In a remote and eerily beautiful region of British Columbia, dozens of women and girls have gone missing or been found murdered. The only connection between most of these unsolved cases is that they happened along a desolate road the locals now call the Highway of Tears.
For my latest feature in OutsideMagazine, I traveled up and down this road, which is also known as Highway 16, visiting crime scenes and interviewing victims’ families, private investigators, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and members of the First Nations tribes and other locals that live in the tiny villages and small mill towns scattered along the way.
I was drawn into the story for Outside when I heard of a young woman, Madison Scott, who’d gone missing from her campsite last spring. A large-scale search was underway, and media attention often helps solve these kinds of cases, ideally with the missing person safely returned to their family. (Tragically, though, Maddy, has now been missing for more than a full year. Please visit www.madisonscott.ca for information on search efforts, and contact the RCMP if you have any information. There is a C$100,000 reward for information that leads to solving the case).
Investigating Maddy’s story put me on Highway 16, which you soon discover has a long and terrible history with as many as 43 women and girls from this stretch of BC either found murdered or gone missing and never been found. There’s even a special unit of the RCMP dedicated to figuring out whether a serial killer is on the loose along this lonely, misty road. They’ve concluded that 18 of the cases (Madison Scott is not one of them) share enough similarities to possibly be linked.
The deeper I got into the story, the more complicated it became, and the more I found people who were frightened of what was happening in their isolated, rural communities. The fact that none of the cases on the RCMP’s official list has been solved only feeds the fear and the conspiracy theories that run rampant in some of these small towns.
After three trips into BC to investigate, I turned in my story. I’d found that another young woman from the same town where Maddy grew up had recently been killed, but unlike the other cases, there’d actually been an arrest. It seemed tangential to the main story because the suspect, Cody Legebokoff, knew his victim.
Still, I mentioned it as supporting a theory that maybe there wasn’t a serial killer involved in many of these cases after all, that maybe the murders were more horribly mundane, and it was just that the vast wilds of British Columbia made it easy to hide evidence of the crimes – that Highway 16 simply offers a convenient artery for creeps, date rapists, domestic abusers and other assholes who wind up killing women and ditching their bodies far along the countless lonely logging roads that branch off the highway. A passage I wrote about this, which was cut from the final story, reads like this:
“So if something snaps inside, if bad mommy drank and didn’t hug you enough, if the devil personally tells you he needs help, if somebody touched you wrong and crossed the wires in your dirty little mind so now you really need to hurt somebody… then Highway 16 can be your friend.”
The day I turned in my story, the RCMP announced that they were charging 20-year-old Cody Legebokoff with three more murders. I yanked the story back from the editors for the first of what would be two rewrites – the second because of another horrific murder that happened while I was doing my research.
If the charges against Legebokoff are proved in court this summer, then there was indeed a serial killer preying on women in that part of British Columbia. However, as you’ll read in the story, which is on newsstands now, what’s even more frightening is that his arrest does nothing to solve all the other cases.