NEWS

Barb Desjarlais learns fate of missing mother in MMIW case through DNA test

06/04/2015 04:26 EDT | Updated 06/04/2016 05:59 EDT
DNA tests have confirmed that the remains of a woman found in the Red River in Winnipeg three years ago belong to Audrey Desjarlais, providing a partial solution in a case of a missing or murdered indigenous woman.

Her daughter, Barb Desjarlais of Regina, had long suspected the unidentified woman was her mother. A CBC investigation had prompted police to respond to the daughter's plea for a DNA test.

She learned the results Thursday morning, when authorities arrived at her Regina home with the news.

"It was Winnipeg police. They just asked me, 'Can we come in?' I said, 'Just answer my question … is it my mom?'" Desjarlais told CBC News. "They said 'Yes.' I just walked away, I closed my door. I told them they had to come back at noon ... I just need to process that information."

The knowledge will bring Desjarlais some closure, she said, but it's been a long drawn-out fight to get there.

Desjarlais said her mother left their family almost 15 years ago and moved to Manitoba. She was a residential school survivor and often struggled with drugs.

But she always kept contact with them, via phone, until three years ago. They had not heard a word from her since.

Then on June 15, 2012, the unidentified remains of a woman's body were pulled from the Red River. Little was known about this Jane Doe, except she was about five feet five inches tall, had long dark hair and was thin, just like Desjarlais's mother. She also had a full set of dentures — as did her mother. Then there was a police sketch that superficially bore a resemblance to her mother.

But also found with the remains was a necklace with a dolphin on it.

"I had the matching ring," Desjarlais said. "My mother gave it to me when I was a teenager."

Police doubtful

Winnipeg police, however, did not order a DNA test, because they'd been told by Steinbach authorities that Audrey Desjarlais wasn't missing and had recently been seen in the area. There was also forensic evidence to suggest the Jane Doe had not given birth; though police acknowledged the evidence was not conclusive. 

It was only after the CBC reported Barb Desjarlais's story in April that police followed up on her wishes. Within hours after the story broke, Regina police showed up at her door to take a DNA sample.

On Thursday morning — almost three years to the day that the woman's body was found — Desjarlais now knows it was her mother.

"At least I know it's her," she said. "It's not an unknown lady in an unmarked grave anymore."

But Desjarlais now has more questions for the authorities; Why did they tell her that her mother was never missing? Why didn't they believe her when she insisted otherwise? And what exactly happened to her mother in those final hours before she entered the river?

"I have so many more questions," she said. "I need to know more."

CBC continues to investigate the stories of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. If you know anything about this case, or any other unsolved MMIW case, email us at MMIW@cbc.ca.

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