Mother searched for her missing daughter until the end
Looking for her lost child since 2011, Molly Dixon 'never gave up hope' that she would be found – and championed her case as one of Canada's hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women
Molly Dixon became a mother at 16, giving birth to a daughter whose eyes captured her heart and held it long after her girl disappeared.
Molly died at 51, after overcoming her shyness to champion her daughter's case as one of Canada's hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Molly never knew Angeline's fate.
The official reason given for her death was heart failure. Family members say she died of a broken heart.
Molly Louise Dixon – mother, grandmother, sister, friend – died Nov. 20, 2017, in Vancouver.
Ms. Dixon was a member of the Quatsino First Nation, whose traditional lands and waters span the north end of Vancouver Island and the Knight Inlet area, but she spent most of her life in Vancouver.
She gave birth to two children: a daughter, Angeline Pete, the subject of a Globe and Mail investigation in 2016, and a son, Christopher Dixon, who lives in Quatsino.
Ms. Pete, 29 at the time of her disappearance, was last seen in May, 2011, in North Vancouver. North Vancouver RCMP investigated her disappearance, following up on scores of tips, but Ms. Dixon died with the case remaining unsolved.
Molly was not among Canada's murdered and missing Indigenous women, now the subject of a national inquiry. But she was among those left behind. And some threads of her life, especially the intergenerational impact of residential schools, are woven through Angeline's.
At her funeral service, Eileen Nelson, Molly's mother, was flanked by her other daughters as she laid out Molly's struggle with alcoholism, just as she, Eileen, had struggled in her younger days.
Molly didn't go to residential school but grew up in the shadow of that experience.
Both of her parents went to the schools and both became alcoholics.
As a child, Molly grew up partly in social housing. Her father, once a logger and a fisherman, had come to Vancouver from B.C.'s north coast as a young man.
Ms. Nelson joined him when she was old enough to leave Quatsino.
But the home they built was tough: An older sister stepped in to help raise Molly and other siblings and though Eileen quit drinking after worrying about the effect it was having on her children, Ms. Dixon started hanging out with a rough crowd, gravitating toward booze and pot, and sometimes harder drugs.
She gave birth to Angeline as a teen and moved back to the reserve to be with Ms. Nelson. Molly's partner at the time, now deceased, was abusive.
But Molly and the baby didn't stay for long and returned to Vancouver, where Molly had friends and family. Once back in the city, Molly continued to struggle with alcohol.
The authorities intervened, placing Angeline in foster care when she was a toddler, an episode family members now say was damaging for both of the women.
Over the next few years, Ms. Dixon tried to get her back. But there were problems with courts and social workers and questions about whether she was complying with conditions she was supposed to meet to regain custody.
Eventually, Ms. Nelson got involved, going through what she describes as a gruelling process before gaining the right to care for Angeline.
The stint in foster care ended when Angeline was about three.
She came home changed, her grandmother says – less affectionate and more withdrawn.
Angeline grew into a funny, athletic young woman who loved floor hockey and catching fish; she used to tease her grandmother that she could survive in the bush as long as she had a knife.
She could be volatile. Angeline was charged with assault in 2009 and the following year got a conditional sentence that included a provision that she not go to Quatsino First Nation – a restriction her family says sent Angeline into a downward spiral.
Angeline was last heard from on May 25, 2011. She wasn't reported missing until August, 2011, partly because her mom and grandmother thought she might have gone on the road to work with a carnival, as she had before.
Like Molly, Angeline encountered violence in her own relationships. Days before she disappeared, she posted a photo of herself with a split lip on Facebook, saying it came from an encounter with her fiancé. Police questioned the fiancé in relation to Angeline's disappearance.
But the investigation stalled and tips dried up.
On Dec. 5, 2011, an article in The Province newspaper quoted Ms. Dixon as saying she didn't think investigators were "trying hard enough." The next day, the RCMP put out a statement outlining the steps it had taken and emphasizing the force was "actively working" to locate Angeline and ensure her safety.
Molly put up posters, spoke at news conferences and spoke to reporters.
In May, 2014, three years after Angeline disappeared, Molly spoke at an RCMP news conference, asking anyone with information to come forward.
"There's days I can't even sleep, you know, wondering where she is, what happened to her," Molly told CTV Vancouver at the time.
"There's days I walk through the streets, hoping to find [her], bump into her."
She found it very hard to leave the Downtown Eastside as she hoped to find her daughter, the family said in a pamphlet prepared for her funeral.
"Molly never gave up hope of the search for Angeline," they added.
A Globe reporter visiting Molly's apartment in May, 2016, found signs of Angeline were everywhere.
There were photos, a battered cowboy hat and a butterfly brooch. Angeline loved butterflies and had a butterfly tattoo on her chest.
Molly had a black notebook, filled with names and numbers and sticky notes about Angeline's case.
She had plastic bags stuffed with belongings of a "street daughter" who'd recently died of a fentanyl overdose. She had a life partner, now deceased, and friends in the neighbourhood.
She had put up missing-person posters in community centres and drop-in centres.
At the funeral, Molly's family spoke of Molly's laugh and of her generosity.
They noted in the pamphlet handed out at the service that Molly "generously donated her kidneys to two families so that life can carry on through them."
"So for the two families, Merry Christmas and God bless."