Two Alberta sisters who hadn't been seen by family members since the mid-1980s have been located alive in the United States, say police, adding that it was "a nice feeling" to end a missing persons case with good news for a change.
The family of Anna and Kym Hakze — originally from Lethbridge— last saw them in Edmonton in the mid-1980s. Their mother didn't see them again, but last heard from them around 1993. Anna was 43 and Kym was 29 at the time.
Their mother formally reported them missing a decade after that, in 2003, but the case went cold.
In October 2015, Lethbridge police put out a call for help from the public to locate the women, hoping the use of social media would turn up new leads in the case, which spanned almost two decades and involved multiple detectives.
In a message to the women, police said their sole intention was to confirm their well-being and not to cause any unwanted disruption of their lives.
On Thursday, Lethbridge police announced the sisters, now 53 and 67, have been found, although they asked that authorities not reveal their locations or new names to respect their privacy.
"After so many years, it's very unusual for a case like this to end with good news," said Staff Sgt. Scott Woods, head of the criminal investigation section, in a release.
"It's a nice feeling to come to the conclusion we did," he said, at a later news conference.
"So many times it ends up being not happy news that we have to deliver at the end of some of these ones."
Brother remains hopeful
Their brother, Ken Hakze, said he hopes his sisters will contact him after more than 30 years apart.
"I thought about them for all these years. I always hung onto a thread of hope because there was no confirmation either way that they were alive or not alive," he said.
"They can contact me in a number of ways: through social media, they have my phone number and know where I live and that sort of thing. But due to the Privacy Act I don't know where they are or anything about them."
Family differences may have driven the sisters away, he said, adding that Anna had "some dreams to pursue."
"We have a second chance here to reconnect as a family and that is just a joyous occasion."
Because there was information suggesting the pair had moved to Vancouver, Lethbridge police submitted Hakze familial DNA to detectives in British Columbia during the investigation of serial killer Robert Pickton.
Police also provided the women's fingerprints to the U.S. National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
In 2012, the case turned a corner, based on a 1984 Vancouver newspaper clipping and a tip from the public identifying two women as the missing sisters.
After several more dead ends, police were finally able to confirm they had located the sisters in an unidentified U.S. community, based on fingerprint comparisons.
In late February, police in the United States made contact with Kym Hakze, who no longer goes by that name.
"We were fortunate enough to have an assisting agency in the United States do a face-to-face with the one sister," Woods said.
Walked away from their lives
She was put in touch with Lethbridge police, explaining to investigators that she and her sister had walked away from their former lives decades earlier. They did not realize they had been reported missing, she told police.
"Without going into a lot of detail, and respecting their privacy, they had just left, due to some family turmoil … and had moved on, and were living their own life," Woods said.
Authorities have given the sisters contact information for their living relatives, who told police they will not be making any public statements.