Elusive Killers – Sex Trade Worker Slayings Not so Easy to Solve

Police Crime Scene (Photo JGJ)

While some Indigenous activists like Gladys Radek would have you believe no one cares when young Indigenous women like Simone Sanderson (23) meet a violent end, nothing could be further from the truth.

“As far as they are concerned it’s just another dead Indian.  Enough is enough. We want justice,” Radek recently remarked to media covering  a rally organized to protest the controversial plea bargain orchestrated by serial killer Shawn Lamb.

Radeks’ comments express a belief firmly entrenched in the minds of many Indigenous people.

That’s because Indigenous leaders and activists constantly feed the victimization mindset and fuel the racial divide by constantly spewing racist rhetoric designed to deflect ownership and responsibility.

“As far as they are concerned it’s just another dead Indian.  Enough is enough. We want justice” 

The cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada has become a highly politicized issue, one that’s attracted the attention of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  The Committee recently visited the City of Winnipeg to assess the plight of Indigenous women and met with victim’s families and officials from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

The Simone Sanderson homicide is representative of many Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women cases in the Province of Manitoba.

On September 2, 2012 Sanderson’s body was found in a north end alley near the intersection of Main Street and Burrows Ave.  At the time of the gruesome discovery, Sanderson had been reported missing for a one week period.  Police subsequently revealed Sanderson was a drug addicted sex trade worker who plied her trade in the area where her body had been discovered.

The investigations into the killings of drug addicted sex trade workers are laborious, difficult undertakings that come with extremely low solvency rates.

While Indigenous leaders and the Gladys Radeks’ of the world prefer to believe these cases go unsolved because of systemic racism and lack of police interest, the hard facts point to a number of other conclusions.

Mitigating factors that complicate these investigations include;

  • Suspect pool
  • Inability to establish victim time line
  • Inability to establish motive
  • Lack of witnesses
  • Outdoor crime scenes

Suspect Pool;

Most murder cases are often solved because investigators are able to establish a narrow suspect pool.  That’s not true in cases involving sex trade workers.  Sex trade workers who work the streets of Winnipeg are accessible to hundreds of potential killers by virtue of their need to make their sexual services available to strangers.  Exposure to “stranger danger” is one of the primary causes of homicide when it comes to sex trade workers and was one of the risk factors identified by the investigators working on Project Devote.

Exposure to “stranger danger” is one of the primary causes of homicide when it comes to sex trade workers and was one of the risk factors identified by the investigators working on Project Devote.

(Project Devote – a joint RCMP / WPS task force formed in 2012 assigned to investigate cases of Missing & Murdered Women in Manitoba.)

All twenty (20) homicide cases and eight (8) missing person cases investigated by Project Devote were linked by one factor, the victims were all living a high risk, dangerous lifestyle that included substance abuse, transient lifestyle, involvement in the sex trade or participation in hitch hiking.  Mental health issues were also identified as a contributing factor.

Inability to establish victim time line;

Drug addicted sex trade workers are notorious for living life in the 24 / 7 substance abuse cycle.  These women forgo simple human needs like food, sleep and close familial relationships.  They become virtual slaves to their drugs.  Nothing else matters to them.  As a result, they simply come and go at all hours of the day or night.  Family members often lose touch with them and report them as missing persons.  The majority of these women simply show up to recuperate after falling off the edge of the earth, their minds blown from drug abuse and sleep deprivation.

Establishing a time line is critically important to the resolution of a homicide case.

The five “W’s” of homicide investigation are essential in identifying a killer.  The who, what, where, when and why’s….if you can’t answer these questions the chances of success become remote.

In the majority of investigations involving the murder of sex trade workers the cases are already cold by the time the Homicide Unit receives the file.  In Sanderson’s case, the file transitioned to the Homicide Unit a total of seven (7) days after the victim had been reported missing.  In a world where the First 48 is critical, that time gap can have a devastating effect on the solvability of a homicide case.

Inability to establish motive;

Motive in a homicide case is an extremely important piece of the puzzle.  When it comes to the murder of drug addicted sex trade workers, establishing the motive can be as difficult as narrowing the suspect pool. 

