Four years after Emma Fillipoff’s disappearance in Victoria sparked a high-profile but fruitless search for the 26-year-old, her mother has some good news.
Shelley Fillipoff sounds deeply relieved as she recounts that drug-related charges she faced in Perth, Ont., have been dropped. “It came as quite a surprise, a nice change, I’m telling you,” she said.
“Some people did jump to conclusions — one of them was that I was doing that [drug activity] to raise money to continue to look for Emma, assuming that I was guilty, of course,” Shelley told the Times Colonist from her Ottawa-area home.
She was charged March 3 with money laundering, possession of cocaine and marijuana for the purpose of trafficking, and unauthorized possession of firearms. Her son, Matthew Fillipoff, 28, who shared her home, pleaded guilty to drug-related charges of his own and will be sentenced next year.
“I had absolutely zero, zero idea of what was going on,” Shelley said. Her main worry, besides losing her house to cover legal fees — something the former teacher avoided through a line of credit — was that criminal charges would overshadow her ongoing search for Emma.
As the elation of the court decision dies down, Shelley is turning to Emma’s last known whereabouts — outside the Empress Hotel mid-evening on Nov. 28, 2012.
The slender young woman with waist-length hair was behaving in a unusual manner that might have indicated an undiagnosed mental-health issue — something Victoria police confirmed in a statement issued Friday. Her demeanour was such that an acquaintance, Dennis Quay, stayed with her a while and then called 911.
She was barefoot and holding her shoes. Two officers responded and spoke with her for roughly 45 minutes. “After ensuring her well-being, Emma was allowed to continue on her way,” the police statement said.
An apprehensive Shelley landed in Victoria that same night after an unsettling conversation with her daughter, rushing to Sandy Merriman House, an emergency shelter for women where Emma had been staying. Their paths did not cross.
Emma was a trained chef who did not have drug or alcohol issues, her mother has said, but had been homeless that month.
Her daughter’s mental health deteriorated in the two weeks she lived at Merriman House, Shelley said, and if Emma had received help, she would not have been barefoot on the street.
By midnight, police had classified her as a missing person. Her 1993 Mazda was found parked at the Chateau Victoria, containing her passport, camera, clothes, a pillow, assorted ornaments, laptop, and library books recently checked out, says the website helpfindemmafillipoff.com.
A $25,000 reward for information that leads to her whereabouts still stands.
Shelley continues to keep her daughter’s name in the public eye. A few nights ago, she took part in a two-hour radio show on Darkness Radio Twin Cities News Talk in Minneapolis-St. Paul. With an audience of 250,000, there’s always a chance.
Nothing came of the billboard she rented last year on the Patricia Bay Highway for more than month, despite 26,000 vehicles passing by daily.
“We’re still actively investigating the file and our hope is that a tip will lead us to locate Emma safely,” police spokesman Bowen Osoko said Friday. Major crime detectives are on the case, tips are still being received and each tip is investigated, police say. An estimate of the number of tips was not available.
But sometimes, what may seem minor will be the piece police have been looking for, Osoko said.
“The quality of a tip isn’t as relevant as what it leads to. … Often in missing person files, it is distinct aspects of that missing person, whether it be a physical feature, mannerism or character trait that makes them stand out which allows us to locate them. In this case, going missing is out of the ordinary for Emma, as is her behaviour in the hours leading up to her being reported missing.”
Shelley said she remains angry at inaccurate information released to the media by police shortly after Emma’s disappearance. That information put Emma with friends several blocks away on Burdett Avenue between Blanshard and Quadra streets. The Empress location and early police involvement were not mentioned until the fifth story about the case in the Times Colonist — in February 2013.
The wrong locale remained on the police website for an extended period despite Shelley’s requests that it be removed.
“I was told in a very patronizing way not to worry about things like that and spend more time and energy looking for my daughter.” Yet the 72 hours after a disappearance is such a crucial period, she said.
Shelley said that Dennis Quay, the acquaintance, had met Emma only once, but “was able to ascertain that there was something very wrong. He left after the police officers showed up.
“I’m angry at the police,” Shelley said. “I’m angry at Sandy Merriman House. Police play a secondary role. She should never have been on the street barefoot. I have a lot of anger and resentment. Four years of anger.”
As for Monday, the fourth anniversary, “it’ll be a morose day,” Shelley said. “People will get in touch and say how sorry they are. It’ll be a sad day, but every day is a sad day.”
Victoria police ask anyone with information on Emma’s disappearance to call 250-995-7654.