SMITHERS, B.C. — The older sister of Alberta Williams, whose body was found in 1989 east of Prince Rupert, B.C., hopes a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women will help find the killer.
Claudia Williams and Garry Kerr, a retired RCMP officer who investigated the case, delivered powerful testimony together on Wednesday at the inquiry in Smithers, B.C.
The two haven’t seen each other in 28 years. Sitting on a bench outside the hearing, the pair described their emotional reunion on a flight from Vancouver a day earlier.
“I looked for him everywhere in the airport,” said Williams. “I was looking around, ‘Is that Garry? Is that Garry?’ … until I got on the plane. He was the one who recognized me.”
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, he still looks the same!’ “ she recalled, adding they embraced before she had to go to her seat. “It was good. It was really good. I’m so glad he’s here today.”
Alberta Williams, 24, was last seen outside a Prince Rupert bar in August 1989. Her disappearance was completely out of character, as she was set to go back to university in Vancouver after working in the northwestern B.C. city during the summer, said Kerr.
Her body was found a month later by a family out for a hike, about 35 kilometres from where she disappeared, he said.
Williams recalled feeling disbelief when she learned her sister was dead. She was bubbly and caring, and she never had a disagreement with anyone, Williams said.
Kerr actively investigated the case for years and although no one was ever charged, he said he believed an arrest was a “real possibility.”
Both Williams and Kerr became emotional as they spoke to Commissioner Michele Audette. Williams said her sister’s murder changed her life completely.
“I search for answers, think of her each and every day. I know she would do the same for me. The loss of my sister has affected my health, physically and emotionally,” she said.
“I know I can’t change the situation, but I can hope and pray for justice.”
Kerr, who worked for the RCMP for 32 years, said the inquiry was a long time coming and he urged commissioners to ask tough questions. He called for five realistic recommendations rather than 100 proposals that never get implemented.
“I think if the commission fails to come out with some truly realistic and workable recommendations, this will be an opportunity that is lost and I don’t think any of us will ever see it again.”
Audette assured Kerr that she and the other commissioners are asking hard questions.
“The reason why we have and we will do it is we won’t have another inquiry, so we have to do it right,” she said.
Kerr also said RCMP and families need to build trust with one another. People have recently come forward with information about Alberta Williams’ murder that he wishes they had felt comfortable sharing decades ago, he said.
“I truly think that Alberta’s parents went to their grave thinking police didn’t do everything they could to solve their daughter’s disappearance and murder,” he said.
Several family members who spoke in Smithers this week and in Whitehorse in May have said they want to see their loved ones’ cases solved.
The inquiry does not have the power to compel police to reopen cold cases, but it can recommend they do so. It has also assembled a team of forensic investigators, which has begun requesting police files and reviewing officers’ actions.
Earlier Wednesday, Marlene Jack told the inquiry about her sister, Doreen Jack, who disappeared along with her husband and two young sons in Prince George, also in 1989.
Jack recalled growing up with her sister in an abusive home.
While their dad was partying at night, men would enter their bedroom looking for sex, she said. Through tears, Jack recounted how her sister, who was three years older, tried to protect her.
“They tried with me and Doreen wouldn’t allow it. She said, ‘I’m older, you can try with me,’ “ she sobbed.
After her sister disappeared, police refused to share much information, said Jack, adding an officer also threatened that if she spoke to the media about anything he had told her, he would cut off contact.
“I was afraid to talk because I needed to stay in touch with Doreen’s case.”