This story contains details about murder and sexual assault that some readers may find disturbing.
In the summer of 2003, my Tŝilhqot’in friend Ellen (not her real name) invited me to visit her territory so I could get away from an abusive man I was dating and the scene that drew us together. She and I drove from Vancouver to her community of Yunesit’in, also known as Stone or Stoney. The community is about an hour away from Williams Lake in the Cariboo region of BC’s interior, about seven to eight hours away from Vancouver, and about four hours away from the start of the Highway of Tears, in Prince George, driving along Highway 97.
The day after we arrived, we plucked tiny soapberries from bushes on hilly fields, made Indian ice cream, and crafted medicine from tree pitch and moose grease. My friend’s family members and the horses were like salve to my wounded heart. I was in awe of how many people were fluent in the Tŝilhqot’in language and how gentle but fierce the people were. For me, it was a place of deep healing and learning, where everything slowed down, giving me time to reflect and pay respect to the land, the people, and my own experiences.
I ended up visiting there more than once over the years. It was during one of those visits that I learned about Gloria Levina Moody and what had happened to her decades earlier, not far from the predominantly white settler town of Williams Lake.
Levina, as she was called by her family and Nuxalk community, was twenty-six years old when she disappeared on October 25, 1969. A mother of two small children aged four and three, she was kind, caring, and deeply loved by all her eight siblings, mom and dad, and extended family, with whom she was very close. Her brother David Moody, who was twenty-one years old when she died (and who also goes by his middle name, Al), says she was fun loving and was known to joke around with her many friends but was also a homebody who didn’t like crowds. “Oh, and she was a great mom who loved children,” he tells me over a crackly phone from Bella Coola. Levina also loved to bake and cook and would experiment with different Chinese dishes a lot, he says. She travelled along the coast to different fish hatcheries, for work, with a group of Nuxalk women and played basketball in her spare time.
I have seen three black-and-white pictures of her. In one, she is around thirteen, hair tied back neatly and wearing a black dress with a wide white collar; she has big dark eyes and a large warm smile. In the second photo, her hair is tied back and worn high. She looks straight into the camera with a tiny smile, little pearl earrings dangling to her cheeks. And in the third, she is smiling ear to ear, her eyes disappearing into her grin, flanked by her two beaming children. It is a picture of pure love.
When I first spoke to Levina’s daughter, Vanessa Hans, in 2016, I was curious to learn more about her mom since there is so little written about who she was before she died. But about three minutes into our phone conversation, she tells me she remembers nothing of her mom, since she was only four years old when Levina was murdered. I ask Vanessa if, when growing up, she heard stories or memories shared of her mom. She says that while everyone in the community said she looked just like her mom, there was a silence surrounding her. No one spoke of her mom, Vanessa says, perhaps to shield her and other family members from the pain of the loss and the brutal way her mother died. I was just starting to understand why there was so little published about Levina. It is often just too hard for the family to speak about, even more than fifty years later.
Bringing levity to a hard conversation, Vanessa chuckles, thinking back to being a young girl and wondering why she didn’t look much like her “mom” until learning, at twelve years old, that she was actually being raised by her maternal grandmother, Daisy, and grandfather, David. David and Daisy had one of the more culturally active families in the Bella Coola Valley, and they managed to keep their kids out of residential school. When the potlatch was banned, her family continued to practise it to keep that part of their culture alive. Vanessa’s final words to me in that first call are “Thank you for seeing her.” It would be the first of the dozens of times I’d “see” her mom—her story and her horrific murder—through Vanessa’s eyes.
Vanessa’s Nuxalk community in Bella Coola rests on an inlet of the Pacific Ocean about six hours west of Williams Lake. With towering coastal mountains and rushing glacial rivers, the area is the gateway to the Great Bear Rainforest. This land, this community, is where the Moody family has lived since time immemorial.
In the late fall of 1969, Levina Moody went on a family trip with her mom, Daisy; her dad, David; and her brother David (whom the family calls Al). They headed to Williams Lake to do some Christmas shopping and get out of Bella Coola for a couple of days. The Lake, as it is called by locals, is the nearest centre larger than Bella Coola, and many travel there to pick up items not available in their home community.
On their way from Bella Coola, the family stopped at a café and bar in Anahim Lake called the Frontier Inn. “Levina was teaching me how to play shuffleboard,” Al says. While they played the game, the family noticed a man was ogling Levina and that it was making her uncomfortable. She became so ill at ease that Al asked the man why he was staring, to which he replied that it was because Levina was so beautiful. They eventually left, and when the family arrived in Williams Lake later that day, they checked into the Ranch Hotel for the weekend.
On Saturday, the last night of their stay in the Lake, Levina and her brother went out to the Lakeview pub to relax and grab a drink. Newspaper reports from the time mention that it was a “pay weekend,” as there was a big livestock sale in town, with hotels and bars packed.
