Saskatoon

Nieces gather in Saskatoon for 55th anniversary of Alexandra Wiwcharuk's unsolved murder

Nurse's body was found in a shallow grave on the riverbank in 1962

May 21, 2017

From left: Patty Storie, Lynn Gratrix and Lorain Phillips, all nieces of murdered Saskatoon nurse Alexandra Wiwcharuk, have worked with police to solve Wiwcharuk's unsolved murder, which happened 55 years ago. (Courtney Markewich/CBC)

The nieces of a nurse whose murder in Saskatoon remains unsolved after 55 years are hopeful her killer will be caught soon.

Hopeful, too, for the resolution it will bring to their mother, Pearl Cherneske.

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Cherneske is the older sister of Alexandra Wiwcharuk, whose body was found in a shallow grave on the riverbank nearly two weeks after she went missing on May 18, 1962. She had been brutally beaten and sexually assaulted. 

This hand-tinted portrait was given as a gift from Alexandra Wiwcharuk to her parents. (Wiwcharuk family)

"She'd really like this solved," said Lorain Phillips, Cherneske's daughter. She and two of Wiwcharuk's other nieces  Lynn Gratrix and Patty Storie — have kept Wiwcharuk's unsolved murder alive in the public eye for years.

"She's going to be 85 years this year and she can't wait," Phillips said of her mother during an interview on CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning on Friday. "She's excited. She's always saying, 'You can't stop. Go to Saskatoon and keep digging up information.'"

Investigator is 'on the ball' 

One reason the trio is hopeful for a conclusion to the case is the involvement of Det. Sgt. Tyson Lavallee, a major crimes investigator at the Saskatoon Police Service. 

"This guy's on the ball. We really like him," said Gratrix. 

Lavallee, in a recent post on the Saskatoon Police Facebook page, said advancements in DNA testing have helped keep the case alive.

Police have combed through thousands of documents and interviewed 700 people, with over 1,200 people involved in the case over time, according to Lavallee. 

Wiwcharuk's gravesite in Saskatoon. (Courtney Markewich/CBC)

"With an investigation of this size and scope, even after 55 years, investigative opportunities still exist and this remains an active homicide investigation," Lavallee wrote. 

3 persons of interest remain

Over a decade ago, when the nieces were unsatisfied with the course of the investigation, they began looking into Wiwcharuk's murder themselves, visiting Saskatoon, drawing up a list of persons of interest and conducting interviews.

That list has now been whittled down to three people — two alive, one dead.

"We girls have put a lot of effort and a lot of time towards our aunt, and the reason is because we love her, we respect her, and will always try to find who did this," said Gratrix. 

This weekend the nieces' sleuthing took a backseat, however, as they — along with Cherneske — gathered in Saskatoon to bless the graves of Wiwcharuk and her parents. 

Phillips, Gratrix and Storie at Wiwcharuk's grave. (Courtney Markewich/CBC)

"It has to come together," said Phillips. "[Pearl] can't let it go and neither can we."

with files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning
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