**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
Tamara Chipman was born in Prince Rupert, British Colombia as a member of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. Tamara was known as a lively and mischievous child who had inherited her mother’s thick and curly hair. Growing up she spent a lot of time with her grandfather Jack, who was a heavy-duty mechanic, and often accompanied him as he repaired big machines. His death hit Tamara hard and the family soon moved to Terrace, where Tamara spent the majority of her teenage years. Tamara was known as a feisty and fiery teenager, unafraid to back down from any person or situation.
She was the humour, the laughter, behind all of us when we were all at home for family gatherings.Gladys Radek, aunt of Tamara Chipman (CBC.ca)
Tamara had a close relationship with her aunt Gladys Radek, who had also moved back to Terrace when Tamara was around 18 years old. The two would see each other almost daily, chatting over a big pot of coffee. Tamara would talk about her dreams of getting married and starting a family. Gladys had moved back to Terrace to bring charges against a man who had abused her during her time in foster care there. Tamara was a great support to her during this difficult time. The man who had abused Gladys as a child was soon convicted and Gladys returned to her home in Vancouver following the decision.
Tamara gave birth her to son Jaden at the age of nineteen. Being a young single mother was difficult for Tamara and her family noticed it took a toll on her in the years following Jaden’s birth. Her mother remembered worrying that she was hanging out with a “not very nice” crowd of people and that she felt Tamara did not seem like herself and might be getting into drugs.
She was just going through a really hard time at that point.Corry Millwater, mother of Tamara Chipman (Highway of Tears)
Her parents had separated years earlier and her mother Cory Millwater moved back to Prince Rupert, while her father Tom Chipman remained in Terrace. Tamara split her time between both places, visiting each parent frequently. In September of 2005, Tamara had already been in Prince Rupert for a couple of days, but this time without her car, as it had broken down weeks earlier and was waiting to get repaired in Terrace. Her father’s good friend remembered seeing Tamara hitchhiking east towards Terrace at Industrial Park just outside of Prince Rupert on the afternoon of September 21, but never saw her again after that.
It would be months before Tamara would be reported as missing. Her father worked as a fisherman and during the fishing season, he would be gone for long periods of time. It was not uncommon for there to be stretches of time without communication between him and his daughter. Her family in Prince Rupert assumed she was spending time in Terrace, while her family in Terrace assumed she was spending time in Prince Rupert. Tamara was also facing assault charges at the time and when she missed her court date some assumed she was trying to avoid sentencing.
In early November, Tom realized no one had heard from Tamara for some time, her rent hadn’t been paid, and her bank account had been untouched for months. He reported her missing to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). On November 15, a joint investigation between Prince Rupert and Terrace was officially started to search for Tamara. Tom found the police helpful during this time and considered himself lucky compared to other families whose daughters had gone missing under similar circumstances. The police put out a call to the public for any information regarding Tamara’s disappearance and newspapers also picked up the story. Several searches by volunteers were conducted over a span of over two months and Tom walked the highway connecting Prince Rupert and Terrace himself, searching the area for any trace of Tamara. The family even headed to Vancouver after receiving a claimed sighting of her and walked the streets and handed out flyers but to no avail.
Although there were no named suspects—the RCMP are fairly certain they know what happened to Tamara. Since her death, two men and one woman have come forward stating that they saw Tamara hitchhiking and picked her up. The woman told police that as they were driving towards Terrace, one of the men began arguing with Tamara and then hit her and strangled her to death in the car. They then pulled over in a remote area along the highway where they dumped her body. The man who killed her soon returned to the area to move and bury her body in the forest, where it would be concealed better. After hearing this, the police searched the area with the female witness and cadaver dogs but Tamara’s body was never found. The witness and two men are now dead, which makes it difficult to move forward with this allegation.
Since Tamara’s disappearance, an RCMP Task Force called E-PANA was created to investigate the series of unsolved murders along this highway, including Tamara’s. 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. Tamara left behind a 2-year-old son and her 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 BC Local News and Justice for Native Women.
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