PRINCE GEORGE, British Columbia — Nicole Hoar was a talented artist and a carefree spirit who radiated positive energy. Her family has described her as an adventurous old soul who was kind to others and always smiling. Those who knew her loved to be around her.
The Hoar family moved from Toronto, Ontario, to Red Deer, Alberta, in the 90s. Hoar graduated from Lindsay Thurber High School and attended Red Deer College. She graduated from Novia Scotia College of Art and Design in 2001.
Hoar, 25, worked as a tree planter for Celtic Reforestation Services in Prince George, British Columbia. The job was perfect for her because she loved the outdoors.
Hoar began saving money the previous three summers to get her master’s degree in fine arts. After college, her long-term plan was to relocate to the United States and work at a college-level ceramic school.
Hoar was fearless as well as adventurous. Against the advice of family and friends, she hitchhiked numerous times as a means of transportation, even thumbing rides in South America while traveling to various locations.
On June 21, 2002, three of Hoar’s coworkers drove her to the Mohawk Gas Station (now Shell) at Gauthier Road and Highway 16 so she could hitchhike to Smithers. She wanted to surprise her sister, Michelle Hoar, at the 19th annual Smithers Midsummer Music Festival held between June 21 and 23, 2002.
The three friends tried to deter Hoar from hitchhiking, but she was deadset on surprising her sister. They later said Hoar trusted her instincts and would never get into a vehicle with someone she considered suspicious.
Hoar carried her oversized black and purple backpack and a green shoulder bag with a blue patch and an orange dragon. She wore a long-sleeved red soccer shirt with the number 13, beige capri pants, size 9 Teva sandals, and wire-rimmed octagonal glasses. She stood alongside Highway 16 near the gas station around 2:50 p.m., hoping to catch a ride to Smithers.
Hoar and the other tree planters were starting a work break, and her parents were at a family gathering in Saskatchewan.
On the day work resumed at Celtic Restoration Services, Hoar never showed. Her coworkers immediately knew something was wrong because she would never have missed work without letting someone know.
Two Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers arrived on July 3, 2002, informing the workers that Hoar was missing. Nobody knew she had been missing because of the work break and Hoar’s parents visiting out of town.
Mohawk Gas Station was usually swamped with customers and hitchhikers. Therefore, no one at the station saw anything out of the ordinary. A supervisor later told employees not to discuss the day Hoar vanished with anyone for whatever reason.
When news spread of Hoar’s disappearance, several Pharmasave employees told the police they served and talked to Hoar on June 22, 2002, a day after her coworkers dropped her off in Prince George. The drugstore sits off Yellowhead Highway at 1211 Main St. in Smithers.
One of them, Mariah Dubroy, then 18, recalled the woman buying a toothbrush. Dubroy spoke with the Calgary Herald in July 2002.
“I remember her because her bank card didn’t work the first time, so we struck up a conversation about the festival and the weather and how nice it was.
“I remember her face and her smile, and she was so friendly. And her capri pants. I distinctly remember her capri pants and her glasses.”
The employees filed statements with the RCMP in Prince George and Smithers. They were positive the woman was Hoar. Still, investigators were skeptical. Hoar’s last bank transaction was on June 21, 2002, and she withdrew $40. There were no other transactions after that day.
Police later stated they never ruled out the possibility that Hoar made it to Smithers. But they believed the woman at the pharmacy was likely her “twin,” who also happened to be a tree planter, hitchhiking and wearing beige capris and glasses. Regardless, they showed up at the drugstore four times to investigate, later claiming they had no evidence backing the sightings.
In September 2002, police announced they had received a tip early in the investigation from a witness who saw a small “orangey-yellow” car pull up to a female hitchhiker in the area Hoar was last seen. The automobile had a square backend, possibly a Dodge Colt, Toyota Tercel, or Volkswagen. Car manufacturers used that style of paint in the early 80s.
According to the RCMP, the witness saw the female hitchhiker talking with the driver and gathering her belongings but did not see her enter the vehicle.
The witness described the driver as a white male, between 20 and 35, wearing a short-sleeved white T-shirt. Police believe the woman was Hoar and that she had entered the vehicle. But what happened to her after that remains a mystery. No one ever came forward saying they gave Hoar a ride, and police never identified the driver.
