Connie Walker: A quick warning before we start the show. This series contains descriptions of adult subject matter, including details of violence and trauma. Please take care while listening.
Connie: So much of work—and really my life—is spent immersed in the lives of women that I can never meet. Women who have been stolen from their families and communities. Women whose lives have been cut short, but who I imagine still need justice.
Connie: The first woman whose story haunted me was named Pamela George. I was in high school when I first heard about Pamela. She was a Saulteaux woman from the Sakimay First Nation not far from my own reserve in southern Saskatchewan. Pamela was a single mom with two young kids. In April, 1995, she was killed. And because the two men who were charged with her murder were young white university students, their trial dominated headlines in Canada.
Connie: News reports described Alex Ternowetsky and Steven Kummerfield's charmed lives. One was a basketball star, the other a hockey standout, but the only thing I remember from the headlines about Pamela was that they called her an "Aboriginal prostitute." I remember reading how the two men were out drinking one night in Regina, and how one of them hid in the trunk when they picked up Pamela. They took her to the outskirts of the city, sexually assaulted her and beat her. They left her in the ditch where her body was found the next day.
Connie: I read about how they bragged about it to one of their friends. They said, "We drove around, got drunk and killed this chick. She deserved it. She was Indian."
Connie: They were both acquitted of Pamela George's murder and convicted of manslaughter. They were sentenced to six and a half years each, but actually served less than four. I remember feeling outraged, sad, even hopeless when the verdict was announced, as I'm sure every other Indigenous woman and girl in the province did. Not only because of how the justice system devalued Pamela's life, but because of what the judge, jury, media and society's acceptance of this injustice said about how they valued our lives.
Connie: We didn't hear about how Pamela was a mother, daughter, sister, auntie. How her life was taken from her children, her family and her community. And how her death is part of a history of violence against Indigenous women that goes back 500 years, to when the land we're all standing on now was stolen.
Connie: It was the first time I thought about becoming a journalist. But it would be almost two decades before I got the green light to report on women like Pamela. The first story I covered was the unsolved murder of Leah Anderson. And then Amber Tuccaro, Trish Carpenter, Alberta Williams, Cleo Semaganis. And now, the disappearance of Jermain Charlo.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jermain Charlo: Hi, I'm Jermain. This is my vlog about me.]
[NEWS CLIP: Missoula Police are identifying persons of interest in the disappearance of Jermain Charlo.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Vicki Morigeau: I said something's not right. I just had that feeling.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Guy Baker: I've never had a case like this.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Will: I've been up in the woods, I've looked under houses, in tunnels.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Lowell Hochhalter: People just don't disappear.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Woman: It's a really scary world, especially for native people.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Vicki Morigeau: People didn't realize how thick woods are here. It's like looking for a needle in a haystack.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Guy Baker: What the family is told not the truth. And I know the truth.]
Connie: It's a Friday night in June of 2020. I'm walking around in downtown Missoula, Montana. We're in the middle of the pandemic, but you wouldn't know it. There are tons of people out tonight, enjoying a beautiful summer night. I'm here trying to retrace the steps of a young woman named Jermain Charlo. Two years ago, Jermain was here at a bar called The Badlander. It's right downtown next to a few other bars on a busy strip.
Connie: I imagine it was a similar scene here that night. And Jermain Charlo probably fit right in. She's young, 23 years old, wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots. But in other ways, I'm sure Jermain stood out. She's tall, slender and striking. Also, she's Indigenous, from a reservation just outside of town. And I don't see very many Native Americans in downtown Missoula.
Connie: Jermain was here at The Badlander until just after midnight, when she left the bar, walked down this long, dark alley, turned the corner, and was never seen again.
Connie: Jermain Charlo was one of the thousands of missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls in the United States. Too many of these cases go untold and remain unsolved. But Jermain's case is only two years old. Finding Jermain and solving the mystery of her disappearance is not only possible, it's tantalizingly close. I'm going to dive deep into Jermain's life, learn as much as I can about her. I'll talk to her family, her friends. Try to find out what led to that moment in the alley. How could a young, healthy mother of two completely vanish and never be seen again? I want to find out the truth about what happened to Jermain Charlo.
Guy Baker: So maybe what we can do is I'll show you Jermain's stuff, and then later I could show you more Missoula stuff if you want.
Connie: I'm in a car, getting a tour of Missoula. My guide is a man named Guy Baker.
Guy Baker: So there's a river that runs through Missoula.
