Missing & Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls
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Leslie Hansen knew Crystal Saunders for only four years, but he said the woman left a lasting impression on him.

“She had such a beautiful shining face. Her eyes … she had beautiful eyes, brown eyes that were sparkling and just like puppy-dog eyes that just melted you,” he said.

The two met at a 7-Eleven on Ellice Avenue in the heart of Winnipeg's West End. Hansen said the two had an instant connection, a “soul tie,” as he described it.

“We had some good talks like about what we were doing at that point. We were just trying to get ourselves out of the problem," he said.

"We mostly were about what our plans were for the future. I know her plans were to just like get out of the street and she was interested in something, in going back to school.”

On April 20, 2007, Portage La Prairie RCMP found Saunders in a ditch near St. Ambroise, Man.

Few details were released about her death. It remained that way until July 2012, when Project Devote, a police task force probing missing and murdered vulnerable person cases in Manitoba, announced it would oversee the investigation.

CBC News has reached out to the Winnipeg Police Service, which is involved in the Project Devote investigation, for an update on her case.

Hansen attended a rehabilitation program at the Behavioural Health Foundation in St. Norbert, Man., in January 2007. He said a couple weeks into his program, Saunders joined him.

Hansen said she was taking the program seriously. She was working at trying to beat her crack addiction, so Hansen said he was surprised when she suddenly left in late March before completing her program.

The next time he heard his friend’s name, Hansen learned she had died, but it was too late to attend her funeral.

“When I seen her mom, she said to me, ‘One of the last times I saw Crystal, she was talking about you because that song Every Rose Has Its Thorn came on the radio.’ And she said to her mom, ‘Oh, I miss Bunky,’ because I always used to sing that song to her,” Hansen recalled.

Hansen thinks about his friend often and wonders how things would be if she was still around.
“She was really smart," he said. "I remember she used to have this book with her all the time. She was always writing in it.”

If she didn’t have her journal in that little bag that she carried around, she would just grab a bunch of paper and make a little booklet, he added.

Hansen says losing his friend has motivated him to stay sober and clean.

"She was always trying to help people,” he said, referring to how Sanders had wanted to become a counsellor, working with at-risk youth.

He said Saunders, a member of the Sagkeeng First Nation, wanted to work as a counsellor at Ma Mawi Chi Itita Centre, a resource centre in Winnipeg's North End that works to support and rebuild aboriginal families.

NOTE: CBC News was not able to locate anyone from Crystal Saunders's family. Researchers found Leslie Hansen because he has posted numerous Facebook posts about his friend in the years since her death.

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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.