Nfld. & Labrador

Jennifer Hillier-Penney took estranged husband off life insurance 2 weeks before she disappeared

Two weeks before Jennifer Hillier-Penney vanished from her estranged husband's house in a remote Newfoundland town, she removed him as a beneficiary on her life insurance policy.

Missing woman's daughter wants her story out in hopes case can be solved

Marina Penney, right, says she is losing hope that her mother, Jennifer Hillier-Penney, will ever be found. She disappeared from a home in St. Anthony on Nov. 30, 2016. (Submitted by Marina Penney)

Two weeks before Jennifer Hillier-Penney vanished from her estranged husband's house in a remote Newfoundland town, she removed him as a beneficiary on her life insurance policy.

For her oldest daughter, Marina Penney, that gesture says a lot about what her mother was thinking in the days leading up to her disappearance in St. Anthony.

"She knew that something was going to happen to her," Penney said from her Clarenville home this week. "She was living in fear."

Hillier-Penney disappeared from Dean Penney's home on Nov. 30, 2016. Documents show the change in her life insurance policy — removing Dean Penney and leaving her two daughters as beneficiaries — was signed and dated on Nov. 16, 2016.

"The 16th of November, as I know it, it was the day her life was threatened. She went back to work that day and she had her friend witness those changes to take my dad off that policy," Marina Penney said. 

Jennifer Hillier-Penney holds her daughter, Marina, in this undated family photo. (Submitted by Marina Penney)

The RCMP have not named any suspects in the suspicious disappearance of Hillier-Penney. Documents, however, indicate the Mounties believe she was kidnapped and killed. 

The RCMP are not commenting on the existence of the life insurance policy or what it could mean.

"All tips and any new information received are being pursued," RCMP spokesperson Glenda Power said in an email.

"Police do feel there are people who may have information relevant to the investigation who have not come forward."

Marina Penney said she knew about the change in her mother's policy shortly after she went missing.

But after three years without answers, she's decided to take it upon herself to reveal details she believes are important in the case. She posted the policy documents on a Facebook page dedicated to finding her mother. 

"There were very few people that knew that had happened, and I'm to the point now where I just need to put her story out there," Marina Penney said.

 "People need to know that."

Vehicle still outside

Hillier-Penney went to her estranged husband's home that night to stay with their daughter, Deana. 

Dean Penney told The Fifth Estate last year he was going hunting at their cabin in Northwest Arm, 45 minutes away.

The next morning, her daughter woke to find her mother's cellphone, purse, jacket and books were still inside the house. Her vehicle was also still outside.  

Police believe she disappeared around 8 p.m.

Jennifer Hillier-Penney's friends and family say her world revolved around her daughters Deana, left, and Marina, right. (Submitted by Marina Penney)

Before she disappeared, Hillier-Penney was looking into leaving her estranged husband and her hometown behind, her daughter said. She had a job interview lined up in Glovertown.

Friends of Hillier-Penney have said she expressed fear over leaving Penney.

"Jennifer told me … that he said that he would make away with her. And they would never find her. Like she knew that," friend Vicki Burden told The Fifth Estate in 2018.

"She had said stuff to me, but not to the extent she told other people," Marina Penney said. "She just didn't want to burden me with it."

Dean Penney did return to his home the night of Hillier-Penney's disappearance, he told The Fifth Estate, to get his duck decoys. Penney said last year he has no knowledge of what happened to Hillier-Penney.

Unable to move on

Marina Penney is unable to move forward until her mother's body is found.

"I'm in limbo. A lot of anger right now. Coming up on the third year, the weight of all this is heavy," she said.

For three years, she has racked her brain thinking of where her mother could be. She has no doubt she's dead.

Jennifer Hillier-Penney was last seen at this house on Husky Drive in St. Anthony. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Those suspicions have torn Marina Penney's family on both sides apart, she said, "No one looks at each other the same anymore."

Dean Penney's lawyer, Bob Simmonds, declined comment when reached by phone Tuesday about the change in Hillier-Penney's life insurance policy. 

Hard time of year

In the years following Hillier-Penney's disappearance, Marina Penney has longed to have her mother near her — especially when she had her first child, who's now 19 months old. 

It's not about what Marina has missed, she insists, but about the life her mother never got to live. 

"She was 38 years old. She had plans. She was sick of living a miserable life and she wanted to do more for herself," Marina Penney said.

"She wanted to be happy and that was taken from her."

Jennifer Hillier-Penney was planning on leaving her husband and her hometown, according to her daughter Marina Penney. (Submitted)

What tears Marina Penney up inside is knowing her grandfather went to his grave in August without knowing what happened to his daughter.

"In the last three years, he spent so much time sat down by himself consumed by his own thoughts," she said.

"That killed him. It was too hard on his heart."

The RCMP were granted an extension last Thursday to hold items seized from Dean Penney's home, the family cabin and a vehicle.

Some exhibits have been tested at the RCMP's national crime lab in Ottawa, while others may need to be sent for analysis.

"If they had hard evidence, somebody would be in jail," Marina Penney said. 

Penney said she's not confident in the case that the RCMP is building, and has been disillusioned by the investigation. 

"It's not that [the RCMP] don't want her found. They want her found more than anything but they got to start taking more action. Because people are going to start doing it themselves."

Read more by CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.

With files from Troy Turner, The Fifth Estate and Lindsay Bird