ST. ANTHONY, N.L.
Family and friends of Jennifer Hillier-Penney wonder whether they’ll ever have answers about what happened to the St. Anthony woman.
It’s been nearly two years since Hillier-Penney went missing from the home of her estranged husband home on Husky Drive on Nov. 30, 2016.
The case was deemed suspicious by RCMP at the time and remains under investigation.
However, RCMP have released little information since then.
And for some who were close to Hillier-Penney, it’s hard not to feel discouraged at the lack of development.
“I hope they’re still doing what they say they’re doing, but it don’t seem like we’re much further ahead than we were on day one,” Glen Hillier, the brother of the Missing woman, told The Northern Pen. “Faith is dwindling every day, as every day goes by we all feel like there’s less and less chance.”
Gina Elliott, a friend of Hillier-Penney, says hope is all they can cling to, but it can be exhausting.
“You got to have hope, but it is exhausting and a hopeless feeling that you have,” she said.
Elliott felt RCMP initially had not taken the case seriously enough. For instance, the house from where Hillier-Penney went missing was not treated as a crime scene until a week after her disappearance.
“I thought they could have done more, so I’m hoping the latter end (of the investigation) is much different,” she added. “And I’m hoping they’re closer.”
The Northern Pen asked RCMP whether there have been any recent developments in the investigation.
RCMP media relations officer Jolene Garland said the matter remains under investigation and there is nothing they can release publicly at this time.
RCMP have not identified a suspect in the case.
One positive development for Hillier-Penney’s friends and family has been the renewed public attention brought to the case in recent weeks.
It all started with The Fifth Estate’s two-part investigative series which aired on CBC in October.
In the weeks since, more people are talking about Hillier-Penney.
“It’s the same as the day she went missing,” said her brother Glen.
He felt the program brought to light things the public was not previously aware of.
For instance, he has spoken with a number of people who were unaware that Hillier-Penney’s husband, Dean Penney, had been seen back in town the night of her disappearance.
This was revealed by The Fifth Estate investigation.
The show also aired a number of text messages Hillier-Penney sent a friend indicating she was fearful of her husband.
“A lot of people didn’t realize she was so afraid,” said her brother.
There are other signs in and around St. Anthony of increased attention to the mystery.
For instance, more and more people have attached ‘missing person’ stickers to their vehicles in recent weeks.
With reminders of Hillier-Penney all around town – on the vehicle stickers, on billboards at Tim Hortons and Fishing Point Park and on posters – Hillier hopes it will increase pressure for someone who knows something about her disappearance to come forward.
“We’re keeping her face out there,” he said. “If someone did something and they’re in this town, they’re seeing her face. Hopefully, that causes someone to crack.
“We’re never letting this go. Jennifer deserves it.”
“Somebody saw something”
While Hillier believes his sister is dead, he doesn’t think her body will be found.
“My personal opinion, I don’t think we’re ever going to find a body,” he said. “I think if she’s anywhere, she’s out in the ocean.”
Without a body, he believes the only breakthrough can come if somebody steps forward with information.
Gina Elliott, Hillier-Penney’s friend, advises anyone with information potentially related to the case to not to assume RCMP already has that information.
“(Sometimes people) assume that RCMP know it all and that’s not always the case,” she said.
Hillier begs anyone with even the smallest bit of information that may be related to the case to go to the RCMP.
“It may be somebody who saw something and don’t realize they’ve seen it,” he said. “But if anybody has seen anything at all, I wish they’d go to the RCMP and report it. It don’t have to be major, just something small could be what we need to crack this case.”
The RCMP investigation
According to Glen Hillier, the day after the first part of The Fifth Estate’s two-part feature aired on television, the family was contacted by RCMP in St. John’s.
He says the family was told the investigation is still a priority for the major crimes unit.
According to Hillier, when the family requested a meeting, the RCMP answered they would meet with them the next time they were in town.
However, Hillier says he learned through the public that the major crimes unit had been in St. Anthony that very day.
He questions why they didn’t meet with the family then.
Hillier understands the RCMP cannot provide the family every detail about the investigation but feels there should be more communication.
“If they tell us, one of us might slip it and it might ruin everything they’ve worked on,” he said. “But at least reach out to us. Call us at least once a month, come visit us.”
Hillier says there’s been no more communication between the family and the major crimes unit since Oct. 15.
To his knowledge, they have not been back in the St. Anthony area since then either.
In a prepared statement, the RCMP told The Northern Pen, “RCMP Major Crime Unit continues to maintain contact with family members that have been identified as a family liaison/contact people.”
RCMP welcome tips
The RCMP asks anyone who may have information about the disappearance of Hillier-Penney to contact the St. Anthony RCMP at 709-454-3543. To remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers toll-free at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), or report through the P3 Tips App or www.nlcrimestoppers.com.