Grassroots effort hopes to identify ‘Buffalo Woman’
Searchers appeal to street community for info on possible homicide victim
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George Robinson and Darryl Contois walk north on Main Street toward the underpass at Higgins Avenue, carrying a packing tape dispenser and a shopping bag full of posters.
It’s New Year’s Day in Winnipeg and the two men need the help of the street community — the people who use the shelters and spend time on the Main Street strip.
“Help us identify Buffalo Woman,” read the posters they’ve taped to light standards in the area and beyond. “Do you recognize this jacket?”
Buffalo Woman, or Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, is the name Indigenous elders have given a woman police believe was the first victim of alleged serial killer Jeremy Skibicki, 35.
The outreach and poster campaign is part of the grassroots effort by relatives of Morgan Harris, 39, one of Skibicki’s alleged victims, to raise awareness and generate tips about the unidentified victim, while Winnipeg police try to find out who she was.
“We’re trying to put a name to that Buffalo Woman — and try to bring closure to a family,” said Contois, 55, who has assisted with numerous missing person searches over the years.
“It’s hard when you lose a loved one. You never sleep, you’re always, constantly worrying. It’s hard on families, and not only that, the community. We try to step up and try to help as much as we can.”
Buffalo Woman’s body has not been found, but homicide investigators have charged Skibicki with first-degree murder in her slaying, as well as the deaths of Harris, Marcedes Myran, 26, and Rebecca Contois, 24.
Winnipeg Police Service homicide detectives believe Buffalo Woman, who was likely in her mid-20s and had an average build, was killed on or around 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.
Robinson, whose fiancé is a cousin of Harris, and Darryl Contois, who is not directly related to victim Rebecca Contois, are hopeful that canvassing in the area and other parts of Winnipeg will yield the identity of Buffalo Woman.
A man clad in black walks with the two men north on Main Street, telling them he recognizes the jacket — something they’ve heard from other people in the area, too.
The searchers have heard tips about a woman who had worn the jacket, and suspicion among community members about the identity of the missing woman.
But not everyone has heard of the alleged serial killings.
“Showing the poster around, a lot of people don’t know. Our homeless population, they don’t have access to TVs or social media, stuff like that — how else would they find out, unless we get out and start hanging up posters and talking to people?” said Robinson, 48, standing near Higgins and Main.
“When we’re out in the community, a lot of the people that we talk to, they don’t want to talk to the police, not even to assist them with missing people, but they come and talk to us — so it’s… a good connect between the people on the street and the police, because then we can go to talk to the police.”
Harris, Myran and Contois used shelter services in the area, and the community searchers think it’s possible Buffalo Woman did as well.
The searchers planned to visit encampments, as well as other area shelters, to poster and speak with people on the holiday.
“We’ve been out since nine o’clock this morning, out putting up posters, we handed some off to other people to go put up in the West End, down St. Boniface, pretty much around the city,” said Darryl Contois, adding about 15 were involved in the on-the-street efforts.
“We had about 300 posters, and they’ll all be up today… we got a lot of areas to cover, the Maples… West Broadway’s covered, we’re going to do Osborne, St. Vital maybe. (Vulnerable) people are pretty much everywhere and all it takes is one, two people to positively ID her.”
The investigation into the alleged serial killings began in May, when Rebecca Contois’s partial remains were found in a garbage bin in North Kildonan. Skibicki was charged with one count of first-degree murder.
Police searching Brady Road landfill on the city’s southern limits found additional remains belonging to Contois in June.
Police announced Dec. 1 they believe Buffalo Woman, Harris and Myran were also killed by the same suspect, and laid three further first-degree murder charges against Skibicki.
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, but police do not have a definitive location of Buffalo Woman’s remains.
Harris’s family has been advocating for searches of Prairie Green and Brady Road since police announced the additional charges against Skibicki, with a protest camp set up at the south Winnipeg landfill on Dec. 18.
Police have said they believe a search of Prairie Green would not be feasible, given the tonnes of waste deposited and compacted at the site over the 34 days before detectives learned Harris and Myran’s remains might be there.
An Indigenous-led committee is studying the feasibility of searching the landfills for human remains, with input from forensic anthropology experts and police.
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.