Episode 1 follows the case of Karina Beth Anne Wolfe. Listen using the audio player included here, or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
BRE MCADAM (host): We often hear about crime stories in the early stages of an investigation, when they are shrouded in mystery, and then again when they slowly unravel years later in a courtroom.
But what happens when we examine these cases from crime to court case? Would we potentially see a larger issue at hand? And would it cause us to remember the victims, maybe in a different way?
Working as a criminal justice reporter in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada for eight years, I’ve covered many cases involving female homicide victims.
Saskatchewan had the highest rate of intimate partner violence and domestic violence in Canada in 2018, according to Stats Canada.
The percentage of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in our province is also one of the highest in Canada, and the rate of femicide — the killing of women and girls primarily, but not exclusively, by men — exceeds the national average.
This podcast series details the stories of four women: their lives, deaths and the criminal cases that followed.
In hopes of ensuring they are never forgotten.
-(INTRO AUDIO PLAYS)-
BRE: Nine years after the disappearance of Karina Beth-Ann Wolfe, I spoke with three people who were very crucial in her case.
Karina’s mom, a lead investigator and a former missing person liaison came into our studio to share their insights, and to reflect on what changed as a result of this case — and what still needs to be done.
This is the story of a young woman with a passion for poetry, who was destined for so much more, and the woman who refused to stop looking for her.
I’m Bre McAdam, criminal justice reporter with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, and you’re listening to She’s Gone: Stories of female homicide victims in Saskatchewan, from crime to court case.
EPISODE 1: THE DEATH AND DISAPPEARANCE OF KARINA BETH-ANN WOLFE
BRE: When you meet Carol Wolfe, her presence is striking. Even though she cannot speak, due to a hearing impairment, you can see the grief she carries in her eyes.
That same pain is visible on her face during our interview, as she describes the last time she saw her daughter Karina.
On July 2, 2010, Karina was finally moving in with Carol, who lived on Appleby Drive in Saskatoon’s Meadow Green neighbourhood.
Karina had just completed a 10-day program at a drug treatment facility, and was still in the process of moving her stuff over to her mom’s house.
Carol says that day, her daughter briefly introduced her to a man who she described as a friend of her boyfriend. The pair then left to have a shower and get something to eat.
Around 6 o’clock that evening, Carol saw Karina return with the same man. Carol was standing at a bus stop near her home when Karina emerged from the man’s grey Corvette convertible.
This is Anne Websdale, interpreting for Carol. Carol is hearing impaired and communicates through sign language.
CAROL WOLFE: She had run up to me and asked me for a key and I said ‘well, Desmond has a key, he’s at home.’ And she said: ‘okay well thats fine’ and then she went to get in the vehicle and I’m like: ‘Karina!’ and I called out to her and she turned and I said ‘are you coming home tonight?’ She said ‘yeah’ and I said ‘I love you.’ So then she got in the car and drove off and that was the last I’ve seen of her.
BRE: Police later found out that the man Karina was with dropped her off at a gas station on the corner of 20th Street and Avenue H, a few blocks away. The man told police Karina later called him from a pay phone and asked to borrow some money. He said no.
RANDY HUISMAN: That is the last that anyone has ever seen or heard Karina.
BRE: That’s Superintendent Randy Huisman with the Saskatoon Police Service. In 2010, he was a Sergeant Investigator in the Major Crimes Unit and one of the lead investigators on Karina’s case.
He says while it was common for Karina to be gone for days at a time, it was unusual for her not to call or text.
When Karina missed Carol’s birthday celebration, Carol knew something was wrong. She hadn’t seen her only daughter in 17 days, and Karina would never miss her mom’s birthday.
CAROL: My daughter was always there at my birthday. She would always give me a gift and she never missed a birthday. And then, all of a sudden, she wasn’t there. It was July 19th, in the morning, and it was about I think, eight in the morning and I was sitting there and waiting, waiting and I thought: ‘Wow this is kind of strange.’ I just had that feeling right? That something was up. This was my birthday, I didn’t get anything. Just had that feeling that something, something was wrong and I was pacing back forth and I didn’t know what to do, and just kind of sat there all day feeling something was up.
BRE: Carol took to the streets with a photo of Karina, asking people, the best she could, if they had seen her daughter.
Then, she filed a police report.
Karina Wolfe was declared a missing person. She was just 20 years old.
Her disappearance was deemed suspicious for a few reasons. There was no activity on her bank accounts, and she hadn’t picked up any of her prescriptions from the pharmacy.