Connie: I just arrived late last night. This is my first time in Missoula, but Guy was born and raised here. And you can tell he's proud of his home town.
Guy Baker: And then the cool thing about Missoula is, you know, it's the biggest urban area in the Rocky Mountains.
Connie: Guy is not actually a tour guide, he's a cop. Not just any cop. He's the lead investigator in Jermain Charlo's disappearance. Guy's here with me on his day off. He's offered to show me around. Our first stop is on the Flathead Reservation just north of Missoula.
Connie: So where are we off to now?
Guy Baker: Which direction?
Connie: No, like, where are we going?
Guy Baker: Oh, we're going to Dixon, where Jermain grew up. And Jermain was raised with Vicki, and then where Jermain's house was.
Guy Baker: And we'll spend a little time up here.
Connie: In a lot of the stories I've covered, police are often criticized for the way they handle cases of missing Indigenous women. But Guy, he seems to have a different outlook.
Guy Baker: It just blows my mind—I've said this before—I mean, how do you, as an investigator, an officer, an agent, whoever in law enforcement, if you have a missing or murdered female, how do you not treat that case like you would want somebody to treat your wife, your daughter or your mother. It just doesn't make sense.
Connie: I'm not used to police officers like Guy. Jermain's case is only two years old. He says it's an open and active investigation. In Canada, that means that police tell you next to nothing about their case. Guy is much more open.
Guy Baker: So see that cell tower up there?
Guy Baker: Right there on the—where the green is on the side of the forest?
Connie: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Guy Baker: So that's the problem we have. That's the only cell tower up here. And so ...
Connie: Guy's told me about the thousands of hours that have gone into trying to find Jermain. He follows investigative leads, but also he's open to other suggestions, like listening to psychics, or even Jermain's family's dreams.
Guy Baker: Valenda said—she asked—Jermain came to her in a dream, and Jermain says she's in the Evaro Hill area.
Connie: The Rocky Mountains run through the Flathead Reservation. I look out my window and see forested mountains on either side of the valley.
Guy Baker: And this is called Arlee. They have pow wow grounds here.
Connie: This land is home to the Salish, Pend d'Oreille and Kootenai tribes. It's a huge reservation, nearly 2,000 square miles, and home to 26,000 people. By comparison, my reserve in rural Saskatchewan is 23 square miles and home to about 250 people.
Connie: It's very beautiful here. It's so nice.
Guy Baker: Wait until you see the mountains that we haven't seen yet. But yes, I mean, this is a very pretty, very pretty place.
Connie: I know there are a lot of similarities between Indigenous people on both sides of the border, but there are a lot of differences too. I've never been to the Flathead Reservation before. I'm a stranger here. But I bet that whatever Jermain's story is, it's connected to this land and this place. And I want to make sure that I get it right.
Connie: So this is Dixon Agency?
Guy Baker: Yup.
Connie: And this is where Vicki lives?
Guy Baker: Yup. And I've never even been to Vicki's house.
Connie: Dixon Agency is a tiny village in an isolated part of the reservation. There are only a few dirt roads, and about a dozen houses and trailers. Some of them look run down or abandoned, but we pull up to a cute little yellow house with green and white trim.
Connie: It got sunny.
Connie: This is Jermain's grandma's house.
Vicki Morigeau: Hi.
Connie: Nice to meet you. I'm Connie.
Vicki Morigeau: Nice to meet you. We all look like heck because we've been running around all day.
Connie: You look great! Yeah, I seen your photos on Facebook, and I actually watched a video of you guys at an MMIW event. Yeah, but I—anyway, so it's nice to meet you in person.
Guy Baker: Hi, Vicki.
Vicki Morigeau: Hi.
Guy Baker: How are you?
Vicki Morigeau: Tired. It's been busy.
Connie: And I love your flowers.
Vicki Morigeau: Thank you.
Connie: Before I came to Montana, I talked to Jermain's aunts on the phone. They told me that Jermain was closest to Vicki, her grandmother or "Yaya" in Salish. They said the last few years have been really hard on Vicki. They said I could meet her, but that she doesn't usually talk to reporters. They said Jermain's disappearance is too hard for her to talk about.
Connie: Did you plant everything?
Vicki Morigeau: Most of it, yeah.
Connie: She seems open to talking to me, and I want to ask her about Jermain, but I don't want to rush her. On our first visit, we mostly just walk around her yard and chat, while a large, furry brown dog follows her.
