‘Don’t give up hope’: After 40 years, the family of Shirley Soosay gets to say goodbye


Violet Soosay says she began looking for her aunt as a young woman in the 1980s – and grew old as the search stretched out over the years.

But now, after four decades, family and friends of Shirley Soosay finally got to say their goodbyes.

“Most of all today is relief that I’m able to ensure the promise I made to my grandmother, who is the matriarch on my father’s side that to find her and bring her home,” said Violet.

“This is the final step. Bringing her home is today, today is that final step.”

Soosay’s body was found in an almond orchard in California in 1980. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed to death.

Shirley Soosay
Violet Soosay at the service for her aunt, Shirley Soosay. Photo: Chris Stewart/APTN.

But with no identification, she was listed as a Jane Doe and buried.

According to Violet, her aunt was a traveller. She had moved from the Samson Cree Nation south of Edmonton to British Columbia.

She told her family she might visit a friend in Seattle. The last time family heard from her was in 1979. The Christmas cards just stopped coming.

Violet began looking for her aunt and made numerous trips to B.C. looking in morgues and hostels for her missing aunt. She came up empty.

In 2020, Violet saw a Facebook post by a non-profit called the DNA Doe Project.

Its goal is to find the identities of Jane and John Does.

Since its inception in 2017, the organization has identified more than 80 unidentified persons. With DNA, they located a Jane Doe to the prairies in Canada.

Violet reached out and they were able to confirm that Jane Doe #5 Kern County, was her aunt Shirley.

In 2012, Wilson Chouest was convicted of murdering Shirley, and another woman who still hasn’t been identified.


Read More: 

‘Jane Doe’ in Kern, California identified as Cree woman missing since 1980s


On May 27 her remains were brought back home to the Samson Cree Nation for a wake and funeral.

“It’s no more not knowing – it’s no more uncertainties,” said Violet. “We are certain she is home now and we are certain that we can visit her gravesite, even though spiritually, she is already with the creator and our ancestors.

“We know that.”

Shirley Soosay
The procession that escorted Shirley Soosay and her family. Photo: Chris Stewart/APTN.

The funeral for Shirley Soosay was held on May 28.

Violet said that finding her aunt after 40 years means anything is possible.

“We lose a lot of our young men, women and girls… Don’t give up, because there is hope. If I can do if after 40 years… that’s a message, don’t give up because there is hope.”

Video Journalist / Edmonton

Chris Stewart has been in the media for 20 years. He has worked at CBC, Global and CTV as a news camera operator and editor. Chris joined APTN in 2012 in the Saskatoon Bureau and moved to APTN Edmonton bureau in 2015 as a Videojournalist.