Private investigator Ray Michalko is not convinced the infamous Highway of Tears cases of missing or murdered women will ever be solved.
But the former North Vancouver Mountie is not giving up his search for clues that may one day lead to what happened to Red Deer’s Nicole Hoar and eight other women along Hwy 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert.
Hoar, 25, vanished while hitchhiking on the remote highway west of Prince George in June 2002. Bound for Smithers, B.C., to visit her sister, Hoar was last seen in front of a gas station. This month marks the 13th anniversary of her disappearance.
Police confirm her case remains as part of the RCMP’s Project E-Pana, a special task force charged with reviewing and investigating missing women in northern and central British Columbia. Seventeen of the 18 cases remain unsolved.
Michalko says he’s been a thorn in the police’s side over the years. A few years ago, he was sent a letter from the RCMP that he may be charged with obstructing justice.
“They are very territorial,” he said. “As far as they are concerned, I have no business doing this.”
But he will continue to send them tips when he comes up with solid evidence or leads.
Since 2005, Michalko has been investigating the nine missing and murdered women on his own dime. Michalko, who worked as an RCMP officer for nearly 10 years before quitting, decided to get involved because he felt he could do a better job than the police.
The tips have slowed down in recent years and there has been little progress. However, Michalko believes there are still clues to be found.
“In many cases, people have died since then,” he said. “I am a firm believer that somebody out there knows something.”
In the early days, Michalko believed a serial killer was responsible for the all disappearances.
But now he believes two or three cases may be the work of a serial killer and the majority of the women were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Michalko finds Hoar’s case particularly interesting because she went missing close to where teenager Leah Germaine’s body was found in 1994.
Germaine and teens Roxanne Thiara and Ramona Wilson were killed over the span of six months near Hwy 16 in 1994.
Hoar is also the only non-Aboriginal who vanished on the Highway of Tears. Michalko said this does not meet the patterns of the other missing women.
“There is somebody out there who knows something,” Michalko. “It’s just a matter of plugging away and maybe somebody will get lucky and solve one of these cases. Maybe one of these perpetrators will decide, for whatever reason, to clear their conscience and come forward.”
He does hold out hope there will be some breaks in the cases but the more the time passes, the more remote that possibility.
Michalko does not like to involve the families in his investigations.
“Over the years I talked to a few of them,” he said. “I talked to Nicole’s family but it’s been out of necessity. I don’t want to get involved with the families because I didn’t want to give them any false hope. It was such a long shot that I would come up with anything in the first place.”
Hoar’s parents, who continue to live in Red Deer, declined to be interviewed.
Two years after she went missing, the family set up the Nicole Hoar Scholarship at Red Deer College. It started as a $500 scholarship in 2004 and increased to $1,000 in 2006.
Eleven students have since received the scholarship.
Hoar spent two years at RDC in the bachelor of fine arts transfer program before transferring to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where she earned her degree in fine arts with a major in ceramics.
Hoar was accepted into the master of fine arts program just before she went missing.
“She made an outstanding impression on us,” said RDC instructor Ian Cook, who helped set up the scholarship with the family and Hoar’s former instructor. “She was a very young and outgoing woman. She valued friends and made a strong impression on her friends and instructors in the program.”
He said the Nicole Hoar Scholarship is a lasting legacy that keeps Hoar’s memory alive in the minds of the students and the program.
For more information on Project E-Pana, visit www. bc.cb.rcmp-grc.gc.ca