Police can’t rule out foul play in ‘highest priority’ missing person case

Inspector Jonathan Bergen during the Press Conference Tuesday. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

Police say they cannot rule out foul play in the case of Happy Charles, a La Ronge woman who went missing in Prince Albert this April.

Senior police officials joined Charles’s family for a press conference on Tuesday. They said the search for Charles is their “highest priority” and called on the public to come forward with any information on the case.

Charles has been missing since April 3, when she was last spotted on video surveillance around Prince Albert Collegiate Institute shortly before midnight. She was in Prince Albert to visit her boyfriend, and was allegedly seen in his company prior to her disappearance.

Inspector Jonathan Bergen, who leads the Criminal Investigation Division, described the steps the service has already taken. He said the case moved from patrol to a specialized investigative unit within days. Officers conducted an “extensive ground search of Prince Albert and the surrounding area.” They brought in their own police dogs, as well as assets from the RCMP K9 unit.

The service partnered with Saskatoon police, making use of their plane to conduct aerial surveillance. Bergen said that a high-power zoom camera took video from several thousand feet. Officers are still poring over the footage.

He said he remains “optimistic” that investigators will “find the answers we need.” After 78 days, though, the case is unlikely to be a mere disappearance.

“Because of the passing of time, no sign of her whereabouts, and no contact with family and friends – which is completely out of character – we are concerned, and we are not ruling out foul play,” Bergen said.

He said police have investigated people seen with Charles before her disappearance – a group that would seemingly include her boyfriend. But Bergen declined to specifically identify any suspects in the case.

“We have spoken to people she has been with, and any person of interest,” he said. “We continue looking at those people. We have more people to talk to.”

Bergen said that the Criminal Investigation Unit has an officer dedicated to the case, with access to the full resources of the division.

The Prince Albert Police Service has responded to 463 missing persons cases so far this year. Many are solved quickly, but a few linger on. Police Chief Troy Cooper said that every one of those cases is a priority. He acknowledged that, when a loved one is missing, “there is no such thing as enough resources.”

The family isn’t willing to give up hope. Regina Poitras, Happy Charles’s mother, said they’re organizing a new search starting on June 30. She called for volunteers. The family has already combed through the city, the forests and the fields nearby. This time, she said, they’re venturing further north.

“We just want to bring her home,” she said. “We love her. It’s been really rough… her grandchildren need her, her children need her.”

More than anything, she asked the public to report anything they know to police.

“If anyone has information out there, no matter how small, please come forward,” she said. “It might help.”

New information could be the only way to break the case open. Going forward, Bergen said, the police will focus their search efforts to follow specific leads.

He said that the case will stay active for several more months, perhaps longer, if the investigation still has “momentum.” After that, it could move onto a list of unsolved missing persons cases. Currently, he said, there are eight. The oldest goes back to 1979.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Happy Charles should contact the Prince Albert Police Service’s tip line at 306-953-4248. Crime Stoppers will also accept information anonymously at 1-800-222-8477. Charles is 5’3” and approximately 112 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.

A photo of Happy Mary Charles.