At the mouth of the Great Whale River sits the communities of Whapmagoostui and Kuujjuarapik, where the Cree and Inuit sides have very different social systems, languages and even police jurisdictions. These contrasts seem to have contributed to the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of a Cree woman named Mary Fleming.
“People were shocked,” said her cousin Sidney Orr. “It seems a bit of a mystery what actually happened to her because nobody’s making any public announcements, except maybe the Inuit radio station but we don’t really know what they said.”“People were shocked… It seems a bit of a mystery what actually happened to her because nobody’s making any public announcements, except maybe the Inuit radio station but we don’t really know what they said.”
While the details are murky, it seems that Fleming left the local social club at 2:22 am on November 9 with a young man, as her destination was only about 10 minutes away and the taxis weren’t operating. He apparently returned half an hour later saying something about being attacked but nobody paid much attention at the time.
“We thought she had passed out and froze to death but that wasn’t the case,” Orr told the Nation. “We had the funeral a few days back. But the family didn’t know the cause of her death, except in Chisasibi where she comes from. My sister from Chisasibi called to tell me the results of the autopsy were homicide.”
Orr had assumed that this was common knowledge but later found out that nobody had informed the immediate family, who only discovered the apparent cause of death November 25 from a radio announcement.
“I was there in my office at the social club,” said Orr. “Nobody knew [the truth]. Mary’s daughter was there, she works for us. When she heard, she was shocked to find out it was murder. They weren’t told by the police – that’s a little bit of insensitivity.”
Fleming’s family had moved from Chisasibi to Great Whale about 18 years ago and Mary was living in Kuujjuarapik at the time of her death. According to Eeyou Eenou Police Force Lieutenant Steven Boudrias, there have been no homicides in Whapmagoostui since 2008. Recent murdered and missing incidents have occurred on the Inuit side, which is outside his jurisdiction.
As Fleming’s death occurred in Kuujjuarapik, it was the Kativik Regional Police Force who first received a call concerning a person found unconscious outside a residence. The investigation was transferred to the Sureté du Québec (SQ) Major Crimes unit in Montreal, whose main investigator is Sergeant Bryan Mitchell.
“The victim, a 47-year-old woman, was transported to the hospital where her death was confirmed,” said an SQ spokesperson. “The circumstances of this death are considered suspicious. The file is still under investigation. We are waiting for the autopsy results.”
While the police could confirm nothing else at press time, Orr said the Inuit radio station had reported that two people had recently been arrested in connection with the incident. He believed the man who took Fleming home was cleared of wrongdoing.
“I’m not sure what the story is but there’s a bigger story here,” stated Orr in an earlier email to the Nation. “There’s many women gone missing or murdered here. It’s a very high number of unsolved murders, including for men. Someone in this town is a serial killer.”