2 decades after teacher's slaying, family's resolve remains

More than two decades after Cindy Blazek, 23, was brutally killed in her own home in western Saskatchewan, people sometimes still talk about what was taken from the young woman's life.

Cindy Blazek was stabbed, beaten and left in a burning house

More than two decades after Cindy Blazek, 23, was brutally killed in her own home in western Saskatchewan, people sometimes still talk about what was taken from the young woman's life.
Cindy Blazek was wrapping Christmas presents on the night she died in December 1986. ((Submitted by Debbie McCulloch))

The list includes the births of her nieces and nephews, the marriages of her close friends, and a chance to live the life she had always dreamed about. 

Family and friends still hold out hope her homicide will be solved and someone will be brought to justice for killing her.

"It's in your mind every day," said Debbie McCulloch, Blazek's oldest sister. "Cindy's life, she was just a treasure, a special person. She still is very important to her family, her friends. I mean, it definitely shouldn't be swept under the rug. She shouldn't be forgotten."

Baby of the family

Blazek was the youngest of four children. She was raised on a farm in the Rosetown area, and as her sister recalls, was the typical youngest sibling of the family.

"She was the spoiled little baby of the family. I mean, I loved spoiling her as much as mom and dad did," McCulloch said. 

'It definitely shouldn't be swept under the rug. She shouldn't be forgotten.'—Blazek's oldest sister, Debbie McCulloch

From a very early age, Blazek was always smiling and could make people happy just by being in the room, McCulloch said.

Long-time friend Stacey Dyck-Jiricka remembers Blazek's rosy cheeks and big smile well.

The pair met in high school and became close friends, working together at the local Voyageur Restaurant, both joining band and cheerleading.

They later roomed together when they both moved to Saskatoon and attended the University of Saskatchewan.

Cindy was studying to become a teacher, following in the footsteps of her mother and one of her sisters. Blazek always looked up to her two older sisters, so it seemed natural that she became a teacher as well, Dyck-Jiricka recalled.

Together they went to all the social events university had to offer and even planned a few, too. It was a great time for the friends and they enjoyed every minute of it.

"I was involved in anything big that would go in her life and same with her in mine," Dyck-Jiricka said with a laugh. After university, the pair moved off on their separate careers paths.

Blazek's took her to the tiny northern village of Pelican Narrows to teach, while Dyck-Jiricka remained down south. Still, they kept in constant contact, visiting as often as possible.

Making a difference

Blazek's friends and family worried about her. They had grown up on farms and in small towns where everyone knew everyone. Now, Blazek was living in remote communities on her own, without any friends or family nearby.   

In the small communities where Blazek was residing, poverty, poor living conditions and addictions were part of the daily reality — more reasons for her friends and family to worry. 

While living in Pelican Narrows, her home was hit by a couple break-ins. Still, Blazek didn't see any reason to worry.

'She was very dedicated as a teacher.... Every day she would take extra lunches for her kids at school.'—Blazek friend Stacey Dyck-Jiricka

In fact, Blazek's sister said, she saw the good in these communities and an opportunity to make a difference through more than just teaching. 

"She was very dedicated as a teacher," Dyck-Jiricka said. "Every day she would take extra lunches for her kids at school. And in the winter time, because the kids would never have mittens and stuff like that, she would buy mittens."

In places where it was difficult to attract teachers, Blazek was an eager volunteer. Her sister McCulloch said Blazek loved meeting new people from all walks of life. She was outgoing and fearless, people said, so making new friends was not difficult for the young teacher.

Even though these communities presented challenges, like isolation, Blazek loved her work and the people she met.

"She was so non-judgmental about where she was living and the people that she was dealing with," Dyck-Jiricka said. "She was just a caring and compassionate person."

Move to Onion Lake

While she was teaching in Pelican Narrows, Blazek's father became ill. She returned home and was there when her father died. 

She wanted to be closer to home, and when a job came open in 1986 in Onion Lake — another small community but several hundred kilometres closer to Rosetown — she jumped at the opportunity.

At the Onion Lake First Nation, Blazek took over as the Grade 3 resource room teacher. She lived in one of the teachers residences with a roommate who was also an instructor in the community. 

She liked being close to home, and she was even closer to her friend Dyck-Jiricka, who was working as the town administrator in Macklin, Sask., about 250 kilometres away.

Blazek had only been teaching in the community for a few months when she was killed in her home. 

Horrific night

On Dec. 7, 1986, Blazek's roommate was away and she was home alone in Onion Lake. She was wrapping Christmas presents and getting ready to head south to be with family for the holidays.

That weekend she had planned to drive to Pelican Narrows to see her boyfriend, an RCMP officer she'd met while living there, but she changed her mind and decided to stay put.

Her friends and family only learned some of the details of that night through subsequent trials, and still no one knows exactly what happened. But that evening Blazek was attacked in her home, stabbed, her body left to burn when the house was set on fire. 

At first, all that police would tell the family was Blazek's house had burned. But soon, police revealed she had been killed.

McCulloch recalled that she was pregnant with her third child at the time. 

"Growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan, it's like murders don't happen to someone you know. It's something on TV, on the news, that seems not real close to you," McCulloch said. "It's very, very emotional."

Over the next several years, Blazek's family and friends sat through two trials and one appeal.

Through each trial, they learned how Blazek's life had ended violently. The 23-year-old was stabbed many times and beaten before her body was left to the flames.

A teenager and a man named Brian Perry, both from the reserve, were charged in connection with the death. The teen was found not guilty, and Perry's conviction was overturned on appeal.

McCulloch said that as a young mother trying to support her siblings and mother, it was her own growing family that kept her going during those traumatic years.

"The kids are what kept me going," McCulloch said. "Kids are so refreshing and they were young. I guess it just helps you realize that life does go on. That you do have to do the day-to-day things of looking after a family."

Waiting for the phone call

Blazek's slaying is now a cold case under investigation by the RCMP cold-case unit based in Saskatoon. It's one of the 140 cases on the unit's books.

Staff Sgt. Kerby Buckingham manages the unit of four officers. In 1988, he was one of the officers who undertook a major review of Blazek's case, although the review did not lead to any new charges.

'We're just waiting for that phone call.'—RCMP Staff Sgt. Kerby Buckingham

Each stage of the investigation is contained within 34 bankers boxes of case information, notes and other related items. The investigation has been difficult and frustrating for police and the family, Buckingham said.

"Somewhere out there, there is a piece of evidence or someone,… a witness, something that could bring this all together with one phone call," Buckingham said. "We're just waiting for that phone call."

Blazek's family and friends are also waiting for that call.

"I'm glad that she's not being forgotten," McCulloch said. "And hopefully someone out there that hears this … will come forward and tell the police everything they know."

Police say anyone with information can call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.