Hue and Cry

Highway of Tears

The Murder of Alberta Williams

Location

Prince Rupert, British Columbia

Year

1989

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**This story is part of our series examining the cases of missing and murdered women along The Highway of Tears. The Highway of Tears is an isolated 725-kilometer stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert in British Columbia, Canada. This highway has been the location of many murders and disappearances beginning as early as the 1970s. Indigenous women make up the majority of these victims with almost all of their cases going unsolved and their families still searching for answers. For an in-depth look into this, and many other cases along this highway we recommend reading Jessica McDiarmid’s book Highway of Tears

Alberta Williams was a member of the Gitksan Tribe from Gitanyow, British Columbia. Alberta lived a relatively quiet life during her childhood; her father Lawrence drove logging trucks and her mother Rena stayed home to care for Alberta and her siblings. They were a very close-knit family. Alberta was known as a kind and shy child and as she got older became known as a caring person who loved life and viewed the world as a good place, content with whatever came her way. Her siblings sometimes thought she trusted people too much and were always a little extra protective of their sister.

Alberta Williams (Justice for Native Women)

Each spring the Willams family would visit the coast where Alberta’s father worked as a fisherman and her mother worked in the canneries. The family moved from Gitanyow to Prince Rupert. Soon after, Alberta’s sister Claudia moved to Vancouver, and Alberta’s parents sent each of their children to stay with Claudia to attend high school there. Her parents wanted their children to get a good education and see more than what a small town could offer. Both sisters finished high school, began working and soon started sharing an apartment in downtown Vancouver.

In Vancouver, it is not uncommon for residents to leave the city and head north for seasonal jobs. Alberta and her sister Claudia usually headed up to Prince Rupert for positions at B.C. Packers plant, a popular salmon cannery. The work was hard, but after a couple of month’s work, the two sisters would head back to Vancouver well paid.

In 1989, Alberta was 24-years-old and living in Vancouver with her fiancé. It was nearing the end of the summer and she was getting ready to head back home from the summer’s seasonal work in Prince Rupert. She was looking forward to starting a new job as a waitress and had plans to enroll in college.

Friday, August 25th, marked the last day of work for Alberta and her sister Claudia at the cannery. The two planned to head to Bogey’s Cabaret, also known as Popeye’s (the two bars were often interchangeable to locals as one was located upstairs, and the other downstairs). The bar was a well-known establishment located in Prince Rupert Hotel, where people would go to let loose after a week of work. The sisters planned to celebrate and meet up with a group of friends that night. The bar was located along Second Avenue West, which was located on the route Highway 16 takes through downtown Prince Rupert.

Bogey’s Cabaret, located at Prince Rupert Hotel in the 1980s (CBC.ca)

Late that night, Alberta’s brother Francis Williams remembered getting a call from his sister on a payphone outside of the bar. Alberta was trying to convince him to come to the bar to party with them. Alberta was not known to be much of a partier and was someone who rarely drank, but she was excited to spend her last night in town celebrating with her friends and family in Prince Rupert. He remembered her sounding happy and carefree. Despite Alberta’s request, Francis decided to stay home as he had a very early fishing trip planned with his father the next day, which he knew he could not miss.

Claudia did join Alberta that night. When she arrived at Bogey’s, she remembered seeing her sister laughing and having a good time with a large group of friends. The bar was crowded and by the time Claudia arrived there was nowhere to sit near Alberta. The bar was so packed they had joined a bunch of small tables together to form a large long one. Claudia greeted her sister then made her way through the bar watching the band, chatting with friends, and occasionally checking in on her sister. She remembers the mood as a good one, everyone laughing, dancing, and chatting.

At closing time, the more than 100 bar patrons spilled out onto the streets. Claudia found Alberta outside laughing with friends. She remembered her sister trying to convince her to come along with her to a house party. During their discussion, Claudia’s ex-boyfriend approached her wanting to talk. Claudia told her sister to wait a moment while she addressed her ex, mainly to tell him she had no plans on speaking to him that night. When she turned back around to Alberta, she, and the group of people she had been with, were gone.

Claudia waited around 30 minutes for her sister to reappear outside, she went through the hotel lobby and bathroom and looked down the adjoining streets but saw no sign of her sister. She eventually headed home comforted by the fact that Alberta was with family and friends and would be safe with them.

The next morning, Alberta’s mother Rena awoke to find Alberta’s bed still made, she phoned Claudia to ask if Alberta was with her but Claudia reassured her that Alberta probably had a long night and had stayed over at a friend’s house. That afternoon, Alberta still hadn’t appeared. By dusk, her brother and father received a call from Rena letting them know that Alberta had not been home. Rena had called around to Alberta’s friends but no one had seen her. The father and son assured her Alberta would turn up, as they were docking for the night and would head back to Prince Rupert the next day.

