'where clear-cuts mark the edges of some of North America’s last wild places'
July 10, 2012 3:34 PM   Subscribe

THE VANISHING: 'In the stunning and remote wilderness along northern British Columbia’s Highway 16, at least 18 women—by some estimates, many more—have gone missing over the past four decades. After years of investigation, authorities still don’t know if it’s the work of a serial killer or multiple offenders. BOB FRIEL drives into the darkness for answers.'

Print Version

'Highway of Tears': Unsolved Murders of Indigenous Women in Canada:'The view from our van could be straight out of a tourism brochure. There are snow-covered peaks, forests painted in fall colors, and next to the road flows a mountain stream where fishermen are catching salmon.'

The Highway of Vanishing Women:
The murders and disappearances became national news (and, some say, finally got the attention of the police) when 25-year-old tree planter Nicole Hoar, who is white, went missing along the Highway of Tears on June 21, 2002. Hoar was last seen hitchhiking near a gas station near Prince George, known as B.C.’s northern capital, and despite a full-scale RCMP investigation, she has never been found.
The attention showered upon Hoar’s case drew criticism from aboriginal community members who argued that police didn’t adequately investigate previous cases involving the highway’s aboriginal victims. “Many of them were aboriginal and some of the talk out there was that people cared more about the non-aboriginal girls going missing,” said Lorna Brown, the aunt of 22-year-old Tamara Chipman, who went missing in September 2005. “Those families felt like they weren’t taken seriously.”
Our Highway of Tears, from Hiway 16 Magazine: 'It's tragic. It's horrific. And it's happening along the quiet 720 kilometers between Prince George and Prince Rupert, a stretch now gruesomely dubbed the Highway of Tears.'

The webiste Highway of Tears has a map and links to missings persons. It has not been updated in some time.
posted by the man of twists and turns (33 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
The author of the main link writes about this story on his blog. He was also interveiwed on CBC radio(autoplay) and on The Conversation.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:43 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I ran across this on longreads (or longform, I forget). Well worth it.
posted by desjardins at 3:46 PM on July 10, 2012


That's where I grew up, or just south of it. I've driven those highways thousands of times.

Just recently, a kid from my tiny hometown was caught literally red-handed dumping the body of a girl he'd murdered, just off the highway.

It is a bizarre and terrifying thing -- but then again, Fort Saint James, a village of around 4000, had the highest per capita murder rate in North America for several years running back in the 80s, and has always been a very violent place. More along the lines of bar fights at the Zoo than women being systematically murdered, though.

Still, odd and sad to hear these things.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:48 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Has Outside always done this sort of journalism? I've read a couple things of theirs here on the blue and always enjoyed them despite not being an outdoorsy person.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:53 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ghostride The Whip, try this.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:55 PM on July 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


The original Chris McCandless story was printed in Outside. That very article lead me to where I am today.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:57 PM on July 10, 2012


Ghostride the Whip, someone gifted me a subscription once (at which I am utterly baffled because while I enjoy the outdoors, I might be the most unathletic person you could ever chance to meet), and yes, the writing is very, very good. Or least it was a few years ago when I had that subscription.
posted by smirkette at 3:59 PM on July 10, 2012


I've been bouncing around in this area (Prince George-Vanderhoof-Ft St James-Mackenzie) since the end of April so this really hits home to me. I see young people hitchiking on the highways practically every day, often solo, and there's posters and billboards everywhere for information about Maddy Scott. Really intense, sad stuff. The emptiness and clearcuts that dominate the landscape give the entire region a desolate feeling, even in the summer.
posted by mannequito at 3:59 PM on July 10, 2012


I ran across this on longreads (or longform, I forget). Well worth it.

It was Longform. Great article.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:01 PM on July 10, 2012


Fort Saint James, a village of around 4000, had the highest per capita murder rate in North America for several years running...