Also, during the course of the investigation, both police and Karina’s family would say that she led what would be considered a “high-risk” lifestyle.
Like many, she had issues, but she was certainly not defined by them.
BRE: Karina was born in Prince Albert, moving to Saskatoon in 2009 to live with her brother Desmond. She was in her last year of school at Nutana Collegiate, on the cusp of graduation.
She was outgoing. Strong. Intelligent. Carol says she was incredibly artistic, with a flair for painting and writing.
CAROL: Poetry. She wrote a lot of poetry. She really really liked to write poetry and she loved to write in her journals. Just her daily journals about her life and she really, really liked to write different kinds of essays. Mostly poetry though, poetry was her favourite. She loved to write poetry and then her second thing would be her journals.
BRE: Did she like to read books as well?
CAROL: Oh yes, she really liked to read, ever since she was three, she would read and I’d be like ‘come on, let’s go’ and she’d be like ‘nope.’ Nope she had to finish her book, she had to continue her book. So most of the time I would just leave her to read. She loved to read. And very skilled at writing as well, wow.”
BRE: Dorthea Swiftwolfe is the Victim Services Coordinator with the police service, but she was the missing persons liaison back in 2010.
She says while she never met Karina, she got to know her through Carol.
DORTHEA SWIFTWOLFE: I mean, Karina was a very strong, beautiful, intelligent, talented writer and artist, right? Which most people didn’t know. She expressed herself like every other young woman. Colouring her hair hot pink — or some days it’s red, or some days it’s brown. Those kind of things, so she had no problems with self expression as an individual.
I know that she cared, and loved her brother Desmond. Like, a sister-brother connection they were very lucky to have. I mean, they had their struggles together, but they managed to get through them together and Karina was Desmond’s best friend, right? Like siblings do have. As well as Carol’s.
BRE: She was also very good at sign language, and often Carol’s interpreter. Signing created a special bond between Desmond and Karina: their own secret language.
Karina had a loving family, which is why no one believed she had left by choice.
BRE: A year went by. Leads were shrinking, but questions kept growing.
Did someone take Karina? Was she alive? And who was the man in the Grey Corvette- the last person who was seen with Karina, and who she later called from a pay phone?
HUISMAN: Carol did not speak with this man. She knew nothing about this man at the time. What was suspicious to her is that he was a 54-year-old Caucasian male and, in her mind, she was wondering what he was doing with a 20-year-old Indigenous girl.
BRE: Randy Huisman, the lead investigator, says the man was immediately a person of interest — and their main focus in the early stages of the investigation.
They didn’t know his name, but they had a description of him and his distinctive car which they released to the public. It didn’t take long for the man to come forward.
HUISMAN: He was unable to clear himself immediately as a person of interest. And when I say that, you know, somebody who’s evasive with answers. or didn’t have an answer that you would think that would come out immediately. And you know, when we look into his background, there were checks where he had street contact with the police in the area of the stroll area regarding prostitution activities, and that kind of thing. So, he remained on our focus. And in those cases, they do remain on your focus until you’re able to clear them, and we weren’t able to clear him yet.
BRE: Randy says they interviewed him a lot and eventually got him to take a polygraph, which he passed.
After that, police did everything they could think of to elicit information.
This included Crime Stoppers re-enactments and giant billboards with Karina’s face that read ‘MISSING ARTIST.’ There were some tips, but they all dried up.
BRE: Randy continued to visit Carol at least once a month to update her on the case, even if it was to say that there was no update.
Carol says she would fantasize about seeing her daughter walk through the door.
CAROL: I would go out and search for her and i would keep looking. I mean, I cherished my daughter and she was precious to me and so I couldn’t give up. I can’t give up. I have to keep going.I have to keep looking for her.
BRE: Every year that Karina remained missing, there would be a call out for information. Police would ask for tips. Carol would hold a candlelight vigil or march, sharing her daughter’s story with as many people as she could.
Three years later, in 2013, Saskatchewan cold case investigators put out a series of YouTube videos on various missing persons cases. Karina’s was one of them.
–(AUDIO FROM CRIME STOPPERS VIDEO PLAYS)–
BRE: Another excruciating year passes for Karina’s family and friends, with still no breaks in the case.
Carol organizes an awareness walk from Appleby Drive to Karina’s last known whereabouts on 20th Street. Police block off the roads as people wearing t-shirts with Karina’s face drum and hold signs that say ‘MISSING’ in big, bold letters.
