The Disappearance of Tamra Jewel Keepness
Case File Overview
On July 5th, 2004, five-year-old Tamra Jewel Keepness disappeared from her residence: 1834 Ottawa Street in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Tamra and her five siblings were watching TV and enjoying a snack on the evening of her disappearance. She was last seen heading to bed at around 11:00pm.
Tamra’s mother, Lorena Keepness, had an alchol-fuelled argument with her common-law partner, Dean McArthur, at around 8:30pm the evening Tamra vanished.
After the altercation, Dean went drinking with Russell Sheepskin, a friend of the family who sometimes stayed over at the house.
Lorena stayed home until she sent her children to bed, and then went to visit and drink with a friend who lived about a block away, leaving her oldest child, eleven-year-old Summer, in charge.
Tamra’s mother checked in on Summer on her way back to her friend’s house after picking up some alcohol. Everything seemed fine, so Lorena told Summer to “Lock the doors. Don’t open the doors for anyone. If anything comes up, phone me,” and she returned to her friend’s house around midnight.
Tamra’s last known location
Sometime around 2:00am, Russell returned in “an alcohol-induced fog.” Evidence indicated that he made himself a meal, but he doesn’t recall doing so.
Russell and Dean had gone their separate ways earlier in the evening, and Russell didn’t know where Dean was. He told the police that he checked on some of the children who were in the living room, and noticed Tamra sleeping on the love seat.
Russell then headed to the porch to smoke a cigarette and encountered Dean, who was just returning home, right outside the door. Dean proceeded to badly beat Russell.
After the fight Dean left and wandered the streets, trying to find a place to crash. After settling on his Aunt’s house but passing out numerous times on the way there, he finally arrived at around 5:30am. He slept on his aunt’s couch and didn’t return home until late the next day.
Russell decided to go to the hospital for stitches, leaving through the backdoor. He didn’t lock the door or notice if the children were still sleeping in the living room.
Lorena returned home shortly after 3:00am. She crawled in one of the windows because the front door was locked. Although she was quite intoxicated, she believes that she saw Summer and Tanis sleeping in the living room but not Tamra. She headed to the couch and fell deeply asleep.
The next morning, July 6th, 10-year-old Raine was woken up when he felt the bed move, and assumed that it was his sister Tamra getting up. He wasn’t sure of the time this occurred, but stated that it was light outside.
At roughly 9:00am the children’s grandmother, Lois Shepherd, arrived. She found the front door open and Lorena recovering from a hangover on the couch.
Around 10:30am, Lorena noticed that Tamra hadn’t come down for breakfast. She sent one of the children up to get her and was concerned when she was informed that Tamra wasn’t there.
The family searched frantically for Tamra, and at around 12:15 pm they called police and reported her missing.
One of the largest searches in Regina’s history was soon launched, but there was no trace of the little girl. Hundreds of police and volunteers scoured the neighbourhood for Tamra, including dumpsters and outbuildings.
Tamra remains missing.
Tamra Jewel Keepness
Case File Theories
Kidnapped/Murdered By A Stranger
Could Tamra have been kidnapped and/or murdered by someone outside of her inner circle? Maybe.
The police did question numerous sex offenders in the area, but came up empty handed. Could one of them have discovered the unlocked backdoor, entered the home, and kidnapped Tamra? This is possible, I suppose, but there was plenty of activity happening in the house that evening, and the perpetrator would have needed to time their crime of opportunity perfectly.
Lorena holds fast to this theory, believing that someone “stole” Tamra because she was so smart, like a “little Einstein.” I don’t think this is a very probable scenario, but I cannot blame a distraught mother for wanting to think that her daughter is alive and well somewhere.
At least one tip that the Regina Police Service investigated indicated that a stranger may have been involved in Tamra’s disappearance. An anonymous man with the user name MySecretIsOut posted a crudely drawn map indicating Tamra’s location on Reddit (the map has since been taken down but is widely available online). The map suggests that Tamra’s remains can be located on the Muscowpetung Saulteaux First Nation reserve. Also, the map says to “check the wells” for Tamra. The investigators did just that, but no evidence of Tamra was found. Later, it was determined that the Reddit user found the map amongst his grandmother’s possessions after she died. She had told people that her sister had given her the map, after making it “based on visits to someone in a prison out that way.” The grandma, though, suffered from dementia, which I think seriously calls the map’s validity into question.
Map to Tamra’s remains
Kidnapped/Murdered By Someone She Knew
Was Tamra kidnapped and/or murdered by someone close to her? Many people think that this is the likely explanation for her disappearance.
Soon after Tamra vanished, the police turned their focus on her family and their friends. Lorena told the media that the police repeatedly questioned her and Dean, and even interviewed the children. Lorena and Dean don’t like discussing the police investigation. Instead, they like to focus on the possibility that Tamra could be alive. Both Lorena and Dean deny any knowledge of what happened to Tamra.
There is no question that Tamra’s home life was unstable. Lorena and Dean struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, and several of Tamra’s siblings are now in provincial care. Tamra’s home life was also especially violent. When Tamra vanished, Dean had recently been released from prison after serving a “three-month sentence for beating Lorena in a drunken rage.” Additionally, Dean spent six months in jail for his assault on Russell on the night of Tamra’s disappearance.
Lorena Keepness and Dean McArthur
Lorena is the first to admit that her life choices have not been ideal. However, Lorena, like many Aboriginal persons in Canada, struggle with numerous issues that have been passed down through the generations. Lorena is a residential school survivor, as was her mother before her. She grew up in a dysfunctional, abusive home and had to forage for food in neighbourhood gardens to survive. Lorena struggles with substance abuse and fell into sex work after Tamra vanished.
According to the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police, nearly 59% of the province’s missing women and girls are of Aboriginal ancestry. Tamra’s case is another heartbreaking example of the hundreds of instances of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in Canada. Although Aboriginal women comprise only 4% on the Canadian total population, they “make up 16% of female homicide victims and 11% of missing women.”
Regardless of the reasons for it, I can’t help but wonder if Tamra’s unstable home life played a role in her disappearance. When the police investigated, they said they found “no signs of forced entry or struggle at the home.” I think this makes it improbable that she was taken by a stranger. And could Dean and Russell really have had a brawl within whispering distance of the children sleeping in the living room without waking them? I just don’t know. There are lots of unanswered questions about that night. I fear that someone in Tamra’s inner circle could be responsible for her disappearance. Hopefully one day we find out.
What do you think happened to Tamra?
Tamra’s loved ones refuse to give up on their little girl, holding vigils and events honouring her memory and trying to get the case some much-needed media attention.
The Regina Police Service has investigated over 1700 leads and interviewed over 500 leads during their search for Tamra. Police Chief Troy Hagen is “cautiously optimistic,” holding out hope that police will someday solve the case.
The police doubled the reward for information about Tamra’s whereabouts to $50,000 in 2014. Anyone with information regarding Tamra is asked to contact the Regina Police Service at 306-777-6500, or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
Tamra Jewel Keepness – Regina Police Service case file overview
Missing & murdered: The unsolved cases of Indigenous women and girls: Tamra Jewel Keepness – CBC News article
Map of missing Regina girl belonged to late grandmother, Reddit user claims – CTV News article