It’s November 2012 and winter is settling on the city of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. Arriving from the other side of the country, a desperate mother realizes that her daughter has disappeared without a trace. For years, police search for the missing Emma Fillipoff – until a new lead finally emerges in 2018.
In fall 2011 Emma left her hometown of Perth, Ontario, and relocated to Victoria. Apparently, it wasn’t the first time that she had felt the pull of the more liberal and bohemian west. In fact, she had already made the 3,000-mile journey some years previously, when she moved to Campbell River on Vancouver Island, BC.
There, Emma had begun working as a chef at the Royal Coachman Pub. According to her mother Shelley, the young woman had been a talented cook and had trained in the industry before heading out west. Prior to that, she had studied photojournalism, and continued to take snapshots and write in diaries throughout her adventures.
In fact, Emma kept a journal from an early age. Later, some would point to certain entries as evidence that she was struggling with her mental health – even at just 11 years old. However, the young woman that most remember was considered free-spirited, kind and friendly, if a little reserved about her private life.
After three years in Campbell River, Emma began to struggle with the physical demands of kitchen work. According to Shelley, a knee problem had begun to cause her daughter pain, and she returned to Perth in order to visit the family surgeon. However, she would not stay in her hometown for long.
In September 2011 Emma made arrangements to head west once more – this time to Victoria, BC. Apparently, she informed a friend before departing that she believed “something amazing” was awaiting her in the new city. And even though she had no work or accommodation organized, she felt confident that things would work out.
Now 25 years old, Emma arrived in Victoria and spent a few months staying with a friend and their partner in the city. And at first, it seemed as if the move was going well. Before long, the young woman had found work at a cafe as a barista and moved into another unit nearby.
Unfortunately, the barista position did not last, and within two or three months of her arrival in Victoria Emma had adopted a new lifestyle. Becoming one of the city’s transient population, she alternated between crashing with friends and staying at a hotel where she was also employed. At times, she also slept on boats or out in the woods.
From February 2012 Emma began staying at Sandy Merriman House, a women’s shelter where she remained on-and-off for the next nine months. But despite the nature of the facility, Shelley claims that she did not know that her daughter was staying in emergency accommodation. In fact, the young woman continued to send upbeat messages to her family, along with poetry and the occasional telephone call.
During her time in Victoria, Emma made a number of acquaintances and friends. According to those that knew her, she was a creative and adventurous young woman, trusting and caring, with a particular affinity for vulnerable people and animals. However, she was also private and independent, apparently comfortable sleeping alone in the wilderness.
In Victoria, Emma liked to socialize with the more bohemian members of the community, such as the artists and boat-dwellers who frequented the inner harbor area. At other times, she spent her days with street performers and homeless people throughout the city. And when she was alone, she could often be seen meditating out in the sunshine or reading books in the local library.
Moreover, Emma was known to foster a love of nature and was often spotted walking the streets of the city without shoes. And according to friends, she had a deep love for her family – although she rarely spoke about any of them at length. Meanwhile, she held a counter-culture set of beliefs, avoiding cell phones, consumerism and social media.
Apparently, Emma was quite social when she first arrived in Victoria, enjoying drinking and chatting with friends. In fact, she even embarked on a romantic relationship, although that ended amicably after three months. But by the time that summer rolled round, the young woman had changed her behavior in pursuit of a more simplistic life.
According to friends, Emma gave up alcohol, sugar, coffee and cigarettes. However, her diet became more and more limited, and by the end of the summer she had lost a lot of weight. As time passed, she began to withdraw from those around her, with some describing her as paranoid and afraid.
In the months leading up to her disappearance, Emma was working at Red Fish Blue Fish, a restaurant on the harborside. However, this was only seasonal work, and the young woman seemed to have multiple plans about where to go during the off months. In preparation, she purchased a van, telling her friends that she wanted to use it to explore the island.
However, some friends claim that Emma’s plans actually involved returning to Perth to see her family, or accompanying her father to Japan. In another conversation, she announced that she was heading to Tofino, BC. Meanwhile, others believed that she was embarking on a sailing trip to Mexico, traveling with a friend to San Juan or relocating to California.
As anticipated, in October 2012 Emma’s seasonal employment at Red Fish Blue Fish came to an end. But while the management expected her to resume her job in February, she would never return. In fact, by November, the young woman’s behavior had become increasingly erratic and those who knew her had grown concerned for her wellbeing.
Previously regarded as amiable, gregarious and smart, Emma grew aloof and withdrawn. Apparently, she started canceling plans with friends and seemed fearful of unfamiliar places. Then, staff at the shelter noticed that she was showing signs of paranoid behavior. Moving her furniture out onto the street, she claimed that the objects were talking to her.
Concerned for Emma’s wellbeing, staff at the hostel contacted the police. But rather than send the young woman for a mental health assessment, law enforcement simply advised the facility to get back in touch if things got worse. But while Emma’s bizarre behavior apparently continued, the authorities were not contacted again.
On November 20 Emma was captured acting strangely on a surveillance video at the local YMCA. In the footage, she appears to be either concealing herself from someone or waiting for someone to appear. Then, the following day, she arranged to have her van towed to the neighborhood of Sandy Merriman House. According to the driver, she was making plans to return to Perth.
