British Columbia

RCMP say Highway of Tears killers may never be caught

RCMP investigators admit they may never solve the cases of murdered and missing women on B.C.'s Highway of Tears.

'We've turned over every stone we can,' say RCMP

RCMP continue to investigate the deaths and disappearances of 18 young women along a 720-kilometre stretch of Northern B.C. dubbed the Highway of Tears. (Contributed/RCMP)

A decade after the launch of the RCMP's high-profile E-PANA investigation into missing and murdered women in Northern B.C., police admit they may never find the killers or make more arrests.

'Perhaps they'll never be solved'

"I've been honest with our [victims'] families and I say perhaps they'll never be solved," RCMP Staff Sgt. Wayne Clary of the E-PANA unit told CBC host Anna Maria Tremonti during a town hall meeting on missing and murdered women, which was packed with several hundred people in Prince George Thursday night.

For a decade, E-PANA has been investigating the cold case deaths and disappearances of 18 young women along a 720-kilometre stretch of Highway 16 in Northern B.C. dubbed the Highway of Tears, as well as stretches of highways 5 and 97. "Pana" is an Inuit word for the god who cared for souls in the underworld.

At the height of E-PANA's work, 70 people worked the investigation. Now, just eight investigators are left.

RCMP Staff Sgt Wayne Clary with Matilda Wilson, the mother of one of the murder victims from the Highway of Tears. (CBC/Betsy Trumpener)

"That's the reality and that's what I tell the families," said Clary. "We can't keep that going forever when there's no work."

RCMP have named 2 suspects in 4 women's deaths

E-PANA was launched in 2006 amidst outrage over the number of deaths and disappearances of mostly Indigenous young women in Northern B.C.

Indigenous leaders said 50 girls and women had been murdered or had gone missing between Prince George and Prince Rupert since 1970.

E-PANA initially took on nine of those cases, and soon expanded it to 18 across a wider area, re-interviewing witnesses and families, following new leads and tips and converting 700 boxes of dusty police files into a searchable database.

Officers have identified a suspect in three of the murders, but that man is now dead.

A different man has been charged in the death of Monica Jack, but that case is still before the courts.   

Still, many families are still waiting for answers and justice for their missing and murdered loved ones. 

Women pore over a map that marks deaths and disappearances along the Highway of Tears. (Contributed/UBCIC)

"We care and we're trying and we'll keep following up on the tips and interviews that come in," said Clary.

'These ... are the toughest to investigate'

"These kinds of stranger-on-stranger investigations are the toughest to investigate, especially in this area where it's very isolated, it's very lonely. A lot of these crimes happened a long time ago. Some of our victims don't get found, some don't get found right away, and evidence is lost," said Clary.

"Witnesses die. They may or may not know they had important information and [now] we'll never retrieve it. In some cases, some of the men who committed these crimes are dead," said Clary.

Still, Clary says when victims' families hold vigils or walk the Highway of Tears, the media attention often triggers a spike of tips to police.

"Killer on the Loose!' is the warning on a prominent billboard beside Highway 16 in Northern B.C., where numerous young women have died or disappeared. (CBC )

"It's important to keep this alive," Clary said. 

'I imagine 50 women missing from West Vancouver'

"It's the people from the communities that are going to solve these crimes," he said. "We've turned over every stone we can."

"Who's protecting our young Indigenous girls and women?" asked Mary Teegee, the director of child and family services at Carrier Sekani Family Services in Prince George.

"I often imagine 50 women missing from West Vancouver. What would be the outcry? For one thing, the [death toll] would never reach that in West Vancouver."

With files from Liz Hoath