Levina Moody failed to return to the hotel that night. The family notified the RCMP that same night that she had gone missing, but before a report could even be properly filed, they discovered the worst. The next morning, on Sunday, hunters found Levina’s naked body on a trail about 7 miles west of Williams Lake, according to an RCMP report from the time. She had last been seen wearing a navy-blue coat and a yellow shift dress with green and blue flowers. The report goes on to say she was brutally murdered and bled to death after being beaten, tortured, and sexually assaulted—in part with a tree branch. She is said to have died from that injury. It is one of the most brutal and heinous murders I have ever investigated in my life. The report from 1969 lists her as a victim of second-degree murder.
Vanessa says that years later, when she and her brother, Dan, were in their twenties, RCMP investigators shared with them a box of photographs and records of their mother’s death. She still doesn’t know why. Over the phone, Vanessa tells me that when the officers told them they could look inside, she was in disbelief and wondered why they would permit them to do that, knowing how traumatic it would be. She warned her brother not to look at the documents, but he did. When Vanessa saw one of the images of her deceased mom, she ran out of the station to the river and fainted from the extreme trauma and shock. Seeing the images drove her kid brother to turn to alcohol to cope with the trauma, she says, which eventually led to his demise. Earlier, as a teenager trying to make sense of why her mother had been murdered and how there had been no justice for her, Vanessa had also turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. Now in her fifties, she has been sober for more than thirty years and is a respected cultural teacher and genealogist in her community.
According to current RCMP officers whom Vanessa and I have spoken with, Moody’s murder remains open and unsolved. Her case is now among the investigations of the RCMP’s Project E-PANA, a task force dedicated to unsolved murders connected to Highways 16, 97, and 5, where so many Indigenous women have gone missing. Few of the women’s cases have been solved, but police tell me that all of them remain open in case they uncover new evidence related to them, despite family members’ concerns that the unit has faded out because of a lack of new funding since 2016.
Levina Moody, whom the police refer to by her first name, Gloria, is on the list as one of the first known Indigenous women to be murdered along BC’s infamous network of highways. Levina’s family believes people are withholding the truth about her case. As with other cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls that I have covered, the investigation into Moody’s murder was shoddy, despite strong evidence of there being a known suspect. Understanding why her case is still cold requires untangling the strands of a messy skein of an investigation.
In 2021, the RCMP told me via email that Moody’s case is considered open “until such time that it has been settled through the judicial system, i.e. someone has been charged.” According to staff sergeant Janelle Shoihet, “It is my understanding that there was at one time someone of interest in this case, however that person died before they could be charged, thus the file cannot be closed, given there has been no judicial decision rendered.” In 1999, Vanessa says, officers at the Williams Lake RCMP detachment told her family there was strong evidence, including witness reports, that helped them identify suspects. She says officers told her family that they had identified a suspect named Al Blohm, alongside two other suspects—all of whom by then were deceased. In 200 pages of documents I obtained via an Access to Information and Privacy request, numerous RCMP reports from 1970 through the 1990s and up until 2010 identify suspects in the murder—at times, they were even given polygraph tests—but the names are always redacted.
A former Mountie, Mel McIntosh, who was on Levina’s case in the late 1980s, says that he was aware of Blohm but that the Moody investigation was a disaster. During a phone interview, he tells me that when he transferred to the Williams Lake detachment in April 1988 and was in charge of general investigations, management told him there were no outstanding homicide investigations. But in October that year, he got an alert through the internal RCMP information communications system, pointing him to an “outstanding diary date” with a file number and the name Gloria Levina Moody on it. When he inquired, “the records guy” told him the file was at the bottom of a drawer. “So I take the entire drawer, and the file is in absolute disarray,” McIntosh tells me from his home in Abbotsford, BC. “There were probably ten pads of foolscap with what would appear to be the start of a statement, but I don’t recall any of them indicating who gave the statement or any identifiers of the statement taker nor the statement giver,” he adds. He said the statement would start off legibly but then it would just go into scribbles. “Wavy lines on a piece of paper,” he says. The papers were not dated and were loose in the drawer, so McIntosh tried to put them together based on their dog ears. Later, he asked an investigator on the Moody case about who had taken the statements. The investigator replied that it was “a couple of [other investigators] who were sent out west and that they probably spent more time drinking than they did taking statements.”
Another RCMP member at the time told McIntosh that there were bullets left close to Moody’s deceased body, and there had been evidence of an expensive matching rifle that a potential suspect had recently got rid of. But when McIntosh asked to see his records, the officer said he was never instructed to keep notes.
