WINNIPEG - A joint police squad tasked with solving cold cases of missing and murdered women in Manitoba has arrested a man in the slaying of a woman almost eight years ago.
The arrest has reignited calls for a national inquiry into why almost 1,200 aboriginal women have been murdered or disappeared.
The remains of Myrna Letandre were found in May 2013 in a Winnipeg rooming house — almost seven years after she was reported missing by her sister.
Investigators with Project Devote, a unit made up of RCMP and Winnipeg police officers, took Traigo Andretti into custody in British Columbia and charged him with second-degree murder. Police said Monday the 38-year-old, who was convicted in the first-degree murder of his wife in British Columbia in April, was being brought back to Winnipeg to face the charges.
Winnipeg police Supt. Danny Smyth said investigators worked with the Vancouver homicide unit and waited for them to complete their investigation before bringing their own charges in the Manitoba case.
"The charges brought forth here today are a result of careful investigation and the gathering of evidence. The collective efforts of Project Devote team members and really all those involved in the investigation demonstrates a commitment to bring this matter to justice," Smyth said at a news conference.
"Our thoughts go out to Ms. Letandre's family members who have suffered an overwhelming loss."
The RCMP recently released a report estimating there have been 1,181 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women since 1980. The majority — 1,017 — were murdered, while 164 were reported missing. Police say 59 missing women cases have been solved, leaving the whereabouts of 105 women still unknown. Most of the murders have been solved, say RCMP, but 120 remain unsolved.
Grand Chief David Harper, who represents Manitoba's northern First Nations, said an arrest in Letandre's case may bring some closure to her family, but there are hundreds more looking for answers.
"We heard of the missing school girls in Africa and there was a public outcry," Harper said. "Here we have over 1,000 and still no call for a missing and murdered women national inquiry."
Dennis Whitebird, political liaison with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, criticized police who he said don't work in partnership with aboriginal leaders. Derek Nepinak, the assembly's grand chief, was not able to attend Monday's news conference because he wasn't given enough notice, Whitebird said.
"That's the kind of relationship we currently have with law enforcement. We're invited to come and make the report look good," he said.
"In 1492, when Columbus came here, he didn't bring any women. And what happened? Our First Nation women were targets and they're still targets today. I'm getting really angry as I'm speaking and I apologize for that."
Letandre, who was 37, was originally from Pinaymootang (Fairford) First Nation in Manitoba's Interlake area. Police said she was in a relationship with Andretti, also known as Dylan Harold Grubb, before she vanished. They said Andretti was questioned at the time of Letandre's disappearance.
Andretti was given a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 25 years in April after admitting to the first-degree murder of his wife, Jennifer McPherson, who was also a longtime Winnipeg resident.
Police discovered the scattered remains of McPherson on a remote island near Alert Bay, off the east coast of Vancouver Island, last spring. She had been reported missing from Hanson Island, B.C., on May 1, 2013.
The couple had been living there as caretakers of a remote fishing resort called the Pacific Outback Resort.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Andretti was convicted of his wife's murder in May.
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