Edmonton police make arrest in 1996 murder of Joanne Ghostkeeper

DNA re-analysis leads to arrests.

Joanne Ghostkeeper

A 27-year-old murder case has led to first-degree murder charges in Alberta because of DNA re-analysis by the Edmonton Police Service (EPS).

Joanne Ghostkeeper, 24, was found deceased inside her apartment on Dec. 25, 1996, by police after her family was unable to contact her. Ghostkeeper was a mother of two.

Ghostkeeper was strangled by some sort of cord according to earlier media reports. An autopsy listed the manner of death as a homicide.

According to a news release by EPS “numerous exhibits were tested forensically over the years” without a match. But in October 2022 “the RCMP forensic laboratory re-examined the exhibits and a male DNA profile was generated.”

According to police, Brayan Boucher, 48 was arrested on June 14, 2023. A news release said that he was known to Ghostkeeper. He would have been 22 at the time of her death.

“Our hearts go out to Joanne’s family and friends. This was a tragic file that has plagued them with grief and unanswered questions for 27 years,” said Det. Kevin Harrison, with the EPS Historical Crimes Section in the release.

Ghostkeeper’s mother, Mary Willier, started a GoFundMe in 2018 asking people to donate to help her hire a private investigator to solve the case. Willer is from Sucker Cree First Nation though Ghostkeeper never lived there.

Willier said she was frustrated with what she felt was a lack of action by the police.

“We only want to be able to sleep without dreams tormenting us, I believe that the homicide department has given up on ever solving this mystery, therefore I would like to be able to further the investigation by hiring a private investigator of my own choosing,” Willer wrote for the GoFundMe page.

APTN News has reached out to Willer for comment about the arrests. GoFundMe is no longer accepting donations.

Keeping track of murdered women

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) tracks data points on murdered or missing Indigenous women through an interactive map.  NWAC has documented 1,300 cases, with the earliest suspicious death case from 1929.

Data from Statistics Canada in 2021 shows that Indigenous women make up 24 per cent of the female homicide victims in Canada, a stat that has stayed roughly the same for a decade.

“The homicide rate for Indigenous women was more than five times higher than that of non-Indigenous women,” said the Statistics Canada website.

Data: Statistics Canada, 2021

Alberta has the second-highest homicide rate of Indigenous people in the country.

“Thanks to the tenacity of the forensic specialists at the RCMP lab and the EPS investigative team, we have at long last been able to provide some answers to those questions, and hopefully some degree of closure for her loved ones,” said Harrison.

Boucher’s DNA profile is now in the national data bank, and will be referenced against other historical forensic files.

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