Fillipoff's file a rare puzzler; police seeing fewer missing-persons cases

The mysterious disappearance of Emma Fillipoff is one of just a handful of unsolved cases in Greater Victoria in the past 50 years, police say.

Fillipoff went missing from Victoria’s downtown streets on Nov. 28, leaving behind the slimmest of trails and baffling investigators.

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Only about five missing-persons cases in as many decades have gone unsolved in the capital region, according to Det. Const. Paul Spencelayh of the Victoria Police Department. Considering that most investigations end within hours, Fillipoff’s case becomes more troubling with every passing day.

Fillipoff, who disappeared just weeks before turning 27, moved to Victoria more than a year ago from Ottawa. She was a trained chef, held several jobs, was not into drugs or alcohol, and is described as a loving, emotionally sensitive woman who was planning to return home to her family.

The abnormality of the file is magnified considering the 45 per cent drop in missing person cases in the past five years. Victoria police reported 376 missing persons across the capital region in 2012, significantly fewer than the 692 it handled in 2008.

“It’s rare where a person disappears off the planet and is never seen again,” Spencelayh said.

A disappearance usually boils down to one of four theories: The person ran away, had an accident, committed suicide or was killed, police say.

Most missing person files last hours, maybe days. Rarely does a case last months without any substantial progress. That’s what makes Fillipoff’s case so troubling. None of the evidence has led investigators toward any of their traditional theories.

“It causes a lot of frustration in that there’s a lot of starting points … but each time we do a followup, we’re no further ahead,” Spencelayh said. “It’s rare that we get cases like that.”

Tracking a missing person requires a significant front-loading of resources. In the first few hours, police put alerts out to the airport, B.C. Ferries, B.C. Transit, bus lines and taxi companies. Investigators quickly obtain access to bank records and trace cellphone use. Hospitals and shelters are also contacted.

A file is created in the Canadian Police Information Centre, a national database used to track missing persons. Bulletins are sent to news media, while friends and family tend to raise public awareness by putting up posters or creating social media campaigns.

The network is far-reaching and usually turns up results quickly. But Fillipoff’s file is different.

Investigators have explored more than 200 leads, turning up minimal information. Most evidence indicates Fillipoff was planning to return home to Ottawa, but there’s no proof she ever left the city.

She bought a prepaid cellphone, but never activated it. Even though she had money in her bank account, she was staying — like she did several times in the past year — at a women’s shelter.

Those who knew Fillipoff said she occasionally seemed confused in those final days, according to her mom Shelley Fillipoff, who spent two months searching Vancouver Island for her daughter before returning home Feb. 5.

There are indications Fillipoff was suffering from a mental breakdown, and no one has ruled out suicide, but that usually leaves behind plenty of evidence. There is also the possibility that someone else took her, but police have no proof of that, either.

The mystery continues for investigators, who say if nothing new surfaces, they will review every lead over again in an effort to shake something loose. Maybe there’s something they missed.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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