A driver’s licence belonging to Ashley Simpson, who vanished two years ago near Salmon Arm, B.C., has been found 1,200 kilometres north at a remote truckers lodge on the Alaska Highway, StarMetro has learned.
The discovery is the first piece of physical evidence connected to the St. Catharines, Ont., woman since she disappeared in April 2016, but it hasn’t shed much light on what happened to her. How the licence surfaced so far from where Simpson disappeared remains a mystery.
The ID was found Oct. 9 inside the tank of a sewage vacuum truck used by the Sasquatch Crossing Lodge in Pink Mountain, B.C. The motel and work camp caters to truck drivers, roughnecks and other oil-and-gas workers on the Alaska Highway, about two hours northwest of Fort St. John.
Simpson is one of five women, featured in a joint Toronto Star/StarMetro investigation published Oct. 3, who disappeared in B.C.’s north Okanagan Valley during a roughly two-year period.
Police believe Simpson and at least two others met with foul play. Only one of those women — 18-year-old Traci Genereaux — has been found. Her body was discovered in October 2017 on a farm outside Salmon Arm following an intensive police search. No one has yet been charged in connection with her death or the disappearances of any of the other women.
Canada-wide, there are approximately 7,000 cases where a person has been missing for at least three months. The majority of those cases go back decades, the earliest of which dates from around 1914, according to the RCMP. But even in the past 10 years alone, about 1,800 people across the country have gone missing and remained missing.
Nearly a quarter of those cases are from B.C. Adjusted for population, B.C.’s missing persons rate is twice the national average and almost five times higher than Canada’s most populous province, Ontario.
Simpson, 32, lived and worked at the Sasquatch Crossing and its sister motel The Buffalo Inn for three seasons, working in the kitchens and managing reservations. She had travelled from Ontario to the northern B.C. work camps with her father Jon, who worked as a cook.
In February 2016, she left the highway workers’ community with her boyfriend Derek Favell, who worked at a nearby Pink Mountain business. They moved south to Salmon Arm, where the pair lived in a trailer until she vanished on April 27, 2016.
Simpson’s Ontario driver’s licence was found during a routine cleaning of the truck, according to staff at the lodge who did not provide their names. The truck is used to collect human waste from the work camp. RCMP have interviewed the maintenance worker who found the licence, according to staff at the lodge.
RCMP spokesman Cpl. Dan Moskaluk confirmed the licence was found but did not provide any other details.
A manager at Sasquatch Crossing sent a photo of the ID to Simpson’s mother, Cindy Simpson, and placed the licence in the mail. Cindy Simpson said the manager told her in a Facebook message on Oct. 9 that maintenance staff had “just found” the ID while cleaning the truck.
“How it would end up in the tank is strange,” the manager wrote, according to Cindy Simpson.
Simpson’s family was surprised to learn the licence was found at Pink Mountain, considering she vanished across the province in Salmon Arm. Family members who Simpson was in regular contact with said she never mentioned she had lost her licence and that she never got a licence in B.C.
Reached by phone from a freighter ship near Baie Comeau, Quebec a week after the discovery, Cindy Simpson said that, based on the condition of the ID in the photo, she doesn’t believe it could have been in sewage since her daughter disappeared.
“Had it have been sitting there for two and a half years in human waste, it wouldn’t be in the condition that it’s in,” she said.
StarMetro and St. Catharines Standard reporters have seen the same photo. It shows an Ontario driver’s licence that appears to be in good condition, with no discoloration or obvious damage.
“Nobody knows how it got there. That’s the big question,” Cindy Simpson said.
It’s unclear how often the truck in question is serviced. Staff at the Sasquatch Crossing told the Standard that the septic tanks at the lodge have been emptied by vacuum trucks twice since the ID was found.
Simpson did not return to northern B.C. after she left with Favell in February 2016.
A 2017 investigation by the St. Catharines Standard found that Favell and Simpson often fought while in Salmon Arm. The couple were unemployed and lived in Favell’s Dutchmen trailer on the property of one of his friends.
Family and friends described their relationship as mutually abusive. She sent family in Ontario pictures of bruises on her arms. Those same family members say she put out cigarettes on Favell’s arms.
She was last seen on April 27, 2016, when Simpson, Favell and a friend visited Margaret Falls, hiking through dense forest to the waterfall north of Salmon Arm across Shuswap Lake. The couple fought for the entire trip. The friend dropped them off at the trailer, where they were still arguing.
Two days later, Favell sent text messages to Simpson’s family in Ontario, asking whether they had heard from her. He said she packed a pink suitcase and left on foot in the night.
After Simpson vanished, Favell left Salmon Arm. His Facebook page says he lives in Fort St. John. He did not respond to an interview request for this story.
Prior to her disappearance, Simpson’s family pleaded with her to return to Ontario. They said she had tentative plans to come home but insisted she wouldn’t leave until Favell gave her money she says he owed her.
Her mother said that if Simpson had lost her licence, she would have mentioned it.
“She would have told me. She would have needed her ID because of her plan to fly home,” Cindy said.
However, Sasquatch Crossing owner Melody Magaton said she thinks Simpson lost her licence “years ago” when she worked on Pink Mountain.
There could be any number of explanations for the driver’s licence turning up after all this time, Cindy said, but she thinks the one that makes the most sense is that someone had it until very recently.
“I don’t know how I feel about it,” Cindy said of the discovery. “Has it changed my thoughts on where I think her remains are? No, I still believe that she is somewhere in the Okanagan.”
But more than two years on, not knowing continues to “take its toll,” Cindy said.
“Her birthday is next month. I won’t be home, but I know it’s having a big impact on the family, too.”