Vicki Morigeau: This dog here, I swear she's hanging on until we find her as well.
Vicki Morigeau: This is Angel, and that's where she stayed was with Jermain most of the time.
Vicki Morigeau: Yeah. Yeah.
Connie: She loved animals, hey?
Vicki Morigeau: Oh, yeah. Animals, she always wanted to have a little farm of her own. Quite the artist. Really very good artist. Very good writer.
Connie: Oh, really?
Vicki Morigeau: Yeah.
Connie: What did she write?
Vicki Morigeau: And her mom—she just liked to write.
Connie: I like Vicki. Something about her feels familiar to me. She reminds me of other Indigenous elders I know. They're often small in stature like Vicki, but you can tell they carry an inner strength, that they've had to be incredibly strong to be where they are today. And in the last two years, Vicky's been through a lot.
Vicki Morigeau: It's hard. It's hard. There's days that—I don't know, when she'd come to the house. She always, "Yaya!" Yeah, she always knew where to find me. I'd be either in the kitchen or someplace, especially if it was early. And just always wait for that hug. It's—it's hard, because you hear the door open and you look and, you know, who is it?
Connie: Vicki and I met up again a few days later. It was obvious how close she was with Jermain, and how proud she was of her.
Vicki Morigeau: She was a good mom. Thomas, he just reminds me so much of his mother. Kind of had that little wild hair, and he'd love to be outside and loved to run. And he was—I think those two were really close. And he's the one that looks like his mom.
Connie: Jermain lived just around the corner from Vicki's house with her two young sons. Thomas was just shy of his fourth birthday when his mom went missing, and Jacob was only two and a half. Now the boys are 6 and 5 years old. I wonder how much they remember of Jermain.
Vicki Morigeau: She visits me sometimes in my dreams. You know, it's weird because sometimes I remember them and sometimes I don't. But David said every time you dream about her, I just—I'll sit straight up in bed, you know, when I wake up. That's, like, crazy.
Connie: The last time Vicki saw Jermain was two years ago, just days before she went missing. Vicki was standing in the spot where I met her in her yard, packing up her car. She was heading out of state to visit family. She remembers she was just about to leave when Jermain came to say goodbye.
Vicki Morigeau: Jermaine said, "I want to go." And I said, "Well, come on, you can go." And she said, "No, I can't." She said—because she was going to work fires.
Connie: Jermain was supposed to start training to become a firefighter the following week, and even though Vicki tried to convince Jermain to come with them, Jermain stayed behind.
Vicki Morigeau: And I kept telling her, you can go. I said that stuff can wait. And she decided not to. And then I kicked myself in the ass for not making her just come with us.
Connie: A few days later, Vicki talked to Jermain on the phone, but Jermain wasn't alone. She had a new boyfriend. His name was Jacob Love, and they were together on speaker phone when they called Vicki.
Vicki Morigeau: I was laughing at them because, are you sure we're not related? My cousin Dan Ludtke is married to Jacob's aunt. And for some reason, they kept thinking, you know? And I said no.
Connie: Like, Jermaine was asking you?
Vicki Morigeau: Yeah.
Connie: If she was related to her new boyfriend?
Vicki Morigeau: Yeah. [laughs] And I said, "Jacob's related to the aunt. You're related to Dan." And it took me a while, and I was laughing and it was—you know, and you could tell they were in a good mood. They were happy. And—because we were all laughing.
Connie: What was he like, this new boyfriend?
Vicki Morigeau: He was nice. He was very quiet, kind of a shy person.
Connie: Vicki says Jermain had just started dating Jacob, but she seemed to really like him, and they were spending a lot of time together in the weeks leading up to her disappearance.
Vicki Morigeau: I could see the connection with those two, because he seemed like an outdoors-type person. And I know when they came, they'd go walk and visit. And, you know, if she wanted to go fishing, he'd take her fishing. Yeah.
Connie: How long were they dating, do you think?
Vicki Morigeau: Before her disappearance, maybe a month. That's a maybe, though.
Connie: Jermain was last seen on Friday June 15, 2018, just after midnight. Vicki talked to her earlier that day. She was with Jacob in Missoula, but said that he was heading out of town, and Jermain was going to stay at his place for the night. When Vicki woke up on Saturday morning, she checked her phone.
Vicki Morigeau: I seen that I had missed a call that evening from her. So I kept trying to call her, and there was no answer.
Connie: Was that unusual?
