'She didn't deserve to die': Woman found dead was in abusive relationship, brother says

The brother of a woman killed in Winnipeg in 2016 is urging people to keep communication open with loved ones who they believe might be in an abusive relationship.

Jennifer Barrett's body was found in a barrel behind a Winnipeg home in December 2016

Jennifer Barrett was 42 when her body was found behind a home in Waverley Heights. Her brother says she was proud of her nursing training and work; she is pictured here after graduation. (Submitted by Jason Barrett)

The brother of a woman killed in Winnipeg in 2016 is urging people to try to keep communication open with loved ones who they believe might be in an abusive relationship. 

"My sister didn't deserve to die. She didn't. I don't know what happened — what did — but not that way," said Jason Barrett.

His sister, Jennifer Barrett, was found dead inside a barrel behind a home in Waverley Heights in December 2016. Police say her body was found in chemicals to aid in its decomposition. She was 42 years old. 

Perez Adaryll Cleveland is charged with first-degree murder in her death.

Two women, Jessica Elizabeth Reid, then 34, and Holley Alyssa Sullivan, then 28, who were also living in the home at the time of Jennifer's death, were charged with accessory after the fact in connection with her killing.

The group moved out of the home in November, a month before Jennifer would be found dead.

Cleveland is scheduled to appear in court on April 5 for a pre-trial hearing.

Jennifer's brother Jason said he's coming forward to speak about his sister now, to remind people to look out for one another and try to not to lose touch with loved ones.

Winnipeg police believe Jennifer was assaulted for several days, then killed more than three months before her body was found, news that devastated her family, who had long been in the dark about where she was.

"We didn't know she was missing. All we knew was she was gone with this person, and that slowly, over the years, communication was just ending," said Jason.

A 'very outgoing' hockey mom

Jennifer grew up in the greater Sudbury area, where she was a hockey mom to her only son, now 19 years old,  and a registered practical nurse who worked with seniors.

"She wasn't a solitary person at all. She was very outgoing. When she got something in her mind, it was really hard to change," he said.
Jason Barrett says Jen was a doting, headstrong sister who loved her friends. (Submitted by Jason Barrett)

He said she loved spending time with her friends and had many.

"She had what you'd call 'follow through,'" Jason said, adding he'd never known his sister to be involved in drugs or crime.

"She was a really headstrong person, but she was also very loving, caring, but she also didn't mince words when it come to telling her opinion as well," he said, with a grin. 

"She was a strong character."

Jennifer was in a relationship with Cleveland in the late 1990s and then they parted ways, according to her brother.

Around that time, police in Sudbury, Ont. had offered a cash reward of $1,000 for Cleveland for charges of assault, assault causing bodily harm, threatening death and breach of probation charges. 

Cleveland left Sudbury, but about a decade later, Jason says he came back.

"He started calling people that he could get back together with, for whatever reason," he said.

He believes his sister was swayed by Cleveland's promises of a new life in British Columbia, which had always been her dream.

Her family learned through police that after she left Sudbury in 2012, she spent time in Ottawa and Vancouver before finally settling in Winnipeg.  

Communication with family slowly stopped

Her son, who had primarily been raised by Jennifer's parents from birth, had chosen to stay in Sudbury with them, according to Jason. 

Perez Adaryll Cleveland was arrested in December 2016 on 55 charges. He was later arrested on charges of first-degree murder in connection with Barrett's death. (Winnipeg Police Service)
"Slowly everything started disappearing. Communications with back home started disappearing, Facebook posts, emails and cards and knowing about Jennifer started to kind of just disappear," he said, adding his family still tried desperately to keep in touch.

"She'd get to shoot out a small email or a happy birthday or something but there was nothing to say that she was well or she was not. There was no way to know. She was just gone."

Jason doesn't know what transpired in the years leading up to his sister's death. The questions and the pain of not knowing she needed help have haunted his family since that devastating phone call from Winnipeg police.

Jason had to take time off of work and get counselling due to anger over what happened to his sister.

"I'm still angry. I wasn't sad until I had some time afterwards to really, you know, think about it."

Holley Alyssa Sullivan pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact to murder on Feb. 22, 2018 and is scheduled to be sentenced in May. Jessica Elizabeth Reid's pre-trial is scheduled for January 2019. 

Jennifer Barrett— Jen, to Jason— would have turned 44 last Friday.

Jason says women in unsafe relationships should try to create a safety net by reaching out to people they trust and planning a means of escape. It can be difficult for them to leave, but he urges them to take the chance while they still can.

"Run or walk or anything, and just get out. For one day, you might not have that choice anymore." 

As the upcoming court dates loom, he's focusing on what he knows to be true of his sister. 

"I think of my childhood a lot. I spent a lot of time with my sister. We were very fortunate when we were young that she was born three years before me. So I had an older sibling who was there to watch out for me and care for me and love me and make sure I wasn't getting into trouble," he said.

"And I love her."

Jennifer Barrett was found dead inside a barrel behind a home in Waverley Heights in December 2016. Police say her body was found in chemicals to aid in its decomposition. Her brother Jason Barrett is urging people to try to keep communication open with loved ones who they believe might be in an abusive relationship. 1:19