October 14, 1971: The Disappearance of Jean Virgina Sampare


WHAT HAPPENED?


On October 14, 1971, 18-year-old named Jean Virginia Sampare (Ginny) went missing outside of Gitsegukla, British Columbia, Canada. Her cousin was the last to see her near a railroad overpass on Highway 16. The cousins were walking together when he quickly left to get something from his home. When he returned, Ginny was gone.


Police, and the surrounding community, searched for 8 days following her disappearance, but efforts have proven fruitless. Despite numerous theories about what happened to her, she has never been found, and nobody has ever been arrested in connection with her disappearance.

ABOUT GINNY


Ginny was born on September 10, 1953. She was the 2nd youngest of 6 children, including 4 sisters, Anne, Winnie, Sandra and Virginia, and a brother, Rod. She graduated from a Hazelton, British Columbia high school, and upon graduation, she worked at a cannery and a caretaker for her siblings, even though most were older than her. Her father allegedly drank too much sometimes, and Ginny would step in to protect her siblings.


She lived with her parents outside of Gitsegukla. Rod described their parents as strict, and said they kept a watchful eye on the kids. Their parents made them work hard, and they were never allowed out past 9.


Rod lived in Terrace, and Gunny planned to move with him later in October. But until then, she was working at the salmon canning plant and was described as just your normal 18-year-old Canadian girl.


She grew up shy and quiet, and close with her siblings. She loved to play "nurse" with them. She was responsible: she always let someone knew what her plans were, and it would be very out of character for her to do something without someone's knowledge. Rod said Ginny was a "strong, very strong" woman with a promising future ahead of her. She was careful, and did not often participate in any high-risk activities.


Strangely enough, Ginny's boyfriend went missing shortly before she disappeared. He had drowned in a nearby river, but his remains were not found until after Ginny went missing.

DISAPPEARANCE AND INVESTIGATION


On the night that Ginny went missing, Rod's wife, Ginny's sister-in-law Violet, testified that she saw Ginny at her mother's house. Violet said that her mother had gone into the kitchen, where Ginny was, and shortly after, when Ginny emerged, it looked like she had been crying. She avoided eye contact with Violet. When Violet asked what was wrong, Ginny went straight to the door and left the house. It was between 10 and 11pm. Violet yelled out the door, trying to get Ginny to talk to her, but her mother-in-law said "she will come back".


When she left, she reportedly met up with her cousin Alvin. They were walking together along Highway 16 when he left to go get his jacket (or his bike), but planned to rejoin her. Alvin believed Ginny was going to go to the store right outside of town, and his house was close to where they were. But when Alvin returned, Ginny was nowhere to be found.


When she didn't return home that night, she was reported missing by her mother to the Gitsegukla Indian Band. She was wrongfully told that they had to wait a certain amount of time before reporting the disappearance to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). However, the police did send someone to the cities where 2 of her sisters lived to see if she was with them. Once the band began talking to Ginny's friends, they reported the case to the RCMP.


The RCMP took Ginny's mother's report. They checked in with Anna and Winnie and Ginny's friends to confirm that she hadn't seen anyone since she parted ways with Alvin. They determined he was the last person to see her. The investigation was a little bit shady, and a lot of leads and information were never released to the public. Even when Rod claimed to have seen part of Ginny's file which implicated a man whom the RCMP had identified, they refused to share the file.


For 8 days, the police and the community searched all over for her. The area is largely mountainous, with the Skeena River running through it. There are various mines, including abandoned mind shafts, in the area, and among other animals, wolves and coyotes roam.


When early snow fell, and no evidence was found, the search was called off, though it restarted again once the snow cleared The family initiated some search efforts in major cities such as Vancouver and Toronto, but nothing was found.

THEORIES


There are many theories as to what happened to Ginny, but it is known that she left the house upset, and that her boyfriend had just recently gone missing. That would be enough to convince some that she may have died by suicide. Though her family "raised her to know not to commit suicide" and "instill[ed] this attitude in both her and her siblings frequently", I would say that most families instill in their children that suicide is never the answer, but some people are still driven to it. Especially if her family was deeply anti-suicide in a way that demonized it more than normal (which I get the vibe of based on how it was phrased), rebellious, angry teens do a lot of things they aren't supposed to do.


