Mary Ann Birmingham was born in Iqaluit, Nunavut, where she grew up with her mother, Sarah Birmingham, and her many siblings, including former Iqaluit mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik. According to those who knew her, she was a friendly and personable individual who was known for her beauty.
She was just 15 years old when she was murdered.
On May 26, 1986, Mary Ann was found stabbed to death in the family home by her sister, Barbara Sevigny. At the time of her murder, the teen was home alone. Her mother and other family members were in Montreal, as her brother, Lyte Birmingham, was undergoing cancer treatment.
Barbara had flown back to Iqaluit early and arrived in the city on the morning Mary Ann’s body was discovered.
Following Mary Ann’s murder, members of the local community put up a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. For months, local newspaper Nunatsiaq News donated space in its pages to advertise the reward. Unfortunately, investigators never found enough evidence to identify the culprit or lay any charges.
In the fall of 1986, police arrested and charged a man named Jopie Atsqtaq for murdering his mother, Oolayou Eyesiak, and Pootoogoo Eyesiak with a kitchen knife. Due to the similarities between those murders and that of Mary Ann, many Iqaluit residents believed Atsqtaq was responsible for her death as well. While police later charged him with her murder, a preliminary inquiry found there was insufficient evidence to bring the case to trial. In a letter to Nunatsiaq News, Atsqtaq admitted to killing Oolayou and Pootoogoo, but denied responsibility for Mary Ann’s murder.
For the murders of Pootoogoo and Oolayou, he was sentenced to life in prison, with the eligibility of parole after 10 years. He has never received parole and continues to serve his sentence at a federal penitentiary.
In May 2017, Elisapee and the authorities released a public plea for information in the case, with Elisapee saying, “If anyone out there has any ounce of information, they need to come forward with what they know. If we can get some kind of resolution, I think it would ease our suffering a little.”
According to police, the case is still active and being investigated by the Major Crimes Unit of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Barbara claims she only started receiving updates about the case in 2018/2019.
Even though she is no longer the mayor of Iqaluit, Elisapee continues to be active in the community. Barbara is now a counsellor with Tungasuvvingat Inuit in Ottawa, Ontario.
In February 2015, Elisapee attended the National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Ottawa, where she correlated high police turnover in the territories as one of the reasons these cases aren’t investigated properly. To rectify the problem, she said she’d like to see the federal government offer better funding to the north’s police services and introduce initiatives to combat underlying issues.
Mary Ann’s mother shared her story for the first time during the public inquiry into Canada’s Missing and Murder Indigenous Women and Girls.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the Iqaluit detachment of the RCMP at 1-867-979-0123. Tips can also be called in anonymously via Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
Image Credit: RCMP/CBC