OPP, chief coroner reopen investigation into 1972 death of 19-year-old Indigenous woman

OPP, chief coroner reopen investigation into 1972 death of 19-year-old Indigenous woman

Ontario Provincial Police and the province’s chief coroner announced Tuesday they are reopening the investigation into what was called the “accidental” death of a 19-year-old Indigenous woman, Audrey Anderson, in Sioux Lookout, 46 years ago. 

“I think about this as the right thing, and we’re finding the truth in whatever way we can,” said Dr. Dirk Huyer.

According to her family, this picture of Audrey Anderson, 19, (left) along with her younger sister Norma was taken just a few weeks before she died in 1972. (OPP)

Anderson was last seen in a pickup truck in the company of two males, outside a cafe in Sioux Lookout, around 1:30 a.m. on October 11, 1972. 

Just a few hours later, her body was found at the side of Drayton Road, east of Highway 72, not far from the northwestern Ontario town.

Anderson’s death ruled ‘accidental’ in 1972

Police at the time investigated Anderson’s death as the result of a motor vehicle collision, said Det. Insp. Gilles Depratto of the OPP Criminal Investigation Branch.

During the questioning of the driver and male passenger, both of whom are still alive, “the information is that she has jumped out of the vehicle,” said Depratto.

Relatives of Audrey Anderson gather in Sioux Lookout on Oct. 23, 2018 to hear OPP explain why police are reexamining the young woman’s death in the community in 1972. (Jeff Walters/CBC )

But in December 2017, Anderson’s brothers and sisters used the Family Information Liaison Unit, established as part of the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, to approach police and request that the circumstances of her death be re-examined, he said.

The family’s perspective of what they’d heard at the time brought new insights as Depratto and Huyer began to look at the case.

Anderson died of multiple injuries to head, upper body

Based on the autopsy done in 1972, “this young woman died from multiple traumatic injuries, primarily to her head and upper body area,” said Huyer.

However, “what we’ve identified is that a number of the circumstances have raised some questions and I’ve changed the classification of the death from accidental to undetermined, which means that we have this as an open file,” he said.

Depratto was not willing to discuss whether Anderson was sexually assaulted, stating “that could be part of the evidence presented in court.”

Investigating a death, which happened nearly 50 years ago, is “very challenging,” said Huyer.

2 men ‘may have told family, friends’ what happened

Technology in the form of DNA collection or a black box in the truck to record its speed did not exist so the information was not collected. There are no autopsy photographs or official police photographs of the roadway to show the presence or absence of evidence such as skidmarks.

Still, Depratto believes that after nearly half-a-century someone knows something.

The OPP is appealing to anyone, who might have heard anything about the circumstances of Anderson’s death, or the last hours of her life, to share that information with them.

“The two male parties involved may have told friends, family, acquaintances of additional information that may be crucial to determining what really occurred. We hope that this appeal to the public will assist us in gathering the evidence we need to bring this to a successful conclusion,” said Depratto.

The OPP has established a tip line – (807)738-5926 – for any information in the Anderson case.

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