CBC In Depth
The night Tamra Keepness disappeared
David Horth, CBC Radio News Regina | August 23, 2004

For weeks, there have been questions about the night five-year-old Tamra Keepness vanished.

The little girl went to bed in her Regina home on July 5th, and was reported missing the next day.

No one has seen her since.

Police say they still don't have a complete picture of what went on in the house that night.

There was nothing unusual about the night of July 5th.

Lorena Keepness and Dean McArthur
Lorena Keepness and Dean McArthur were home with all six children.

"All the family was here. All the family was here in the evening," Dean McArthur remembers.

"We were watching The Gladiator, I think it was the second part," Lorena Keepness says, "I wanted to watch CSI, so I changed the channel. And then, that's when you left, eh?"

That was about 8:30 in the evening. Keepness and McArthur say they had an argument.

McArthur had recently been released from jail, after serving two-thirds of a three-month sentence for beating Keepness in a drunken rage. They both say the argument was nothing serious.

McArthur says he decided to leave and cool down.

Russell Sheepskin
That's when McArthur, a recovering alcoholic and drug user, ran into his roommate Russell Sheepskin.

"Like, I drink," Russell Sheepskin says, "I'm an alcoholic and I'm not afraid to say it. And, like, I bought myself a big beer earlier that day and then I bought another one to come home with and I still had $15 on me.

"A dime bag costs 10 bucks, eh? That's a gram of pot. I seen Dean coming, I recognized him, and he said 'Lori kicked me out again.'

'I said. 'OK man, let's go get a dime. I have enough for a dime and, you know, enough for baby's milk.'"

"While we were drinking, while we were drinking a beer," Dean McArthur says, "I went to the 7-11 to pick up a can of milk for my baby. And then me and Russell came home, and I dropped that can of milk off, and that's when me and Russell went to the bar."

They went to the St. Regis Hotel, about six blocks from the house. Sheepskin says he was so drunk, he can't remember dropping off the milk. But he does recall sitting outside the hotel...

"See, that's where I get lost, eh, 'cause I blacked out." Sheepskin says, "I come to again, uh, we were right across from the Regis sitting at that, uh, there was a picnic table across the way there. And I had two sips of a big beer, Extra Gold, it's a big, strong beer, eh, had two sips of that and then I blacked out again."

While Sheepskin and McArthur were out drinking, Lorena Keepness was at home...

"We just watched TV and then, when Simpsons were over they were kinda dragging around, you know, stalling, stalling to go to bed. And finally I said 'OK guys, bedtime, gimme kiss.'

"And I kissed them all and they went trailing upstairs. And that was about 11 o'clock."

Keepness says Tamra went to bed upstairs with her brothers, aged 10 and three.

Summer Keepness is hugged by her mom Lorena on the steps of their home in Regina, Sask. on Monday July 12, 2004. (CP PHOTO - Troy Fleece)
She left her oldest child, 11-year-old Summer, in charge and then went to a friend's townhouse, about a block away.

Keepness, who also struggles with alcohol and drug addiction, started drinking as well. At one point, she and her friend left the townhouse to get more booze...

"So we jumped in her car and I was gonna stop here and I thought, well, I'll stop on the way back," she says. "We went to the Regis, we picked up a cooler, and we came back.

"And I came inside and I told Summer, 'I'm gonna go to the next block for a bit,' I said. 'I'll give you the phone number.'

"I said, 'Lock the doors. Don't open the doors for anyone. If anything comes up, phone me.'"

Again, six children were left alone in the house, with an 11-year-old girl in charge.

When she got back to her friend's townhouse, Lorena Keepness says she called her daughter and gave her the phone number.

She estimates that was around midnight.

Sometime after that, Russell Sheepskin came home in an alcohol-induced fog.

Apparently, he made himself a meal, although he has no memory of doing it...

"And I come to. I was at home," Sheepskin says. "I don't know where Dean was, eh? I was downstairs. I know I was eating spaghetti. I went upstairs and I went through the hall into the living room, like I turned the light on.

