Manitoba government offering resources to study on searching landfill
The Manitoba government is now part of an Indigenous-led oversight committee on the feasibility of searching landfills for missing women.
Prime Minister Heather Stefanson spoke on the issue late Friday afternoon, offering resources and financial support to the province.
“The Manitoba government will of course also be involved, and we will provide all the necessary technical resources, expertise and financial support to the effort,” said Stefanson.
It’s part of an effort to find the remains of Marcedes Myran, 26, and Morgan Harris, 39, who Winnipeg police believe are the victims of a suspected serial killer.
Jeremy Skibicki, 35, has been charged with the quadruple murders of Myran, Harris, 24-year-old Rebecca Contois and a fourth unidentified woman named Buffalo Woman.
A forensic anthropologist who advises the committee charged with finding Myran and Harris believes the women’s remains can be found at the Prairie Green landfill north of Winnipeg in the RM of Rosser.
The site is 1.6 hectares in size, which is about the size of two football pitches.
Detectives believe Myran and Harris were taken there last May.
Tracy Rogers, a forensic anthropologist from the University of Toronto Mississauga, said it was possible to find her remains despite the passage of time.
“I would say it’s not unlikely because if they are there, hopefully a careful search would reveal them,” Rogers said in an interview with Hamilton.
Rogers was the lead forensic anthropologist in the search for serial killer Robert Pickton’s farm 20 years ago.
In Prairie Green, police said 10,000 truckloads of garbage and 1,500 tons of animal waste were dumped on the site when police learned the women might be there.
The garbage was also compacted under around 12 meters of heavy mud and clay.
Rogers said although it would be a complex excavation, some of these roadblocks could potentially be used to the advantage of searchers.
“If these went in in one layer, it might be possible to dig quite aggressively where you reach a layer where animal remains are evident, and then work more slowly below that layer to locate the area where the women were deposited. ‘ Rogers said.
Rogers said excavating the landfill would require the use of heavy equipment.
She said the material could be transferred to trucks and mechanically sorted into larger, medium and smaller objects, which could then be placed on conveyor belts to be searched by those experienced in finding human remains.
Rogers said this was the process used at the Pickton farm and she believes it could work at Prairie Green as well.
Brian Paulsen is the Deputy Chief of Police in Sturgis, SD and was involved in a landfill search in 2003 while working in Nebraska. He also researched and wrote about other landfill searches in the United States and how they were being handled.
While the search he was involved in was unsuccessful, he said success is possible.
“Within the first 30 days, the success rate was much higher. After 30 days of searching, successful results drop dramatically,” Paulsen said.
He noted that it helps to know exactly where to look and if landfill staff and operators are able to provide additional support and expertise about the area.
When a search begins, Paulsen said there are things that both government officials and police need to be aware of.
“The first thing I would do is talk to the governing bodies and tell them they have to be there for the long haul. Don’t promise families or give families a false sense of security that you will go in and search, deposit and then say we will search for five days and be done,” he said, adding that they will be committed for 30 to 60 days should.
“For law enforcement, the only important thing is to take time for yourself. My boys and girls lived and breathed this case for seven months until we got out of this landfill…it weighed on them, it worked for them.”
Safety for the searchers was also an important concern for Paulsen, making sure everyone had the proper protective gear and knew the boundaries of the landfill. He also said it is important that the appropriate mental health supports are available and that follow-up is carried out even after the search has ended.
The federal government said it would fund a study into the feasibility of searching the landfill.
Sandra DeLaronde, director of the Implementation Committee for Missing and Murdered Manitoba Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit-Plus People, said conducting a study to search the landfill is critical.
“It’s about finding dignity for those who have moved on, and also finding peace and justice for the families that have been left behind,” DeLaronde said.
After initially refusing to conduct a search, Winnipeg police are now also part of the committee and have assigned a detective to participate, according to Cathy Merrick, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, who chairs the oversight committee for the feasibility study.
Merrick said the completed study will provide recommendations on how to proceed.
“I hope that in a short time we will be able to make the filing and that it will be approved in a short time as well,” Merrick said. “So I’m very optimistic that we can get things done. “
The Prairie Green landfill, where investigators believe Harris and Myran were kidnapped, will remain closed indefinitely, Stefanson said.