LEOVILLE, Sask. — Thirty years after a teenager and his adoptive grandmother vanished from their home in Chitek Lake, researchers excavated a site near Leoville that was rumoured to hold the answers to the decades-long unsolved disappearances.
Kevin Charles, who was 16 at the time of his disappearance, was originally from Little Red River Cree Nation, went missing on April 3, 1993 along with 67-year-old Mary Goodfellow from Pelican Lake First Nation. An investigation by RCMP into their disappearances went cold, and Charles and Goodfellow were never seen again.
RCMP attempted to reopen the case again in 2006. Two officers acting on a tip located an old well site that was believed to be an area of interest in the disappearances of Charles and Goodfellow. They taped it off, but two weeks later one of the officers involved in the investigation, Cst. Marc Bourdages, was killed in a shootout near Spiritwood.
Since then, the investigation has remained open.
Seventeen years later, family members never gave up hope that the pair would be found. A volunteer team of searchers went to the location of the old well in the spring of 2022, one of them being Elder and Knowledge Keeper Howard Halkett, Charles’ cousin. Halkett said the moment they found the well was very emotional.
“Kevin went missing in 1993 and my late uncle spent every year looking for him,” Halkett said. “He passed away four years ago. He’d be out in that area for two or three weeks at a time, every day, looking for signs or places where people told him they might be. Right up to the day he passed, he didn’t give up.”
In 2022, Halkett met historian and researcher Dave Rondeau by coincidence. Rondeau was working on a project out of Sturgeon Lake First Nation when Halkett approached him with Charles’ and Goodfellow’s story and asked if he would be able to help with their search.
“To hear the whole story coming from him, it touched my heart,” said Rondeau. “I was a bit shocked that the RCMP didn’t have the time or manpower to look into it, to see this case through.”
Rondeau got to work immediately, bringing with him Stantec Archaeologist Butch Amundson.
“We didn’t want anybody to know we were out there because once we started, we didn’t want anybody to mess with the area of interest,” said Rondeau. “I stayed out there. I had no cell service; it was a different experience. In my mind, I thought there was a high potential for human remains in there.”
The first step was figuring out a plan of methodology and putting together a proposal that was run by RCMP to get permission to launch an investigation.
On Sept. 27, 2022, Rondeau drove out to the area near Leoville and located the well, which wasn’t much more than an overgrown wet spot marked off with bits of old crime scene tape. Amundson joined him the following day, and they created a plan that involved clearing the entire area and surveying the location with a metal detector. After aerial photography using a drone was done to map the area, a ten-by-ten-metre grid was marked around the well and Rondeau got started hand excavating with a shovel.
Amundson estimated the well to be around 200 years old and believed it hadn’t been used for decades.
The search proved itself to be difficult, as the area would fill with water the further down Rondeau went. Using a pump and a generator, Rondeau and Amundson searched the well as thoroughly as possible, making sure to run everything through a quarter-inch mesh screen so nothing would be missed.
“We were able to see things that were as small as a quarter inch and that would include just about anything you can imagine,” said Amundson. “If human remains were in that well, the pieces would be much larger than that because it was 30 years ago. We would expect that the skeletal remains would be intact, and clothing would still be there.”
On Oct. 14, 2022, Rondeau and Amundson went as far as they could safely go. When they began hitting boulders that were too big to move by hand, Rondeau reached out to Big River First Nation and asked their leaders for help. A backhoe and some volunteers from the community were sent to the site for one day and a team of grad students and archaeologists from the University of Saskatchewan, including Terence Clark and Glenn Stuart, were rounded up to assist with the search.
Following the team of experts’ arrival, the excavation continued with the help of the donated backhoe and extra hands. An item of interest was discovered inside the well after several hours of digging, the toe rubber of an old shoe, and the search was shut down until RCMP was contacted, who encouraged them to continue until they found human remains.
The search went on and the bottom of the well was reached, but the team found no definite evidence that the bodies of Charles and Goodfellow were there.
Once Amundson arrived back at his lab and investigated the shoe, he discovered that the company that made it went out of business in 1943 and ruled it out as belonging to the missing individuals.
“At that point, we were able to say with confidence that there’s no evidence of people being disposed of around that well or in that well,” said Amundson.
Angela Lieverse’s area of expertise is identifying and interpreting archaeological human remains and was part of the team that assisted with the search.
“Despite working there all day, we didn’t find anything to suggest there had been bodies dumped down the well. There was no evidence of human remains,” said Lieverse. “I can say that I hope we can help the families and loved ones of Kevin and Mary find some closure.”
Amundson echoed Lieverse’s sentiments.
“This is their story, their community’s trauma, and I’m just there to help provide. I have the tools and the skill set to carefully excavate something like that and to provide a result,” said Amundson. “The only thing we were able to do is rule out for sure one of the possible locations.
Halkett said the only thing the family wants is to bring Charles and Goodfellow home.
“We’ve always hoped that we could bring our loved ones home and have a proper burial for them, to have a proper ceremony. That would give us peace of mind,” said Halkett. “Somebody out there knows what happened, but they’re just too scared to come forward. That’s what we would like to see.”