Sheepskin says he checked the children in the living room.

"And the three girls were sleeping there, Tamra was sleeping there, Summer and then Tannis was sleeping on the love seat, eh, 'cause I could see her."

Right after that, Sheepskin says, he went out on the front porch to smoke a cigarette.

The couch where he says Tamra was sleeping is about three metres away, on the other side of a window.

Dean McArthur
Sheepskin says that's when he met Dean McArthur coming up the front steps.

He says McArthur beat him and stomped on him, but he claims the commotion did not wake the children sleeping nearby...

"He said. 'Well, I got two guys over here, I got two buddies over here, you know, if you're still here when I get back we're gonna do you in. We're gonna, you know, we're gonna get you, we're gonna do you in, eh?'"

"And I said 'OK.'

"And, like, he left, he shut the door and I left through the back, I didn't even see if the kids were still there or whatever, eh? I just shut that other door. I know I didn't lock it 'cause I just shut it and I went right through and I went right through the back door."

Sheepskin says after he left the house, he went to the hospital for stitches, and he hasn't been inside the Keepness home since.

Based on his account, all six children were sleeping safely when he left, but the door was unlocked.

According to police, the alleged assault occurred at roughly three in the morning.

Lorena Keepness says she came home shortly after that.

Keepness says the door was locked, and Tamra was not sleeping on the couch.

"I crawled in through the window," she says. "When I was shutting the window after I got in� I slammed, I slammed my thumb in the window. That was after three, that was maybe quarter after, 3:30, I'm not, I know, it wasn't, it wasn't getting bright out yet. Summer was on the couch and Tannis was on the armchair. That's how they were when I left. And I was drunk, too, so it was, it's a blur. And I just went to bed, laid on the couch and went to sleep."

Dean McArthur
While this was going on, Dean McArthur claims he was walking the streets...looking for a place to crash...

"I was going, I was going toward my auntie's place. And there, there was a few times I had to stop and I had to rest," he says. "I know I got lost, uh, at least once or twice, I know that 'cause I, like, when I came to at certain times I'd black out and when I came to I'd be at places I didn't even know so I was, I was kinda getting lost.

"And she just recently moved and the first place I went to was her old place and there was nobody there, so I was trying to remember her address. I was really intoxicated and I even had a hard time finding her place and it took me a while to get there. And I got there about 5, 5:30. And that's where, that's where I slept."

McArthur says he slept on the couch, and didn't return home until late the next evening.

Back at the Keepness home, July 6 started like any other morning.

According to Lorena Keepness, her 10-year-old son Raine felt his sister Tamra get up.

"He said he woke up and, or no, he said he felt her get up off the bed. He felt the bed move and she got up and he said he just went to sleep."

Tamra Keepness
Keepness says the boy cannot remember what time that happened.

"I don't know. I asked him 'Was it bright out?' and he said, 'Yes.'"

Around 9 a.m., the children's grandmother, Lois Shepherd, showed up. The front door was left open.

Lorena Keepness was lying on the couch, nursing a hangover.

The older children, Raine and Summer, left shortly before 10 for day camp at a nearby community centre.

A reward poster released at a news conference about missing five-year-old Tamra Keepness in Regina, Tuesday, July 13, 2004. On that day, Regina police confirmed they've officially called off the search for Tamra but promised their investigation would continue. Police posted a $25,000 reward for information on her whereabouts. (CP PHOTO/TROY FLEECE)
Half an hour later, only Tamra hadn't come down for breakfast...

"The other ones were up and I was waiting for Tamra. We were going to go for a walk. And I told them 'Go wake up your sister.'

"And she said 'She's not there.' I said, 'What do you mean she's not there?' And I got up and I went and looked and she was gone."

The family started checking...friends' and relatives' houses, nearby playgrounds.

Ninety minutes later, they contacted police. A massive search was launched. But nobody found a thing.

It's now seven weeks later, and Tamra Keepness is still missing.


RELATED: Missing Children

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