Though I'm not convinced that she died by suicide, I don't think her family instilling the belief in her that suicide is wrong is a good enough reason to dispel the theory. I think the lack of note, the fact that she was just hanging out with her cousin moments before, and no friends or family members hinting that she may have been suicidal are better reasons not to believe the theory, as well as the fact that her body was never found, despite her being alone for a short period of time (not really long enough to get super far away). And after all of that, it is still possible that suicide was her ultimate demise.


Others believe that she encountered an accident of some sort. In the report Rod believed he saw, a man named Ken Russel had found some footprints near the Gitsegukla River, leading some to believe that she accidentally fell into the river. Though there was no proof that the footprints were her's (and no actual evidence that the footprints existed at all), this doesn't seem like an extremely likely scenario, but possible. It is all the weirder that her boyfriend had just gone missing as well, and was found dead in a river. It would be pretty weird for both of them to have drowned back to back with no connection.


Others believe Ginny was a runaway. However, she had never run away before, and her siblings corroborated that the high-risk lifestyle simply was not for Ginny. They said it wouldn't be in her nature to leave abruptly and leave her loved ones behind. Additionally, it was mid-October in Canada and thus it was pretty cold and she left her jacket behind, indicating that she hadn't planned to be outside for long.


Which leads us to the foul play theory. Neither her family nor the RCMP have ruled out foul play in her disappearance, but they haven't found anything to corroborate it, either. But since there is no strong evidence that Ginny was suicidal or a runaway, it is certainly worth looking into. Additionally, Alvin claimed that as he was walking back to meet up with Ginny, he heard a vehicle door close, which could insinuate that someone took her. (It could also insinuate that someone was just closing their door.)


The foul play angle carries some weight when you look at other crimes that fit the same pattern. Yup, that's right. I'm talking about The Highway of Tears.


The Highway of Tears refers to a 450 mile stretch of highway between Prince George and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, which has been the location of numerous murders and disappearance since the 1970s. There is a disproportionate number of Indigenous women on the list. Though proposed explanations include poverty, drug abuse, domestic abuse, disconnection with culture, foster care, and the Canadian Indian residential school system, the years-long crime spree down the stretch of highway is still a bit weird. Additionally, many people hitchhike around the area, and a lot of animals roam, making it likely that they'll carry away human remains.


In total, between 1970 and 2020, at least 83 women have either been murdered or gone missing on that stretch of highway. While some have been solved and may not necessarily fit the criteria of a "Highway of Tears" case, it is still a startling amount of women. In fact, 3 serial killers have been charged with murderous activity on the stretch.


Notably, Ginny went missing 1 year almost to the day from Helen Claire Frost, who disappeared on October 13, 1970, and 3 years before Monica Ignas, who disappeared December 13, 1974.


Helen Claire Frost, 17, left her home in Prince George on October 13, 1970 and was never seen again. She was living with her sister, Sandy, at the time and worked a variety of jobs. She asked Sandy if she wanted to go for a walk, but she declined the offer because it was cold out. Earlier that year, she had broken up with her boyfriend and had given her firstborn child up for adoption, so she went missing under similarly stressful circumstances as Ginny.


Monica Ignas, 14, was believed to be going home from school, but she was never seen again. Her body was found in a gravel pit in April of the following year. Witnesses reported seeing a car pulled on the side of the road the night Monica went missing, and they saw a man and a female passenger in the car. Monica was strangled to death.


There are 80 more cases like this one. Women leaving their homes and never coming back, whether their body was found or if it is still a mystery what happened to them. While the RCMP believe only 18 or less of the cases can be attributed to the "Highway of Tears" unsolved murders and abductions, and various serial killers have been caught prowling the area, it still seems likely that she was met with foul play given the history surrounding the area.


It will probably never be known what happened to Ginny 49 years ago today, but there are more recent cases of violence down Highway 16 that can still be solved. Hopefully they are, and women, specifically Indigenous women, will be safer because of it.

REFERENCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Jean_Virginia_Sampare

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highway_of_Tears

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Helen_Claire_Frost


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