Vicki Morigeau: Yeah. Yeah, she would usually call me back if she'd seen she missed a call from me. That whole day, she didn't answer the phone.
Connie: Vicki says Jermain was someone who spent a lot of time on her phone and on social media. In the days before she went missing, Jermain was active on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. On the day she went missing, she posted two videos to TikTok. In one of them, she's lip syncing to a scene from a TV show called Supernatural.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Supernatural: There's Sam girls and Dean girls. And what's a "slash" fan?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Supernatural: As in, Sam-slash-Dean together.]
Connie: But after Friday night, there were no posts from Jermain anywhere. And she wasn't answering Vicki's calls or responding to her messages. Vicki was worried right away, so she called Jermain's new boyfriend Jacob to see if he knew where she was.
Vicki Morigeau: I called Jacob and I asked him. I said, "Jacob, have you heard from her?" And then ...
Connie: Jacob said he didn't know where Jermain was, and he was worried too.
Vicki Morigeau: And then that's when he said that he tried to put a call into her, and he said it sounded like somebody hung up.
Connie: Jacob told Vicky that he talked to Jermain on Friday evening while she was out, but when he tried calling her again later that night, he thought someone deliberately hung up her phone.
Vicki Morigeau: When we didn't hear from her, I said, "Something's not right." You know, I just had that feeling.
Connie: Why did you have that feeling?
Vicki Morigeau: When she doesn't answer her phone and nobody else has heard from her, that's not Jermain.
Connie: Jermain has a big family on the Flathead Reservation, but she's closest to Vicki's side, the Morigeaus. When Vicki couldn't reach Jermain, she started calling her kids.
Dani Matt: You know, we were just trying to call each other, you know, the whole family. Like, "Have you heard? Have you heard?" No. Nobody's heard from her. Nobody's heard from her.
Connie: That's Jermain's aunt, Dani Matt.
Dani Matt: When we just couldn't find her, it's like you start calling the hospitals. I called all the hospitals here in Missoula, because the last place she was at was Missoula. Called the hospitals, nothing. We reached out to the shelters, reached out to her friends, started, like, on Facebook. "Hey, have you guys seen her? You know, if you guys hear from her, have her call us." And it was—I believe that one was Sunday.
Connie: It had been two days since anyone had heard from Jermain. Her family was afraid that she was hurt or in danger. They wanted to get law enforcement involved immediately, but right from the start, Jermain's family felt like it was difficult to get police to take her disappearance seriously, and even to report her missing.
Dani Matt: Valenda was trying to file the missing persons, and she got "no" from the city to the county to the tribe to the city to the county.
Connie: Her family says Jermain was reported missing to the Flathead tribal police on Sunday, and to the Missoula city police on Monday. Because she was last seen in Missoula, her family felt police there should be out looking for her, but when her aunt Valenda called the Missoula police to follow up, she says they told her to come in person to the police station to fill out a form.
Dani Matt: And so she had to come in on Tuesday and actually file the report. That was a mess, and I don't feel it was taken serious from the beginning.
Connie: We asked Missoula Police. They said Jermain was actually reported missing to them on Wednesday, five days after she was last seen. They say a detective was assigned to her case the next day. Her family also started looking for other help. They found a non-profit organization in Missoula that's known for organizing searches for missing people. Its called The Lifeguard Group, and it's run by a man named Lowell Hochhalter.
Lowell Hochhalter: I received a phone call, and when I heard her voice, man, I was horrified.
Connie: Lowell remembers hearing from Jermain's mom, Jennifer Morigeau, a few days after Jermain went missing.
Lowell Hochhalter: I've heard it from parents before, and every time I feel that same way. And Jennifer just said, "You know, I'm Jermain's mom." And she said, "My daughter Jermain went missing." You know, and she gave me this scenario, you know? And I said, "Is it okay if we begin to search immediately?"
Connie: The Lifeguard Group's main goal is to combat human trafficking. No one knew if Jermain's disappearance had anything to do with trafficking, but Lowell mobilized his team right away. He got a small group together, and they met in downtown Missoula where Jermain was last seen to do what he calls a hasty search.
Lowell Hochhalter: I mean, it's exactly that. It's not something, a search that you plan out, you grid out, that you give specific assignments. We had fliers printed immediately, made up a missing person, got the picture out, and off we went. And we searched, and got people on the street to the places where she was last seen. Just started asking questions.
