Partial remains of Indigenous woman killed in 1990 found in Prince George, B.C., park

A view of Connaught Hill, a popular park behind city hall in Prince George, B.C.  (City of Prince George - image credit)
A view of Connaught Hill, a popular park behind city hall in Prince George, B.C. (City of Prince George - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details. 

Prince George RCMP say partial remains of an Indigenous homicide victim were found in a downtown park last month, 32 years after the woman was killed.

On Wednesday, police identified the woman as Donna Charlie, who was 22 when she died.

Family members say she is from Kwadacha, also known as Fort Ware, a remote community in northern B.C.

Her partial remains were found in October on Connaught Hill Park, a popular forest-ringed park above Prince George city hall.

RCMP say Charlie was the victim of a homicide in 1990, when partial remains of the woman were also found.

"Though this initial investigation resulted in a conviction, it remained an open file with our Missing Persons Unit until such time as the last of the remains were located, " said Prince George RCMP Cpl. Jennifer Cooper in a written statement.

Prince George Citizen/Prince George Newspaper Archives
Prince George Citizen/Prince George Newspaper Archives

Gerald (Jerry) Smaaslet was convicted of Charlie's death after partial remains of her were found in April 1991 in a shallow grave in the area of Ingledew Park, in a residential neighbourhood a short walk from Connaught Hill.

According to a B.C. Supreme Court judgment, Charlie was reported missing after leaving Kwadacha seven months earlier with Smaaslet, her boyfriend.

Smaaslet's trial heard that he and Charlie checked into a Prince George motel room. After he checked out alone several days later, motel cleaning staff discovered blood stains across the walls.

At his trial in 1991, Smaaslet told the court Charlie had died while he was out at a convenience store. He said he and his nephew buried her body in a shallow grave near Ingledew Park, close to the motel where he had stayed with Charlie.

He told the court he also buried some of her remains in nearby Connaught Hill Park.

Despite that testimony decades ago, the rest of Charlie's partial remains weren't discovered until this week.

"Efforts were made at the time to recover [them] from Connaught Hill but without a better description of where they had been buried, police were not successful," Cooper told CBC News Wednesday.

Cooper said a member of the public recently "noticed something in the ground that he believed could be a human skull."

She said the B.C. Coroners Service was then able to make an identification.

Court records show Smaaslet was initially charged with first-degree murder in 1991 but convicted of second-degree murder by a jury. That was overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal and a new trial was ordered.

In May 1995, Smaaslet pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Charlie's death. He was sentenced to one year in addition to the 38 months served, plus two years probation and a lifetime weapons prohibition.

Smaaslet was later declared a dangerous offender after assaulting several other women.

In her 2007 judgment, Madam Justice Linda Loo said Smaaslet had a long history of violence toward his intimate partners.

She noted that Smaaslet had killed Charlie while he was under bail supervision for inflicting "horrific violence" on a 15-year-old girlfriend, telling her "all pretty girls deserve to die."