Small towns in general seem to be dangerous places. I grew up in a Canadian small town of about 2000 people. As I recall, we had two unrelated murders and a drive by shooting* over the course of the time I lived there, for an annual murder rate of about one in ten thousand per year, ten times the current murder rate in Toronto.

* The drive by shooting was a bit of a small town joke. A guy out on parole had acquired a gun and managed to shoot himself in the foot. People on parole aren't supposed to have guns, so he was in a spot of trouble. He tried to get out of it by going outside and claiming, implausibly, that he'd been shot in the foot in a drive-by shooting. Needless to say, more jail for him. Charmingly Maybury compared to the other two stories.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:04 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Claudia says that Alberta knew everyone she was last seen with. Still, almost 23 years later the murder remains unsolved. “Every one of those people are covering up, and that’s going to break down,” says Claudia, now 52, who was 30 at the time, four years older than her sister.
This entire article is heartbreaking, but something like this--where this woman can be pretty damn sure ONE of those people knows at least SOMETHING and are not coming forward--is...well, I can't even imagine it. I hope one day she and the other family members of these missing women find peace, justice, and closure.
posted by smirkette at 4:05 PM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


crap, should RTFA before commenting, I didn't realize they were focusing directly on Maddy. But that is pretty crazy, I was literally driving on Blackwater Road outside Vanderhoof just 3 hours ago, without realizing that that was where she went missing.
posted by mannequito at 4:05 PM on July 10, 2012


Thanks for the links and info, guys, appreciated. Great stuff.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:10 PM on July 10, 2012


The idea that all or most of the Highway of Tears murders are the work of a serial killer is, frankly, wishful thinking. Because then, the police could catch the serial killer, and everyone would be safe and cozy again.

And wouldn't catching one crazy killer be a lot easier than addressing the systemic poverty, educational deficit, lack of opportunity and lack of services that have allowed violence against women to flourish in that region?

Sure it would.

If only he existed.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:11 PM on July 10, 2012 [32 favorites]


This sounds a lot like the murders in Juarez. There's no way it could be just one person--there's whole culture there that enables the attacks.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 4:15 PM on July 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Nicole Hoar, who is white

Color me surprised.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 4:35 PM on July 10, 2012


Well, we appear to be pretty bad at this in BC. Jeez...
posted by Slackermagee at 4:37 PM on July 10, 2012


The idea that all or most of the Highway of Tears murders are the work of a serial killer is, frankly, wishful thinking.

That's what they said about the Green River Killer. Turns out, nope, it was just one guy who likely killed over ninety women.
posted by allseeingabstract at 4:45 PM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Heartbreaking, but I don't know that it was a good magazine article. The short version is that a shocking number of women have been murdered and the reporter was unable to find out anything more about it. Pure voyeurism.
posted by LarryC at 4:52 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm almost reluctant to admit it, but I find stories of missing people really fascinating. I recently learned of the case of 7 year old Dennis Martin, who vanished quite suddenly in the summer of 1969. For days, I couldn't stop thinking about it.
posted by davebush at 5:14 PM on July 10, 2012


Another good old Outside article: Susan Orlean's 'Life's Swell.'

If you're into this kind of thing, David Quammen's 'Natural Acts' columns, largely collected in Natural Acts, Flight of the Iguana, Wild Thoughts from Wild Places and The Boilerplate Rhino, are very much worth reading.
posted by box at 5:17 PM on July 10, 2012


Maybe it's finally time for someone who looks young and pretty, and is a very good shot, needs to hang around up there with a Glock tucked under her shirt.

Vigilantism should never be a first response, but where the regular channels are uncapable or even unwilling to respond, it might be considered suitable as a last resort.
posted by CynicalKnight at 5:25 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of those stories listed in the link Man of Twists and Turns supplied earlier in the thread, I also recommend the story "Raising the Dead."

A haunting piece of writing.
posted by chris88 at 5:25 PM on July 10, 2012


chris88, yeah, about that...
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:33 PM on July 10, 2012


Has Outside always done this sort of journalism?

