A WEDDING AND A FUNERAL, TRUTH FOR CAM CANADA
That day, October 7, 2018, was warm and sunny. It was Thanksgiving: turkey cooked, guests arriving, and we were dining a day early, on Sunday, instead of Monday. This made it easier for travel. Our adult daughter and family called to say they would arrive late. Little did we know that the reason for the delay would change our lives.
We served up the meal, gave thanks, and enjoyed the turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing with our neighbours. Gary, our youngest son, joined us. Our oldest, Cameron, wasn’t at our dinner because he had flown on October 4 to attend the wedding of a friend with whom he had roomed at Montana Tech. We were about to eat the strawberry rhubarb pie with ice cream when daughter Julia arrived with her family.
“Cameron is missing in Montana!”
Julia received the distressing phone call just as she was about to head out. She wanted to tell us in person. Cameron had been missing since October 4.
The nightmare had begun.
Unsure of what to do or say, I launched into phone calls to Billings. The woman who had reported Cameron missing was a sister of the bride. She had searched online and found Julia’s number. Later, I learned from one of Cameron’s messages that he had snuck into our house late on October 3rd to get his dress pants. How I regret not hearing him come in! We texted each other next morning. He wrote, “Save some turkey and cranberries for me.” (Marion)
Later, Marion, Cam’s mother, pieced together Cam’s e-mails and messages to discern his itinerary for October 4, 2018. The taxi arrived to pick up Cam at 4 A.M. and drove him to the Calgary airport. From there he flew to Denver, Colorado. There was a brief stopover. He ate a steak lunch, met some other wedding attendees, and flew from Denver to Billings, Montana. Sometime on the night of October 4, he went missing. The wedding party knew he was missing; nonetheless, they made various excuses as to why they didn’t search for him.
Cameron’s mom explained: “If only the bachelor party and wedding party participants had reported Cameron missing that first day, things might have turned out differently.”
Cameron had been invited by written invitation. He was not a trespasser. He was their responsibility, on their property, in their home. Instead of reporting Cameron missing, they set up the chairs and tables for the wedding banquet, brought in the food, and arranged the chairs for the wedding service. The bride-to-be and her brides’ maids travelled into Billings to have their fingernails painted, pick up flowers, the alcohol, and the other refreshments. (Marion)
What else had they picked up, Marion wondered. There was no call to the sheriff’s office to report Cameron missing, even though he was nowhere on the property. Would Cameron still be alive if the host and property owner had called the sheriff within eight hours of him going missing, as required for an adult by Montana legislation?
Later, thinking back to October 6, 2018, Cameron’s mother recalled the bride’s conversation. Over the phone, the bride claimed she handn’t realized Cameron was missing until she was walking down the aisle and didn’t see him sitting there.
Marion was looking with disdain at a photo of the wedding, one of the few posted on an FB page. She noted how strange it was that the wedding party posted so few public pictures of the wedding, as up until that point a lot of the attendees were exchanging messages and pictures on FB. The father of the groom was leaning forward, elbows on knees, staring at the ground. The guests looked more somber than befits a happy occasion. One of the bridesmaids was looking away from the bride and groom altogether. Maybe she and others already knew the truth about Cameron. Marion’s sense was that Cameron would be alive today if the host had called and the search had commenced earlier.
The wedding took place on Saturday, October 6. Cameron had travelled two days early to attend the groom’s bachelor party on Thursday and a concert on Friday with friends. He went missing Thursday night. No one reported him missing to family or the sheriff’s office until three days later. Again, from phone calls and e-mails from members of the wedding party, Cam’s mother was able to piece together events of October 7. The wedding guests went fishing in the creek, just in case Cameron had ended up in it. Finally, the sister of the bride and her husband called the sheriff to report Cameron missing from the 40-acre property near Billings.
