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First Nation woman survives ride with 'The Truck Stop Killer'

If there is such a thing as an ideal profession for a serial killer, it may well be as a long-haul truck driver: FBI

Update: In October, contacted the FBI to verify whether or not they confirmed the photo was indeed Pam Milliken. The FBI Office of Public Affairs responded by email, saying, “Please file a FOIA request for information on this case.” After filing a FOIA request, received a letter from the FBI in November. The letter stated, "The FOIA does not require federal agencies to answer inquiries, create records, conduct research, or draw conclusions concerning queried data." The FBI letter said could request the information through a different route or, alternatively, appeal that decision, which we are in the process of doing. 

THUNDERCHILD FIRST NATION – A white flat-nose semi-truck screeched to a halt on the Trans-Canada Highway near the sleepy town of Whitewood east of Regina to pick up a runaway teen.

Pretty 17-year-old Pamela Milliken struggled to lift her 75-pound bag onto the seat as she climbed out of the evening’s darkness and into the cab of the truck.

“He grabbed it like it was nothing with just one arm and put it in the back seat and I looked at him like ‘holy crap man.’

“I sat down and he said ‘my name is Robert,” and I said ‘Well, I’m Pam and I’m heading out to Winnipeg” and he said ‘pleased to meet you.’

“Then he took my picture,” recalled Milliken of the ride she hitched in the spring of 1985.

She looked at him and asked, “What was that for?”

He replied, “Well if you’re gonna rip me off at least I got a picture I can give to the police.”

The long-haul truck driver had no intention of giving the photo to the police. Instead, Milliken's photo was one of his "trophies" that the FBI discovered on the “Truck Stop Killer” Robert Rhoades’ possession when they arrested him. They found Milliken’s photo and a photo of 15-year-old Regina Kay Walters whose body was found in the loft of a barn in southern Illinois in September 1990. Walters was hitchhiking with her boyfriend Ricky Lee Jones. He was killed before Walters but his body wasn’t found until 1991 in Austin, Texas.

Former FBI agent Mark Young gave Vanessa Veselka the photo of an unidentified teenager that was on serial killer Rhoades’ posession and Veselka included the photo in her 2012 GQ article about serial killers. In 2019, reporter Holly Moore from APTN Investigates broke the story in Canada that Pamela Milliken was believed to be the unidentified teen pictured in the photo.

Authorities believe Rhoades raped, tortured, and murdered more than 50 women across the United States between 1975 and 1990. His murder spree was finally stopped in April 1990 when an Arizona state trooper arrested Rhoades after he discovered a terrified woman chained in the back of his semi-truck cab.

“If there is such a thing as an ideal profession for a serial killer, it may well be as a long-haul truck driver,” said the FBI in 2004 when they announced their Highway Serial Killings initiative to raise awareness among law enforcement and the public about highway serial killers.

Since the FBI’s Highway Serial Killings Initiative began, by 2016 ViCAP analysts compiled a list of more than 750 murder victims found along or near U.S. highways, as well as nearly 450 potential suspects. The FBI said the victims are primarily women living high-risk, transient lifestyles who wouldn’t be missed if they disappeared and the suspects are predominantly long-haul truck drivers. The women are sexually assaulted, murdered, and dumped along highways.

The road that led Milliken to a serial killer

Warning: Readers may find some details disturbing

Milliken was raised on Thunderchild First Nation until she was taken away by child protective services when she was 18 months old. From there, she went into foster care where she was sexually, physically, and emotionally abused.

Then, when she was five years old, things changed after a U of S staff member and his wife came into her life.

The small five-year-old girl sat alone on a wooden chair in what seemed to her to be a long hallway. Her messy hair was cut choppy and she was missing her front teeth.

“I was watching him coming down the hallway, this tall man, I could only see a silhouette.”

He looked down at her and said, “Pammy.”

“Yeah,” she responded.

“Are you ready to come home?”

The child who was now accustomed to being bounced around from foster home to foster home, asked, “For how long?”

“Forever,” he replied.

“I looked at him, and I looked at the floor and down the hallway and back at him,” recalled Milliken.

“Forever is a long, long time,” the five-year-old said looking up at the tall man.

“Yes, forever is a long, long time,” he replied.

“I grabbed my suitcase and I got my teddy bear and we walked out of that four-storey welfare building in Battleford,” said Milliken.

As the little girl walked away from the building hand-in-hand with the tall stranger, she looked back and said, “That’s the biggest building I’ve ever seen.”

The stranger looked down at her and smiled.

“Well, where you’re going there are buildings 10 times bigger than that,” he said.

Milliken settled into a routine and home life in Prince Albert with an educated and affluent family. They worked hard to bring her out of her shell and help her heal from the trauma stemming from her childhood experiences.

Milliken described her adoptive father Marin John Balabuck as a “really good guy” and when he died of cancer she said, “That was a killer for me.”

Her adoptive mother remarried a Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench judge who also adopted her and Milliken said she “butted heads” with him.

She started to long to be with First Nations people. Her adoptive mother wouldn’t let her learn about her Indigenous heritage or allow her to bring Indigenous friends home.

“She stuck up her nose to them," said Milliken.

Feeling alone and unwanted, she ran away at 13 and started hitchhiking. She ended up staying with her biological family on Thunderchild First Nation and found herself torn between two worlds, not fitting into either. She saw things happening on the First Nation that bothered her and she tried to stand up for some children who were being abused.

Facing difficulties on Thunderchild First Nation, Milliken escaped the only way she knew how, by hitchhiking.

