'My dad died searching for my sister': When missing person cases go cold

The number of unsolved missing person cases in Halifax is slowly growing. Some date back 30 years, and police have few answers for the families of those who disappeared.

Kimberly McAndrew's disappearance one of a slowly growing number of unsolved missing person cases in Halifax

Megan Adams wants to know what happened to her missing sister, Kimberly McAndrew. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Cyril McAndrew died while still trying to find answers about his missing 19-year-old daughter, Kimberly.

The retired RCMP officer had dedicated his life to searching for her ever since she disappeared on a sunny August day in 1989 after working a shift at the Canadian Tire on Quinpool Road in Halifax.

Even when he was later stricken with cancer, McAndrew kept his resolve, still determined to dig up information on his missing child.

"My dad died searching for my sister," said his daughter, Megan Adams.

"It was really tough. Doubly so just because that was his life after she went missing was finding her and you just thought there would be some kind of karma that would let that happen — but life doesn't always work that way."

It gnawed at Cyril until his death in 2004, said Adams. Was Kimberly kidnapped? Was she murdered? Unanswered questions that still haunt the family.

Kimberly McAndrew went missing on August 12, 1989, in Halifax. (Rewards for Major Unsolved Crimes Program)

The disappearance of Kimberly McAndrew is one of a slowly growing number of unsolved missing person cases in Halifax. Halifax Regional Police have between 80 to 90 on the books, some dating back more than 30 years.

The police force investigates about 1,000 missing person reports a year. While almost all are solved and the people found unharmed, each year two or three cases go cold.

It means more families discover the heartache Adams knows well.

"From a personal perspective it's very, very frustrating that there are all of those cases and there aren't any answers for my family and all of the other families out there," she said.

"This agony of not knowing what your grief really is. You can go with what the most likely scenario is but without any facts it's not something you can focus on and accept … it's still not real."

Kimberly McAndrew in a home video before her disappearance. (CBC)

Kimberly McAndrew, a student at Dalhousie University, had finished her cashier shift at Canadian Tire around 4:20 p.m. on Aug. 12, 1989. Clad in a Esprit T-shirt and navy cardigan, she left the store.

It was the last confirmed sighting of the young woman.

What happened to her is a mystery, but Adams believes her sister was abducted and likely killed. If that's the case, her body has never been found.

"Every family at least deserves that answer, they deserve to be able to take their loved one home and then go from there," said Adams.

Arlene McLean is a long-term missing person case. She was last seen on Sept, 8, 1999, when she left her home in Eastern Passage, N.S. McLean gave her common-law husband the impression she wouldn't be gone long. She was never seen again. Police believe foul play may be involved in her disappearance. (Rewards for Major Unsolved Crimes Program)

She believes more cases like her sister's would be solved if more police officers were assigned to digging into the details of outstanding missing person reports.

But money and manpower aren't the issue, according to Halifax police. It's leads.

"I don't think it's a money thing, I think it's more along the lines of getting those leads, getting the interest out there," said Staff Sgt. Don Stienburg, who works in the special investigations section that oversees the cold-case unit.

"When you stop getting any tips from the public and there's nothing coming in then it's very difficult. Where else do you go?"

Halifax Regional Police Staff Sgt. Don Stienburg said money and manpower aren't the issue when it comes to solving historic missing person cases. The biggest problem is finding leads. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The historic missing person cases are reviewed by officers who try to uncover any information that might have been overlooked. Despite that attention very few old missing person cases end up being solved. 

"I can't recall off hand any of the real old ones being solved," said Stienburg. 

One exception was a case from 1998, Stienburg said. A man in Halifax was reported missing and was only discovered a few years ago alive and well living in Jerusalem. The man simply wanted to sever his connection to people in Halifax, Stienburg said. The officer would not identify the man.

Det. Const. Mike Cheeseman said that many unsolved missing person cases could involve people who have killed themselves or have accidentally died. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Police also believe many of the missing person cold cases involve people who killed themselves or died in an accident. Until remains are discovered that conclusively match the missing person, the case remains open and unsolved.

Det. Const. Mike Cheeseman, a Halifax police investigator who handles missing person cases, said it can be difficult to locate a body is somebody decides to kill themselves but tells no one ahead of time how and where.

"Nova Scotia is surrounded by water," he said. "Unfortunately we do lose persons by going into the water." 

Daniel Baker has been missing since Dec 12, 1997. He left a residence on Preston Street in Halifax around 11 p.m. heading for a restaurant on Quinpool Road. He hasn't been seen since. Halifax believe there are people who know what happened to Baker and have information that could result in an arrest and possible charges. (Rewards for Major Unsolved Crimes Program)

If police suspect a missing person has killed themselves they inform the family of that. 

Out of the 80 to 90 long-term missing person cases, police suspect only about 11 are suspicious or involve foul play, although there's not enough evidence to conclude they were homicides.

Those cases have been added to the province's Rewards for Major Unsolved Crimes Program. It offers money to people who may have information that may help police find out who is responsible for a crime.  

Shen Chiu Tsou, also known as Andy, has been missing since June 26, 2005. He is from Richmond, B.C., and had travelled to Halifax on business. Tsou was registered at the Halifax Casino Hotel for June 26 but never arrived. He had a 2005 white Pontiac Grand Prix rental car while he was in the area; the car has never been found. Tsou knew numerous people in Halifax and other parts of Nova Scotia. (Rewards for Major Unsolved Crimes Program)

The Kimberly McAndrew case is one of those 11.

When she went missing, all she had with her was the clothes she was wearing and a bag she took to and from work. Her bank accounts were never touched and all of her belongings were left at her Halifax apartment. 

Adams said her sister wasn't the kind to run off. She always wanted company, even when the family was living in the rural community of Parrsboro, N.S.

"You know, I used to make fun of her because she wouldn't walk to downtown Parrsboro alone and would make me go with her to go get a Diet Coke. That's not the personality of someone that has just gone off."

Over the years police have searched Point Pleasant Park and Sir Sandford Fleming Park, both in the Halifax area, along with a property in Shad Bay, N.S., for the remains of Kimberly McAndrew. Those searches turned up nothing. (CBC)

Over the years the search for McAndrew has had its ups and downs, with tips suggesting where she might be or where her remains might be found. 

None of those leads has ever panned out. 

"It gives families something to accept you know, if there's a death and the grief that would be attached to that certainly," Adams said. "Would we rather find, you know her body if it's out there, of course we would. Would we stop at that? Of course not.

"Somebody is responsible for my sister going missing and they deserve to have to face justice."   

The loss had a deep impact on Adams and her family.

"I'm obsessive with knowing, with my husband knowing where I am at all times and the kids when they were younger going out," she said. "That knowledge equates to safety for me."