Police hoping billboard campaign leads to answers in outstanding missing persons files

The Prince Albert Police Service has launched 20 digital billboard ads with the hope of generating new leads into unsolved missing persons cases.

Campaign running in 20 communities across three provinces until May 23

The Prince Albert Police service is hoping that digital billboards will help uncover new leads in a handful of unsolved missing persons cases.

The police service is funding a billboard campaign across Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba in an effort to generate new information into long-term missing persons investigations and raise awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous People from the local community. From May 10 until May 23, more than 20 communities will see digital billboard ads including photos and information about the files under investigation. Police are still seeking information and helping that a witness or even a perpetrator will see the ads and come forward with information.

The police service has partnered with Vendo Media on the initiative.

‘We want to put as much word out there as possible to let people know that we’re still looking for answers,” said Sgt. Kathy Edwardson, who leads investigations into historical crimes and long-term missing persons files.

“We’re trying to bring closure to the families and justice to the families.”

The police service said they wanted to spread the ads across three provinces because tips from investigations have involved other city centres, including Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg. They also said that while they are using other tools such as social media to get the word out, the billboard campaign promises more exposure to a wider audience.

“We want to make sure we got the attention of people going from Prince Albert to Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg. We believe there are people who know things in those centres and they will be travelling back and forth,” Edwardson said.

“For people who don’t use social media, we also wanted to reach out to them. You’re catching everyone that way.”

The families of the missing people featured on the billboard were consulted before the launch of the campaign. 

“They were all so happy to see this done,” Edwardson said.

“They don’t want their missing loved ones to get forgotten. It’s important for the family to know that …. We’re still looking for answers. The family were very happy for us to put this initiative together.”

Edwardson said that a large proportion of her job investigating historical cases involves going back and talking to people again years after they were first interviewed. Some people may not have been as free to speak to police back then, she said, or they might remember something new. Sometimes, older evidence is processed again as new techniques become available to investigators.

Edwardson said the police are looking for any information available, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.

“Just getting those conversations started is the first step,” she said.

“Once the conversation starts … I get more people to talk to from that and it leads to more investigating.”

For the families involved, the lack of answers can be one of the hardest parts. That has been the case for the family of Happy Charles. Charles was last seen on April 3, 2017 in Prince Albert near PACI. Her daughters have organized searches of the area and awareness walks from La Ronge to P.A. While Happy is featured on the new billboard campaign, she’s also featured on a billboard in Prince Albert also seeking tips on her disappearance.

When that billboard was unveiled last year, officials said it wasn’t just to call for tips or to spread awareness, but also so that anyone who may have been involved would see her face and be reminded of what they know.

If that perpetrator ever comes by here, he’ll see her face. He’ll know that her people love her and are still looking,” FSIN Vice Chief Heather Bear said at the time.

“It weighs on the conscience of not only the perpetrator who may have hurt or taken her, but others. Let it be known that these men, these girls have families. They are loved. They are not forgotten and we will continue.”

Speaking Thursday, Edwardson had a similar thought.

“We’re aiming for these billboards to reach witnesses, any small piece of information, and ultimately the person responsible. Some of these investigations go back 30 years. Maybe 30 years ago they were scared of police, or for whatever reason couldn’t come forward,” she said.

“The police are only looking for the truth. that’s all we want. the families can handle the truth and so can the people responsible.

there are consequences to everything we do in life, and the people responsible … can deal with the consequences. They don’t have to keep looking over their shoulder and carrying that burden around, the burden of guilt that you did something wrong and people are suffering because of it.”

Happy’s family has also expressed over the years that one of the hardest parts is not having answers, not knowing what happened to their loved one. She was a mom, a daughter, and now a grandma. Her family just wants to know what happened.

“Families are suffering. There is a lot of pain that these families are going through,” Edwardson said.

“The victims are children, are parents. It leaves a huge hole in (families’) hearts. It’s really difficult for them. It’s hard to have closure until you can have some answers.

“To have someone go missing and to knot know why it happened, where it happened, that’s a huge wound that’s almost impossible to heal without answers.”

According to the police service, the billboards are being funded from the Criminal Investigations Division’s budget. The police had previously applied for a grant for the initiative but were denied. However, they had contacted companies for quotes and information about billboard locations. One company requested an opportunity to look at the project to provide a reduced rate. The final cost to the city police was $4,997.14 for 20 locations over two weeks.

The nine files highlighted by the billboards are:

·      Happy Charles: Missing Since April 3, 2017. Last seen near P.A.C.I.

·      Ernestine Kasyon: Missing Since December 6, 1989. Last seen the evening of December 6, 1989 while using a payphone in the 100 Block of 10th Street East.

·      Robert Allan Wiggins: Missing Since July 28, 1980. Last seen just before sunrise on July 28, 1980 after getting a ride to a residence in the 500 Block of 11th Street East in Prince Albert.

·      William Slywka: Missing Since November 7, 1982. Last seen leaving North Park Centre and may have been in the area around Little Red River Park.

·      June Ann Johnson: Missing Since August 3, 1979. Last seen leaving the former Marlboro Inn in the Unit Block of 13th Street East.

·      Timothy Charlette: Missing Since October 8, 2014. Last seen on the train bridge overlooking the North Saskatchewan River.

·      Norman James Halkett: Missing Since March 16, 2003. Last location is unknown.

·      Joseph Couldwell: Missing Since May 25, 1981. Last seen near the North Saskatchewan River.

·      Samuel LaChance: Missing Since July 29, 1987.

If you have information about this case of any other case, please contact the Prince Albert Police Service at 306-953-4222 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.