The last time Bev Catholique saw her cousin Charlene, they were teenagers.
“It might seem like a while ago but it’s still so clear to me,” she said.
They were standing at the terminal at Yellowknife Airport on their way home to Lutsel K’e early Friday morning, June 22, 1990.
Bev, 44, said they stayed at their aunt Ernestine’s in Yellowknife that week to attend the Dene Nation’s assembly in Dettah.
The airline told the girls they were overbooked, even though they both had tickets.
“We were both supposed to go on that plane home. But we were told: there’s only room for one,” said Bev.
Charlene insisted Bev leave without her; she’d catch up.
“’I’ll see you tomorrow,’ she told me,” Bev recalled. “I felt really sad.”
She felt intuitively that something was seriously wrong.
“I really didn’t want to leave her,” said Bev.
She burst into tears when she got on the plane and saw all the empty seats.
The next morning, the police were knocking on Bev’s door. Charlene never made it home.
Bev was 13 at the time while Charlene was 15 when she went missing.
“She was like a big sister,” she said.
Bev described Charlene as beautiful, around 5’5” and slim with big, chocolate brown eyes.
“She cut her own hair in a style she loved and wore makeup,” said Bev. “She was pretty confident.”
They spent time together playing on the land, games like hide and seek and baseball with their group of boisterous cousins, who were all around the same age.
“She is happy-go-lucky, likes to joke around,” Bev said, choosing to use the present tense. “But she’s quiet and shy around (strangers).”
Charlene was fluent in Chipewyan and served as a translator between Bev and their grandparents, Marie and J.B., until they discouraged her: “Don’t translate for her! She’s got to learn,” Bev laughed.
Charlene spent a lot of time with her grandparents. Her mother died of cancer when she was 12, and she was very close with her father, Joe, although they occasionally butted heads.
“Every time she was upset, she would go to the bush behind our grandparents place,” Bev recounted.
Charlene would set up her own camp with a little fire with tea, crackers, and Klik, and she’d have her journal.
But she always left signs for Bev to find her: paper notes with arrows pointing to her camp. And she always came home.
More than 30 years later, Charlene’s disappearance still perplexes Bev, the same as it did the day she found out.
Charlene was seen was walking along Highway 3. Bev said she headed in the direction of Behchokǫ̀, however, the RCMP said she was believed to be walking towards Yellowknife.
The night she was due to fly home, Charlene went to an arcade on Franklin Avenue, a weekend hangout for teenagers. She was wearing a neon pink sweatshirt, her favourite acid-washed jeans and blue jacket with white sleeves, and white running shoes.
Bev isn’t sure who she went along with her, “everyone knew everyone. She mentioned she had a boyfriend, maybe that’s why she was OK to stay in Yellowknife,” said Bev, adding she knows his name but has never met him.
The family tried countless ways to locate Charlene, usually spearheaded by Joe, who is now deceased. But since that sighting in June 1990, there has been no sign of Charlene.
“It made a hole in all our lives here at home,” said another cousin, Marie Catholique, also 44. “I really do miss her and sometimes cry about why people would be so cruel if they did something to her.”
Over the years, theories about what happened have floated through town, some terrifying: “We heard some guys had her in Behchokǫ̀,” said Bev. But no evidence has surfaced.
Marie said she’s “still kind of mad” that the family hasn’t heard any update from the RCMP recently, and said that if she had the money, she would conduct her own search.
In June 2017, the Northwest Territories Supreme Court declared Charlene was dead. But she is still considered a missing person and her case is active through the Yellowknife RCMP’s Historical Case Unit (HCU).
In 2019, Charlene was featured in a week-long missing person campaign by the RCMP.
In 2020, the HCU, along with the Forensic Identification Section and the Major Crimes Unit, searched an area of interest near Behchokǫ̀. Nothing was found.
Charlene’s disappearance is a complete anomaly. There are currrently no other missing teenagers on file at theHSC, RCMP confirmed.
Bev still tells her four children about Charlene, even though they weren’t even born when she vanished. She tells them her cousin was a good person who protected her family and friends.
“She watched over all of us,” Bev said.
Visit www.nnsl.com for the first instalment of this cold case.
Anyone with information on Charlene Catholique or any open investigation is asked to contact the NT RCMP Major Crimes Unit at 867-669-1111 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
Have you got a cold case you want Yellowknifer to investigate? Email firstname.lastname@example.org