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Heating up the cold case

OPP officials hope a $50,000 reward can jog someone’s memory or force long-dormant guilt to the surface and help them solve a 44-year-old double homicide.
Grace Esquega, sister of Irene Bernard. (Leith Dunick,
OPP officials hope a $50,000 reward can jog someone’s memory or force long-dormant guilt to the surface and help them solve a 44-year-old double homicide.

On Monday the provincial police announced they were re-opening the case, last looked at seriously in 1976, in hopes of finally providing closure to both families.

Det.-Insp. John Horne of the OPP’s criminal investigations branch, said while there are typically 25 to 30 cold case murder files on the books at any given time in Northwestern Ontario, this one stood out and he’s convinced there are people still alive with knowledge of what happened on the night of Aug. 27, 1966, when Doreen Hardy, 18, and Jane Bernard, 43, were strangled to death and their remains dumped near Sandy Beach.

"This basically is torture for (their families) that never goes away," Horne said at a news conference announcing a billboard and bus advertising campaign that are being conducted for two months in conjunction with the reward.

"These two women deserve justice."

The families have mixed feelings about the decision. Hardy’s family was in attendance Monday, but chose not to speak to media. Bernard’s, however, hopes this is an opportunity to finally find closure.

Irene Bernard was just bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood 34 years ago, when her life was ripped apart.

The night her 43-year-old mother Jane disappeared, she last seen getting into a late ‘50s or early ‘60s Pontiac Oldsmobile near the New Main Café on Cumberland Street.

Doreen Hardy was also spotted getting into the same vehicle that night, reportedly driven by a stocky man, standing approximately 5-foot-8 with light brown hair and glasses.

A day later Hardy’s strangled remains were found in McGregor Township (now the Shuniah Township), near Sandy Beach.

A few days after that, just 235 metres away from the spot where Hardy was found, police discovered Jane Bernard’s remains.

The ensuring four decades haven’t been easy on any of Jane Bernard’s family, said her youngest daughter.

"It’s hard to go on like this, not knowing who or why. I always found my mother to be very peaceful," Irene Bernard said, recalling her mom fondly. "She was very traditional. She was a Native woman who worked in the bush and knew everything about bush life. I had left to go to work for my own career in Sioux Lookout. I wasn’t home.

"I guess she went to visit her sisters because she had time to herself. I guess she met the wrong people at the wrong time and she was at the wrong place at (went) with this mysterious guy, whoever he is."

All she wants are answers.

"I feel very hurt. I was angry. I was frustrated. It’s so hard. For me, I’ve lost lots. And to lose my mom when I needed her," she said. "It would be very great to have closure. And I’m hoping this method that we’re going to try does work; and also for other families who have lost people in this way."

Irene Bernard’s sister, Grace Esquega, said when police approached her she had mixed emotions about reliving a period in time that is already front and centre in her mind each day.

"You have no idea what I am feeling right now because a lot of memories have come back. I couldn’t sleep last night. I was just crying because of the memories and how she must have struggled.

Esquega said the crime against her mother has always been fresh in her mind, never more so than now with the attention being focused on the case.

"When I think of my children, and being a grandmother now, and how much they’ve missed because they didn’t have a grandmother. That robbed them from what could have been, because they loved their grandmother."

Horne said he’s hoping someone out there knows something about the two murders and that time has worn away the fear of retaliation.

"We’re hoping it will stimulate a lot of information and a lot more tips," he said, noting similar tactics have been employed in other jurisdictions. On average, when attention like this is focused on a case, it generates between 10 and 15 tips – though a reward has never been claimed despite several cases having been solved.

Unlike television, where cases are neatly wrapped up in an hour, police have little to go on in this case, certainly no DNA or other forensic staples of the modern policing world.

"We have to rely on people to talk to us and let us know what (they know)," he said, admitting the OPP might be a little late revisiting this particular case.

"The families have had a child and a sister die, for no reason. Somebody out there committed this crime."
Horne is confident that even at this late a date a suspect can be brought to justice.

"I can never be 100 per cent sure, but the thing is, if you don’t try here, you are never going to know."

Anyone with information is encouraged to report it to their local OPP or municipal police department, or visit and report it there.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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