Canada: Mother’s death a puzzle with missing pieces

VANCOUVER SUN
Monday, December 14, 2009
Lori Culbert

Mary Jane Hill died on Highway 16. Thirty years later, a daughter who
was six months old at the time seeks answers

PRINCE RUPERT — Vicki Hill was just six months old when her mother
was found dead along Highway 16.

[photo caption]
IAN SMITH/VANCOUVER SUN
Memories of her murdered mother, Mary Jane Hill, displayed by daughter
Vicki Hill. Over a period of more than 40 years, more than two dozen
women have vanished or been found murdered along Hwy. 16. Many of the
young women were hitchhiking.

Thirty years later, the case remains unsolved.

Vicki, now 32, is trying to piece together what she can about the
mother she never knew.

Three decades after her mother’s death, Vicki tracked down a copy of
her mother’s death certificate at a Prince Rupert funeral home. It
notes Mary Jane Hill died on Highway 16 on March 26, 1978 at the age
of 31.

In 2004, a victims’ services worker helped Vicki get a copy of the
findings of a coroner’s inquest into her mothers death.

The five jurors ruled the cause of death for Mary Jane, whose body was
found 21 km east of Prince Rupert, was bronchitis and
bronchopneumonia.

But the one-page document eerily adds: “We then find that the death of
Mary Jane Hill as a result of manslaughter.”

There are no further details. Vicki believes that someone left her
mother on the highway to die.

Mary Jane was buried in an unmarked grave in a Prince Rupert cemetery.
With the help of a caring outreach worker, Vicki has uncovered the
coordinates of the plot. She must now find the exact location of the
piece of grass under which her mother’s remains lie.

“I would say this is a puzzle that I’m on, and there’s pieces I don’t
have. But they are all the pieces I could find of her,” Vicki said
during a recent interview.

She wore a community event T-shirt that reads “Take Back the Highway”
on the front and “There’s a killer on the highway” on the back.

Although Vicki’s mother was found dead along Highway 16, her name has
not been added to the Highway of Tears list.

Vicki doesn’t know why. She is frustrated by the Prince Rupert RCMP
investigation that, in three decades, has produced no answers.

About two years ago a support worker helped Vicki contact Tony Romeyn,
a Prince George businessman who runs a website dedicated to the
Highway of Tears case. Romeyn added a photo and story about Mary Jane
to his memorial page.

Mary Jane’s file meets two of the three pieces of criteria required
for an unsolved case to be put on the Highway of Tears list: She is
female and she was last seen or her body was found within a mile of
the highway.

However, Staff Sgt. Bruce Hulan, who runs the E-Pana investigation
that is looking into the Highway of Tears cases, says the uncertainty
of foul play eliminates this file a candidate for the official list.

While the coroner’s jury concluded Mary Jane died of manslaughter, the
autopsy results, Hulan said, leaned more towards death by natural
causes.
He added that the original investigators could not determine how Mary
Jane got to the spot on the highway where her body was found.

Vicki hopes to find one of the coroner’s jurors, who she understands
is still living in Prince Rupert, to find out if he remembers more
information.

“The RCMP, I don’t think myself, they are really looking into these
old cases,” she said quietly. “I’m quite sure they will find something
along the line if they look into it. I want to find out where is my
mom’s evidence? … Where are her clothes? Was anything done? I’m sure
she would have fought. Where is the DNA, the blood samples?”

Prince Rupert RCMP were not able to comment on the case last week.
Vicki remains disappointed by what she perceives as a lack of interest
by politicians, native leaders, the public and the media in her
mother’s file and those of other unsolved cases in northern BC.

“I think it is important that there should be more attention to all
these women who are gone, because I know what it’s like to lose a
loved one. Because I know the pain,” said Vicki, who was born in
Prince Rupert and was raised by her father’s family after her mother’s
death.

In one of a handful of photos that Vicki has, her mother Mary Jane, a
Nisga’a, stands on the government dock in Kinkolithis. She is smartly
dressed in stylish clothes, wearing glasses and a short haircut that
was popular in the 1960s.

During Vicki’s childhood, including some unhappy years in the native
town of Gitsegukla, she was not told much about her mother. Then, when
she was in her early 20s, an uncle finally told her that he and her
mother attended a concert on the evening she disappeared, and that he
turned around and she was gone.

“They said I looked like her. She loved to play sports,” Vicki said.

“Growing up without her was really hard. Especially around this time
of year. I never even got to see her,” added Vicki, the mother of two
children, Erik, 12, and Zoey, 7. “It’s not fair…. I just wish she
was here to see my kids.”

Hill is determined to soldier on in her search for answers, out of
respect for her mother and the other missing and murdered women from
Northern BC. “I want justice. And more awareness of all the missing
and murdered women. They are all human. They all had heart beats.”

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