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It was close to Christmas in 1983 when Valerie Abigosis’s phone rang in the middle of the night.
It was her sister Marlene, crying.
“She was getting ready to leave Vancouver,” said Valerie.
“She said she was sick and tired of the life that she was leading. She was going to leave and try to go to Calgary.”
At the time, Valerie was living in Revelstoke, B.C., about a five-hour drive away.
“I knew she would stop by my place because I lived right on the Number 1 [Highway],” said Valerie.
“But she never, that was the last time I heard from her.”
Marlene was 25 and living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside when she disappeared. She was struggling with addiction and was occasionally homeless.
Despite her sister’s repeated calls to police, a formal missing persons report would not be filed until 2002, after officers showed up at Marlene’s home with news about a man suspected of murdering women and hiding their bodies on his pig farm.
The sisters grew up in a family of 16 on Pine Creek First Nation in Manitoba.
When they were kids, they were taken from their parents and put into the residential school system.
“I remember a whole bunch of them were coming to take the kids away, and she had some peanuts or something in her hand,” she said.
“I asked her to give me some and she said no ... she was thinking that she would go hungry if she gave them to me.”
Valerie remembers her sister wearing a small pair of wellies and worrying her little feet would freeze by the time they got to the car, which was a walk of about a mile.
When the sisters were 18 they struggled to adjust, and both developed addictions to alcohol for years. Valerie fared better and eventually got help through Alcoholics Anonymous.
So when Marlene didn’t turn up to her sister’s home, Valerie went to police in the New Year of 1984.
“When I first reported her missing, I called them several times, and finally this officer told me, he said, ‘Well, what do you expect us to do? Get up and jump and start looking when somebody reports them missing?’ He said, ‘People go missing all the time,’” said Valerie.
She said police seemed interested in the case until she told them her sister had been living on the Downtown Eastside.
“I couldn’t get anywhere. There was nothing I could do anymore. You know, I’d stop phoning them,” she said.
“It hurt ... and it still does.”
Valerie wouldn’t try again until she heard about an investigation into Robert Pickton, a serial killer convicted in 2007 of six counts of second-degree murder.
Finally, two officers showed up at her door and took DNA samples. There was no match to any of the material recovered from Pickton’s farm.
A few years ago, B.C. RCMP officers contacted Valerie to tell her the case had been closed.
“They came here to talk to me and the rest of my brothers and sisters, and then they closed it. They couldn’t find anything,” said Valerie.
She said she has lost faith in the police, and she doesn’t know if she would support an inquiry into murdered and missing women.
She has difficulty talking about her sister, and still hopes she’ll find her somewhere eventually, maybe spot her curly brown hair, tan skin and thin frame in a crowd.
“I still miss her. I still think of her every day ... I have these fantasies where I take off to Europe on a holiday and then I see her. I find her.”