Five years after Karina vanished from a busy street corner in Saskatoon, Carol joined then-interim chief of the Federation of Indigenous Sovereign Nations, Kimberly Jonathan, in Ottawa for a round table on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
Then, later that year —about nine months later— something finally happens. And it’s almost unbelievable.
BRE: On Nov. 26, 2015, police send out a news release. It basically states that on Nov. 10 —so a few weeks earlier— they were given directions to a buried body.
Armed with that information, a group of forensic professionals dug up a marshy area northwest of Saskatoon, near the airport. Human remains were unearthed four days later, but police say they didn’t tell the public about it at the time, because they were waiting on DNA testing.
And on November 27, a day after the chilling release came out, police confirmed that the remains were those of Karina Wolfe.
Dorthea takes us back to that day.
DORTHEA: That day. I knew it was going to be a sad day, a hurting day. And me and Carol talked about if that day ever came, and I would be the one to come over to tell her, that it was Karina. And Carol always told me: ‘sometimes I look for you in the window, every time they locate remains.’ So I knew that day was gong to be a hard day for me to try to be strong, so I could share that strength with Carol. Just to hold her, to let her cry. I remember going out to the site and it was cold. It was so cold. And I could see Carol didn’t want to leave. All I could do was wrap her in a blanket and stand together, cry and pray. That’s a day that I won’t forget.”
BRE: But there was still a pretty major unanswered question: How did police receive this “information” about Karina’s body — five years after she had disappeared?
What we find out is that a man had walked into the Saskatoon police station and told the officer at the front desk, quote: ‘I’ve murdered somebody and I want to kill myself.’
He then mentions Karina’s name.
That man is 33-year-old Jerry Franklin Constant, and the officer immediately detains him for questioning.
BRE: Randy says Jerry gave a full confession. He was in a drug-induced psychosis after binging on methamphetamine and crack cocaine for about two months.
HUISMASN: It was a guilty conscience. I think the drugs, the drugs made him paranoid and he told investigators that every time he turned the TV on or saw a magazine or a bulletin board at a store he saw Karina’s picture, and these voices in his head were driving him crazy leading him to come in to confess.
BRE: Randy says he’d never dealt with anything quite like it.
HUISMAN: It was very shocking to us. Also what was kind of a shock to us was the fact that Jerry Constant’s name never made it on to that investigative file until the day he walked in. There was never a tip or a discussion with Jerry; nobody ever provided his name for any part of the investigation.
BRE: As far as anyone could tell, nobody knew Jerry and Karina had met that fateful night.
Jerry is charged with second-degree murder and offering an indignity to human remains, a charge that is laid when someone is accused of moving a body after death.
As you can imagine, this case does not go to trial. Jerry pleads guilty to both charges the following year, after he is deemed mentally fit.
I covered Jerry’s sentencing hearing a few months later at Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench, in June 2016. The public got to hear the facts of the case, Karina’s family gave official statements to the court, and lawyers presented their sentencing arguments.
Second-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence in Canada. What’s up for debate is Jerry’s parole eligibility. The minimum is 10 years, but it can be increased all the way up to 25 years.
BRE: Court hears, for the first time, that Jerry and Karina encountered each other near the Friendship Inn on July 2, 2010. This was after Karina was dropped off by the man in the grey Corvette, just a few blocks away.
Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga said Jerry was looking for someone to have sex with, and invited Karina back to his apartment in the city’s north end.
When they arrived, Jerry snapped. He strangled Karina, cleaned her body, put her in a plastic tub with garbage bags and then dumped her in a slough northwest of Saskatoon.
The violent, senseless killing was described as a moment of displaced rage: Jerry was mad at his girlfriend, and took it out on a woman he had just met.
Carol hears all of this; She was in court for Jerry’s sentencing. When it was her turn to give a victim impact statement, she says she remembers being nervous.
It was her first time confronting Jerry, a lanky man with a narrow face, wispy facial hair and brown eyes. He sat in the prisoner’s box while Carol stood at the front of the courtroom and told him, through an interpreter, that what he did to Karina shattered her heart, spirit and soul.
CAROL: This was my daughter, that she’s not garbage. Why would he just throw her away like garbage? I mean, this was my daughter, this was my only daughter. My daughter, and he just threw her away like garbage. I remember yelling this to him. He had an education — like, what kind of a person does that?”
BRE: Jerry’s lawyer, Sangeeta Patel, argued that her client should get a shot at parole after serving 10 to 12 years. She argued if Jerry hadn’t walked into the police station and confessed, this case would almost certainly be unsolved.
