The road to nowhere: Why have 50 women gone missing on this highway?

An inquest has been launched into the death of more than 1200 of Canada’s Aboriginal women.

The Canadian government announced the inquiry last week to find out what happened to the hundreds of indigenous women that have gone missing or been murdered since 1980.

A report filed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said that in 35 years, 1049 First Nation women have been murdered and over 172 are missing. Many of these remain as unsolved cold cases.

Watch the trailer for the documentary on these cases below. Post continue after video.

This inquiry comes after more than a decade of local communities calling for more police involvement, with allegations of mishandled investigations and failure to investigate women reported missing.

Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, told an assembly of Chiefs in Ottawa, “It is time for a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations peoples.”

British Columbia has the highest amount of deaths and disappearances in the country. A common connection between many of these women is a 724km stretch of road in British Columbia, where at least 18 women (13 under the age of 20) have been killed since 1969. Locals say this number is closer to 50, with many missing persons cases going unreported in the area.

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Image: Youtube/Vice.

Highway 16, which stretches between the towns of Prince George and Prince Rupert, is aptly nicknamed 'Highway of Tears' and has signs along the road, warning not to hitchhike as a serial killer is prominent in this area.

Image: Creative commons.

26-year-old Gloria Moody was the first reported death along this road. She was last seen on October 25, 1969 leaving a bar, her body found 10km away at a cattle ranch.

Hers was the first in a string of deaths throughout the '70s and '80s. A popular hitchhiking route, seven of the girls had been hitchhiking when they were murdered or went missing as many of the indigenous people could not afford public transport or cars.

“Hitchhiking takes on a particular importance in the Highway of Tears discussion because there are serious transportation needs that aren’t being met in the north,” Prof. Jacqueline Holler, who regularly drives along the road near Prince George offering girls lifts, told The Globe and Mail.

“The easy solution is to say, ‘Don’t ever hitchhike, and you’re much less likely to become a victim,’ but it’s just not that simple. For many people, hitchhiking is an absolute necessity.”

In 1989 Cicilia Anne Nikal went missing, one year later her cousin, 15-year-old Delphine Nikal also went missing after hitchhiking along the road. Their bodies have never been found.

Monica Jack was just 12 years old when she went missing on May 6 1978. She was last seen riding her bike along the Highway of Tears. Her bike was found the day after she disappeared, but her body wasn't found until June 1995, 17 years after she vanished. Yet, it wasn't for another two decades that a man, Gary Taylor Handlen, was charged with first-degree murder.

The most recent disappearance was 20-year-old Madison Scott, who went missing in May 2011 after a party in the area. Police located her tent and truck but her body has never been found.

What's interesting about these cases is that the murders aren't done by one lone serial killer. A number of different men have been identified as possible perpertrators, but Bobby Jack Fowler is the only man who police allege killed more than one of the Highway of Tears victims.

Bobby Jack Fowler. Image: Creative commons.

Fowler, or as I'm calling him 'Canada's Ivan Milat', was named by the RCMP task force who have been investigating the cases since 2005. The Globe and Mail reported:

'DNA testing in 2012 led to the oldest match in Interpol history, linking Mr. Fowler to 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen of Lac La Hache, B.C., who was found dead in 1974 a month after she tried to hitchhike to a friend’s house.'

Fowler, a convicted rapist, kidnapper, died of lung cancer in prison during a 16-year sentence, before he could be tried for Colleen's murder. The RCMP have named him as a possible suspect for three of the victims, but he is suspected to have killed at least 10 of the Highway of Tears victims, and possibly as many as 20. However, he could not have killed all of the confirmed victims because three occurred after he entered prison in 1996.

In a mini documentary by Vice, they talk to ex-cop Ray Michalko, who was part of the RCMP task force but quit to privately investigate the murders.

Watch the documentary below, post continues after video.

Video via VICE

In the video, Michalko speculates a far greater number of murders that have occurred along that road and thinks some bodies may have been disposed of in a beehive burner at a nearby mine.

The British Columbia government announced yesterday they are committing $3million towards a transport safety plan for the Highway of Tears.

Image: Creative commons.

"It is imperative that indigenous women do not continue to face the fear and the risk of violence when they travel," Shane Gottfriedson, the regional chief for the B.C. said.

The proposed plan will enhance transit services for the local communities that run along the highway, making transport between towns safer and more cost-efficient.

“No inquiry can undo what happened nor can it restore what we have lost,” Canadian Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said. "[It is the] heartbreaking reality that girls born in our indigenous communities are three times more likely to experience violent crime.”

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