Connie: Lowell says he and his group spread out. He handed out flyers with Jermain's photo, and other volunteers went inside The Badlander, and other bars in the area.
Lowell Hochhalter: Probably better described as a canvassing, but we did walk some alleys and looked everywhere.
Connie: This was on Thursday, six days after Jermain disappeared. But Lowell was hopeful that people in downtown Missoula would remember seeing Jermain.
Lowell Hochhalter: It's not like we're some large town. So you're gonna notice things, things are gonna stick out. You're gonna remember seeing somebody. So people recognized her. It wasn't like, "Oh, yeah, I saw her." It was like, "Oh yeah! Like, she's—you know, we've seen before," or "I've played her in pool." I mean, you could tell it was a very familiar—she was a very familiar person there, because it would've been her crowd. I mean, it was young, college-age boys and girls. I mean—and Jermaine's a beautiful girl. I'm sure I—it wouldn't surprise me a bit. I mean, I'm a man. I've seen pictures of Jermain. She was—she's beautiful. And so obviously, she stuck out. So yeah, a lot of people remembered her that night, which of course gives you hope. Okay, okay, we're on the—you know, it's like a—right? It's like a search dog that picks up the scent. And so we knew we were on the right track.
Connie: Lowell says they handed out 500 posters, and started to learn things about Jermain from people on the street who recognized her.
Connie: What did people say about Jermain's state of mind that night? Did she seem like she was out having fun? Or was she upset? Or ...
Lowell Hochhalter: Nope, they said exactly that. She was out having fun. Playing pool, dancing, having fun. I guess she was quite the pool player.
Connie: What was the mood in your search at that point? And what were you thinking about? Did you have any theories about what might have happened or where she was?
Lowell Hochhalter: To be honest, to be one hundred percent honest with you, I thought we were gonna find her that night. I just thought we were gonna find her. I really did. I thought somebody—I thought we—you know, that maybe she lost her—you know, she lost her phone. She didn't have any way to post online, and she was hanging out with some friends and didn't think it was that big of a deal that she hadn't posted on Facebook. And who—what's the big deal, anyway? I'm an adult. I honestly thought we'd find her that night. I hundred percent felt that way.
Connie: You were hopeful.
Lowell Hochhalter: Yeah. To the point where I honestly, in my mind, had already rehearsed what I was going to post on the follow up of. I just knew it. I knew it. I could see it in my mind, the bright red "FOUND" that we were gonna be able to stamp right across her poster. I could see it.
Connie: But Lowell and The Lifeguard Group didn't find Jermain Charlo that night. And the more time that passed without any word from Jermain, the more concerned everyone was about her disappearance.
Connie: Coming up after the break, police find footage of Jermain from the night she disappeared.
Lowell Hochhalter: As she left the bar that night, you just saw her walking away.
Connie: About a week after Jermain Charlo was last seen, Lowell Hochhalter and The Lifeguard Group organized another search. It was more of a grid search, with even more volunteers and Jermain's family. And this one got attention from local media.
[NEWS CLIP: Jermain Austin Charlo of Dixon has been missing for eight days, and today around 30 volunteers gathered to search for any sign of her whereabouts.]
Connie: A reporter from a local TV station talked to Jermain's mom, Jennifer Morigeau.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jennifer Morigeau: If she is out there and able to hear us or see, hopefully she realizes, you know, that we really do love her. We want her home.]
Connie: In the video, Jen is looking down while she talks, obviously struggling to maintain her composure. You can see in her face just how hard this is, and you can hear in her voice just how desperate she is to find Jermain.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jennifer Morigeau: And I just pray that it's not a situation where she doesn't have control of that. And even if it is, whoever's out there listening, I hope that they can see that she's a beautiful girl and she has family and kids that love her, and we need her home.]
Connie: With each day that passed, Jermain's family grew more and more concerned that they hadn't heard from her, and worried that important clues about where she was might disappear.
Vicki Morigeau: Those days are crucial. I mean, even on TV, they tell you the first 48 hours is when you're gonna find your best answers.
Connie: A detective from the Missoula Police Department was assigned to investigate Jermain's case on Thursday—six days after she was last seen. Her family was frustrated. They didn't feel like the detective did enough, that most of his time was spent doing things they'd already done.
Vicki Morigeau: The first detective on it didn't do shit for a whole week. He did not do anything.
Dani Matt: The first two days we spent calling, you know, all the hospitals and shelters. I said, "We already did that. We told you guys we already did that. So now you've just wasted an additional two more days." You know, and it took us a couple of days to get her even turned in to being missing.
