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The Disappearance of Stephanie Stewart

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 Case File Overview

70-year-old Stephanie Stewart worked alone as a wildfire spotter at the Athabasca Tower lookout, located approximately 15 miles (25 kilometres) northeast of Hinton, Alberta on the outskirts of Jasper National Park.

Stephanie was reported missing at 9:00 am on August 26th, 2006 when she failed to check-in that morning; routine check-ins were required 3 times a day. Another fire spotter was sent to investigate. Stephanie was nowhere to be found.

Athabasca Tower and Cabin

Photo of Athabasca tower 3 that Stephanie Stewart disappeared from.
Image source: Global News

Stephanie was last heard from when she chatted on the phone with a family member the previous evening at around 9:00 pm.

At the time of her disappearance, Stephanie wore glasses, stood 5 feet 2 inches tall (158 centimetres), weighed roughly 105 pounds (48 kilograms), and had blue eyes and mixed grey, auburn hair.

Stephanie remains missing.

Stephanie Stewart

Photo of missing person Stephanie Stewart
Image source: Global News

Case File Theories

Ran Off to Start A New Life

Did Stephanie abandon her post to start a new life? This theory is extremely unlikely. By all accounts, Stephanie was an adventurous, healthy senior and a beloved mother. She loved her job and had 18 years’ experience fulfilling her duties as a fire spotter, with 13 of the years spent at the Athabasca Tower lookout. Apparently she relished her time there, tending the garden, doing crafts, and reading many books. This doesn’t sound like a life that Stephanie longed to escape from. Also, her Dodge Ram truck was still parked on site. It’s not probable Stephanie would set off to start a new life on foot in the forest. The police are adamant that Stephanie just didn’t walk away from her life. No doubt the authorities monitored her credit cards and bank accounts and they were untouched. I believe that this theory can be readily dismissed.

Misadventure / Animal Attack

Did Stephanie somehow manage to get lost? The watchtower is located in a dense mountain forest. However, Stephanie had been working on site for 13 years, so I believe this isn’t the answer. Or was she killed by an animal and then dragged from the scene? Maybe. But the authorities conducted an extensive ground, water, and air search of thousands of kilometres of land. Even infrared technology was used and turned up nothing. Given this, the police officially ruled out an accident or animal attack as the cause of Stephanie’s disappearance.


Was Stephanie murdered? The police insist that Stephanie’s disappearance is the result of a homicide. Items were missing from the cabin: two pillows with blue covers, a burgundy sheet, a Navajo-patterned duvet, and Stephanie’s gold watch. Was Stephanie sexually assaulted and killed on the bed? The perpetrator could have wrapped Stephanie in the bedding and took both it and her body in an effort to hide evidence of the crime. Was Stephanie killed during a robbery and that is why her watch is missing? Or did the killer merely steal the watch because they saw the opportunity?

Crucially, the police have told the media that forensic evidence at the scene led them to conclude that Stephanie was murdered. However, they decline to reveal specifics to “protect the integrity of the investigation.” It has been unofficially reported, though, that enough blood was found in the cabin to indicate that Stephanie had been killed. Was Stephanie murdered by someone that she knew who travelled to the lookout for the sole purpose of killing her? Or was she killed by someone who just happened to come across her alone in the wilderness? The latter is more possible than one might think, as the Athabasca Tower is reportedly only 3 miles (5 kilometres) from a main road.

Travis Vader

Was Stephanie murdered by Travis Vader? Vader is serving a life sentence for the murder of Lyle and Marie McCann, aged 78 and 77. The couple disappeared shortly after they left their Edmonton-area home in their RV for a camping trip to British Columbia in July, 2010. Vader, a drug addict with a history of arson, theft, and weapon charges, killed the McCanns during a robbery west of Edmonton. After murdering the couple, Vader disposed of their bodies in the woods and then burnt their RV. The McCanns’ remains have never been found.

