Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mother keeps waiting for arrest in 2003 killing

Daughter's downward spiral started when she moved here

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When her phone rang Monday morning, Eleanor Hands hoped it was the police. She's waited nine years for the news her daughter's 2003 slaying has been solved, that Nicolle Hands will no longer be among the scores of aboriginal Manitoba women whose deaths remain cloaked in mystery.

It was the law calling, in the shape of a social worker with the joint RCMP/Winnipeg police task force struck to delve into the cases of such women. She told Hands about the arrest of Shawn Lamb, now charged with second-degree murder in the deaths of Tanya Nepinak, Carolyn Sinclair and Lorna Blacksmith.

Their families now have the small, jagged comfort that comes with attaching a name and a face to the person who allegedly killed your child. For Hands, the interminable wait continues. The social worker was calling to alert her to the arrest and to see how she was coping.

And how is the Kingston, Ont., resident coping? As well as you'd imagine, considering the child she raised into adulthood fell into a pit so deep she couldn't see her way out, considering she had to tell the hospital to cut off her child's life-support after her stabbing, considering three children were left without a mother.

She talks about her loss without rancour, unfolding her daughter's life chapter by chapter. She and her husband, an Anglican minister, adopted Nicolle and her brother Peter when they were toddlers. They were aboriginal. Their new parents were not.

Hands says Nicolle took skating and singing lessons. She had a good upbringing, says her mom, and nothing could have predicted the end. She was a happy girl.

She was 29, a mother and studying to be a native case worker when she moved to Winnipeg to be near her father. He was in Stony Mountain Institution for molesting young students at the residential school where he once worked. That's when the downward spiral began.

"I know she was doing drugs," says Eleanor Hands. "She was in her apartment; somebody came in. The police figure he was sent in to rough her up a bit. She was stabbed three times."

She didn't know Nicolle was a sex-trade worker, although she's accepted that was likely the case. When Nicolle died, her children were nine, seven and 16 months old.

They live in Ontario now.

Eleanor Hands never recovered from her daughter's killing. She doesn't think anyone can.

"It's hard. I have good days and bad days. An arrest would help."

She says she's never felt guilty about her daughter's death and why would she?

"We gave her a good education and a good upbringing," she says, voice weary. "I didn't know what she was doing. I didn't know about the drugs. If I'd known, I don't know what I could have done."

Nicolle Hands was succeeding in life, right up until the day she moved to Winnipeg to be close to a father who betrayed other children. How quickly she succumbed to drugs and then the sex trade is unknown.

The facts are three children lost their mother and Eleanor Hands lost her child.

"I just wish whoever did it would find it in their hearts to go to the police station and give themselves up. Maybe someone who knows could snitch. I would gather the children and tell them the man who took mommy away is in jail."

Her voice is that of a much older woman. She raised her kids the best she could, wasn't part of her husband's crime and had every reason to believe her children would work out as well as any others.

It's been nine years since a killer got away with murder. She can only pray the police eventually get their man. She's waiting for that call.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2012 A5

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.


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