The Crown cited Jerry’s prior criminal record as a reason to raise his parole eligibility to around 20 years. Court heard Jerry had a history of violent sexual behaviour, including a conviction for sexual assault causing bodily harm.
Another disturbing detail that I remember coming out in court was that after killing Karina, Jerry said he watched ‘Mr. Brooks,’ a movie about a serial killer who lived a double life.
In the end, Justice Gerald Allbright sentenced Jerry to life in prison with no chance of parole for 14 years. He said that number would have been higher if not for Jerry’s confession and guilty plea, which spared Karina’s family from having to sit through a trial.
Carol says she was satisfied with the sentence.
There’s no doubt that Carol Wolfe was instrumental in keeping her daughter’s case in the public eye. She walked in marches, organized vigils, handed out posters to strangers on the street. She was involved in every step of the process, no matter how painful it might be.
Nobody knew it at the time, but this continued attention on the case was slowly eating away at Jerry Constant — until his dark secret was finally exposed.
DORTHEA: And I think the reason why he came in was simply because we never let Karina’s story die out. It was constantly in the media. We were constantly doing interviews, fundraising, steak nights — whatever we could do. The other unique part about the investigation is that the investigators at that time took the time to come and sit with Carol and know Carol and get to know Karina through Carol.
Of course in police work, there’s always transfers to different units, those kinds of things. But I think what was unique is that each officer, when one would leave and a new one would start, would come together to introduce Carol to them, so that they knew Carol and they knew that this is the woman they’ll be working with and they knew that this is her daughter and we need to find her.
HUISMAN: Over time, doesn’t matter who you are, when you have this relationship, it started off to be a business relationship on the investigation to keep her updated on things. And over time I got to, you know, you learn little things. I knew that she liked a particular type of coffee from Tim Horton’s, so I would bring that to her and it culminated in a friendship with her. And, I think that in itself, accompanied with all the media stuff, played games with Jerry Constant in solving this file.
BRE: That relationship actually set a kind of precedent for how Saskatoon police work with the families of missing people, and the important role families play in the investigative process.
Randy still visits Carol from time to time. He says she is an advocate for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and regularly attends events at the Saskatoon police station. Randy says there’s always a spot for her in the front row.
Carol and Dorthea want people to know that Karina came from a family who cared about her. She was loved. She mattered.
DORTHEA: Sometimes we get a little lost in our addictions. That doesn’t mean a) somebody has a right to that to you, because you’re lost in you’re addictions or b) you’re out, going out dancing and having a few drinks, right? All young people need to go through that ‘experimental stage,’ we’ll call it. That’s when sometimes, we don’t think ahead, right? We don’t think ahead about getting a safe ride home, or we don’t think ahead about being with three, four, five other people that are going to make sure to keep an eye on each other. So it comes down to educating everyone.
Karina was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. And this person was out with intention to hurt somebody, and with Karina’s loving, trusting nature, right? He preyed on that.
So, I don’t know what the answer is besides education, learning to have a strong voice. Taking part, you know? Taking part in the community roles that we do. If community is more aware and more communities come out to support —and when I say communities I’m talking like Pleasant Hill, Riversdale — how they separate us here in the city. Saskatchewan, Manitoba, I mean, if each community could come out and support and show that we’re here: ‘What can we do?’ ‘How can we help? ‘How can we educate?’ Things will slowly come to change.
BRE: Carol says she’s forever grateful to Dorothea, Randy and everyone who helped in the five-year search for Karina. But Dorthea says it’s Carol who played a major role in finding her daughter because she never stopped looking.
As Dorthea puts it, Carol might not be able to speak — but she still has one powerful voice.
DORTHEA: It’s just to simply put it, it’s strength, and honour and hope. Just never lose that hope. That’s all we have is hope.”
BRE: There’s a toll free number for anyone seeking emotional support related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The number is 1-844-413-6649.
And for any tips relating to missing people in Saskatchewan, you can always contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS, that’s 1-800-222-8477.
She’s Gone is researched and written by me, Bre McAdam.
Our producers are Ashley Trask and Matt Olson. Our theme music was created by Brice Hall.
And editorial assistance comes from our editor-in-chief here at the StarPhoenix, Heather Persson.
You can subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
Retrieved from: https://thestarphoenix.com/news/crime/shes-gone-episode-1-the-disappearance-and-death-of-karina-wolfe
Published on: February 25, 2020