There seem to be predators out there of our own kind, skirting about on the periphery and up to no good, stalking amongst us like some prehistoric hunter, and it seems like anyone can fall victim to them, often under mysterious circumstances. Amber Tuccaro was a 20-year-old indigenous woman from Alberta’s Mikisew Cree First Nation, and lived in Fort McMurray, Alberta, with her mother and 14-month old son, Jacob. She was by all accounts a loving mother and well-liked by all who knew her, so it was with much shock that she would become the center of a sinister unsolved death that has not been solved to this day.
On August 17, 2010, Amber and her friend decided to take a spontaneous trip to Edmonton along with her son Jacob. Amber’s mother, Vivian, was against the idea, but it was just to be a short overnight trip and so she relented. On the way, they decided to make a stop at the town of Nisku and stay there for the night because lodgings were cheaper there. The plan was to stay the night in Nisku, and then head on to Edmonton early the following day. They checked into the Nisku Place Motel, and at this point everyone was in good spirits and the trip was going totally normally. That evening, Amber suddenly left her son with her friend and departed the hotel to go on an excursion into town, and the reasons for this are a bit murky. Some reports say that she was just heading out to get some groceries, while others say she wanted to head to Edmonton early, but whatever the case may be, she left her beloved Jacob behind and headed out on the road hitchhiking. This was not completely strange for the friend, as hitchhiking was a common way for people to get around in that region, so she thought nothing of it. Little did she know that this would be the last time she or anyone else would see Amber alive.
Amber did not return to the hotel that evening, and the following day she was still nowhere to be seen, so the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were notified. A search turned up nothing but a tip that a witness had seen her getting into an unidentified vehicle and heading off down that dark road to who knows where. From the very beginning it became clear to Amber’s friends and family that the police were not taking any of it very seriously. The RCMP quickly came to the conclusion that she had just run off to go partying in Edmonton and that she would likely be back soon, but this was not like Amber at all. Vivian Tuccaro, Amber’s mother, was adamant that her daughter would have never left her son behind to go off to a party, but nevertheless she was told that Amber could not be listed as a missing person until 24 hours had passed. This likely led to precious lost time that would seal Amber’s fate, and was one of the many balls the authorities would drop during the whole mishandled investigation. 24 hours came and went with no sign of Amber, and even the police allegedly did very little to search for her during this time. In fact, investigators took Amber’s name off of their missing person’s list just one month after she had gone missing, despite the fact that no one had seen her or heard from her, making this a breach of typical procedure. Amber’s mother, who had been traveling all over and launching her own investigation, would say of the matter:
When they told me they took her off the missing persons list my first question was ‘did you guys see her?’ And they said ‘no.’ And I was like, ‘how could you take her off after telling me time and time again that you have to see her and be 100 per cent sure that’s her and yet you take her off? So it took me one month to get her back on the missing persons list. I got the run around. They told me call this number, call that number and I ended up back in Leduc again.
Adding to this was the fact that all of Amber’s belongings that had been collected from her motel and which could have been used as evidence in the investigation were completely destroyed when she was removed from the missing persons list, meaning that if foul play was the case there would be no evidence that could be used in court. Meanwhile, authorities were continuing to say that Amber had merely run off, leading her family to log an official complaint about the bumbling mishandling of the case and refusal of the authorities to take it seriously enough. As this was going on, no new leads would come in, no tips, nothing, and it was as if Amber had just vanished off the face of the earth. Her tortured family had no further word, no updates, languishing in the despondency of not knowing if she was alive or dead. It would not be until two years later, on August 28, 2012, that the RCMP would release a major potential piece of the puzzle in the form of Amber’s last known phone conversation. During the rather disturbing call, Amber can be heard talking with the vehicle’s driver. She tells him “You better not be taking me anywhere I don’t want to go,” to which a man’s voice responds that he is taking them “north to 50th Street,” which Amber repeats to the person on the other end of the line, after which the call cuts off suddenly. Towards the end of the call, Amber is described as sounding scared, although the male voice seems normal and calm. A portion of the official transcript of the released clip reads:
Amber Tuccaro: Where are we by?
Unidentified Male: We’re just heading south of Beaumont. Er- north of Beaumont.
Amber Tuccaro: We’re heading north of Beaumont. Yo, where are we going?
Unidentified Male: Just…
Amber Tuccaro: No, this is a…
Unidentified Male: The back road.
Amber Tuccaro: Are you fucking kidding me?
Unidentified Male: No, I’m not kidding you.
Amber Tuccaro: You better not take… You better not be taking me anywhere I don’t want to go. I want to go into the city, okay?
Unidentified Male: The one end of the street.
Amber Tuccaro: Yo, we’re not going into the city, are we?