McIntosh says that the disregard for Moody’s file was not because of her race but a sign of the times, reflecting the level of disorganization within the detachment. RCMP officers were less educated and more like gun-slinging cowboys back then, especially in backcountry areas, he told me. However, he did share that one of the investigators had “jaundiced attitudes” toward the native officers in the detachment, a racist view which he felt spilled over into his dealings with Indigenous civilians. In a later conversation, he added, “[His] attitude is something that will stay with me forever. He was racist, bigoted, you name it.”
McIntosh did have leads into the murder of Levina Moody from 1988 until 1990. He says he learned that an RCMP colleague interviewed a woman who was the mother of a female employee at the detachment; the mother claimed to be a former common-law spouse to the now deceased Al Blohm. She said Blohm had written a letter implying that he had murdered Levina Moody. McIntosh says her name was Toni Brecknock and that she was so scared Blohm would kill her that she waited until he died to come forward. She said that Blohm was extremely violent and committed “demented” sexually violent acts on her. McIntosh says that in 1969, the year Moody was killed, Blohm may have worked as a bartender at a local Williams Lake pub and was rumoured to ply women with alcohol, take them home, and sexually assault them. None of the accusations about Blohm have been tested in court, and he was never charged.
According to McIntosh, an RCMP officer, Murray Neufeld, told him in 1994 that Moody’s case was solved: one of the suspects had made a deathbed confession to his brother and sister, under the condition that they could not divulge it to the police until their parents had died, which they now had. McIntosh says that as far as the police were concerned, they had enough information, including a confession and a witness, to prove that Al Blohm was involved. He tells me Blohm was one of those guys the police at the time would have called “beyond reproach,” as he was liked and seen as friendly by the detachment when he was alive.
Looking through the Access to Information and Privacy documents, half of which are newspaper articles, I think about how the way Levina’s murder was reported was so different from what we see in the headlines today. In so many stories about her that I have read, there are omissions about who she was, how she was killed, and how this could have happened in such a small town where everyone knows each other. Her death was mired in a deep and hollow silence, and as a result, her case has lain dormant for more than fifty years. No one has ever been arrested, charged, or convicted. Vanessa and Levina’s brother Al tell me that many people from Williams Lake have told them it was widely known who murdered Moody but no one was prepared to come forward—perhaps because they wanted to protect the men but also perhaps because they feared that they could face harm or retaliation for revealing the truth.
In 2021, Vanessa called me with some distressing news. A man, first posing as a female journalist on Facebook, started calling her repeatedly, claiming to be investigating the murder of her mother. The man, who on the phone identified himself as “Phil the trucker,” called her several times, saying he knew more about the murder than most others. In one call, Vanessa said, he made crude accusations about her mom; in another, he talked about the bar her mom was at before she was murdered. Vanessa said she was so stunned at some of the things the man was saying that she felt paralyzed, unable to hang up the phone. Despite feeling terrified and deeply disturbed, she kept picking up the phone because she felt she was getting more information about who killed her mother, a horrible task she has felt committed to almost her entire life.
The man called several times in 2021, and I often wonder who this person is and why he appears to be trying to scare and hurt the daughter of a woman who was so brutally murdered. The thought haunts me.
While I did the best I could to help ease Vanessa’s mind about who may have been responsible for her mother’s murder, there will most likely never be charges against the man or men who were involved. I feel deep guilt knowing that I have not brought her the closure she deserves. And part of me wonders if I have just dug up more memories and caused more harm than good.
Spiritual and community leaders have held two ceremonies for Levina over the years—one in 1994 in Alkali Lake and another in Bella Coola in 1999, where family members held rocks from the river and shared and released memories to free themselves of the pain. It was their own form of closure, but sadly, it was not the end.
Despite the fact that it’s been more than fifty years, the Moody family is still holding out hope for being able to name Levina’s killer or killers within their lifetimes. As Elders in their family pass on, Vanessa says it’s a constant reminder that many are dying without having the closure they deserve. With each generation that passes, there is a reminder of the intergenerational trauma caused by the murder and the lack of care that has seemed to surround it.
I follow the Moodys on Facebook, and we keep in contact by phone and email. It’s incredible, after all they have been through, to see a new generation of the family thrive and blaze new ground. The healing work the Moody family has done must be tremendous.
In 2018, a story out of Bella Coola on the CBC website caught my eye. A photo in the article is of Levina’s granddaughter Jalissa Moody. She is wearing a grey, white, and black knitted Cowichan sweater and smiling proudly while pointing out a row of simple wooden tiny homes. The article explains how she, as an asset management assistant for the band, had noticed a demographic of single men who were unable to find housing, and she had found a solution to fill the gap. It reminded me that like so many family members whose paths I have witnessed, there is hope, there is strength, and there is an amazing ability to thrive.
Adapted, with permission of the publisher, from the book Unbroken: My Fight for Survival, Hope, and Justice for Indigenous Women and Girls, written by Angela Sterritt and published by Greystone Books in May 2023.