Victim’s family adds voice to efforts to identify Buffalo Woman
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
Relatives of a woman believed to have been slain by an alleged serial killer in Winnipeg are starting a grassroots effort to help identify one of the four Indigenous victims.
Morgan Harris’s family is hoping to raise awareness and generate tips about the unidentified victim — since named Buffalo Woman by Indigenous elders — while city police try to find out who she is.
“The community is taking on finding the identity of Buffalo Woman, because no stolen sister deserves to remain unknown,” Harris’s daughter, Cambria, said Wednesday. “This woman is someone’s family member, and their family member may be missing her right now not even knowing she’s missing.
“Something society doesn’t understand is when these things happen to our people, we feel it as a nation. Blood or not, were all brothers and sisters and this affects us very personally.”
Detectives from the Winnipeg Police Service homicide unit believe Buffalo Woman, who was in her mid-20s and had an average build, was killed on or about March 15.
On Dec. 1, police released pictures of a reversible Baby Phat brand jacket similar to the one she wore, hoping someone would recognize it and contact them.
It’s unknown if investigators have received any helpful information or learned more about Buffalo Woman since the public appeal.
“The investigation into the homicide and identification of Buffalo Woman (Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe) remains active and ongoing,” WPS spokesman Const. Jay Murray wrote in an email. “It has been a priority for our homicide unit, however, we don’t have any further information to share regarding the investigation at this time.”
Police are asking anyone with information to call detectives at 204-986-6508 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 204-786-8477.
Group members will soon begin putting up and handing out posters at shelters, encampments and other places frequented by vulnerable people who may have known Buffalo Woman.
They will also spend time talking to people experiencing homelessness in case someone has information but has not yet spoken to police or does not feel comfortable speaking to an authority.
The poster includes photos of the jacket, and it encourages people to contact police if they can help to identify Buffalo Woman.
The investigation into the alleged serial killings began in May, when partial remains of Rebecca Contois, 24, were found in a garbage bin in North Kildonan.
Additional remains belonging to Contois were found in June, as police searched the Brady Road landfill on the city’s southern limits.
Police announced Dec. 1 they believe Buffalo Woman, Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 26, were also killed by the same suspect.
Jeremy Skibicki, 35, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder.
Detectives believe the remains of Harris and Myran were deposited at the privately-owned Prairie Green landfill, just north of Winnipeg, after they were killed in May.
Earlier this month, police said they do not have a definitive location of Buffalo Woman’s remains.
With her identity still a mystery — to the public, at least — Harris’s relatives have created a Facebook page as part of efforts to encourage people with information to come forward.
“We need any family members with missing ones around that time to reach out to police, and see if Buffalo Woman may be their loved one,” said Cambria Harris.
Some people may not feel comfortable speaking to police, she noted.
Harris’s family has been advocating for searches of Prairie Green and Brady Road since police announced Skibicki is accused of killing three more women.
Police believe a search of Prairie Green isn’t feasible for reasons including the tonnes of waste deposited at the site over the 34 days before detectives learned Harris and Myran’s remains may be there.
An Indigenous-led committee is studying the feasibility of searching the landfills for human remains.
“Buffalo Woman deserves respect, dignity and to come home. Bringing her home would be finding out who she is, and finding where her remains are,” said Cambria Harris. “Everyone is deserving of a proper resting place, and every human being deserves closure.
“We are dedicated to our work, and we are going to find this woman and our sisters Morgan and Marcedes, as well as bringing justice to our stolen sisters.”
Michael Arntfield, a criminologist and professor at the University of Western Ontario, said it’s extremely rare to have a case where police believe there is a victim but don’t know the person’s identity and haven’t located their remains.
If investigators are able to identify Buffalo Woman, it could take some time due to a number of challenges, the former London Police Service detective said.
“It’s an extremely difficult task,” he said, adding the mission will be even tougher if the woman’s disappearance went unnoticed or unreported.
“This individual is only one step removed from being what’s known as the ‘missing missing.’”
The professor noted public appeals with pictures of clothing worn by a victim or suspect don’t always lead to a definitive tip.
In a case such as this, involving vulnerable women, Arntfield said, police would typically check open missing persons cases and internal databases, visit homeless shelters and speak to street outreach workers.
“They’re going to be contacting their network of community resources who are likely to have had dealings with this person or may be able to confirm who they are.”
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, December 28, 2022 8:49 PM CST: Adds info on the plans to look for Buffalo woman