Leah Anderson, of the Cree community of Gods Lake Narrows in Northern Manitoba, was known as a vibrant 15 year old. Despite she and her sisters having a difficult start in life, she remained resilient and tried her best to have a positive outlook on life.
The foster care system was a constant in Leah’s life during her childhood. After her father, Gilbert Duke, was murdered in 2003, her mother, Sally Anderson, struggled to cope with the grief and fell into addiction. At the time, the family was living in Thompson, Manitoba. Eventually, the city’s child welfare service got involved, placing the four children into foster care. In total, they resided in 13 different foster homes. In order to free the children from the situation, their aunt and uncle, Myra Anderson and Wayne Okemow, stepped in to help. In 2005, they were allowed to move into their home in Gods Lake Narrows, a town of about 1,300 people that’s only accessible by ice road in the winter or by air.
Leah came into her own upon moving in with her relatives. She was very involved in her community and her Cree heritage, having been picked to be a youth chief. Her trusting nature meant she knew everyone in Gods Lake Narrows, and she was known to always put others before herself. She also had her sights set on the future. She was very artistic and was a natural when it came to dancing, singing and skating, and she hoped to one day study art at the University of Winnipeg.
LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:
Leah was last seen by her aunt and uncle at around 7:30pm on January 4, 2013. She’d initially had plans to go skating with friends at the local arena, as it was her last weekend at home before she was to head back to school at Frontier Collegiate Institute in Cranberry Portage, Manitoba. Her friends eventually cancelled the outing, but Leah decided to head out anyway, this according to a text she sent to another friend. Before leaving the house, her uncle reminded her that she needed to return home before curfew.
Not long after Leah left, one of her friends came by the house. However, the two did not cross paths while on the way to their respective destinations.
DISAPPEARANCE & MURDER:
That night, Leah didn’t return home. At first, her aunt and uncle weren’t too worried, as they assumed she’d decided to spend the night at a friend’s house. However, she didn’t arrive home the next day, nor called to inform them of her whereabouts, which led them to suspect something was wrong. It was then that the community as a whole banded together to search for the now missing teenager.
On January 6, 2013, her family heard a radio report about a body being found near a snowmobile trail on the reserve. It was later confirmed to be Leah’s after police conducted a community headcount and found her to be the only one missing. She still had her skates with her, and her sister was able to identify them and the bag she’d been carrying with her the night she disappeared.
According to reports, she was located along the trail around 10:00am that morning. Her body was so badly disfigured that, initially, it was believed she’d fell victim to wolves or wild dogs. However, upon further examination, it was found she’d actually been beaten – meaning she was the victim of a homicide. There were defensive wounds on the body, meaning Leah had fought against her killer, and some animal activity was observed.
It’s believed she died before 10:00pm on the night of January 4, with her killer dumping her body along the trail.
On the weekend Leah was murdered, the ice road that leads to Gods Lake Narrows was closed, which indicated to investigators with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that her killer was likely someone within the community. At the time, there were only 285 homes on the reserve, which suggested to most that this would be an open and shut investigation. However, that wouldn’t be the case. After a few days, investigators left, returning sporadically over the years.
Leah’s family believes whoever murdered her could have come from outside the reserve, given where her body was found. It’s common for people to smuggle alcohol into the legally dry community via snowmobile, meaning her killer could have been someone with access to a snow machine. This is a detail they believe could have helped the RCMP narrow their search for suspects.
Her family worries that much of the evidence surrounding the murder may have been missed or covered up, as the area had experienced heavy snow on the day her body was found.
Leah’s blood and toxicology were sent away for analysis and showed she had no alcohol or illicit drugs in her system at the time of her death.
A rumour began to spread around the community, saying Leah had attended a house party on the night she disappeared, hosted by a local girl named Josephine Bee. The rumour also noted that Leah’s boyfriend, Max Chubb, had gone looking for her at the home, but hadn’t been allowed to enter, as it was a “girls-only” party. Josephine denies Leah was in attendance.
Another rumour involves Max’s cousin and Josephine’s brother, Steven Chubb. In a story that has been confirmed by Leah’s cousin, Destiny Anderson, Steven admitted to an unidentified woman that he’d killed someone, but refused to name the individual. He’d also sent Leah a Facebook message the morning after she disappeared. As a result, Steven was brought in for questioning by the RCMP twice and was administered a lie detector test, which he passed. During these interrogations, Steven shared that he and Leah had been in a secret relationship that ended a few months prior.
In April 2013, the community offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.
The RCMP returned to Gods Lake Narrows to obtain DNA samples from community members, many of whom submitted theirs voluntarily. A sample was taken from Steven, who hopes the results will clear him of suspicion. In 2019, it was revealed that swabs taken from Leah’s clothing and body showed a male DNA profile. Investigators have also turned to social media numerous times throughout the years in order to try and stir up new leads that may help solve the case.
In April 2016, Leah’s family and that of another murdered woman, 22-year-old Krystal Andrews, protested outside of the RCMP’s headquarters in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They were upset over the slow progress in both cases and wanted justice to be served. Just under two years later, in March 2018, 37-year-old Michael William Okemow was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in relation to Krystal’s case.
An unnamed 23-year-old man was arrested in connection to Leah’s case in 2017, in a move the RCMP called “significant”. However, he was released the next day without being charged. While the reasons for his release have never been revealed, investigators say he still remains a suspect.
A list of suspects has been assembled by the RCMP and has been narrowed down with help of the Gods Lake Narrows community. Several suspects came to forefront immediately, but were ruled out through various investigative avenues. Police have said that Leah’s killer was known to her, meaning she would have trusted and been comfortable with him.
The RCMP says the investigation is ongoing, but aren’t able to share much with the public, given its ongoing nature. However, they have said they’ve conducted over 270 interviews. Leah’s aunt has grown frustrated with investigators, saying the only contact she has with them is when she contacts them directly. This frustration is shared by many within the family.
There is currently a $11,000 reward being offered in the case.
In 2015, Leah’s sister, Tiffany, and another of her aunts, Josie Stevenson, organized a nearly-800km annual walk from Gods Lake Narrows to Winnipeg to help raise awareness about the case. They made four stops along the way, in Ponton, Grand Rapids, Fairford and Winnipeg. That same year, a group of nearly 40 individuals walked from Thompson to Winnipeg to call for a renewed inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Tiffany has since given birth to a daughter, whom she named Leah.
In 2020, Leah’s story was the incubus for a documentary theatre production called God’s Lake. The piece shows the complex issues those living within remote Indigenous communities face – such as problems with policing, education, child and family services, and overall safety – along with the strength they show in the face of tragedy. The production is performed by those from her community, with four actors delivering monologues for 24 different characters.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the Winnipeg detachment of the RCMP at 204-983-5420. Those wishing to remain anonymous can do so by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
Image Credit: CBC