It’s a sad mystery that has haunted Regina for 14 years: what happened to five-year-old Tamra Keepness who disappeared overnight on July 5, 2004?
On the anniversary of her disappearance, former Regina police cold case investigator, Staff Sgt. Tim Seiferling, reflected on the work that still goes into the search for the smiling missing girl from the photo who would now be 19.
He said instead of giving into frustration, the passing years provide more motivation to investigators.
“You get your energy from knowing that there’s going to be answers out there, somebody knows something,” Seiferling said.
He said that also comes from the expectations of family members, fellow police officers who worked on the case and the wider community to find out what happened.
“That’s where you get that energy from to keep pushing and digging and following leads that can help out in the investigation.”
He said Regina police still receive an average of 16 tips per year about the Keepness case, adding up to nearly 1,700 since 2004. Some come from people reporting in person to the police station, while others come as letters or anonymous tips.
Investigators follow up on each of those tips, validating the information, seeing if it matches up with prior reports, sometimes conducting searches or re-interviewing witnesses to see if they remember anything new and always staying in touch with family members.
“There may be people at different points in their life where maybe different circumstances come into their life where they come across information or they may remember something that’s going on,” Seiferling explained.
He noted the importance of keeping connections with people involved in the case, and in being approachable as a police force so people are willing to come forward to talk.
He admits it can be extremely difficult to determine the accuracy of witness accounts from 14 years ago because memories can change. Sometimes those memories could be clouded by something else, or maybe the person is relying on second-hand stories.
There is also risk of missing out on important information entirely.
Russell Sheepskin, who was known to be in the house the night Keepness went missing, is dead.
“If there was information that was with him, obviously that’s gone, but maybe he has told a story to somebody and maybe that person hasn’t come forward,” Seiferling said, pointing to the reason why it’s important for police to be available and open for people to talk to.
“We don’t know anything else that he knows – either that information is gone – but there’s always that possibility that maybe he spoke with somebody.”
Despite the challenges of a cold case, Seiferling said any information is considered good information and it’s a bigger problem if people stop talking or stop remembering.
These are the reasons why he said the annual community barbecue in Tamra Keepness’ memory is significant.
This year the barbecue is set for Thursday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Pepsi Park in the Core community neighbourhood where Keepness lived and played.
“It brings the community together, it brings the family together and there can be discussion in trying to keep that memory alive,” Seiferling commented. “It’s there for the community and we get together. You never know what happens, right. People talk, people visit and information can come out of it and a lot of times those stories come out and there may be the odd tip that comes out of that.”
As a young police officer assigned to patrol, Seiferling still recalls the intensity of the search for Keepness in 2004, describing the work of hundreds of police officers and community volunteers involved. It also holds particular relevance to him, because while he didn’t have children at the time she went missing, his own daughter was born later the same year.
“I can’t imagine having a five-year-old child go missing and not be found. It’s just something different that you don’t experience and it’s really hard to put into words the feelings that you had,” Seiferling said. “It stirs up feelings and emotions within you when you start thinking about it.”
Police are still using the same photo of Keepness at the age of five instead of providing a digitally aged photo because she has a twin sister who would likely match any aged photo.
Understanding the frustration within the whole community about an unresolved case, continues to help energize police to keep the memory of the little girl alive with the hope of someday finding the answer to what happened to her.