Despite being the largest-scale search-and-rescue operation in British Columbia history and 1400 tips to police that were eventually exhausted, police never found Hoar or any clues as to what happened to her.
Many girls and women disappeared along a 450-mile stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert between 1969 and 2006.
Between 1990 and 1995, five Indigenous teenage girls disappeared from Prince George, Smithers, and Terrace.
Delphine Nikal, 16, disappeared from Smithers on June 13, 1990. She had visited the Mohawk Gas Station at Main Street and Highway 16 with some friends. The gas station is near Pharmasave, where employees believe they saw Hoar. Delphine and her friends eventually parted ways. She was last seen hitchhiking at 11:30 p.m. on the eastbound lane of Highway 16 near King Street.
Ramona Wilson, 16, vanished from Smithers on June 11, 1994. A couple of teenagers riding ATVs discovered her body in a wooded area near Smithers airport in April 1995.
Roxanne Thiara, 15, disappeared from Prince George on June 27, 1994. On August 17, 1994, her body was found along Highway 16 near Burns Lake.
On Dec. 9, 1994, Leah Alishia Germaine, 15, was found dead from stab wounds behind Haldi Road Elementary School in Prince George. She was friends with Roxanne. Police recovered DNA from an unknown female at the crime scene but could not match it to anyone.
On Oct. 6, 1995, Lana Derrick, 19, disappeared from Terrace and was never found. A witness came forward, saying he had seen Derrick getting out of the backseat of a car at a Thornhill gas station at 3:30 a.m. Two men were inside the vehicle. Derrick went inside the building, came back out, entered the car again, and then the car drove off, heading north in the opposite direction of Terrace. Unfortunately, the police could not recover the gas station’s camera footage. Derrick’s boyfriend committed suicide shortly after she vanished. However, the police found no connection between his death and her disappearance.
After Hoar went missing, RCMP insisted that her case was unrelated, despite the similarities. She was older and Caucasian; they were Indigenous teenagers, officials said.
RCMP formed Project E-Pana in 2005 to investigate the disappearances and murders of girls and women along highways 5, 16, and 97 in British Columbia between 1969 and 2006. The task force consists of 18 investigations — 13 homicides and five missing persons, including Hoar and the other five girls.
“There is still much debate over the exact number of women who have gone missing in northern BC, but many people living in the north believe that the number exceeds 40.” — HighwayofTears.org
Talk of a possible serial killer has floated around, but the police have no evidence to support that theory.
In 2009, RCMP searched a property near the Mohawk Gas Station previously owned by Leland Vincent Switzer, who shot and killed his brother, Irvin, two days after Hoar vanished. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 2005 and given a life sentence with no chance of parole for ten years.
Police did not find any human remains in the search.
Switzer told investigators in 2004 that “he had stopped to urinate near the gas station on the night Hoar disappeared. He said he came forward in case investigators found his DNA there,” the Calgary Herald reported in 2014.
Switzer took a polygraph test in July 2013 regarding Nicole’s disappearance and claimed he passed. However, RMCP has never publicly disclosed the results or charged Switzer with Hoar’s disappearance. He was granted day parole in 2016.
In September 2012, over ten years after Nicole vanished, a representative from Project E-Pana contacted her parents to inform them that DNA had linked Bobby Jack Fowler to the 1974 murder of Colleen MacMillen, 16. He died in an Oregon prison in 2006.
Investigators strongly suspect him in the deaths of two nineteen-year-old British Columbia women, Pamela Darlington and Gayle Weys; both killed in 1973. DNA evidence was not available in those cases.
While the newest development did not involve Hoar, it temporarily pushed her case into the spotlight. However, she remains missing, and her case is unsolved.
June 21, 2022, marked the 20th anniversary of Nicole’s disappearance. Police say the investigation is still active.
Hoar’s father, Jack Hoar, died on Dec. 28, 2021, after battling Alzheimer’s for several years.
Anyone with information may contact the E Division Unsolved Homicide Unit RCMP at 1–800–222–8477. You can also leave an anonymous tip through Crime Stoppers at 1–800–222-TIPS(8477) or online at https://www.canadiancrimestoppers.org/tips.