The remains of four Indigenous women have been found over the last 13 years within a small rural area near Leduc, Alta. that police suspect could be a lone killer’s dumping ground.
Just last week the skull of Delores Browers was found after the Metis woman went missing over 10 years ago.
The discovery was made east of Leduc in a wooded area along Range Road 241 near Rolley View road.
Browers was 33 when she was last seen hitchhiking a ride in May of 2000.
Edna Bernard, 28, was found in 2002 in a wooded area on Range Road 245 just north of Rolley View road.
Katie Ballentyne, 40, was found in 2003 in a farmer’s field near Range Road 235, north of Township Road 500.
Amber Tuccaro, 20, was found in 2012 in a wooden area east of Leduc near Range Road 241 and Highway 623.
“While we are grieving with some sense of relief, we know there are many families who have yet to find the answers they are seeking.”
Bernard’s family is still waiting for answers.
Bernard was found dead shortly after her body had been set on fire. She was the mother to six boys and struggled with an addiction to cocaine. Bernard also worked in the sex trade in Edmonton to support her habit.
Her sister Caroline Bernard remembers her as “the best sister anyone can have” and expressed sorrow for Delores’s family.
“That’s painful…I hope the other families that are mourning their loss- I hope they stay strong and remember the good things about their lost loved one,” said Caroline Bernard. “I hope they catch the bastard (who did it).”
Ballentyne was mother of four when reported missing in April 2003.
Ballentyne also struggled with a drug addiction and sold her body for money on the streets of Edmonton.
In July 2003 her badly decomposed body was found in a field in Leduc County.
Tuccaro, of Fort Chipewyan, was last seen getting into an unknown man’s vehicle during a visit to Edmonton in August 2010.
Tuccaro was also a mother to a 14-month-old son when she disappeared.
A group of horseback riders discovered her skull in September 2012.
No one has yet been charged in any of the four women’s deaths. Over the years there have been some leads and investigators have at times believe they came close to solving these crimes.
According to court documents, the RCMP at one time believed Bernard and Ballantyne were victims of the same killer.
In 2007, Thomas Svekla, of Edmonton was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of two Edmonton street workers. However, he was only convicted of second-degree murder in the death of one of them and is now serving a life sentence.
Syekla was also considered a suspect in several other homicide investigations including those of Bernard and Ballantyne.
In 2012, the RCMP released a cell phone recording of Tuccaro and an unidentified man who was in her company when she disappeared in the hopes that someone would recognize his voice.
Then in 2013, the RCMP put up giant billboards in Leduc featuring her image with the slogan “Have you heard the voice?” further hoping that it help them to find out what happened to her. The billboards have since been removed.
There are two common trends in the killings that apply to all four women: they were all Indigenous and they were all hitchhiking.
Hitchhiking is a common way to get around in a lot of Aboriginal communities, however, the RCMP said it’s considered high-risk behavior when done in an urban setting.
“One of the messages we are trying to get out is getting into a car with someone you don’t know is not a good idea. Hitchhiking is really high risk behaviour because it makes you vulnerable,” said Schlosser.
Julie Kaye, director of community engaged research and assistant professor of sociology at Kings University in Edmonton said this circumstance does arouse suspicion about the possibility of a serial killer on the loose.
“How can it not?” said Kaye.
After all, Canada has had serial killers before.
“When you see it’s not the first time that we’ve had serial killers in this way in Canada,” she said while referencing notorious B.C. murderer Robert Pickton who targeted a large amount of Indigenous women who worked in the sex trade.
However, she went on to say that regardless of whether or not a serial killer is involved there are broader questions to be addressed. That is, the long-standing issue of missing and murdered Indigenous Women in Canada and the targeting of Indigenous women for these types of crimes reflective of the broader pattern seen across the country.
“It’s horrific and another example of the disproportionate violence that Indigenous women face and especially Indigenous women involved in the sex industry,” said Kaye. “They’re not consenting to violence or harm just because they’re working in the sex industry.”
The tragedy of the loss of all of these women will not be forgotten until justice is served, if the Stolen Sisters and Brothers Awareness Movement (SSBAM) has anything to do with it.
The Edmonton based grassroots organization has been working with the victims’ families to provide support and to assist in raising awareness to help solve the murders.
“I think the fact that these were Indigenous women kind of verifies what we’ve thought all along,” said April Wiberg of SSBAM. “When women are targeted to be victims of violence there is a racial element involved… If they had not visibly been Aboriginal would they still be alive today?”