Winnipeg police have approved the monumental task of searching for the remains of Tanya Jane Nepinak buried deep within the Brady Landfill.
Police Chief Keith McCaskill said this afternoon the search for Nepinak’s remains has less than a five per cent chance of success, adding however it’s something that must be done for her family’s sake.
McCaskill said finding the remains would benefit the criminal case against Nepinak’s alleged killer, Shawn Cameron Lamb, but added it’s being done primarily to help her family and friends.
"The most important thing is to get some closure for the family," McCaskill said during a news conference at the Public Safety Building. "We’re going to do everything we possibly can to be able to locate her remains.
"It’s something we have to do."
Body buried under eight-metre layer of trash
Shawn Lamb, a 52-year-old drifter and career criminal, was charged in late June with three counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Lorna Blacksmith, Carolyn Sinclair and Tanya Nepinak.
The body of Sinclair, 25, was found in March in a garbage bin in a back lane near Notre Dame Avenue and Toronto Street. The body of Blacksmith, 18, was discovered in June near a garbage bin and wrapped in plastic.
Nepinak, 31, is believed to be the first of Lamb’s three victims.
McCaskill said investigators believe Nepinak’s body was placed in a garbage bin in September 2011 and then the bin’s contents were emptied into a garbage truck and later dumped, along with the rest of its contents, at the Brady Landfill.
McCaskill said the area where Nepinak’s remains are believed to be located has been secured and closed off, while police tried to determine if it was possible to recover her body.
Nepinak’s remains are believed to be buried under eight metres of garbage, somewhere inside an area 100 metres by 20 metres by five metres deep.
McCaskill released details to demonstrate the huge difficulty of the search. Before a search can begin, heavy equipment will have to first remove that eight-metre layer of garbage above the search area, in an area about the size of two football fields side by side, 100 metres and 200 metres.
Once that top level has been removed, heavy equipment will continue to remove more garbage until the search area has been reached.
However, McCaskill said that to ensure searchers are not exposed to any health risks and physical dangers, all the garbage where Nepinak’s remains are believed to be will first be removed to a clean site where searchers will pore through the debris by hand.
250 people needed for search
McCaskill said it will likely take a month or longer, simply to remove the eight-metre top layer of garbage. Police will use that time, he said, to sort out the logistics of the search: who will do it, where it will be done, who will pay for it.
Since Lamb was charged with the three murders at the end of June, Winnipeg police consulted the FBI, the RCMP and several anthropologists, McCaskill said, to determine how a search of a landfill could be done and the chances of success.
McCaskill said that the FBI had identified 20 similar landfill searches and that victims’ remains were found only in two of those searches.
McCaskill said the cost of the search will easily be in excess of $500,000, which he estimated will simply be the expense of removing the eight-metre layer of garbage.
A good search will need 250 people, he said, but added he doesn’t know yet whether these individuals would be police, cadets, volunteers or others.
'She doesn't deserve to be there'
Vernon Mann, the father of Nepinak's two children, said he is "happy and relieved that they’re finally going to go ahead with the search."
"It’s been a while already," he said.
Mann explained that after meetings with the Winnipeg Police Service, he and other family members went away with the feeling that they were "going to say no."
"We always had our doubts that they were going to do it," said Mann. "I want the search done right away so we can find her remains and finally lay her to rest."
Mann said it's been a challenge to talk to the children, an 11-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy, about their mother's case.
"Between anger and hurt, sadness, and confusion, it’s been very difficult trying to speak to my kids about it," he said. "They read a lot of the media, they’re old enough to see everything, and read everything. I’ve tried to be up-front as much as I can."
Finding Nepinak’s body would mean bringing her "home," said Mann.
"She was a very loving and caring person, with a good heart. She was a good mother. We need to bring her home, she doesn’t deserve to be there," he said.
— with files from Jennifer Ford, Kristy Hoffman and Jen Skerritt