It took less than 72 hours from the time RCMP investigator Robert Baker heard about Phoenix Sinclair's disappearance for him to arrest her killers, the inquiry into her death heard Thursday.
Nine months after torturing and killing Phoenix in Fisher River First Nation, her mother, Samantha Kematch, and stepfather, Karl Wesley McKay, were arrested in Winnipeg in March 2006.
The "deceitful" couple lied to relatives and authorities and moved around to keep the heinous crime hidden, Baker told the inquiry trying to find out how Phoenix slipped through the cracks of Manitoba's child-welfare system.
Their greed in claiming welfare for the child they beat, choked, took shots at with a BB gun, kept in a pen, forced to eat her own vomit then murdered, leading to their capture, said Baker, who described the events that led to their arrest.
He was assigned to the case when McKay's ex-wife reported on March 6, 2006 that her 12-year-old son said he saw Phoenix tortured by Kematch and McKay. McKay's son reported seeing his father throw five-year-old Phoenix down the basement stairs, splitting her skull open and killing her. Baker didn't want to believe it.
"It's unfathomable that kind of abuse would happen and no one would know about it -- that this could happen over that period of time. It was unimaginable. That led part of me to hope that maybe it wasn't true, that we could still find her," Baker said.
Seeing and hearing McKay's adolescent son describe in detail the horror he witnessed convinced him they wouldn't find Phoenix alive.
"He couldn't stop talking about it. He was visibly shaking. It was something he couldn't bear to live with anymore," Baker said.
On March 7, Baker said he called Intertribal Child and Family Services at Fisher River for information but became "guarded" when he learned the person he was speaking to, Madeline Bird, is McKay's relative. Intertribal CFS manager Randy Murdock contacted the RCMP saying the agency didn't have any record of Phoenix, that her last contact with child welfare was with Winnipeg CFS. It closed its file on Phoenix on March 9, 2005. Murdock gave Baker the name of the last worker assigned to her case, Chris Zalevich. Baker said he called, but Zalevich wasn't there. Baker learned Cree Nation CFS had three sealed files related to Phoenix but refused to provide any information.
The RCMP officer said it was provincial social assistance investigators who stepped up to help.
"They're good partners." On March 9, 2006, they told Baker that Kematch and McKay moved back to Winnipeg, were collecting provincial welfare and claiming Phoenix as a dependant.
On March 10, 2006, two provincial welfare investigators went to Kematch's and McKay's apartment and asked to see Phoenix. They said Phoenix was staying with her aunt, Norma Sinclair. The Employment and Income Assistance workers insisted on seeing Phoenix that day and Kematch agreed to produce the child and meet them at Portage Place mall. Kematch showed up with friend Stephanie Roulette posing as Phoenix's aunt Norma. Roulette's little girl, Princess, was to pose as Phoenix but didn't fit the description of a child Phoenix's age. She called Roulette "mommy" in front of the investigators and police stepped in.
"We arrested Samantha for the murder of Phoenix Sinclair," said Baker.
Her only response was "What?" he recalled. "She had no emotion about Phoenix Sinclair," Baker said.
"When I asked her about when she buried Phoenix Sinclair: 'Did you have a chance to give her a kiss goodbye?' there was no emotional response," Baker recalled of her response at the police station.
McKay was arrested at their apartment that night. He later drew police a map of the Fisher River First Nation dump where they buried Phoenix, wrapped in plastic in a shallow grave. Her remains were found that spring -- scattered by animals.