As the Yakima County coroner works to identify a body found on an island in the Yakima River a few weeks ago, Trish Monoian waits and hopes, just as she has since October 2013.
That’s when she last saw her daughter, Kayann Canfield. The 24-year-old with long red hair and a 2-year-old son had been living in Toppenish with her grandmother, who had custody of the boy. Though Canfield had moved out of her grandmother’s home, she kept in touch with family daily, Monoian said. They last heard from her late Oct. 20 and early Oct. 21, after she texted her stepfather asking for a ride, then called a little later to say she had one.
Authorities halted, then resumed their missing person investigation after Canfield was reportedly seen a few days later walking with her boyfriend. He denied being with her that day. On Nov. 5, Monoian found her daughter’s clothing dumped along a ditch near the intersection of Track and McDonald roads on the west end of Toppenish.
Years have passed with few updates.
“The hardest part is not knowing where she’s at. I’ve come to grips with (the possibility) my daughter is most likely dead. I’m OK with that, but I want that closure. I want to know where my daughter is,” she said. “Every time I hear it’s a female (body found), I immediately contact” investigators, Monoian said.
Monian is among many others in the Yakima Valley with missing loved ones. That is why Jim Curtice, the coroner, will not release the gender of the remains discovered July 21 on an island about a half-mile west of the Donald-Wapato Bridge.
“Because we have so many missing people, I don’t want to send out any false hopes to anyone,” he has said.
Unable to find dental X-rays matching the teeth of the body found July 21, Curtice has sent DNA samples to a lab. He continues to search dental records as he awaits test results, which could take from three to six months, or longer, he said.
The body was badly decomposed, mostly skeletal, and there was no evidence of how the person may have died. There’s no telling how long it had been in the area or how it ended up on the island.
Monoian has given a DNA sample to the investigator assigned to her daughter’s case, Detective John Duggan of the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, as have her youngest daughter and Canfield’s son. She also signed a release from Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic for Canfield’s dental records.
Until she knows for sure, Monoian says her prayers.
“Someone’s parents get their child back. That’s the best part. That’s what I keep hoping too,” she said. “It will be somebody’s child, if not mine.”
Could the July 21 remains be Canfield? Or possibly Alililia “Lala” Minthorn, a young Native woman last seen May 5 in Toppenish?
Or are the remains any of the other Native women who have gone missing on the Yakama Nation Reservation? They include Janice Marie Hannigan, a 16-year-old last seen on Christmas Eve 1971; Daisey Mae Tallman, an athletic 29-year-old who disappeared in late October 1987; Karen Louise Johnley, a petite 29-year-old last seen in early November 1987 at the Lazy R tavern in Harrah; Roberta Jean Raines, 37, who went missing from Toppenish in 2002; and Rosalita “Rose” Longee, 18, last seen in Wapato on June 30, 2015.
Indigenous women throughout and beyond the United States have suffered physical and sexual violence at disproportionate rates for decades. No one knows exactly how many women and girls have gone missing on or around the 1.3-million-acre Yakama reservation.
With no announcement concerning the gender of the body found July 21, the remains could be male. Just like those of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, a number of cases involving Native men and boys on and around the reservation remain unsolved. During an FBI investigation more than a decade ago that was spurred by rumors of a serial killer, investigators found as many as 32 cases involving men and women dating back to 1980.
Among the Native men reported missing on the reservation are Anthony “Tony” Peters, who was 56 when he disappeared in October 2014, and Anthony Wahsise Sr., 56, who was reported missing from Wapato in August 2017.
Donnie Sampson, 71, a well-known religious leader, had been serving for eight years on the Tribal Council’s Code of Ethics Committee when he disappeared in the fall of 1994 while hunting elk about 45 miles west of White Swan. His truck was found Oct. 30, 1994, in the foothills of Mount Adams, but searchers found no trace of Sampson.
His nitroglycerin, lunch, clothing and three rifles were found in his truck. A fourth rifle he left home with disappeared. In late 1994, his daughter told a Yakima Herald-Republic reporter that Sampson said the Code of Ethics Committee “was getting into something that’s going to make everybody mad.”
Even with the many advances in forensic science, there is no guarantee the body found July 21 will be identified within months or even years. Remains of two Native women discovered on the reservation in early 1988 and late 2008 are still unidentified.
A horseback rider came across skeletal remains and clothing on Feb. 16, 1988, near the Parker Dam and the unincorporated community of Parker. Authorities believe the woman, estimated to be 30 to 40 years old, was murdered and plan to exhume her to extract DNA for more tests. A date has not been set.
Also unidentified are skeletal remains of a Native woman found in late 2008 in a remote part of the Yakama reservation. In the spring of 2009, FBI agents were awaiting mitochondrial DNA test results on the remains, which they said may be of Tallman. But the FBI lab determined there was insufficient evidence to conclude the remains were hers, and the FBI will not release further information on the remains.
And in a much older case, a woman whose body was found in a van in downtown Yakima on the morning of July 25, 1977, is still known only as Jane Doe. Police pursued many leads over the decades since and exhumed her body in July 2004 to pull DNA, which has been submitted to various organizations.
The department’s forensic lab supervisor, Kristen Drury, has requested funds to submit samples of Doe’s DNA to GEDmatch, a genealogy service with profiles of more than a million people, or another genetic genealogy site to identify relatives in hopes of contacting them and give Doe back her real name.
Investigators don’t believe the woman was from Yakima, and some think she may have been here only a few days or weeks when she was murdered and sexually mutilated.
Several people have gone missing from Yakima since the woman’s still-unidentified body was discovered 42 years ago. They include Susan Libby Marable, reported missing in April 1991 weeks after her convicted rapist threatened her and her family in open court; and Julia Lynn Moranda, last seen getting into a vehicle in early December 1990.
Larry Riegel, 57, has been missing since December 2009. Maverick Craig went missing last December. Cody Turner, 24, was last seen July 26, 2015, when he left his grandmother’s Yakima home. Earlier that same month, another Yakima man he knew, Chad Stotz-Gomez, had disappeared.
Turner’s mother, Michelle Joe, is an administrator of the Yakima Scan Missing Persons page on Facebook. She has heard horrifying stories about what may have happened to her son and Stotz-Gomez.
Like Monoian, Joe has come to terms with the likely death of her son. But she wishes more was done early in the investigation. While adults have every right to sever contact with family and friends, most missing people don’t disappear on purpose.
“I still feel that they should be investigated as homicides from the beginning,” Joe said.
Tammy Ayer: email@example.com