A daughter’s search for answers
Charlene Ward was found murdered at her Portage la Prairie home more than 10 years ago. The hunt for her killer continues.
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/07/2018 (1720 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Cherie Barrault still holds onto the hope that whoever violently took her mother’s life will one day come forward, answer for what they did, and put an end to a personal nightmare that has hung over her for more than a decade.
“My message to whoever did this is just come clean… do your time and let us all move on because so many people need this to be over,” Barrault said.
“Come clean and finally tell us what really happened.”
Barrault, 37, has spent years living with the unanswered questions of who stabbed her mother, Charlene Lake Ward, and left her for dead on the floor of her Portage la Prairie home on a fall morning in 2007.
And while she desperately wants to know who would murder her mom, she also wants to know why.
Barrault said her nightmare started with a phone call to her Portage la Prairie home from her sister Britney Lake, the morning of Nov. 1, 2007.
“My sister phoned me… and she said, ‘Mom hit her head or something and there’s blood everywhere,’” Barrault said.
“She said, ‘There was a big party here and mom is bleeding, and I don’t know what happened.’”
Barrault said when she first got the call she had no idea how dire the situation with her mom really was.
“It didn’t click for me right away,” she said. “It didn’t sound urgent.”
Barrault said she knew she needed to get to her mom as quickly as possible, so she picked up her daughter and ran from her home to the Portage la Prairie house where her mom and sister lived.
She said when she got there her sister had already left for a neighbour’s house.
‘It’s harder to prove something than disprove something. Unless you have the person standing there with blood on their hands it can be hard to prove’– Cherie Barrault
It was just moments after Barrault got to the house that she saw something that still haunts her to this day.
“I ran into the house and I was already panicking because there was no one there. I sat my daughter down and said, ‘You stay here; no matter what you do not come upstairs.’
“I ran up the stairs and I saw my mom, she was on the floor and there was just so much blood,” Barrault said, struggling to choke back tears.
“It was on the walls, and it was on the bed, and it was all over the room and the floor where she was laying.
“It was awful. That’s not something anyone should ever have to see.”
Barrault said she did not immediately grasp that her mother was dead.
“When the ambulance and the paramedics got there, they told me to wait outside for the RCMP. When they told me that, it was the moment I knew she was gone,” Barrault said. “I didn’t want to believe it when I saw her, but as soon as they said the police were coming I knew she was gone.
“I actually thought I was dreaming. It all felt like a bad dream.”
Barrault would soon learn her mom died that morning after being stabbed multiple times in the neck.
Ward, 46, finished work the previous day and spent the evening with friends at the Cat & Fiddle Nite Club in Portage la Prairie.
As closing time neared, a number of people were invited back to Ward’s 5th Avenue NE home, where the partying continued into the early morning.
At some point, someone stabbed Ward three times in the neck.
Barrault said she believes there were between 10 and 15 people at the house the morning Ward was killed and different people cleared out of the house at different times during the morning leading up to the murder.
After her mother’s death, Barrault said she spent the next few years spiralling into a cycle of drug and alcohol addiction.
“Right after it happened I did stupid things” Barrault said. “I turned to drugs and alcohol instead of talking to people. I was trying to be strong for everyone else and I was masking my own pain.
“It was not good.”
While Barrault and everyone else who knew and loved Ward suffered with her sudden death and the unanswered questions, RCMP investigators were left with the task of trying to figure out who killed Ward and why.
An RCMP spokesperson said in an email that the investigation continues to be “open and active.” Police said they believe Ward was killed sometime between 8 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. when her body was discovered.
“Police believe all partygoers have been identified and interviewed,” the spokesperson added.
On May 10, 2017, police arrested Britney Lake for the murder but released her a day later without charge.
Barrault said the last 10 years have been “an emotional roller-coaster.”
“It’s so frustrating,” she said. “There are times I really thought the answers would come and they didn’t. It’s very defeating.”
Despite her frustration, Barrault said she understands why investigations can drag on for months and years.
“It’s harder to prove something than disprove something,” Barrault said. “Unless you have the person standing there with blood on their hands it can be hard to prove.”
Ward’s younger sister Donna Wettlaufer was 41-years-old when she lost her big sister.
She said she prays that an arrest and conviction come someday because it would bring some closure for the family. But she wants that closure for her niece more than anyone else because she knows how hard all of this has been on Barrault.
“I hope there is a resolution and not as much for me as for Cherie, because it has taken a terrible toll on her for years,” Wettlaufer said.
After years struggling with her addictions, Barrault knew she had to get herself clean and could no longer live in the same city where her mom was murdered.
“I just knew I couldn’t stay anymore,” she said. “I would see people in the street and wonder if they were the ones that did it. I couldn’t even drive down 5th Street.
“It was all just too difficult. The best thing for me was just to leave Portage la Prairie. I had to do what was right for me.”
Barrault now lives with her husband and children in Hamiota.
She said all she can do now is hope that one day the case is solved and there is justice for her mom, but she said she does not know if that day will ever come.
“I hope it does, but I don’t know anymore,” Barrault said. “It has been almost 11 years and you would think something would have happened by now.
“It’s hard because the more time that goes by, the less hope I have, and all I want now is for this to be over.”
Anyone with information related to this homicide is encouraged to call the RCMP tipline at 204-984-6447 or Crimestoppers.
“If you have information related to this investigation, don’t assume that the police already know what you have to share,” an RCMP spokesperson said. “You may be holding the missing piece of the puzzle.”
Dave Baxter is a freelance reporter, photographer and editor who writes about Manitoba crimes for the Sunday Special.