Connie: The Missoula Police Department told us that detective actually only worked on Jermain's case for one day, because when he was assigned, it was his last day of work before he had three days off. When he came back to work the following Monday—10 days after Jermain disappeared—he was also assigned to investigate a double shooting in Missoula. Jermain's family wanted police to be out trying to find her. Instead, they say it was The Lifeguard Group who organized the searches for Jermain. But The Lifeguard Group is a non-profit organization that runs mostly on volunteers. They're not law enforcement.
Dani Matt: The Lifeguard Group, you know, we owe them so much. I'm so grateful for them. I'm thankful for the police department, too. I'm not hating on them. But The Lifeguard Group actually gave a genuine, sincere effort to help our family and to reach out. And, you know, we need fliers made. You know what? They made the fliers. We need help to organize this. They helped organize this, you know, for the searches.
Connie: Were you surprised that a non-profit group is out there searching before the police were for Jermain?
Dani Matt: Very much so. And, you know, a non-profit has limits, you know? They can go search a public area. They can't go get a search warrant, you know? And I wish that the police department had as much drive as the non-profit did to assist in things. It's like the police are assisting the non-profit organizations and our family on something they should just be doing. It's—I'm very frustrated.
Connie: Lowell was concerned too. He often works with police to help them find missing people, so he has an idea about how those cases are usually handled.
Lowell Hochhalter: When when a report comes in, you know, the typical action that's—you know, a deputy or a police officer will show up at the residence and take a report and attach a case number. Then it is then broadcast out. But it's not like, you know, the entire police force is now going to go and find that person. Typically it'll sit in a basket, and so sometimes we find ourselves pushing law enforcement a little bit. Like, "Listen, could you check this out?"
Connie: That's what you did with Jermaine's case?
Lowell Hochhalter: We did. We had to—I felt like we had to—we had to maybe light a little bit of a fire to say, this isn't the typical. And I hate that, because it really isn't—you know, if it's my kid, it's not typical. Like, the frigging world better stop and find my child.
Connie: Lowell had met Jermain's family a few times by then, and saw how desperate they were to find Jermain. He wanted to help, so he called another detective that he knew, a friend of his with the Missoula Police.
Guy Baker: Lowell had contacted me while I was still on vacation and told me about this case. And I requested it be reassigned to me.
Connie: Guy Baker is a third-generation police officer, and has worked with the Missoula Police Department for over 30 years. For most of his career, he's been a detective in major crimes.
Guy Baker: When I got there Tuesday, I mean, she had been—she went missing early Saturday. I mean, we're at 10 days and no one's heard of Jermain Charlo. Yeah, I was obviously concerned at that point.
Connie: You were concerned at that point?
Guy Baker: I was concerned from the get go.
Connie: Guy says 10 days had passed, but it was actually 11. 11 long days since Jermain was last seen or heard from. It's hard to imagine what that time must have been like for her family. Worried, wondering if Jermain was out there somewhere, what was keeping her from coming home. And the frustration with the police response to her disappearance made it even worse. I don't know if Guy knew all of that before going into his first meeting with Jermain's family, but he told me he was nervous.
Guy Baker: There was about 10 people there, and they were all gathered around a picnic table. And there was not a lot of people looking at me. They were obviously in despair. And they were all native and I was white.
Connie: I'm glad Guy mentions it, because that's not an insignificant thing. I'm not from here, but this tension between Indigenous people and settlers is something I've encountered in all of my reporting in Indigenous communities. Jermain's family is already feeling frustrated with the police, and here's another officer trying to convince them that he's one of the good guys.
Guy Baker: I just remember feeling their pain. I mean, and I don't know if they believed me at the time, but I wanted them to know that I was being sincere. I don't know if I wanted to have them believe that this was important, and I was doing something because they were native, as much as it was they're not from Missoula. So I don't know what your experience is with law enforcement wherever you're from, but we're doing everything we can to find your missing family member.
Guy Baker: I wondered if Guy had any regrets about the way Jermain's case was handled before he got it, so I asked him about while we were driving back to Missoula.
Connie: Do you wish that you had been on Jermain's case from the beginning?
Guy Baker: Yeah, probably. I was on vacation, so that detective did what he thought he had to do. And missing adults are different than missing kids. And a crime scene and no crime scene is different. So if somebody says they just saw a kid or a teenager or a female abducted and pulled into a car, that changes the whole game. As opposed to we haven't heard from her for two days.