The responses that the bride’s sister gave to my questions were a blur and did not make sense. They thought he had left with other friends, maybe met a girl, was sleeping it off somewhere, and didn’t bother to check with the hotel where he had made a reservation. Three days later… (Marion)
Testimony provided to the sheriff states that Cameron was last seen passed out on the floor beside a lawn chair in the shop where the bachelor party was held. This statement was later changed to say he was in the chair—that maybe he had thrown up. So many questions went unanswered. Was he in medical distress when the bachelor party left to go to a strip club in Billings? If in medical stress, why didn’t they take him to a hospital, or at least to his reserved hotel room in Billings? Why leave him, Marion wondered, and not tell anyone else on the property. Why did the wedding party, who claimed to return an hour later, not check on him? What if it were all an enormous, gigantic lie? What if the last time Cameron was near the shop was 7:45 PM on October 4? What if something strange happened? Did they arrange to have the body moved somewhere, or returned to move it themselves? What if the GPS proves this? What if the three days before reporting Cameron missing were used to hide evidence. There were reports of fighting and hard drugs at the party. It would give them time to clear away all paraphernalia and allow the drugs to leave their systems and his, leaving no evidence of illegal activity. After three days, Meth and heroine would likely not show up on a work-related drug test. It would have given them time to create an alibi. It appeared that not everyone from the wedding party got the story straight. According to one recorded testimony, Cameron was last seen standing outside the shop talking with three men.
Given such distressing circumstances, what does one do?
“We made the decision that Julia and Cameron’s dad, Glen, would head to Montana. Cameron’s brother and I would stay in Canada and work with the police, plus handle communications and travel arrangements. Glen got busy packing. They would stay over at Julia’s, which was en route.” (Marion)
There were many questions: What to take? How long would they be away? Passports, travel insurance, and a US Visa would be required. Where to stay? Whom to tell? Glen decided to take the truck and camper equipped with gear, flashlights, and rubber boots. The Visa was in my name. It was a shared account with Cameron for when he went to college in Butte, Montana (2008-2011). My motto: Keep busy. Things needed to be done: write a letter giving permission for Glen to use my visa in the US. Keep a copy of the visa for myself. As the Chev Silverado drove down the lane and into the distance, Maggie, our border collie, howled in the garage. She never howls.
I cried, “No, Maggie, you are wrong. Stop it, he is okay. Dad will find him. No, No!” Looking back, Maggie knew. She knew something was terribly wrong.
Glen needed travel insurance before he crossed the border. Insurance could not be bought after. It was the long weekend; our insurance agent’s office was closed. I phoned the 800 number and started the process. Glen had to sign. I signed for him and e-mailed the agent.
My eldest brother, my nephew, Glen’s sister, were all deeply concerned. My sister was bewildered and in tears when they heard from me by phone.
On the morning of October 8, after a sleepless night, I was worried and distressed not only about Cameron; I was also anxious about Glen and Julia driving. I felt a bit of relief when the e-mail arrived saying that their insurance was in place ahead of their crossing the border. What reason did they give the border guards for travel: “Searching for their missing son and brother?” Julia took her turn driving the big truck under Dad’s watchful eye. He finally nodded off. They had made the decision to travel as far as they could that day, and find a hotel instead of staying in the camper. They figured they would make it to Great Falls, Montana, the first day, and arrive in Billings early next morning. Which hotel? They decided to find one closest to I15 from Canada, but also close to I90, which headed to Billings. Marion booked Western, and when asked for the reason for travel, she told the truth: they were searching for their son. Western provided a family tragedy discount. All set. She decided to book in Billings too, but where to call, where to book? Shouldn’t it be somewhere close to the main drag that Glen and Julia would be arriving on, and on north side, near the wedding party property.
The Yellowstone County sheriff’s office called. The detective needed Cameron’s cellphone provider account information. Airtime, messages. We have a joint family account. Cameron wasn’t in Canada a lot, so it made sense to have a group account, and share data. There were lots of messages on Cam’s FB and Linked-in sites, many concerned friends in Canada. “Cam, where are you? Your mom is worried.” A detective was asking: Could you print this. Could you find that for us. I gave him the account user ID and password. Later, this proved to have been a mistake.
I contacted Samsung: “Find your phone.” I found the phone, and serial number, but no IP address. I explained situation: my son was missing in Montana. I worked my way over to a technician, who asked if Cameron had used one of our computers in the house. If Cameron had not closed out, the Google data could still be there. I dashed downstairs, checked the top corner, clicked the square box. There it was! Google Account, email, all of it.
