Missing & Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls
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Ruth Cocks, 51, was last seen on video surveillance tape at 2:30 am leaving the Grand Union Hotel in Athabasca, Alta on March 28, 2008. The Mikisew Cree First Nation woman’s body was found three kilometres away on the frozen Athabasca River. The mother of three was found on April 7. 2008 and her death was determined to be suicide by a medical examiner. 

RCMP did not suspect foul play, but her sister, Berna Barore, said it just doesn’t make sense that Ruth would walk three kilometres out of town, past her own apartment.

Barore said when she reported the mother of three missing, she had a hard time convincing police to search for her.

“We couldn’t get them to do a search. My family came from all over Canada. They came and helped me do the search for her,” she said, adding that police didn’t seem to know who she was asking about when she called for updates.

“I fought and fought. I was asking how the investigation is doing,” she said. “I called every day and they would say, ‘What missing person?’”

Eventually, Cocks’s body was found by a woman who lived nearby. Barore said police dogs had gone past the same site the day before and somehow missed the body.

Barore said she asked numerous times to see her sister’s file and eventually received a copy of the autopsy report.

“The autopsy said she died of suicide. It doesn’t make any sense to me,” she said.

That autopsy report stated her immediate cause of death was “diphenhydramine toxicity” — that is, toxicity from a form of Benadryl — the manner of death was “suicide.”

“She had the key to get into my apartment, she had the key to get into my apartment building, and I waited up for her until 3 o'clock," Barore said.  "So I just went to sleep and she wasn't there in the morning.”

Barore said she believes Ruth met with foul play while she was missing.

She filed a complaint against the Athabasca RCMP alleging racism, disrespect and a faulty investigation. A report prepared by the RCMP of the Eastern Alberta District found there was no evidence to support the allegations, stating that RCMP officers immediately started a search for Ruth. 

“All proper procedures and RCMP policy was followed and every effort was made to locate your sister (Ruth),” the report said.

Family wasn’t called to identify Ruth’s body and none of her personal items was returned, both her sister and the report from RCMP say.

Barore said RCMP asked her to sign off on the complaint and she said she wouldn’t because she didn’t agree with the findings. She said her next step to was to write to Ottawa to contest the report, but she said she would just let it go.

Alberta RCMP said Ruth Cocks's death remains closed as a suicide. A spokesperson declined an interview.

"In light of the upcoming National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, it would be inappropriate to enter into discussions on specific operations and investigations, past or present," an emailled response stated.

"With that being said, the RCMP welcomes the opportunity to respond directly to any inquiries made by the immediate family members of the cases you have identified.  The discussion of any details of the police investigations into these matters is limited to the individual who has been the main point of contact for investigators in the case, usually the immediate family of the deceased, and will not be done with or through third parties. Finally, you may rest assured, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will give the Inquiry its full participation and co-operation."

Ruth Cocks was alone at the time she disappeared from the hotel bar, Barore said. Though Cocks had always liked partying, she was recovering from alcohol addiction and had started turning her life around, her sister said.

She was a devoted mother to her three daughters, Barore added.

“I was fighting every step of the way. I didn’t have anyone helping me,” she said.

“It’s a long ways for her to have walked in the dark.”

Do you have more information on any of these cases?

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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.