Smithers is a small town in northern British Columbia, nestled along the long stretch of Highway 16. This places the close-knit community right in the middle of the infamous Highway of Tears.
The Highway of Tears is the portion of Highway 16 from Prince George to Prince Rupert, stretching 720 kilometers. When driving this highway, people are treated to a beautiful landscape that changes from lower flat fields and farmland to towering mountains. Another thing you will notice along this highway is how isolated it is. You can often be driving for an hour or more between towns.
Ramona Wilson was a bright young first nations girl, aged 16, living with her mother and other siblings in Smithers, BC. Ramona was a typical teenager, she had a part-time job at a local restaurant and liked hanging out with her friends. Her mother Matilda said her daughter loved writing poetry and reads them often when she thinks of her. Even after all this time, Matilda still finds it hard to speak about her daughter.
On the night of June 11, 1994, Matilda said goodbye to her daughter Ramona, not knowing this was the last time they would ever speak. Ramona was going to go to a dance with friends that night, in Hazelton, BC, which is located about an hour's drive away from Smithers, but she never made it there. People suspect that instead of going to that dance, Ramona was headed to the nearby town Moricetown to see her boyfriend. No one reported seeing her there though.
Ramona’s mother Matilda became concerned when Ramona didn’t come home the next day or call. Ramona and her mother were close, it was out of the ordinary for them not to talk to each other at least by phone. After being unable to locate her daughter, Matilda called the RCMP and reported her missing. The next day, June 13th, a search began to find the missing teenager.
At first, the police thought that maybe Ramona had run away, or left with her boyfriend. After discovering an uncashed paycheque and other personal items in her room, they began to suspect something more sinister could have taken place.
The searches proved fruitless, however, so the family tried to raise money to offer a reward for information on her whereabouts. A fundraiser set to raise money for the reward didn’t get the turnout needed, unfortunately. Frustrating for the family, a fundraiser in Smithers shortly after for a woman murdered in Surrey was a huge success. This lack of support from the community infuriated the Wilson family and supporters.
A quote from the Smithers newspaper, The Interior News: “Why did Matilda not benefit from the generosity of our corporate citizens in her campaign to find her daughter?”, “It took the brutal rape and murder of an unknown in the Lower Mainland before the community of Smithers was called into action. Was it because Melanie Carpenter was white?”
RCMP and media faced criticism from First Nations groups. In their eyes, it seemed like the investigations into the missing and murdered First Nations women weren’t a priority. It wasn’t till 2002, when Nicole Hoar, a Caucasian woman, went missing that they feel RCMP and media began to focus more closely on the missing and murdered women along Highway 16.
10 months after Ramona went missing, with support from Calgary- based Missing Children’s Society of Canada, the Wilson family was able to offer a $10,000 reward for information on Ramona’s disappearance.
Only 2 days after this reward was offered, two young boys ATVing near the Smithers airport found Ramona’s remains in a wooded area just off Yellich Road. Several items were found in an organized pile close to the body; a half-buried piece of rope, three interlocking nylon ties and a small pink “brass knuckles” style water pistol.
Matilda had said that she believes that it was someone familiar to the area that killed Ramona, the area where she was found is difficult to navigate if you are unfamiliar. The possibility that someone local is responsible and Matilda possibly has even walked past them in town is difficult to bear.
Evidence was hard to gather in this case, Ramona’s body had been lying there for 10 months. Any forensic evidence was destroyed. With no witnesses coming forward, and tips not panning out, the trail of Ramona’s killer went cold.
In the years following her murder, Ramona was listed on Canada’s E-PANA. Project E-PANA was a task force created but the RCMP in 2005 dedicated to solving cases of missing and murdered persons along the Highway of Tears. Ramona is one of the 18 cases on their list. It is important to note that Project E-PANA focuses on cases spanning from 1969- 2006. First Nations organizations investigating the Highway of Tears, focusing on a broader range of times and circumstances put the number of missing and murdered women closer to 40. Fears of a serial killer hunting along this highway are strong, although RCMP and criminal psychologists and profilers say that there is little to connect these missing and murdered people.
Every year following Ramona’s murder, family and supporters gather to walk Ramona’s suspected route that she walked before meeting her fate. Meeting at Lake Kathlyn School, people walk to Yellich Road, carrying signs showing their outrage and sadness. Words demanding “WE WANT ANSWERS” amidst heartbreaking “Mommy loves you” and pictures of the young girl. The walk concludes near where Ramona’s body was found.
Matilda and her family follow closely whenever another woman goes missing along this lonely stretch of highway. They re-live the pain of losing their daughter. They know exactly what another family must be going through because they have lived this pain as well.
“We are lucky” Matilda had said. Lucky because they at least found out what happened to her daughter, and were able to give her a proper burial, where many families do not get that closure.
One thing about this case that really stuck with me was the items found near Ramona’s body. Every instance I found describing the items said they were “organized” near Ramona. Organized. Someone put those items deliberately where they were found? It reminds me of other cases where the killer had taken personal items from the victim and staged or posed the body and items. Does this then translate to a killer that is organized and had planned to do this rather than a crime of opportunity? Or maybe it was an organized killer but Ramona just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It would be interesting to know if the police thought that the body might have originally been staged or posed as well. That might point them in a certain direction when looking for a suspect.
Another thing to think about is maybe Ramona had been hit by a drunk driver or something and they hid her to conceal the crime, organizing her belongings out of some kind of guilt. Note that most “Highway of Tears” murder victims were just left off of the highway, where Ramona was clearly hidden.
All of these are just thoughts bouncing around my rambling mind. One thing I know for sure. At least one person knows exactly what happened to Ramona; her killer.
But it is never too late to do the right thing:
If any of my readers have any information or tips on the case of Ramona Wilson, no matter how small, please contact the RCMP or you can even leave an anonymous tip with Crimestoppers by calling 1–800–222–8477.
Thank you once again for reading,
See you soon