10/11/2012 12:33 EDT | Updated 12/11/2012 05:12 EST

Winnipeg landfill yields no clues to whereabouts of missing city woman

WINNIPEG - After a week of combing through garbage and potential hazards in a landfill, Winnipeg police say they were unable to find any sign of Tanya Nepinak, one of three aboriginal women believed to have been killed by a drifter.

"No evidence pertinent to the investigation was located," Const. Jason Michalyshen said Thursday.

"We were open and up front right from the get-go that the chances were incredibly slim. But despite that, when we receive this type of information, we need to be open-minded, we want to be open-minded and I think we were open-minded."

Nepinak's family, however, accused police of focusing on too small of an area at the 470-hectare dump.

"They know she's over there. Why leave her there?," Nepinak's sister, Gail Nepinak, said.

"We're not giving up. We're going to fight for where we wanted to get a search done in the first place."

Tanya Nepinak disappeared in September of last year at the age of 31. Police believe she had been killed and put in a Dumpster, which was emptied by a garbage truck and ended up in the Brady Landfill south of the city.

The decision to search the landfill followed the arrest in June of Shawn Lamb, a 52-year-old drifter accused of second-degree murder in the deaths of Nepinak and two other aboriginal women — Carolyn Sinclair, 25, and Lorna Blacksmith, 18 — whose bodies were found wrapped in plastic near garbage bins over the past year.

Lamb's arrest prompted renewed calls from aboriginal leaders for a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

The challenge for police was to decide what area of the sprawling landfill to search. There was no information to indicate where in the landfill the garbage truck emptied its load.

To narrow the search, police called on an aboriginal elder who conducted a spiritual ceremony and led police to a 25-square-metre section on the north side of the dump.

Gail Nepinak said her family conducted their own ceremony that led them to believe her sister's remains were further to the west.

"We were going toward the northwest (based on) what we were doing when we were doing the pipe ceremonies, the prayers, everything that we were doing with people that were helping us."

Police searched for one week before deciding to end the search. Officers faced rough weather and all the potential hazards of a landfill, Michalyshen said.

"There's a lot of debris that is just poking out of the ground. There could be sharp objects — glass, metal, anything — and if you're not wearing proper footwear, injuries can certainly occur," he said.

"And getting injured in any way ... in an area where obviously the sanitary conditions are far from ideal would be a serious concern."