The ride to Winnipeg

When serial killer Robert Ben Rhoades picked up Milliken in 1985, she was on her way to Winnipeg to visit a biological brother she had not seen since she was 18 months old.

About two hours into the drive, the long-haul truck driver looked at Milliken and said, “You look like you’re 13.”

During the trip, Milliken said the long-haul truck driver who said he was headed to Florida, complained about his wife, gave her beer, and got her to sit on his lap and drive the semi.

Eventually, he pointed to a sign in his truck that said, “Cash, grass or ass  - no one rides for free.”

That was about two in the morning and the semi-truck was traveling on a deserted stretch of highway.

“There were no vehicles and it was in the middle of the night,” said Milliken. “I didn’t have any money and I didn’t do drugs so we had consensual sex.”

Being in the middle of nowhere, Milliken said she didn’t know if he was going to throw her out in “the dark in a wooded stretch" of the Trans Canada Highway.

“What if I did say no,” she added. “Would he have kept me, tortured and chained me up, and kept me for weeks or months. Would he have killed me or kept me, sold me? I don’t know."

Before having consensual sex, Milliken told him to place a towel on the bed first to keep his sheets clean. Dutifully, he retrieved a white towel and placed it on the bed.

According to a 1996 story in the Tucson Weekly, reporter Karen Brandel said that FBI agents retrieved a bunch of white towels from Rhoades apartment, “one of which was saturated with blood.” Rhoades liked his white towels and forced his victims to place a white towel beneath them before he tortured them.

“All the girls that he killed he always had a white towel,” said Milliken, adding when she discovered that, “it really freaked me out."

In the morning they pulled up to a truck stop and the long-haul trucker offered to buy her breakfast. She asked for a sandwich and pop.

He also kept asking the teen to travel with him to Florida.

“He asked me twice, ‘why don't you come with me to Florida?’ He said he was going down to Florida, picking up a load and then coming back to Edmonton.”

Once they arrived in Winnipeg he told her he could sleep for a couple of hours and wait for her while she visited her brother and then she could continue with him to Florida.

“I said 'I don't plan on staying for a couple of hours.' I said 'I plan on staying for six months.'”

Milliken believes part of the reason Rhoades didn’t kill her is that she told him that her dad was a judge and her family was waiting for her to call once she arrived at her destination.

“I’m supposed to phone home collect and I’m supposed to call my brother when I get to Winnipeg,” Milliken told the long-haul trucker.

Reluctantly, he dropped her off at the bus depot but before driving away he looked at her and cautioned, “Don’t talk to strangers.”

Now, the question why did he spare her life haunts her. wrote a letter to Rhoades and sent it to him at the Menard Correctional Centre in Illinois asking him questions, including why did he spare Milliken’s life. If Rhoades agrees to answer the questions, it has to be approved by the correctional centre. 

The woman in the photo

Milliken said she saw her photo being circulated on Facebook in 2015 asking if anyone recognized the unidentified woman in the photo that “The Truck Stop Killer” had in his possession.

She said she recognized herself in the photo and wanted it taken down but didn’t have any photos of herself at that age to prove she was the unidentified woman.

She Googled the serial killer named with her photo that was circulating.

“I recognized him. There’s a picture of him wearing a brown cowboy button-up shirt with his glasses and his hair was the same. But the day I met him he was wearing a baby blue shirt.”

Four years later when she was at her niece’s house she came across a photo of herself at the age of 18. The similarity was striking. With photo in hand to prove her claim, Milliken contacted the FBI and left a message. They called her back within an hour and a half and said they were sending the RCMP from St. Paul to her home in Alberta to take her statement and her photo.

“They took my statement and I told them everything I knew.”

She said the FBI never confirmed with her whether they identified her from the photo or not but she said soon after the RCMP visit to her home the photo was taken down from the FBI website and the RCMP confirmed with her that she was the woman in the photo found in the serial killer's possession. reached out to the Alberta RCMP to confirm whether the FBI had officers from the St. Paul detachment go to her home in Alberta to take her photo and statement. They didn't immediately respond. contacted the FBI to verify whether or not they confirmed the photo was indeed Milliken. The FBI Office of Public Affairs responded, saying, “Please file a FOIA request for information on this case.” is in the process of filing the FOIA.

A life of purpose

Milliken was born in St. Walburg and is back living on Thunderchild First Nation and has had the opportunity to speak with youth in Yellowknife about the dangers of hitchhiking. She wants to become a motivational speaker and share her life experiences with youth in the hopes they will make better choices.

She became a heavyweight boxer for Thunderchild First Nation and boxed in the Battlefords. In addition, she said she is the first Indigenous woman to become a certified firearms instructor in Canada. She is an amateur photographer, obtained her heavy equipment ticket, and lived off the grid for four years hunting and fishing.

She is active in her community advocating for better treatment of Indigenous women and speaking out against drug abuse.

Milliken recently tried her hand at politics and ran for chief of Thunderchild First Nation in October. Her adoptive father, the retired judge, supported her efforts providing her with a vehicle and helping fund her campaign.

This year she participated in Krista’s kilometres for MMIW. In August she was in Ottawa for the raising of the Residential School flag ceremony and reading of the names of missing and murdered Indigenous women and had her photo taken with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

Looking back, Milliken realizes she came too close to becoming a MMIW.

“After I did my own research on him, I was like ‘holy crap, I could have been dead.’”

Story corrected to say Milliken grew up in Prince Albert.

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