Connie: Guy defends his colleague. He says what the first detective did in Jermain's case is what cops normally do for missing adults, because the reality is, most are found within a few days.
Guy Baker: So that's why, you know, initially, what do you do on the report of a missing adult? So check the jails, has she been arrested? Has she been admitted to a hospital? Check her social media that you can access. Talk to the people that have known her most recently. And did everything seem fine? What was going on? What do you think happened to her? Where would you look for her if you were me? Calling her phone, maybe sending her a text, maybe trying to communicate with her on social media. Those are kind of things you do. And, you know, more times than not, you find an adult is safely somewhere else.
Connie: But after 11 days, Jermain wasn't found safely somewhere else. And as soon as Guy was assigned Jermain's case, he acted with more urgency. He started tracking down the people she was with in the days leading up to her disappearance.
Guy Baker: When you have a missing person case, initially, you know, looking into do people that associate with them, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, roommates, do they know what happened to them? You're looking to the previous 48 to 24 hours before a person goes missing, who they're with, and tracking down those timelines of involved persons. That occurred with—in several people, but including the current boyfriend.
Connie: One of the first people that Guy said he wanted to talk to was Jacob Love, Jermain's new boyfriend. He wanted to know where he was the night Jermain went missing.
Guy Baker: He had a planned reason to be out of town, and that's where he was. And she and he had communicated by cell before she disappeared, when she was in the downtown area and he was over 200 miles away from Missoula. So it's not like he could have come back or whatever.
Connie: Early on, Guy also drove out to Dixon Agency to search Jermain's house. He was looking for any clues that could help him find her.
Guy Baker: It's chilling, I mean, because you're going through someone's house and their personal effects, that when she set that glass on the counter, she never knew that it would never be picked up again. When she took those clothes off and threw them on the floor or when—I remember there was water in the tub. I mean, when she put the plug in the tub to run the bath for herself or her sons, I mean, she never considered at all that tub full of water would not be emptied by her.
Connie: Guy didn't find anything at Jermain's house, so the closest thing he had to a crime scene at this point was the place where she was last seen: the alley behind The Badlander bar. I went back there with Guy. As I look around, I notice several cameras along the alley. I wonder how many of them had video of Jermain from that night. But Guy says by the time police had asked for them, all of the possible recordings had been erased. All except for one.
Guy Baker: So these are all Missoula Housing Authority cameras. So when you hear the talks about Missoula Housing Authority surveillance, that's from that camera there, and they're walking this direction.
Connie: Where is the housing?
Guy Baker: That building is Missoula Housing Authority.
Connie: The housing authority owns part of the building The Badlander is in, and their camera points right down the alley where Jermain was last seen. Guy's showing it to me.
Woman: I'm the property manager.
Connie: When a woman from the building interrupts us.
Guy Baker: I'm Guy Baker. So I'm just talking to her about a story.
Woman: Oh, cool. Oh, sorry!
Guy Baker: Yep. No problem.
Woman: You can drive down the alley the wrong direction. I was giving you the stink eye.
Guy Baker: I got you. Okay.
Guy Baker: No problem.
Connie: Do you know her?
Guy Baker: She's just a manager of the Missoula Housing Authority that helped me get the video.
Connie: Oh, but you guys know each other?
Woman: I watched the video.
Connie: This woman, who we just happened to run into, has seen the footage of Jermain from the surveillance camera, Jermain's last moments before she disappeared. Footage her family has never been able to see.
Connie: What do you remember about the video?
Woman: Nothing that was helpful to the investigation, just that I—you know, they said she looks like this, and I located her. And it was so heartbreaking. That so brought home that whole dynamic to me as a mom, and I'm seeing her out there, knowing she was about to disappear. I won't interrupt anymore.
Guy Baker: No, you're okay.
Connie: Thank you.
Connie: The video is part of the evidence in Jermain's police file, so Guy says we can't see it either. But Lowell has seen the whole thing.
Connie: How long is it?
Lowell Hochhalter: Two hours?
Connie: Oh, wow. So she ...
Lowell Hochhalter: Off and on. Two and a half hours.
Connie: She comes in and out of the footage, is that ...?
Lowell Hochhalter: Yeah.
Lowell Hochhalter: Yep. She spent a lot of time out there just moving from group to group, person to person, visiting, talking.
Connie: Its video only, no audio.
