, however, calling it "advocacy" and "not an objective exercise."

Brodsky questioned the judge's decision to discount the letter, wondering why the Elizabeth Fry Society wasn't deemed objective enough. 

 "I was somewhat taken aback also at the fact at that Elizabeth Fry, who wrote a letter after seeing her and living with her for such a long period of time, are considered to be advocates, and not people like the probation officer, who are independent," he said. 

Motive remains a mystery

Outside of court following the judge's decision, Brodsky continued to defend his client, saying Giesbrecht's methods were less grisly than other cases of concealing human remains. 

"She rented a locker. She didn't throw it in a landfill dump, she didn't do like the other cases that were cited to the court, put it in a garbage bin. She didn't chop it up. There were no marks on any of the products of conception to show that she was interfering with their ability to be born."

The remains were discovered with items of children's clothing and toys. During the trial, Brodsky told the court Giesbrecht was "saving" them.

Crown prosecutor Debbie Buors characterized Giesbrecht's actions differently, saying the remains were "cast aside" and "carelessly hidden" away, unloved by the woman who did everything to conceal all of her pregnancies.

Brodsky said he will recommend an appeal.

"But whether we go ahead or not will be dependent on a further review of the judge's decision," he said.