The grieving family of a slain Winnipeg woman is awaiting more grim news after the discovery of human remains at the Brady Road landfill.
A Winnipeg Police Service search team has been at the waste facility on the south edge of the city for nearly two weeks, searching for evidence in the death of Rebecca Contois.
The 24 year old’s partial remains were found in a garbage bin behind an Edison Avenue apartment block on May 16. A source previously told the Free Press a severed human head and leg were in the bin.
Investigators believe Contois was killed on or around May 14, court documents reveal.
Police are now waiting for autopsy results in order to confirm the identity of the remains discovered at the landfill Tuesday.
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Contois’ family is being supported by the WPS family support and resource advocate, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls liaison unit, Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Medicine Bear counselling program and community elders and knowledge keepers.
Angie Tuesday, the WPS family support and resource advocate, said details of the investigation have been difficult for Contois’ family and for families "who’ve experienced this loss before."
She said police are providing them with updates in a trauma-informed way.
Before the search began, a sacred fire was lit at the landfill and tobacco was passed to a grandmother, who performed a traditional ceremony in honour of Contois, her family and her loved ones, and to support the officers carrying out the task.
Shortly after the grisly discovery behind the Edison Avenue block, investigators learned that additional remains may have been taken to Brady Road during that week’s residential refuse pickup. Investigators immediately cordoned off a section of the landfill and stopped further dumping of waste in the area.
Officers wearing protective gear, including full-face respirators and methane-detection equipment, have been searching the landfill since June 2, after weather delays and other preparations.
The search is currently on hold, but may resume depending on the outcome of the autopsy, WPS spokeswoman Const. Dani McKinnon told a news conference Wednesday.
The initial search area was the size of four to six football fields, a task that would take weeks to complete, WPS Insp. Cam MacKid told reporters.
Following preparatory work — including the use of a drone to take overhead images of the landfill — to define the area more closely, the search site was narrowed to the equivalent of about 1 1/2 fields.
The team has combed through a "vast amount" of debris — in some places stacked as high as 2.5 to three metres — and has dealt with safety concerns, heavy rain and heat, MacKid said.
"It’s a challenging assignment, there’s no two ways about it — a difficult assignment," he said. "But they are fantastic and they would’ve kept going until they were told to stop."
The process was slow-going and difficult.
"Basically what we were doing is having a large excavator (dig) a number of yards of debris at a time, they’d bring it to where our search party was positioned and they’d sift it and our crew would go through it with manual tools and such to examine the debris," he said.
He noted the last comparable landfill searches were in 2012 and 2008.
Jeremy Anthony Michael Skibicki, 35, was charged May 18 with first-degree murder, an offence that indicates the Crown believes the slaying was premeditated.
He’s also charged with failing to comply with the conditions of a release order. He next appears in court on June 27 on an administrative docket.
No additional charges have been laid yet as a result of the discovery.
Homicide detectives have not ruled out the possibility of additional victims.
"We currently don’t have any other information or evidence to conclusively say that is the case," McKinnon said. "Of course, this investigation is still very much ongoing.
"Nothing has changed in terms of it could be a possibility, but we just don’t have evidence to prove that or to lay charges at this time."
— with files from Chris Kitching
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.