Claudia Williams knew she would be limited in what she could say at the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, because her sister Alberta’s case is still unsolved.
But she still had the opportunity to say what was important to her, she said.
“My sister Alberta’s murder changed my life completely. I search for answers, think of her each and every day. I know she would do the same for me,” Williams told the commissioner who sat across from her in the main hall of the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre in Smithers, B.C.
Williams gave her testimony Wednesday afternoon, on Day 2 of the hearings. Sitting next to her was the former RCMP lead investigator in her sister’s homicide, Garry Kerr.
The two reunited the night before, the first time they had seen each other in person in nearly 30 years.
Homicide still unsolved
Claudia Williams’s son Les and his wife, Karla, also sat with her during her testimony, along with health support worker Lavita Trimble, once a neighbour of Claudia and Alberta’s in Prince Rupert.
“To lose a sister, Alberta, through murder, is tragic,” Williams said.
Alberta Williams disappeared after a night out in Prince Rupert with Claudia and friends on Sept. 25, 1989. Her body was found the following month, nearly 40 kilometres outside of town.
Her homicide is still unsolved.
“She was kind, loving and a gentle person,” Williams said.
“Her life was taken from her, she did not deserve this. She had her whole life ahead of her and a fiancé waiting for her in Vancouver.”
‘I think Alberta’s case is a very strong case’
When asked by commissioner Michèle Audette what kind of recommendations she might have for the inquiry, Claudia spoke repeatedly about the importance of time, because of how long it’s been since her sister was killed.
“Are we ever gonna get an answer if anything happens to any of the suspects?” she asked.
“I think Alberta’s case is a very strong case and I think it should be put on the forefront, not to disrespect any of the other missing and murdered women.”
Alberta’s case has seen renewed activity in the last year. Due, in part, to an eight-part CBC podcast Who Killed Alberta Williams? in which journalists Connie Walker and Marnie Luke uncovered new information in the case.
“It shouldn’t have taken a podcast for people to come forward,” Williams said.
When Audette asked Williams what kind of contact she has with the RCMP these days, she said she speaks to someone with the force roughly every month.
But it was former RCMP members who have shown up in her life who Williams spoke most highly of. First, she spoke of the late Ray Michalko and the work he did trying to solve some of the cases along the so-called Highway of Tears after his retirement from the RCMP.
“There’s not enough words to say thank you for your time and effort in trying to solve my sister’s murder, along with other unsolved cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women,” she said.
“Rest in peace Ray, you are dearly missed.”
Then she turned her thanks to Kerr.
The importance of trust
“For myself it’s an honour and a privilege — now I’m getting emotional — to be with Claudia,” Kerr told the commissioner.
Kerr spoke of how his perspective of Alberta’s case has changed over the years.
“It simply boils down to one word, and that’s trust,” he said.
“And when I say trust, that’s trust on the part of — in this case Alberta’s family — trusting the police. But also, that role is also reversed. We have to have trust in them, they have to have trust in us.”
Kerr said it’s become crystal clear now that there was a lot of information the RCMP didn’t get in the early days of Alberta’s case.
“I truly think if we had had more trust in place, and that is with Claudia’s parents, Claudia, the rest of the family, some of the information that I’ve learned just in the last year or two I think would have truly made a difference during the initial or first few months of the investigation.”
Kerr said he couldn’t say with certainty that if things were different police would have charged someone in Alberta’s case. But he said police would have put more emphasis on specific parts of the investigation.
Kerr said he believes the case is still solvable.
After their testimony wrapped up, Claudia stood outside, hopeful, an eagle feather in hand.
“Each step that I take in coming out and speaking to the public is leading more and more toward answers,” she said. “I think this went very well. I’m really happy I had Garry Kerr there, family there, and I got to speak my mind.”