British Columbia

'You had a daughter named Monica Jack?': Mother recalls last day of alleged murder victim's life

The mother of a 12-year-old who was allegedly murdered in 1978 told a judge and jury that she believes RCMP investigators at the time were prejudiced against her as an Indigenous single mother.

Madeleine Lanaro claims RCMP investigation into daughter's 1978 disappearance marked by prejudice

Monica Jack disappeared in May 1978 while riding her bicycle between Merritt and her home on the tiny Quilchena reserve. Garry Taylor Handlen is on trial for her murder. (RCMP)

The mother of a 12-year-old girl allegedly murdered nearly 40 years ago transported a B.C. Supreme Court judge and jury back in time to the last day of her daughter's life Tuesday.

Madeleine Lanaro said her memory often failed her. But she recalled the last time she laid eyes on Monica Jack.

It was May 6, 1978, and Monica was riding her bike home on the quiet highway between Merritt and the Quilchena reserve.

Lanaro was driving a Mustang and she had also been in town, doing some shopping.

"I honked," Lanaro said. "And I do believe one of the kids yelled out 'Do you want a ride?' and she said 'No.' And we just kept going."

A Saturday, a special day, a 'bake day'

Lanaro testified Tuesday in the first-degree murder trial of Garry Taylor Handlen, the man accused of killing Monica Jack.

A small woman with large glasses and a grey bobbed haircut, she pushed a walker to the witness box.

"I'm not supposed to ask a lady this question," said Crown counsel Tim Livingston. "But how old are you?"

"I'll have to think," Lanaro answered. She is 78.

"You had a daughter named Monica Jack?" Livingston asked a few minutes later.

"Yes, I did," Lanaro said. 

Monica Jack died two weeks before her 13th birthday.

Garry Taylor Handlen as he appeared around the time of 12-year-old Monica Jack's disappearance. Handlen is on trial for Jack's murder. (RCMP)

As Lanaro relived the day, she was handed Monica Jack's last school picture. A copy was also given to Handlen.

Lanaro said the girl had many friends and rarely met any strangers. There were only two houses on the part of the reserve where Lanaro lived with two of her sons, two daughters, a grandson and Monica in May 1978.

It was the weekend of her youngest daughter's birthday and as it was a Saturday, the kids were allowed to fix themselves whatever they wanted for breakfast.

It was also a bake day, when the family would make cakes and desserts to sell at school for fund raisers. Monica asked for permission to ride her new bike to Merritt, a journey she had never made alone before.

Lanaro said yes.

'They came and they went'

Monica Jack and her cousin spent the day at the shops in town. Lanaro said she drove in because she needed to prepare for a fishing trip that night. At that time, she told the jury, people from the reserves all over the Nicola Valley had the right to fish wherever they wanted. They shared whatever they caught.

"That was just how everything was done," she said. "It's not done that way any more."

Lanaro said she came home early the following morning and learned that Monica didn't get home.

"I phoned police and phoned friends and people came very quickly," she said. "Lots of people started looking for her."

Garry Taylor Handlen is now in his 70s. He is accused of first-degree murder in Monica Jack's death. (David Ridgen)

Lanaro said she also gave a statement to police And she recalled the investigating officer writing her words down.

"Our RCMP, I found at that time, was not really that schooled into looking into things," she said. "They came and they went."

Lanaro dabbed her eyes with a tissue as she identified a picture of Monica's bike, which was found the morning after she vanished.

"A lot of us walked all of the mountains for weeks looking for her," she said.

The girl's remains were discovered in the brush by a forestry worker 17 years later.

'An Indian living as a single mum'

Under cross-examination, Lanaro said the clothes Monica wore — pink floral top, brown corduroy pants and blue running shoes — were given back to a family member.

She also said that she had come to believe that "in that day and age, RCMP were quite prejudiced against Indians."

Lanaro said one of the officers who visited her to take a statement was rude.

"It could be because of who I am," she said. "If I wasn't an Indian living as a single mum, he probably wouldn't talk to me that way."

Monica Jack disappeared on the road between Merritt and the tiny Quilchena reserve in May 1978. Her remains were found 17 years later.

Lanaro said she had previously lived with her children in Oroville in Washington State. She said her children played with the kids of millionaires and her sons were successful baseball and football players.

But she said that changed when she moved back to British Columbia.

"They didn't realize that they were different," she said. "Some parents were not pleased that their sons were sharing trophies with an Indian boy, and that's when it really hit my kids that we were different."

As Lanaro testified, one of her daughters wept; another put an arm around her sister.

As a witness, Lanaro has been excluded from the trial proceedings to date. But once her testimony was finished, she was told she could attend the trial like anyone else.

She placed her walker at the end of front row of the public gallery and made her way to a seat with her family.

She sat down directly behind the man accused of killing Monica Jack.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.