This story originally appeared July 9, 2015 in the Chilliwack Times
Head-high blackberry bushes blanket much of the property behind the Chilliwack Motor Inn like an impenetrable shield hiding what’s below.
A cursory look around the fringes of the motel property elicits fast food wrappers, cups, cushions from a chair, a used condom wrapper.
The thorny bushes are so dense that without a backhoe, it’s impossible to know what else might linger deep beneath the overgrowth.
This past Saturday family and friends of Kelly Rideout wondered if maybe, just maybe, the missing woman’s body is there at the place where she was last thought to be staying.
A dozen people gathered at the motel on July 4 to search for Kelly, who was last seen exactly four years ago this Friday, July 10, 2011.
Kelly’s mother Nicole Dignard came to Chilliwack from Montreal for the search for her daughter-a search they feel police have given up on.
Dignard’s angst about the whereabouts of her daughter is raw and simple. “It’s been four years,” she says at the home of her granddaughter’s father, Duane Stamper, in Agassiz.
“Where’s my daughter? I’ve got absolutely no closure.”
A hard life
Dignard, who is Kelly’s birth mother, was young when she had Kelly and she was trying to get on her feet.
“I was young and naive,” she said of when she signed guardianship papers over to the Rideout family in Peterborough, Ont.
Without knowing too many of the details, Dignard is certain Kelly was abused as a child alongside her step-sisters. By the age of 12 or 13 Kelly started running away.
By 14, Dignard wanted her daughter back in her life, and Kelly wanted to be back with her birth mother.
“When I got my daughter back, she was a mess,” Dignard said. “I got her counselling but Kelly didn’t stick to it. She wouldn’t really talk about her past.”
Kelly never properly dealt with her past and, like so many young women in that position, was introduced to drugs, substances that helped temporarily stop the pain.
“She said ‘it numbs me,’” Dignard said of the crystal meth Kelly became addicted to.
Co-dependent on both men and drugs, Kelly’s troubles in her teens and early 20s continued, having five children in all. She has a 21-year-old daughter who is in Saskatchewan, a 17-year-old girl who is in Nova Scotia and a 15-year-old son in Nova Scotia. Then there is Brooklyn Stamper who is 12 and is in Nova Scotia.
And then there is Alyssa who lives with Duane and Kylee Stamper in Agassiz. On a visit to the home, Alyssa is bright-eyed and playful, friendly and talkative to the stranger coming to chat with Kylee and her grandmother.
But beneath the cheerful, childish exterior is the soul of a young girl in anguish, wondering what happened to her mom and where she is.
“That is definitely the hard part,” Kylee explains. “Alyssa is beside herself, all the time. We have her in counselling. She’s got so much hurt and anger.”
Does the young girl understand?
“She doesn’t understand, that’s the problem,” Kylee says. “There is nothing that actually says that this is where her mom is. She has buried pets but she has not been able to do that with her mother, so constantly, in the back of her mind, she is hoping that she is still out there.
“It causes her so much pain and turmoil.”
And so the family goes on. They cannot give up. If not for Duane and Kylee and the other friends themselves, if not for Kelly’s desperate mother, none of them feel they can give up searching because of Alyssa.
In May 2011, Dignard spoke to her daughter for the last time. Kelly faced criminal charges for identity theft and fraudulently using credit cards. The case is still listed on Court Services Online with a warrant issued for Kelly. She was scheduled to go to trial in May 2012.
But back in May 2011, Dignard said Kelly had a court date to come to after which she planned to straighten out.
“She told me she hated the drug life, but she knew too much.. .. And she told Alyssa she was going to come back to her. Alyssa remembers that.”
“She walks around with that every day,” Kylee adds.
Who killed Kelly?
Conventional wisdom on the street is that a well-known local drug dealer is responsible, directly or indirectly, for Rideout’s death.
Another local unsolved murder is that of Deano Paus whose body was found. His family believes the same man who killed Kelly, killed Deano.
A spokesperson for the RCMP’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) said there is an active and ongoing investigation into Kelly’s disappearance. Police need witnesses to come forward, which is a challenge in the tight-knit, fear-fuelled, drug-addled underworld.
“There are people out there that know what happened to Kelly,” Ashton told the Times. “Know the details of it, know the circumstances of it, and they’ve never spoken to police. If they really want to help the family, the best thing they could do is come forward and tell us what they know.”
But Kelly’s mother is past worrying about who killed her, even how she died.
“I don’t care who it is anymore,” Dignard said. “He’ll meet his maker. I just want to know where she is-where she is so we can put her somewhere so the kids have peace.”
Earlier this year, the Times spoke with Bev Paus, Deano’s mother, who has some bad news for Dignard when it comes to closure. Deano’s body was found in February 2011, by a hiker in the woods between Agassiz and Hope.
“Oh you never get over it and there is no such thing as closure,” Bev said.
As happens with most older homicide investigations, as the years wear on, tips become more rare, contact with investigators less frequent, and frustration sets in.
“For a long time we have been trying to get the police to do something,” Kylee says. “They don’t seem to be doing anything about it.”
Duane sent a message to IHIT on Monday to see if one or two officers could join them in their search for Rideout’s body, but they never heard back.
“It’s kind of frustrating that we are not getting any support from the police,” Kylee said.
The search at the Chilliwack Motor Inn on Saturday was challenging not only because of the impenetrable blackberry bushes, according to Kylee, but also because of the lack of support from the motel ownership.
“We asked the owner if we could go in with a backhoe to take [the blackberry bushes] out, but they said ‘no,’” Kylee said.
Whomever they spoke with also didn’t want anything to do with the search and “barely looked at Kelly’s picture.” Three months ago when she was also in town, Dignard asked the motel to put a missing picture of Kelly in the window. When they visited on Saturday it was nowhere to be seen.
For the second day of searching this past Sunday the group went to an area near the Cheam Reserve by the Agassiz-Rosedale Bridge. A number of tips have suggested this is where her body was dumped.
They found a partially buried car and dug around it. They even found a bone and thought maybe it was the small bone from an arm. They called police but were informed what they had was a bone from an eagle or another large bird.
An unpleasant search continued under the bridge as they came across more bones of dead animals, deer and sheep, whole chickens, needles and other “gross” stuff.
The group plans to continue searching this weekend even though they don’t really know where to look, even though the search seems beyond impossible.
They may be looking for a needle in a haystack, but Kelly Rideout’s body has to be somewhere. So if they look, however randomly, there is still some chance no matter how remote it is.
“There is a chance so why not take that chance?” Kylee asks.
“We aren’t giving up.”