Northern Manitoba community seeks answers to unsolved murders

·6 min read

More than 700 kilometers north of Winnipeg sits a small community that many who have never been to may know only for its isolated location and subarctic winter temperatures.

But over the last few decades the city of Thompson has also become known for things far more sinister -– crime, violence, and murder cases that have never been solved.

Thompson, a city of about 13,500 residents, sits along the Burntwood River, 761 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Originally founded in 1956 as a mining town, Thompson is now referred to as the "Hub of the North," offering much-needed services in the area like health care and retail sales.

But 35 years ago, Thompson became known for what was and is one of the most high profile murder cases ever in this province, and one that police have never been able to solve.

Kerrie Ann Brown was just 15-years-old on the evening of Oct. 16, 1986 when she went to a house party in Thompson with her close friend Nicole Zahorodny.

When Brown became upset after seeing her ex-boyfriend talking to another girl, she decided it was time to leave the party.

Brown and Zahorodny decided they would leave together, but once they got outside Zahorodny realized she forgot her purse, and told Brown she was going to run back in and get it.

When she came back outside, Brown was gone and Zahorodny would never see her friend again.

Two days later, Brown’s bludgeoned body was found on the outskirts of Thompson.

An arrest came quickly, as a 22-year-old man was arrested and charged with first-degree murder less than a week after Brown’s death.

A judge stayed the charges in early 1987, however, citing a lack of evidence, and to this day the case has never been solved.

And while the case of Brown may be the most high profile cold case out of Thompson, there are other unsolved murders that continue to haunt the city, including the case of a single mother who was killed while working to make money so she could afford to give her family and her only son a nice Christmas.

Lissa Chaboyer, 35, of Thompson was known to take a second job driving a taxi in the months leading up to Christmas every year, as a way to earn extra cash.

On Nov. 26, 2005, Chaboyer was driving a cab when she was dispatched to a fare at the Thompson Arena just after midnight. Not long after she called her dispatcher to say she was headed to the Ramada-Burntwood Hotel in Thompson.

That was the last anyone ever heard from Chaboyer, as RCMP believe that at around 12:30 a.m. that morning she was driving in her cab with more than one passenger when she drove behind the Thompson City Centre Mall.

She was attacked, stabbed, and left to die on the cold, dark parking lot behind the mall. The case remains cold.

One cold case in Thompson involves the case of a man being killed in his very own home in the wee hours of the morning after waking up to a noise.

On Oct. 25, 2007, Bernie Carlson and his wife Elva were asleep in bed when they were awoken to the sound of their dog barking.

Carlson went to see what was going on, but moments after gunshots rang out and he was shot dead.

Police have said that when they got to the home they found the front door had been forced open, and Carlson was lying dead on the floor, while his wife hid in the bedroom not sure if an armed man was still in the house and coming for her next.

Like Brown and Chaboyer’s case, this case also remains cold.

Another case of murder in the city involves a man walking to his house after a night out, but never making it home.

Jason Nunn was 25-years-old on the night of April 23, 2011 and spending a night out with friends at the Element Restaurant and Lounge in Thompson.

Nunn, who was living at his parents' home in Thompson, and training to be a mine refinery worker at the time, left the establishment around 2:30 a.m. on April 24.

Nunn never made it home, as around 6:20 a.m. RCMP got a call of a lifeless body lying on the road, a body that turned out to be Nunn’s. Nunn was dead, and police deemed that he had been beaten to death. There has never been an arrest in the case.

And along with cold cases, Thompson has also become known over the last few years for the issue of violent crime, as the city has consistently ranked among the top communities in all of Canada for rates of violent crime per capita.

The city’s mayor Colleen Smook, who has lived in Thompson for 43 years, said it does bother her and others in town that the community has become known for less than desirable reasons, but she also says there is more to those statistics.

“Our crime numbers are high because they are based on a community of 13,500, while we are a hub for 55,000 people,” Smook said.

“When we look at the stats of actual crimes committed, most offences are committed and happen to persons without a Thompson address.”

She said Thompson city council works closely with local RCMP to help fight crime in the area, and they have adopted proactive methods recently to try and prevent crimes before they happen.

“There’s more to crime and safety than meets the eye,” Smook said. “For a few years youth crime and mischief, along with youth exploitation was rampant. We lobbied the province and they supported Street Reach which has seen a huge turnaround in youth statistics.”

Established in 2019, the Street Reach program works to help children and youth to get out of high-risk situations, and prevent them from being sexually assaulted or exploited.

And as Smook and others work to keep crime off the streets of Thompson, she said she hopes that one day those who have lost loved ones to unsolved murders will finally get some answers.

“Carrie Brown was a young teenager leaving a party and many of her friends still live here, Lissa Chaboyer left behind a young son and parents that still suffer to this day, and the Carlson and Nunn murders left many in this community shattered,” Smook said.

“We definitely need cold cases resolved.”

Anyone with information on any unsolved killing in Manitoba can call the RCMP Historical Crime Unit at 204-983-6880, or call Manitoba Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.

Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada..

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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