I opened the Samsung website, and the technician walked me through changing the Samsung password by emailing a request to Google Gmail, and confirming the personal data. Done! We were in! Okay, fine, now what? I didn’t know where to look, what to search. Tired. People were phoning, friends texting, e-mails. Heather, Cameron’s veterinary friend, called: “I have a phone technician friend. Would you like her to try to find Cameron’s phone?”
God is good! “Yes, yes!” I gave Megan the user id’s, passwords Samsung Account, Google, everything. Megan knew what she was doing. I didn’t.
On October 9, Glen and Julia decided to bypass the sheriff’s office and go to the property where the party had taken place. They pulled into the yard and stepped out of the truck. Suddenly, several people, pulling on coats, piled out of the ranch house. Everyone talked at once; it was overwhelming. There were conflicting stories: “He was in the shop.” And, “No, he wasn’t.”
Several reporters had been contacted by the family. By October 10, the sheriff’s office also reported to the local papers that search and rescue teams, along with friends and residents in the area, had searched without luck. The sheriff asked residents who live near Pryor Creek to check their property for signs of Cameron. They were going over some ground previously searched.
Two days later, the local papers again reported that “Collin’s father and sister had been leading the search in Montana with many of Cameron’s friends. Cam’s father, in exasperation, exhaustion, and shock, drove to a hardware store in Billings and purchased two poles to fit with hooks to aid in the search. The area had also been swept by helicopter and planes.
On October 13, 2018, Julia explained to a reporter that someone believed they saw Cameron walking toward Billings on the Old Highway 87. The validity of this sighting was increased because his cell phone tracking showed activity in this area. Nonetheless, no further signs emerged. Julia told the reporter this: “We haven’t really gotten a good ping off his phone or anything like that. The phone seems to be dead and there’s been absolutely no activity on his bank card or credit card.”
On October 14, The Star Calgary reported Julia as saying: “On top of what the sheriff is doing, we’ve been doing our own searches.…My dad and I have been going through the ditches and climbing hills.…I’ve been climbing under trees and bush and everything, just calling out his name, hoping we find him.”
Julia spoke to Global News on October 14, 2020: “We’re getting scared now, at this point, and worried. I have a frantic mother at home whom we’re trying to reassure. We’re trying to remain strong and keep looking.”
At various points, friends and acquaintances from Canada arrived to help with the search, looking in or climbing into every culvert in the area. It was an organized but frantic search.
Two days later, Julia again spoke to a reporter at Global News: “There are many theories as to what happened to him that night. Did he start walking to town, get picked up? Did he fall in the creek? We are wanting a confirmed sighting of his whereabouts that night and everyday since.”
By October 23, Julia had returned home to Canada with her dad, and then returned with a friend to Billings. At this point, various professionals entered the search: divers’ search and rescue teams; an all-women man-tracking team from Wyoming brought their knowledge to the search; a K-9 handler from Billings returned to the area for a second time.
Upon return to the Pryor Creek area, Julia spoke to Montana News: “He always said he’d do anything, he’d travel across the world for me. So, I am trying to do the same for him. It has taken over my life. I am overwhelmed.”
Yet, Julia and the family did not lose hope: “I’m confident that he’s out there and that we will find him, and I’m hoping that America will help me do that.”
The family agreed that the tip about a male on the Old Highway offered a bit of hope. The person spotted was “wearing dark clothes. My brother was wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans and cowboy boots.” Julia said, “He always wears his cowboy boots.” Interestingly, these boots were never returned to the family. Instead, they sent size 11 boots thought to belong to someone who was in jail. DNA evidence, obtained by the family through a professional forensic company in Canada, proved this. How many more mistakes were made by a sheriff’s office that did not even return the correct clothing, the family wondered? Where in Montana are Cam’s size 13 boots?
The Wedding Minus Cameron
Although members of the wedding party knew Cameron was missing, the wedding commenced, and it wasn’t until October 7 that the family was informed by the bride’s sister, also sister to a woman whom Cameron once dated for six months, that he had not shown up for the wedding or at his hotel, and that they had been searching for him.
The sheriff’s office took statements from the sister and bride. The police search began.
