“Mom, Krystal is dead.”
Vera Campbell was on a vacation in Florida on this March 2, 1992 when she learned that her daughter, Krystal Senyk, had been shot dead in her Carcross cabin.
From that day, she remembers her son’s call, crying on the phone.
She recalls being brought to the airport.
She remembers sitting in a wheelchair, looking at planes taking off and landing while waiting for her flight back to Whitehorse.
The rest is gone.
“I don’t know how I got home,” she said.
Losing her 29-year-old daughter hit her. And it hit her hard, up to this day.
“The shock was unbelievable,” she said.
The toll it took on her physical and mental health required her to take medication.
“I couldn’t control my anger,” she remembers.
“Try and have a life: it’s next to impossible; you get around like a zombie.”
Speaking on the phone from her home in a small Alberta town near the U.S. border, Campbell, 78, is adamant about the fact the man who killed her daughter is still alive.
She hopes renewed attention on the case will lead to information that will lead to the arrest of the prime and only suspect in the case.
“I don’t care if it goes to 50 years (until he is found),” she said.
“You have to find that man; he is a murderer.”
It has been over 24 years since Krystal Senyk was shot to death in her cabin on the Tagish Road in Carcross.
The prime suspect, Ronald Jeffrey Bax, has never been apprehended.
He was charged with first-degree murder not long after Senyk’s death on March 1, 1992.
The RCMP continue to follow up on tips from the public, but so far, it hasn’t been fruitful.
He remains on the RCMP’s most wanted list, with a Canada-wide warrant out for his arrest.
On March 2, 1992, one of Senyk’s co-workers phoned the police, concerned she had not shown up to work.
At 11 a.m. that day, RCMP officers found Senyk dead in her cabin.
A coroner’s inquest later determined she had been killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest. The exact time of death remains unknown.
Senyk had been increasingly concerned about her safety in the days leading to her death.
She had been helping Bax’s then-wife, as the two were separating.
Not knowing where Bax was and whether he would strike again, 16 people were put under police protection.
One person was seen being whisked away from the Yukon Government Main Administratin Building in Whitehorse by the police that day, the Star reported at the time.
The RCMP’s emergency response team stormed Bax’s cabin at around 6 p.m. on March 2, but only seized rifles.
A search party involving 25 officers, a helicopter, a plane and a canine unit set out to find him.
But Bax had at least a nine-hour head-start on them.
A former big game guide, he was familiar with weapons and had the skills to survive in the bush.
He was also a skilled taxidermist and sculptor.
The RCMP’s wanted notices indicated he had family in Michigan at the time.
The search was eventually called off.
Since her daughter’s death, Campbell has kept herself busy to not constantly think about her bereavement.
The first few years following the murder, she lived in her daughter’s cabin, and friends would come to socialize.
“We used to have big dinners, people brought instruments,” she recalled.
“It made life bearable.”
Eventually, she moved back to Alberta.
She paints – hours at times – and took on teaching that to a friend of her.
“I’ll go out in my studio and will sit there for hours and paint until my back hurts and fingers hurt from holding the brush,” Campbell said.
“It’s my therapy.”
She also has four dogs and cats she is taking care of.
But even with her routine living in a quiet town with fewer than 200 souls, it’s been the same difficult task every morning: to not think about Senyk’s death.
For her, time didn’t heal her wounds.
“A mother should never have to go through something like this,” she said.
The most simple daily life occurrences can bring back memories of her daughter.
“But I wipe my tears away and keep going.”
Krystal Senyk worked for the City of Whitehorse as an engineer for a time.
She then became a land claim negotiator for the federal government.
The discussions she sat on had representatives from the federal, territorial and First Nations governments.
Senyk worked on the group in charge of coming to an agreement about the portion of traditional territory Yukon First Nations would retain as settlement land.
“It was probably the most difficult part of the negotiation process,” remembers Liz Hanson, also a land claim negotiator back then.
“It very much depended on good relationships.”
And the relationships between the First Nations at the table and Senyk were very good, her mom remembers.
Hanson and Senyk were friends, and Hanson remembers a dynamic, well-liked woman.
She was very athletic, earning the title of flower packing champion during the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival.
Hanson’s own children were very close to Senyk.
She remembers how senseless it seemed to have to explain to her children her friend had been killed because she was helping her friend get a better life.
When Senyk started helping her friend Lynn, who was leaving an abusive relationship with Bax, she became concerned for her safety.
Bax blamed his relationship fallout on Senyk.
“We had suggested she leave town for a week,” remembers Hanson. She did.
The night of her death, she had just come back to the territory; she was at Kaushee’s Place with Lynn.
The police turned down her request to escort her back to her cabin.
An inquest conducted in 1993 concluded the police didn’t act improperly.
They believed she was safe at the transition home, and that taking her to her cabin would “expose her to a perceived danger.”
The officers, however, should have had a plan.
“Unfortunately, there appears to have been no concrete plan on the part of the officer to follow up concerns of Ms. Senyk with an investigation.”
It’s Campbell’s hope that renewed media attention could help gather more tips about Bax’ whereabouts.
In 2009, the RCMP had a forensic artist produce a sketch of what Bax would likely look like today.
But it could also convince the people who helped him flee to contact the police.
It’s unlikely Bax was able to flee without anybody’s help, RCMP Const. Craig Thur told the Star.
Thur, with Yukon RCMP’s Major Crime Unit, is in charge of the case.
There is no dedicated unit for “cold cases” in Canada, so officers working on tips in the Senyk case are part of Yukon RCMP Major Crimes Unit.
Senyk’s family has been kept updated, Thur said.
As recently as March 8, Thur spoke to Campbell.
“I will continue to (update her) with increased frequency because of how much she appreciates the phone calls,” he said.
He receives four to five tips a year about Bax’s whereabouts, Thur said.
He follows up on them, but they haven’t led to Bax just yet.
The F.B.I. is aware of the warrant and charges against Bax, and has helped the RCMP run fingerprints in past years, but it hasn’t led to anything concrete.
If Bax is still alive, it’s unlikely he is still in North America, Thur points out.
“What I’m hoping is that somebody who in 1992 had information and wasn’t willing to share will come forward,” he said.
“That would give us at least a focus (on where to search).”
Bax, assuming he is alive, would be 54 today.
He was described back in 1992 as a 5”7 (170 cm),weighing 150 lbs. (68 kg.), blond-haired, blue-eyed man.
He had a winged horse tattoo on his upper right arm.
By PIERRE CHAUVIN, Star Reporter