When it comes to the murder of drug addicted sex trade workers, establishing the motive can be as difficult as narrowing the suspect pool.

 Was the killer a John, a drug dealer, a gang member, a fellow sex trade worker or some other random player.

Lack of Witnesses;

Sex trade workers do not work 9 to 5 and are seldom killed during these hours.  These women are often picked up in the darkness of the night and transported to industrial, remote or less traveled areas where their business is conducted.  These women are often killed in isolation.  As a result, few people ever witness the murder of a sex trade worker.

Sex trade workers also tend to associate with people who are involved in the sex trade or in street gangs, the drug trade or other nefarious undertakings.  These are not the kind of people who are inclined to cooperate with law enforcement when it comes to providing information to break a case.  These people view police as adversaries and known that, in their world, providing information to law enforcement can bring substantial risk to themselves.

Most people who associate with sex trade workers struggle with their own substance abuse issues and are trapped in the same vicious 24 / 7 drug dependency cycle.

Outdoor crime scenes;

Most sex trade workers are killed in outdoor crime scenes.  Outdoor crime scenes present significant challenges to crime scene investigators as they offer little in the way of forensic evidence that might break a case.  The opportunity to lift fingerprints in an outdoor crime scene is remote.  There are no beer bottles, telephones, hard surfaces, furniture or paper items present to dust for prints.  Forensic investigators examining outdoor crime scenes rarely find cigarette butts, liquor bottles or any other items to swab for DNA.

“Don’t focus on the speck of sawdust in your brothers eye while ignoring the plank in your own eye.”

The truth is the police in Winnipeg work these cases with the same intensity and commitment they bring to every single case they encounter.  That’s why 90% of all homicides that have occurred in the City of Winnipeg over the last dozen years or so have been solved.

It’s important for Indigenous leaders and activists like Radek to take the time to educate themselves regarding the complexities of homicide investigation when it comes to the world of the sex trade workers.  If they took that time I’m confident we’d hear less claims of racism and indifference.

In the meantime, the problem persists.

If we know drug addicted Indigenous sex trade workers are being killed as a result of living high risk lifestyles then why aren’t we doing something about it?

Why haven’t Indigenous leaders and activists started to partner with the police, Manitoba Justice, mental health professionals, AFM and Social Services to set up intervention teams to take these women off our streets before someone else does?

A wise man once said, “Don’t focus on the speck of sawdust in your brothers eye while ignoring the plank in your own eye.”

The difficult search for Simone Sanderson’s killer continues….


The Police Insider with Charles Adler – CJOB

The Police Insider – “Just Another Dead Indian – The Racial Divide”

The Winnipeg Free Press – “Police Looking for Info on Slain Woman”


  1. Thank you! My son witnessed police save us from abuse and danger as a child. People need to talk about the positive work too. Now my son is a tall strong and healthy aboriginal man studying Law Enformcement. His dad also ended up getting murdered, so guess who the positive role models have been in his Life! Happy New Years!

  2. James G Jewell


    Thank you very much for your comments and support.

    I truly believe in bring our community together and challenging those who choose to try to divide us.

    Our community, of course, is comprised of all people from every race, creed and religion.

    I am proud of your son for making the choice to serve and protect.

    It’s a fantastic career.

    Happy New Year to you and yours!

  3. I’m so proud of the article “racist rhetoric” in the WFP! The biggest thanks to who wrote it! I’m aboriginal but I don’t believe in shaming & blaming. My favorite quote is by Chief Seattle,”Our people will never stand unless we become concerned with the rights & civil liberties of ALL people & not just for ourselves.” If I hear anyone speak badly about “our finest” I remind them that’s who they always call when they need them! Police have the longest job description in the city. That they do it all while risking their lives everyday is completely commendable! Thanks to you, my son is becoming a “finest!” 🙂

  4. James G Jewell

    Sad but true…

  5. And the silence from the special interest groups and Aboriginal “leadership” is deafening.

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