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Canada The Taken: The story behind our investigation into the serial homicides of indigenous women

Indigenous women are roughly seven times more likely than non-indigenous women to be victims of serial homicide, according to a compiled international dataset of serial killings.

This story is part of an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation into the hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada

While examining our database of homicide and missing-person cases involving indigenous women about six months ago, a Globe team noticed a pattern: Several names were listed in connection with more than one killing. By the summer, the prospect of a serial killer operating in the Edmonton-area was thrust to the fore after a woman's remains were discovered in the same area as those of three indigenous women.

A 2014 RCMP report found that 1,181 aboriginal women were killed or went missing between 1980 and 2012. The Globe set out to determine the extent to which these tragedies were the result of serial homicide. We also embarked on the creation of a multimedia project that traces the lives of five indigenous women slain by different serial killers.

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The Taken, which explores the women's vulnerabilities and examines their families' interactions with police and the justice system, launches Tuesday. This immersive project features a written narrative, but it is distinct for its use of mapping, audio, photos and video. On the former, the team obtained the latitudes and longitudes for the places considered key to the woman's life – a major undertaking, given that we traced each woman's path from her birth to her death.

Over the past year, The Globe has been compiling its own database, building on data collected by the Native Women's Association of Canada and Ottawa-based researcher Maryanne Pearce. We filed an access-to-information request in April asking for the RCMP's dataset, but that request is pending.

For this investigation, we focused on vetting our serial-killer subset to confirm the women were, in fact, indigenous and had been slain by a convicted serial killer. These are our "confirmed" cases. But because relying on criminal convictions alone likely understates – perhaps significantly – the true extent of the serial predation, we also researched unsolved cases potentially involving a serial killer and categorized these as "probable" and "speculative."

In terms of confirming the woman's ethnicity, we discovered early on that we could not rely on police missing-person bulletins. In some cases, these did not exist or had been archived and were no longer available online. In some bulletins, we learned, the victims' ethnicity had been misstated.

To overcome this and obtain the fullest dataset of serial-homicide victims, The Globe conducted many dozens of interviews with victims' families, lawyers, law-enforcement officials, authors, researchers and indigenous organizations. We obtained court transcripts and secured access to case exhibits. We pored over news stories and inquiry reports. We conducted reporting on the ground in Manitoba and British Columbia.

Yet our database work would not suffice. What if a killer took the life of one indigenous woman and one non-indigenous woman, for example? Our dataset would not reveal this. As such, we took lists of known Canadian serial killers and ran the names against the offenders in our database. We also scoured books and news archives for cases we may have missed (inevitably, there are some).

We were able to determine that at least 18 indigenous women were slain by convicted serial killers in Canada since 1980. We felt it was important to not only name these women, but also feature their photos to help our readers connect in a deeper way. This was no simple task.

In many cases, it involved finding victims' families to obtain pictures of loved ones who died as many as three decades ago. This meant cold calling people with the victim's last name, as well as individuals noted in news or inquiry reports as having been related to the woman. We also had some success connecting with relatives on Facebook. There were also instances where we had to rely on photos culled from true crime books or missing-person bulletins. In the end, we managed to obtain photos of 17 of the 18 women.

To contextualize this, we needed to understand the vulnerability of the overall female population in this country. Given the lack of comprehensive Canadian data on serial homicide, we looked to U.S. researcher Mike Aamodt, who has compiled an international dataset of serial killings.

By analyzing his female Canadian subset and factoring in historic population figures, we found that indigenous women are roughly seven times more likely to be victims of serial homicide than non-indigenous women.

Do you have information that could assist in our investigation into serial killing as it relates to the broader issue of Canada's missing and murdered women? If so, please e-mail The Globe's MMIW team at MMIW@globeandmail.com.

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If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

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