By the time Francis and Lawrence had arrived back from their trip on Sunday, Alberta was still nowhere to be found. Lawrence and Rena went to their local police station to file a missing person report. Family and police knew something was wrong because Alberta was not the type of person to leave without telling anyone, she was not a known partier, had never run away, and most importantly— she had a return ticket back to Vancouver which she failed to show up for. Family and friends did extensive searches throughout Prince Rupert and police began investigating and interviewing those at the bar that night.

Three weeks after Alberta disappeared, on September 25th, 1989, Alberta’s body was discovered east of Prince Rupert on Highway 16. Hikers were in the area that day crossing the railroad track to a trail when they discovered the body of a woman lying face down in a ditch covered in shrubs and debris. The body belonged to Alberta. The case soon went from a missing person to homicide as there were obvious signs of a violent struggle, her body was found with only a blouse and a bra on, and it was clear she was very likely a victim of sexual assault.

I mean there is no doubt in my mind that Alberta did whatever she could to get away from whoever it was. She died a horrible death. I mean it is —like, there’s no way to minimize it. It’s…horrible.

Garry Kerr, retired RCMP officer and lead investigator in Alberta’s case in 1989 (CBC: Who Killed Alberta Williams?)

Garry Kerr, who worked at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) at the time, was the lead investigator for the case but would be transferred to another unit after only one year on the case. He has stated openly since his retirement that he still thinks about this case because it has still never been solved, and believes it can be solved. He believes he knows who killed Alberta but police were unable to get a search warrant or to arrest him at the time due to a lack of evidence. Claudia also believes this man, Alberta’s uncle, is responsible for her death.

Claudia remembered that the night Alberta disappeared she said she was going to a party at his house. The man’s wife and son were out of town that weekend and had gone to Gitanyow. He was the last known person to be seen with Alberta. A house guest that night also remembered being woken up from sleep and seeing multiple people at the house, including Alberta. A friend of Alberta’s, Geraldine Morrisson, also remembered her uncle acting odd on the night of her disappearance at Bogey’s, like he wasn’t a family member but more of an overprotective boyfriend to Alberta. Garry also became suspicious of him when police were conducting interviews with family and friends and he was evasive and then became uncooperative after Alberta’s body was found.

Newspaper clipping of Alberta Williams (CBC.ca)

Some of Alberta’s relatives also remembered seeing Alberta the weekend of her disappearance. Alberta’s cousin Amanda remembered seeing Alberta in a black pickup truck after the night of her disappearance with her uncle and the boyfriend of Alberta’s youngest sister, Kathy. The trio was seen in Terrace, a town approximately an hour and a half from Prince Rupert. They had stopped by Amanda’s house to use the bathroom and borrow $20 for gas money for the trip back to Prince Rupert. Amanda remembered that Alberta seemed heavily intoxicated when they stopped at the house because she had to help her out of the truck to use the bathroom. Alberta was seen getting in the truck, and then the truck drove away and Alberta was never seen or heard from again. Despite these sightings, this information was never given officially to the police.

Relationships between the Indigenous community and RCMP were and remain strained as issues of racism, neglect, brutality, and apathy towards the community have always been present. The Indigenous community also faces a painful past with residential schooling and the RCMP’s involvement in that. Oftentimes people feared going to the RCMP and did not view them as an establishment to be trusted, which is why many people remain silent or were never interviewed in the first place.

A lot of it had to do, I think with the mistrust of police, and [the feeling that] ‘we’re native so they’re not going to do anything.

Garry Kerr, retired RCMP officer and lead investigator in Alberta’s case in 1989 (Highway of Tears)

This case is still unsolved and there have been no arrests or suspects, although the case is still being actively investigated. Alberta’s family took her home to Gitanyow and buried her next to her sister, Pamela.

Since Alberta’s disappearance, a RCMP Task Force called E-PANA was created to investigate the series of unsolved murders along this highway, including Alberta. The purpose of the task force was “to determine if a serial killer, or killers, is responsible for murdering young women traveling along major highways in BC” (E-PANA website). To date, however, this case still remains unsolved, as do all the cases along the highway included in E-PANA. Alberta’s family is still searching for answers.

All images and videos used for this story are not the property of The Hue and Cry and are displayed for informational purposes only. They are property of their original owners/publications. Photos are from thecanadianencyclopedia.com, Justice for Native Women and CBC.ca.

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