Travis Vader

Photo of convicted murderer Travis Vader
Image source: The National Post

Lyle and Marie McCann

Photo of murder victims Lyle and Marie McCann
Image source: The National Post

It has been reported that Vader was in the area when Stephanie disappeared. He might have killed her during a robbery; recall that Stephanie’s gold watch was missing. Also, Vader has a propensity for killing seniors. It has also been suggested that a warm pot of water that was found on the stove at Stephanie’s cabin could have been an attempt to start a fire. As Vader likes using fire to destroy evidence, this could be possible. Even if Vader was responsible for Stephanie’s murder, I doubt he’ll be confessing to it anytime soon. He still actively denies any involvement in the murder of the McCanns. And, of course, he hasn’t disclosed the location of their bodies.

What do you think happened to Stephanie?

Stephanie’s daughter Lorie mourns the loss of her mother. She told the media that “Mom’s a hell of a woman. She’s very strong, she’s very capable … The tower life is her life.” Although Stephanie’s loved ones long for answers, as a small consolation Stephanie’s legacy lives on in the improved safety enjoyed by fire spotters in Canada since her disappearance.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, of which Stephanie was a member, has implemented multiple safety recommendations that have since spread throughout Canada. For instance, lockable gates and fencing have been installed around the cabins and watch towers. Bush from around the cabins has been removed to improve visibility. Cabin doors and windows have been fortified. Staff also received self-defence training and are now equipped with panic buttons.

If you have any information about Stephanie’s disappearance, please contact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Hinton Detachment at 780-865-2455. A $20,000 reward is still being offered by the Alberta government and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees for information that solves the mystery of what happened to Stephanie.

Related Reading and Listening

10 years since wildfire spotter Stephanie Stewart vanished near Hinton, Alta.Global News article

Ten years later: Disappearance of senior at Alberta fire lookout still a mysteryCBC News article

$20,000 reward still offered for information to solve Stewart caseHinton Parklander article

Travis Vader sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of killing elderly coupleThe National Post article

Disappearance of Stephanie StewartThinking Sideways Podcast episode

Interested in missing person cases? Check out the mysterious disappearance of Amy Wroe Bechtel and the vanishing of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman.

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Published inMissing Person FilesTrue Crime



  1. Maciej Maciej

    Stephanie Stewart loved her role as a fire spotter. As possible as it was for her to have suffered a murderous end, this end is also highly unlikely. There was no sign of forced entry or any damage to the cabin. There were no reports of any vehicles going in or out on the only road that brings people in and out to the tower on that day. If the alleged attacker came on foot, he or she had to dispose of the body on foot as well. This would leave a scent trail that would lead to the spot of the burial. Whatever happened to her was sudden, unusual and worth investigating.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Maciej. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment. This case is definitely a baffling one. I really hope Stephanie’s family can get some kind of closure one day soon.

      • Maciej Maciej

        Thanks Christine. I was working in the area at the time as a land surveyor. I remember this story in the media. Right from the beginning it had an eerie feel to it because there was a lot of questions that remained unanswered. There was also a very clear lack of motive for the alleged murder. The event had to be sudden because Stephanie was well aware to call in her morning, mid day and evening check-in. So for her to not be able to even call in
        a scream is very unusual. She had the high ground on any intruder and a cabin for shelter. She also had the advantage of a quiet setting where even footsteps would be easily heard. If this was a person responsible for the disappearance, they were 100% efficient. I do not know of any people that are that efficient in my life.

        • Christine Christine

          Wow. Talk about the case being close to home. That must have been especially unsettling. Well, I don’t really think she disappeared on her accord or accidentally got lost. An animal attack would likely leave evidence. I tend to think that someone abducted her. But it really is impossible to know. And as you say, if that was the case the perpetrator was extremely efficient, which is both rare and terrifying, in my opinion.

        • Mnl Mnl

          Missing 411. Those cases have always intrigued me and this one could possibly fit the parameters of such cases.

  2. Martha Martha

    How do you explain the blood and missing bedding? Boiling water on the stove also indicated someone else was there within a short time of whoever went looking at the cabin for her. Anyone could have Parked elsewhere, a 5 km walk from the highway would be easy. The lookout was visible and well-known. I’m sad for her and her family, but glad to see her death meant something as it led to safety measures put in place.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Martha. Thanks for sharing your insights! I also sadly think it was foul play. So much evidence at the scene points to it. I’m hoping one day Stephanie’s loved ones get answers. But you’re right – at the very least there are new safety measures in place. Thanks again and take care!

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