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YK COLD CASE FILES: What happened to Mariella Lennie?

Body of Indigenous teen found floating on Great Slave Lake in 1992

At age 17, Mariella Lennie came to Yellowknife for a fresh start. Her body was found seven months later. Thirty years on, the case remains open.

Lennie was last seen leaving the Discovery Inn on 50 Avenue on Oct. 6, 1991. At that time, the nightclub upstairs was just warming up while the Red Apple restaurant was seating people for dinner. It was 6 p.m. and the thermometer hovered around 4 C when she left alone on foot.

Twelve days later, Lennie was reported missing. Her body was found floating on Great Slave Lake near the now-defunct Con Mine on May 8, 1992, almost seven months later. The RCMP identified her body using dental records.

Very few details are publicly available from this open investigation.

“A cause of death is not something we can discuss at this time,” Cpl. Mike Lewis told Yellowknifer.

“Suspicious death, foul play has not been eliminated,” the police force stated of the circumstances.

Lennie was found partially clothed with one shoe on and her face was “unrecognizable,” her aunt, Bert Lennie, told the National Inquiry Into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) during a meeting in Yellowknife in 2018. She could have been “floating” for months, said Bert. Yellowknifer consulted with a diving expert who said a body floating for months and found in this condition was “very unlikely.”

“The birds, the fish, what they had done to the body over that time, so we couldn’t view it,” Bert told Yellowknifer, speaking on behalf of the family. “They (RCMP) showed me the death certificate and said she hadn’t been shot or stabbed but there was a bump found on her head.”

At the time of her disappearance, Mariella came to Yellowknife to live with Bert and attend school. She left her four-month-old baby with her parents, Wilfred and Sarah in her hometown of Tulita.

“She was very pretty, outgoing, she could talk to anyone” but also “naive, too trusting” said Bert.

Shortly after her arrival, Mariella left her aunt’s place and moved in with her cousin. A few months later, Bert found out Mariella was missing through local gossip and the media.

“A friend told me and I saw it later in the news,” said Bert. “I thought, oh boy, she’s taken off.”

She suspected the bubbly teen may have ventured out willingly but then met with foul play.

“Her attitude was, ‘Nothing would happen to me.’ And somebody took advantage of that,” Bert said.

As the months dragged on and no one had heard from Mariella, her family started to look for her locally, collecting patchy tips.

“People were saying she might be in Edmonton; we saw her here, we saw her there,” said Bert.

Lewis told the Yellowknifer the police have been working diligently in the background.

“Over the years, multiple suspects have surfaced and some have been cleared through several techniques, including the use of polygraph examinations,” he said.

But from the outset, Bert felt the family and the RCMP could have done more to work together.

“I don’t want to run them down but I still have questions. Like, why I wasn’t I contacted as soon as she was gone? They (the RCMP) say it’s open, so inform us every now and then,” said Bert. “She’s always in our minds. Somebody out there must know who did it.”

Mariella is one of many Indigenous women who went missing or was murdered in and around Yellowknife around that time.

“The possibility that Lennie’s death is related to other missing Indigenous women has been, and will continue to be explored both within the NWT and in other jurisdictions” said Lewis.

In 1990, 15-year-old Charlene Catholique went missing from Behchoko. She was last seen walking along Highway 3 toward Yellowknife. That same year, 24-year-old Mary Rose Keadjuk vanished. Her last known whereabouts was at The Gold Range Hotel, where she was staying. In 1996, Dorothy Georgina Abel was attacked in Yellowknife and subsequently placed in a coma. She died four years later in a hospital in Edmonton. Her case remains open but her files have been lost. In 2010, 22-year-old Angela Meyer went missing from her family home and hasn’t been seen since.

The MMIWG report stated 1,181 Indigenous women went missing or were murdered across Canada between 1980 and 2012, representing 16 per cent of all female homicides in the country despite constituting four per cent of Canada’s female population. Some Indigenous leaders insist the number of missing and murdered is actually higher.

Several of the victims’ families have told the media they are frustrated by the lack of evidence and follow up by RCMP.

Bert expressed her exasperation in her closing statement to the MMIWG inquiry: “Why is it taking so long to solve this? It’s just (the) Northwest Territories, it’s not like New York.”

Yellowknifer attempted to contact the families of these victims but did not heard back from them prior to publication deadline.

Anyone with information on Mariella Lennie or any open investigations is asked to contact the NT RCMP Major Crimes Unit at RCMP at 867-669-1111 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

This is the first in a multi-part series on Yellowknife cold cases.