Pretty much. They really produce some great feature articles and have done for at least 25 years or so that I'm aware of.
posted by smoke at 6:16 PM on July 10, 2012


BOB FRIEL drives into the darkness for answers.

"Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage..."
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:39 PM on July 10, 2012


For what it is worth, looks like the U.S. kicked this project off in 2007
I am going to have to poke around the site and see if it seems useful. Missing people seems like a really good thing to throw money and technology at.... Just how do you aim said money and technology?
Makes me chilled to read about this... as I have been in only the tame (i.e. the cities) parts of B.C. and seen where the true wild part of the world starts up again. But it is enormously huge and tree covered...I think my hunch leans toward pretty much what Jacquilynne said.
posted by slothhog at 11:02 PM on July 10, 2012


How much would it cost to implement a free or low-cost bus line along that route? Wouldn't that be a better use of that $6 million annual budget that has apparently been flushed down a toilet by the fancy task force?
posted by Rhomboid at 12:40 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Something more than the monthly welfare check day thing alluded to, I mean.)
posted by Rhomboid at 12:41 PM on July 11, 2012


allseeingabstract: The idea that all or most of the Highway of Tears murders are the work of a serial killer is, frankly, wishful thinking.

That's what they said about the Green River Killer. Turns out, nope, it was just one guy who likely killed over ninety women.
Except:
Highway of Tears murders = 18/40 years = 1 per 27 months.
Green River Killer = 90/20 years = 1+ every 3 months.

Not sure if there's ever been a serial killer with this kind of slow, enduring MO.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:30 PM on July 11, 2012


How much would it cost to implement a free or low-cost bus line along that route?

The highway takes about 10 hours to drive start to finish, assuming you don't stop much along the way.

Greyhound runs Prince George to Prince Rupert, but that's not particularly low cost. Nor is it all that useful if you just want to go to the next town to buy groceries, see friends, or get a job, since it's just twice a day service and one of those runs is an overnight one.

The remoteness and the distances involved make anything resembling public transit really difficult and expensive. The solution would probably have to be some kind of band organized (I say band organized since the remotest settlements out there are reservation towns, but there are non-First Nations people with access problems, too) van pool type scenario. But even then, you're mostly restricted to getting people from the tiny remote town they live in to a slightly larger slightly less remote nearby town.

Prince George is "the city" to most of Northern BC, despite being hours and hours away from much of it, and having a grand total of about 75K people. Still, it's got a mall and a Costco and a Walmart, plus a hospital with some (though not all) of the necessary specialists, so people tend to find their way there a few times a year.

Other towns along the way top out about 12k people (Terrace, Prince Rupert), with a couple at around 5K (Vanderhood, Smithers) and a couple in the 1-2K range.

So you're trying to help a small number of people to travel long distances to reach places that are only a marginal improvement over the places they left, in terms of services, employment opportunities, education, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:44 PM on July 11, 2012


Highway of Tears murders = 18/40 years

Not sure if there's ever been a serial killer with this kind of slow, enduring MO.


A more likely possibility is that widespread press coverage has prompted one or more predators over the years to "carry on the tradition" by moving to the area looking for easy targets, thinking their crimes will blend into the overall history of the region. There may be several serial murderers at work here over different time spans.

This is why I cringe every time I see useless play-by-play headlines about "Murderer X arrives in chains at Airport Y, smirks for reporters", "Murderer X transported to detention facility Q, likes Kraft Dinner on Fridays" or "Killer Couple vacation photos; a retrospective". It sensationalizes these sadistic acts in the minds potential copycats. put it all in a left-hand column on page 3, and more Kittenz® on the front, please.
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:46 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


CynicalKnight, agreed. I've always thought that, in a perfect world, serial killers would die in prison, but in relative obscurity. No movies based on their lifestories. No books. No sensationalist, rubbernecking "news" articles.

Once caught & convicted, they disappear into prison, and their stories with them, relegated to psychology texts and criminal investigation case studies.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:02 PM on July 11, 2012


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