A decade after Jolene Cote's homicide, her family and police still hope for arrest

·4 min read
Jolene Cote's October 2011 homicide remains unsolved but a decade later, her family and police are optimistic an arrest can still be made. (Rhonda Berg - image credit)
Jolene Cote's October 2011 homicide remains unsolved but a decade later, her family and police are optimistic an arrest can still be made. (Rhonda Berg - image credit)

Embedded in a silver heart that hangs by a slender chain, Jolene Cote's thumbprint lays close to her mother's own heart.

Cote's mother, Dorothy Commandeur, said she hasn't taken the necklace off since having it made in the wake of her daughter's death a decade ago. Cote's three sisters have the necklaces, too.

Along with their happy memories of the 36-year-old Cote — a loving and dedicated mother, a well-liked and inspiring teacher, and a keen athlete — the family also carries the pain of knowing that whoever killed her still walks free.

"It's like your cells have an imprint that remember the devastation of her murder at this time of the year," Commandeur said in a recent interview. "And it just comes back into your body without even thinking about it. It's just there."

Cote's husband Michael found her dead outside their rural Spruce Grove home on Oct. 13, 2011. Police declared it a homicide, but have never released the cause of her death.

Trevor Wilson/CBC
Trevor Wilson/CBC

Her death shook the community but her legacy lives on — in a memorial soccer tournament held in her name each May, and in former students who have reached out to Commandeur to share the impact Cote had on their lives. At least two say she inspired them to become teachers.

Her family holds tight to their own memories. Cote's younger sister Trina Pfannmuller is a single mom who always felt Cote always had her back — making sure on Mother's Day and Christmas that Pfanmuller received a present from her son.

"The last time Pfannmuller saw her sister was when Cote was picking up her son and daughter from Pfannmuller's house. "Thanks, Trin, you're the best," were her last words.

"It's like a recording I can replay," Pfannmuller said. "She just was a really wonderful person."

Cote lived a full life, but her children were her priority, Commandeur said. Cote made it a mission to teach her children how to be kind and caring, and to give them as many experiences as possible.

"That was important to her. It was almost as if she knew her time was going to be short. And it was like she just wanted to fit in as much as she could while she was here with them," Commandeur said.

Commandeur says she stays in touch with her grandchildren, even though it's become more difficult since they moved to Mexico with their father Michael Cote.

Rhonda Berg.
Rhonda Berg.

Investigator 'optimistic'

In a recent interview, the lead investigator on the case said he's optimistic an arrest will happen.

"We do have a suspect in the investigation, but at this time I'm not going to publicly name anybody," said RCMP Sgt. Kiel Samotej, who is with the major crimes unit.

Samotej, who has worked on the case since October 2011, said the size of the investigation team has varied over the years but work has never stopped.

Samotej said there's still misinformation circulating that Cote was killed when she arrived home and interrupted a robbery. He says that's not true, though he wouldn't say what investigators believe were the circumstances of her homicide.

And while police have a suspect in mind, Samotej wants anyone out there sitting on information about Cote's death to come forward.

"Don't assume that we know what you know," he said.

Killer needs to be held accountable

Trevor Wilson/CBC
Trevor Wilson/CBC

Cote's family stays in touch with RCMP about the case, and say they have confidence in the police. While it's been difficult to watch 10 years pass with no arrest, her older sister Rhonda Berg said the family would rather wait for investigators to be fully confident in their case before proceeding.

"And if that takes another five years, then so be it. I truly believe in fate, and I believe that everything happens as it should and when it should," Berg said. "And maybe there's a reason that it hasn't happened up till now. The police have been very clear and very direct about the direction that they need things to take in Jolene's homicide."

The family has never let up in their own efforts to help solve the case: they're currently fundraising to increase a longstanding $50,000 award for information that leads to the conviction of the person responsible for Cote's homicide to $100,000.

Still, Cote's loved ones are bracing for more pain if an arrest is made. They know it will be difficult to go through a trial, sentencing and parole hearings should a conviction ever happen.

But Commandeur said it's important to them to get justice for her daughter.

"She deserves it, and the person that killed her needs to be held accountable," the mother said. "And I have faith that that will happen. And if it doesn't happen in this life, it will happen in the next life."

-with files from Claudette Germain

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting