The Highway of Tears refers to a series of murders and disappearances along the 720 km (450 mi) section of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada from 1969 until 2011.
Highway 16 is northern British Columbia’s east-west corridor, extending from Jasper in the east to Prince Rupert in the west. This route is a section of the Trans-Canada Yellowhead Highway, also known as the Park-to-Park Highway, which spans across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. There are numerous municipalities and twenty-three First Nations communities that border the Highway of Tears. The region is considered impoverished and lacks public transportation, forcing its occupants to turn to hitchhiking as a form of transit. Police list the number of Highway 16 victims at nineteen, but estimates by aboriginal organizations range into the forties, largely because they include women who disappeared a greater distance from the highway. Thirteen of the nineteen victims were teenagers while ten out of the nineteen victims were women of aboriginal descent.
To date, only one murder has been solved, for which serial killer Cody Legebokoff was convicted, although American serial rapist and suspected serial killer Bobby Jack Fowler, who died while imprisoned in the United States for other crimes, is a suspect in many of the murders.
Authorities have persons of interest in several other cases, but insufficient evidence to press charges.
Below is a timeline of events for what many consider to be one of the most dangerous roads in Canadian history.
1969 – Gloria Moody, 26, was last seen on Oct. 25, leaving a bar in William’s Lake. Her body was found in the woods at a cattle ranch 10 km away.
1970 – Micheline Pare, 18, was seen on Highway 29 at the gates of Tompkins Ranch situated between Fort St. John and Hudson’s Hope. Two women who had given her a ride had dropped her off there. She has never been seen since.
1973 – In October, Gale Weys, 19, disappeared while hitchhiking from Clearwater to Kamloops. Her body was found in a ditch on Highway 5 south of Clearwater. Only a month later, Pamela Darlington, 19, also vanished from Kamloops while hitchhiking to a local bar. Her body was found the next day. Bobby Jack Fowler would eventually become the prime suspect for both murders.
1974 – On Dec. 13, 1974, Monica Ignas, 14, was believed to be on her way home from school in Thornhill, British Columbia. Her body was found on Apr. 6, 1975, east of Terrace. She had been strangled. In August, that same year, Colleen MacMillen, 16, was last seen leaving her home in Lac La Hache to hitchhike to a nearby friend’s house. In 2012, Suspect Bobby Jack Fowler’s DNA would be found on her body.
1978 – For 17 years the fate of Monica Jack, 12, was unknown. In June 1995, forestry workers found skeletal human remains in a ravine off a logging road on Swakum Mountain, about 20 km from where Monica’s bike had been located. Dental records and DNA testing confirmed her identity. In December 2014, a serial rapist named Garry Taylor Handlen was charged with the murder of Monica Jack and another 11-year old girl named Kathryn-Mary Herbert, who has also been speculated as being a victim of the Highway of Tears murders. Police said that he was previously a suspect, but there was not enough evidence to charge him. The December 2014 arrest was attributed to new advances in DNA analysis, but the specific details have not yet been released.
1981 – Maureen Mosie, 33, was believed to be hitchhiking from Salmon Arm to Kamloops in the British Columbia Interior, when she was last seen on May 8, 1981. Her body was found the next day by a woman walking her dog along a road off the Trans-Canada highway about 16 km east of Kamloops. She had been severely beaten.
1983 – Shelly-Ann Bascu, 16, went missing. Several days after disappearing, personal items including clothing and blood droplets matching her blood type were found near the Athabasca River. She has not been found.
1989 – The body of Alberta Williams, 24, was found on Sept. 25, about 37 km east of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, near the Tyee Overpass. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted. Also, that same year, Cicilia Anne Nikal disappeared, a year before her cousin Delphine Nikal. Both remain missing.
In 2016 CBC News released a podcast investigating the murder of Alberta Williams, you can read about it: HERE.
1990 – Delphine Nikal, 16, vanished on Jun. 13. The teenager was hitchhiking east from the town of Smithers, British Columbia, near Highway 16.
1994 – Ramona Wilson, 16, was hitchhiking to her friends home in Smithers, British Columbia, on Jun. 11. Ramona’s remains were found in 1995, near the Smithers Airport. That same year, Roxanne Thiara, 15, went missing from Prince George in July. She had worked as a prostitute and told a friend she was going out with a customer. She walked around the corner of a building and was never heard from again. Her body was found in 1994, in the bush along Highway 16, six km east of Burns Lake. Another 15-year old, Alishia ‘Leah’ Germaine, was also found murdered on Dec. 9, behind Haldi Road Elementary School off of Highway 16, outside of Prince George. Leah, was part-native. She was stabbed to death.
1995 – Lana Derrick, 19, was last seen in October at a service station in Thornhill. She remains missing.
2002 – Nicole Hoar, 25, went missing from Prince George. She has not been found.
2005 – 25-year old, Tamara Chipman, was last seen in Prince Rupert, British Columbia while hitchhiking east on Highway 16. She remains missing. In 2005, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police launched project E-PANA which focused upon the Highway’s unsolved murders and disappearances throughout the past thirty-seven years. E-PANA sought to discover if there was a single serial killer at work or a multitude of killers operating along the highway. The unit investigated nine cases in 2006, but by 2007 its caseload had doubled to eighteen. E-PANA is still investigating the remaining unsolved cases..
2006 – The body of Aielah Saric-Auger, 14, was found shortly after she went missing on Feb. 2. A motorist found Saric-Auger in a ditch on Highway 16 near Tabor Mountain, nearly 20 km east of Prince George.
2010 – Loren Leslie, 15, was found murdered on Nov. 27. Cody Legebokoff was later convicted for her murder on Sept. 11, 2014. Legebokoff was age 21 at the time of the murder and had allegedly met Leslie online at the website Nexopia. Leslie was legally blind, having one completely blind eye and only 50% vision in the other.
2011 – 20-year-old Madison Scott vanished near the infamous road on May 28, after attending a party. Police located her tent and truck, but the young woman remains missing. Madison was last seen during the early morning hours of May 28, at Hogsback Lake, 25 km southeast of Vanderhoof.