Unidentified Male: We are. We’re going…
Amber Tuccaro: No, we’re not.
Unidentified Male: Yes…
Amber Tuccaro: Then where the fuck are these going to?
Unidentified Male: To 50th Street.
Amber Tuccaro: 50th Street. Are you sure?
Unidentified Male: Absolutely.
Amber Tuccaro: Yo, where are we going?
Unidentified Male: 50th Street. Amber Tuccaro: 50th Street.
Unidentified Male: 50th Street.
Amber Tuccaro: East, right?
Unidentified Male: East.
Amber Tuccaro: [unintelligible] Over [unintelligible] Now.
Unidentified Male: (Gravel)
Amber Tuccaro: [unintelligible] [Calls ends abruptly]
There are several odd things and questions about the release of this eerie recording. For instance, why did the authorities wait so long to release it? Although the RCMP claims that it is not customary for them to release audio material to the public during homicide investigations, in this case frustrated authorities had made an exception in the hopes that someone might recognize the voice to aide them in their investigation and provide possible leads. Yet, why such a long delay? Wouldn’t it have been more useful to release it right away if that had been their aim? Another odd detail is that the RCMP refused to disclose how they had obtained the recording or to whom Amber had placed the call. It took an independent investigation by CBC News to uncover that she had been speaking to her brother, who was in the Edmonton Remand Centre at the time, where it is common procedure to record all outgoing calls from inmates. Why didn’t the authorities want that known? The CBC also found out that while the RCMP only originally released 61 seconds of audio, the entire recording was in fact 17 minutes long. Why only disclose a small portion of it? Whatever the answers may be, it is yet another odd detail in the fumbling of the case.
When the audio recording was released, three different women came forward during the investigation and told the RCMP that they recognized the voice in the recording. One woman was absolutely positive she knew who it was, saying “I know that voice. I’ve ridden with that voice before on several occasions. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s his voice. I know that voice like the back of my hand.” Although two other unrelated women came forward similarly saying they knew the owner of the voice and they all pointed the finger at the same suspect, the RCMP apparently quickly came to the conclusion that he was not a person of interest in the case and let him go, much to the shock of Amber’s family. It is unknown if they followed up on any of the other leads or suspects.
There would not be any closure until September 1, 2012, a mere 4 days after the mysterious audio recording was released, when Amber’s skeletal remains were found by horseback riders in a rural area in Leduc County, in the general vicinity of where she had vanished. The finding of the body put renewed urgency on the identity behind the voice talking to Amber in the recording, yet no new tips came forward and her killer remains a mystery. The finding of Amber’s body raised the unsettling possibility is that there is a potential serial killer at work here targeting Native women, a possibility chillingly backed up by the fact that there have been 15 mysterious vanishings in the area and the remains of 4 indigenous women discovered in in the 2000s in the very same vicinity in which Amber’s body was found. All had disappeared while hitchhiking and all of the remains of these women were ominously found within a few kilometers of each other in Leduc County, with the most recent being the skull of Delores Browers in 2015, who had gone missing in 2005 without a trace. If this is a serial killer and the work of one man, then it seems like there is a fairly good probability that the voice in Amber’s last call belongs to him. Of that voice in the recording in relation to her daughter’s killer and the other vanishings and murders, Amber’s mother has said:
Maybe it’s the same guy that’s killing these other women that are found in Leduc and Nisku area. And how many more women, girls are going to be killed before he’s caught?
With regards to the family’s allegation of police mishandling of the case, in 2018 an independent federal review found that indeed the Leduc RCMP investigation into Amber’s disappearance and murder was deficient. The report states that many RCMP policies, procedures and guidelines had not been properly followed, officers had acted incompetently on many occasions, and the investigation had various other examples of how it was all botched, including the destruction of the evidence, inaccurate information being released to the media, the refusal to release crucial details to the public, and the quick removal of Amber from the missing persons list. Police had also taken too long to interview Amber’s mother and the friend she had last been with, and all of this left them so distrustful of the RCMP that they began to doubt if the remains that had been found were even Amber’s at all, citing the uncommonly quick identification of such heavily decomposed remains and the fact that dental fillings found in the skull did not match with Amber’s known dental records. Indeed, in 2019 they went about requesting that the remains be exhumed for DNA testing to find out for sure, a request which is pending.
What happened to Amber Tuccaro? Why did she leave her young child to go out hitchhiking at night and who was that voice in her last phone call? Why haven’t more people come forward with information despite the massive circulation of the tape, and why haven’t the few leads that have come forward been properly investigated? Indeed, why was the case so spectacularly mishandled from the beginning? These are questions the answers of which we will likely never know for sure, and it remains a tragic and curious unsolved mystery.