Then on November 23 Emma made the first of several distressed calls to Shelley. At first, she begged her mother to help her return to the family home. But the following morning, she phoned back to say that she had changed her mind. Over the next five days, the young woman repeated this process multiple times until Shelley eventually got on a plane to Victoria against her daughter’s wishes.
By the time that Shelley arrived at Sandy Merriman House, however, Emma was nowhere to be seen. According to reports, she had fled the shelter when informed of her mother’s imminent arrival – although these plans had not been communicated to staff. Meanwhile, the young woman was spotted looking distressed near the city’s Empress Hotel.
At about 7.20 p.m., police arrived at the hotel and spoke to Emma. But after 45 minutes, they determined that she was not at risk and allowed her to go on her way. Eight years later, this encounter remains the last known sighting of the troubled young woman. When Shelley arrived at the shelter a few hours later and found her daughter’s bed empty, the young woman was reported as missing.
The day after Emma’s disappearance, police located her van in a Victoria parking lot. Inside, they found most of her belongings including her camera, passport and laptop – everything that she would have taken if she had planned on leaving town. So what happened? Despite a comprehensive search of the area, no trace of the missing woman was ever found.
While searching for her daughter, Shelley began to learn more about Emma’s precarious situation. According to one friend, she had begun exhibiting unusual behavior soon after arriving in Victoria back in 2011. Meanwhile, others spoke about harassment that the young woman had suffered back in Campbell River, suggesting that a stalker may have followed her to Victoria.
Had Emma suffered some kind of psychotic breakdown and disappeared? Or had something even more sinister occurred? Over the years, a number of people have come forward to report having seen the missing woman in the mainland city of Vancouver, but nothing has ever been confirmed. Indeed, in 2014 one lead emerged that police are still pursuing today.
In May that year a man carrying one of Emma’s missing person posters was captured by surveillance cameras in a Vancouver store. Apparently, he told staff that he was in a relationship with the missing woman and that she had intentionally run away. Meanwhile, as late as 2016, people who knew Emma continued to report sightings across BC.
Then in 2018 another lead emerged that raised hopes that the case might finally be solved. A man known only as William contacted the Victoria Police Department with a startling tale. According to his testimony, he had given a lift to a woman matching Emma’s description at about 5:00 a.m. on the morning after her disappearance.
According to William, he had been driving between the Victoria districts of Esquimalt and Saanich when he had encountered the young woman. Walking along Admirals Road in the west of the city, she was barefoot and soaking wet. Apparently, she looked as if she had been out all night.
However, it wasn’t just the woman’s disheveled appearance that gave William cause for concern. In an interview for the 2018 podcast Searching for Emma Fillipoff, he explained that she was acting strangely, jumping and screaming on the sidewalk as he passed. And so, he stopped to see if he could be of any assistance.
According to William, Emma accepted his offer of a lift and got in the car. Once inside, he claims, she began to act in a much calmer manner. Apparently, she asked him to drop her off at the home of a friend in Colwood, a city some six miles to the east. However, the driver was in the first week of a new job and was already running late.
Not wanting to be any later to work, William told the woman that he would not be able to take her as far as Colwood. And after five minutes, he dropped her off at a gas station on the intersection of two roads. Worryingly, however, he claims that she resorted to her previous bizarre behavior as soon as she exited the car.
According to reports, it was some time before William realized the potential significance of this strange encounter. And even when he did, he claims that he was reluctant to come forward in case he was implicated in Emma’s disappearance. However, when he became a father himself, he felt motivated to finally contact police with his account.
When William did not receive any further communication from the Victoria Police Department, he reached out to Shelley herself. And according to the missing woman’s mother, it was a credible lead. In a 2018 interview with Canadian daily newspaper the Times Colonist, she explained how the witness had accurately described her daughter.
“His account was more than believable,” Shelley said. “He described Emma to a T, her mannerisms, everything. The way he talked about her taking her long hair out from under her coat. I thought it was so plausible that she walked throughout the night.” Moreover, William’s testimony wasn’t the only evidence tying the missing woman to Colwood shortly after her disappearance.
Apparently, Emma had purchased a prepaid credit card on the same day that she disappeared. Soon after, on December 3, it was used in a gas station in Colwood. Was the solution to the mystery somewhere in this Vancouver Island city? As police chased the lead, Kim Bordage, the woman behind the Search for Emma Fillipoff podcast, launched her own investigation.
On the back of a GoFundMe campaign, Bordage enlisted the help of Kim Cooper, a dog handler who has helped in a number of missing person cases. And in November 2018, the pair traveled to Victoria, where they used the animals to search the area where William had dropped off the mystery woman.
Sadly, this search failed to turn up any further evidence. After taking time to regroup, the women launched another search the following spring. However, they came up empty-handed once more. And while the Victoria Police Department continues to receive tips relating to Emma’s disappearance, her whereabouts remains unknown to this day.
In a 2019 interview with website Ottawa Valley News, Shelley spoke about her difficulties following her daughter’s disappearance. “I’m still hopeful, but it’s harder every day,” she explained. “My mental state is shaky. Psychologically, emotionally, I’m pretty shaky. Every day I wake up, I dread the day. I think, oh God, not another day without her.”
With William’s testimony apparently leading nowhere, Shelley is unsure where to go next in the search for her daughter. However, she is committed to making sure that no one forgets about Emma and her uncertain fate. Through a Facebook page, she shares poetry just like her daughter once did – hoping that one day they might be reunited.