On October 22, the sheriff provided an update. The email went to approximately 20 people who came together to search along with a dive rescue team. A K-9 unit in another city arrived and they had gone out to the site on this night. Another member of the K-9 unit was to return at 7:30 A.M. to Pryor Creek where they thought Cameron might be located. Two other searchers would head to the area early in the morning and bring “the Raft.” Two detectives, a search coordinator from the Sheriff’s office, and another person who would assist him were to arrive. Yet another member of the sheriff’s team would do some follow-up and then come to the scene. Another K-9 member was to arrive at 9:00 in the morning. Professional border patrol and trained sign cutters were on hand as well.
On October 27, the sheriff still searching the area, sent an e-mail to approximately thirty people working on the case. The search would continue the next day, Sunday. They were to start at a bridge off Highway 87, where the creek crosses just south of the road. “We will have at least one dog and the plan is to continue with the dog in the raft down the creek as long as we can. We will use ground crews to check sites downstream for log jams exit points….” The search continued despite inclement weather.
The sheriff sent a further update to Cameron’s sister: They had covered 10 miles of the Creek on the past Sunday, but “obviously nothing of interest” was noted. He said that they would continue the search “as time, weather and manpower allows.” There had been no other leads. He also assured her that one of the detectives in his office was checking technical cell phone data, and he gave her access to contact his detectives.
Meanwhile, the family kept the search alive by means of newspaper interviews, plus online videos. By now, the family was afraid the search for Cameron would wind down entirely if they did not receive more media attention. They hired a well-known investigator, Mike Txxx, to help with the search. Private investigator Mike Txxx explained his role to the Calgary Eyeopener:
There are a couple reasons why the family hired me. One is to help interpret the sheriff’s office and deal with law enforcement and kind of be the go-between for them….Also, to follow up on leads the family gets that the sheriff’s office is maybe not that interested in.
Private Investigator Txxx summarized the various theories.
We’ve had a wide range. We’ve had psychics reach out ….Members tell us stuff and friends tell
One of these people was Dr. Yvonne Trainer. The synchronicity of her talk with Cam’s mother at the time of Cameron being found remains a mystery, and perhaps only God knows the why of it.
In late October, Yvonne Trainer, an internationally recognized poet and writer, was living in Lethbridge, Alberta, to escape the high costs of apartments in the larger cities and to lead a quiet writing life. She often went to Tim Hortons on the south side of the city for a coffee and to write in her journal. She happened to be there on the evening when an extremely tall young man came through the door. That’s why she noticed him. He had to duck to get in under the doorway. He was with another man about 5 ft 3 in height. Both seemed road weary. Interestingly, it struck Yvonne that the young man looked exactly like the photo of a missing man from Airdrie, Alberta. Photos of Cameron had been in major newspapers, on the news, and online. This man’s height, age, hair colour, eyes, and gentle personality fit the picture of Cam 100%. He was wearing a blue T-shirt with a checkered shirt unbuttoned over it, faded jeans that were too short, and running shoes too small for his feet. He had large hands.
It was an odd evening at Tim Hortons to begin with. The sky was a purplish colour, as if a bruise had spread across it. A woman sat at a corner table weeping. The shorter guy went to purchase coffees. The taller one didn’t appear to have money on him.
The tall fellow went over to try and comfort the woman. He sat beside her and asked If she was ok. He said that he too had certainly been through difficult times. He seemed to genuinely care about the woman. Then the other fellow appeared with two large coffees and the woman said, “I guess since you two are strangers, I shouldn’t talk to you.” The tall man wished her well and they went and sat at another table.
Marion Collin is the mother of three adult children. She lives in rural Alberta with her artist husband. Since 2018, Marion has devoted her time to searching for the truth in her oldest son’s death after he was discovered, after a month-long search, deceased in Pryor Creek, Montana, where he had gone missing while attending a friend’s wedding.
Yvonne Trainer is a poet and writer living in Lethbridge Alberta. Marion and Yvonne have collaborated in writing a memoir about those grueling days between Oct. 4 to Nov. 3, 2018 and after, and the devastation this tragedy has wreaked on the Collin family’s life.