The Disappearance of Charlene Catholique

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EARLY LIFE:

Charlene Catholique was born on June 23, 1975 into the Łútselk’e First Nation, a fly-in Dene community located on the eastern arm of Great Slave Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Unfortunately, her mother died of cancer when she was just 12 years old, so Charlene was primarily raised by her father, Joe, and her grandmother.

According to those who knew her, Charlene was a quiet and friendly girl who was especially close to her aunt, Anne Catholique. The two were able to talk as if they were young friends, and Anne has shared that her niece was very supportive of her when her partner passed away in 1987. When not with family, Charlene was like most teenagers her age, with a love for watching cartoons before school and playing games with others in her grade.

Joe has shared that Charlene would sometimes mention that she felt scared, but was never able to explain to him why.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

In mid-July 1990, Charlene travelled to Yellowknife in order to attend the Dene National Assembly in Dettah, Northwest Territories. Once it was complete, she is said to have then went to Fort Rae (now known as Behchokǫ̀) on July 18, where she stayed for a few days.

DISAPPEARANCE:

Charlene was last seen in July 22, 1990 while looking to hitchhike a ride back to Yellowknife. According to an acquaintance, they had last saw her at the intersection of Highway 3 and Rae Access Road (now known as Behchokǫ̀ Access Road), approximately 100km northwest of Yellowknife. They had told Charlene to stay put while they briefly left, but upon their return they found she had disappeared.

SEARCH:

According to an article published in the Edmonton Journal in December 1990, Charlene had met up with some fellow teenagers from Fort Rae. However, the validity of these claims is unknown.

Wanting to find his daughter, Joe used his own funds to progress the search. He travelled to the United States, visiting five states, where he created and put up missing persons posters, featuring Charlene’s image and description.

It’s said that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police initially had a suspect in the case, but nothing ever came of this development.

On June 9, 2017, the Northwest Territories Supreme Court issued an order, stating it had reasonable grounds to presume Charlene was deceased. As a result, she is no longer considered a missing person and her case is being investigated as a possible homicide.

In May 2019, Charlene was featured in a week-long campaign the RCMP used to highlight missing children on its missing persons website.

The public was reminded of the case in July 2020, when the RCMP’s Historical Case Unit, which has since taken over the investigation, sent out a public notice saying the file was still open and active. The unit looks to investigate cases of historical homicide and suspicious death, as well as long-term missing persons cases, within the Northwest Territories. This resulted in a few tips being called in.

In September 2020, the Historical Case Unit, with the help of the Forensic Identification Section and the Major Crimes Unit searched an area of interest near Behchokǫ̀. Charlene’s family and those within the community leadership of the hamlet were notified of the operation.

According to investigators, foul play is suspected in the case, given the amount of time that has passed. While the RCMP has reiterated the investigation is active and ongoing, the Catholique family has been critical, saying they haven’t been contacted about the case since 2008. Joe eventually gave up trying to get investigators to take the case seriously, before eventually giving up on the endeavour. His grievances were shared by Anne and two more of Charlene’s aunts, Doris and Lorraine Catholique, who have publicly stated they feel the organization isn’t doing its job. Despite the frustration, Lorraine has diligently kept on top of the file and has spoken numerous times with investigators.

The RCMP state’s that its mandate is to keep a missing persons file active until the individual reaches the age of 110, unless their date of birth is unknown. If that’s the case, the file is kept open until the presumed age of 92.

AFTERMATH:

Joe has since passed away. According to Anne, he was in constant pain over not knowing what happened to his daughter.

The Catholique family participated in Canada’s national inquiry into the county’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. They attended the hearings held in Yellowknife in January 2018.

In October 2018, Charlene was one of the Indigenous women honoured at the Sisters In Spirit vigil held in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Charlene Catholique went missing from the intersection of Highway 3 and Rae Access Road (now Bohchokǫ̀ Access Road) in the Northwest Territories on July 22, 1990. She was 15 years old, and she was last seen wearing a neon pink cotton sweatshirt, a pair of acid-washed blue jeans, a nylon blue jacket with white sleeves, and a pair of white running shoes. At the time of her disappearance, she had a slender build, standing between 5’5″ and 5’6″ and weighing approximately 125 to 126 pounds. She had short black hair and brown eyes. Her ears are pierced, and she had facial acne at the time.

Currently, the case is classified as endangered missing, with foul play suspected. If alive, she would be 45 years old.

Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the Behchokǫ̀ detachment of the RCMP at either 867-669-5235, 867-669-5236, 867-669-5237 or 867-669-1111. Those wishing to remain anonymous can submit tips via Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Image Credit: RCMP

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