Lowell Hochhalter: Everything in me just wants to know, "What are you saying? What do you—what's the conversation? What do you—and, you know, it's just, you know, when something is so real but, you know, you can watch it but you can't hear it. It really is painful.
Connie: Like, does she seem to know the people that she's talking to? Like, are they—are these friends of hers that she's going up to? Or is it more just like a social party that she's kind of chatting with people here and there?
Lowell Hochhalter: I'd say yes and yes. We find out later that there were a couple of people that she was good friends with, and that's why she would frequent that bar, because she was good friends with people that would also frequent that bar. Jermain was so social. She wanted to be where people were. She wanted to talk with people.
Connie: Lowell has never met Jermain, but by watching this footage and getting to see her walk and talk for two hours, he feels like he's gotten a sense of who Jermain is, and he desperately wants to help find her.
Lowell Hochhalter: As she left the bar that night, you just saw her walking away. But it wasn't closing time. It was dark, but it wasn't closing time.
Connie: It's such a haunting image, right? Like, walking away out of frame, and then you just want to know what the next—what was happening there that the camera didn't see, or if the camera was tilted up a little bit more.
Lowell Hochhalter: Exactly. Yeah. Haunting is probably the best descriptor of that. It is absolutely—you know, just so many questions of if only, if only.
Connie: It's been two years since Jermain Charlo walked out of this alley and disappeared. Guy estimates he's put in over a thousand hours investigating her case, and it makes me think that Jermain didn't just vanish, that there are leads Guy is following, clues he's found. And I wonder how close he is to solving her case.
Guy Baker: You know, I have no doubt that Jermain Charlo is a victim of a criminal act. And now it's a matter of putting the puzzle pieces together and figuring out what happened so I can bring closure to the family, and I can bring justice for Jermain by holding the person or persons accountable.
Connie: Guy says Jermain's disappearance is not an accident. Someone out there knows what happened to her. And he's not gonna give up until he finds them.
Guy Baker: I was in Las Vegas with my wife on June 15, 2019, on a little vacation and, you know, we went to bed that night, and I laid in the bed thinking about Jermain and her family. And here it is, you know, a year later, and I never thought that a year after I got this case, I would still be working it and it would be unsolved. So the next day, either I sent it that night laying in bed or I sent it the next day, basically just saying, you know, it's been a year, and sorry for your loss, and I'm sorry that I haven't been able to figure this out yet, and that I'm still working to bring justice for Jermain and closure for you. So I think they appreciated that.
Connie: If Guy is having trouble sleeping, worried about Jermain, I can only imagine how her family feels as the days, weeks, months and now years go by without any word from Jermain.
Connie: Vicki has a porch in the front of her house, and hanging along the railing is a string that's hung like a bunting. Tied to it are dozens of little bundles of fabric. They're colourful pouches filled with tobacco.
Vicki Morigeau: They're tobacco ties, and my prayers for her are in those. And I did that almost every day for about a month. I just—I'd go over and I tied them on her fence. And then when we had to move her stuff, then I just brought them and I hung them here.
Connie: I think about each of those little bundles, and how each one is a physical manifestation of a grandmother's longing, Vicki's prayers for Jermain that will never be answered until she finds her, and the truth about what happened to her.
Vicki Morigeau: I just wish somebody would hear and say, "I know what happened." You know? To me, if you're holding stuff—evidence—and you know what happened, you're just as guilty as he is. Whoever it is.
Connie: What did happen to Jermain Charlo? Is someone responsible for her disappearance? Coming up on the next episode of Stolen: The Search for Jermain, police start looking into leads about the night Jermain was last seen.
Will: You know, there was information going out that they were trafficking girls, and there was information that Jermain Charlo had also been traded to them.
Lowell Hochhalter: People just don't disappear. There's something behind it.
Woman: If someone tries to kidnap you, scream and fight and gouge eyes. Do whatever you can, because that's gonna be your last chance of fighting for your life.
Connie: Can you tell us about the acquaintance she was with, or who he was?
Lowell Hochhalter: Hmm. [laughs]
Connie: Stolen is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. It's hosted by me, Connie Walker. This episode was produced by Meg Driscoll and John White. Editing by Devon Taylor. Additional help from Jennifer Fowler, Anya Schultz, Nicole Pasulka and Heather Evans.
Connie: Theme song and mixing by Emma Munger, original music by Emma Munger and So Wylie. Special thanks to Lydia Polgreen, Colin Campbell and Reyhan Harmanci.