Originally published in the Owen Sound Sun Times, December 18, 2007.
Every December, like clockwork, Jim and Dave Hanna would surrender their credit cards to their sister Lois.
She would do all of their Christmas shopping for them, carefully selecting, buying and wrapping gifts for everyone on their lists. This became a cherished annual tradition, something to which the entire family looked forward.
“It was always a surprise for everybody in the room because nobody had a clue what we were giving to anybody else,” Jim said of Christmas Day, chuckling, “Lois loved Christmas. It was fun watching her go through the day because she just loved it so much. Lois made it fun.”
Now he says, “Christmas is a day we endure.”
Lois Hanna would turn 45 on Feb. 3, but her birthday too goes uncelebrated by the family. It is commemorated – her brothers always make sure one of them is with their mother, Olive – but never celebrated.
The Hanna family knows Lois would have wanted them to move on with their lives, but it’s impossible for them to completely do so as long as she is missing. She vanished from her Kincardine home on July 4, 1988, and no trace of her has ever been found.
The case is one of five unsolved suspected homicides The Sun Times is profiling this week.
“We’re realistic people; it’s been almost 20 years and the chance of Lois bouncing back into our lives alive, well and happy and healthy is probably pretty thin,” Jim says. “But there’s no closure, and that’s the thing.”
* * *
Lois Marie Hanna was born on Feb. 3, 1963, in Wingham. She was the youngest of five children of Ernest and Olive Hanna and was raised with her brothers, John, Jim, Lloyd and Dave, on the family farm near Holyrood, in the former Kinloss Township.
Jim and Dave still live nearby and recently met with a Sun Times reporter at Jim’s home on the shore of Silver Lake. Both remain fiercely loyal to their family and to their sister’s memory.
“Spoiled, but not spoiled rotten,” Jim says of her. “Lois was a wonderful person. . . very approachable, bubbly, full of life, not judgmental, not threatening to anybody.”
Lois was raised to be self-sufficient and sensible, but she had a fun side too. She loved clothes and studied fashion at Fanshawe College in London. She entered and won two local beauty pageants, then was a runner-up at the Miss CNE competition in Toronto.
She worked at MacG’s, a women’s clothing store in Kincardine, and was good at her job. Her boss, Debby McGregor, told the Globe and Mail in a 1988 interview that Lois was “extremely conscientious and responsible, like my right arm.”
“She really liked her boss, and they were more like family than employer-employee,” Dave says.
Ernest Hanna died in March 1988. Olive turned to her family for comfort.
Lois wasn’t far away. Not long after her father died, she moved into a bungalow on Nelson Street in Kincardine. She owned a car, a burgundy Pontiac Grand Am, and spent as much time with her mother as she could.
But work and family responsibilities didn’t have a monopoly on Lois’ time. She looked forward to the Canada Day long weekend, when Lucknow would celebrate its 130th anniversary. There were four days of events, capped off on Sunday, July 3, with a shirt tail parade from the bowling alley to the arena, where a dance took place.
Lois and her brother Dave were there, as were many of their mutual friends. It was around 11:30 p.m. when Lois, who had to work in the morning, decided to call it a night.
“We’d had a big weekend and she was tired. She had to open up the store the next day, and she just loved that store,” Dave said. “She would not have bugged out on Deb, she just wouldn’t have.”
Dave had no idea when he said goodbye to Lois that he would never see her again.
* * *
Debby McGregor arrived at MacG’s at 11 a.m. Monday, July 4, and found the store still locked. Lois should have opened it an hour earlier. Debby called Lois’ home, but there was no answer, so she asked a mutual friend to go to the home and see if everything was all right.
The friend found Lois’ car parked in the driveway. All three of the house’s doors were locked, though, and no one answered the knocks. Finally the friend managed to get into the home through a bathroom window and discovered an odd scene inside. The television was on and a cold, half-finished cup of tea sat on the counter. The clothes Lois had worn the previous evening were in her closet. Her purse, which held her identification, money and keys, was in its usual place in the china cabinet. Nothing really appeared to be out of the ordinary, except Lois wasn’t there.
A call was placed to Dave Hanna, who was surprised to hear Lois hadn’t shown up for work. It was completely out of character for her to break a commitment and much less to do so without letting anyone know. But when he was told Lois’ purse had been left behind, he immediately knew something was terribly wrong. The whole family knew that she never went anywhere without it. Dave says even if there was ever an emergency, she never left it behind.
“It wasn’t like she wouldn’t leave quickly; she would do that, no problem at all. But she would never leave without her purse. It didn’t matter where she went.”
The now-defunct Kincardine police were notified and an officer went to Lois’ home. The Hannas now say police took the attitude that Lois had simply gone somewhere on her own and would soon return. Sgt. Robert Chandler’s initial comments to The Sun Times didn’t appear to express any alarm: “Chandler said police have done their preliminary investigation and there is no reason to suspect foul play,” said an article in the July 5, 1988 edition.
Frustrated, the Hannas acted on their own. They organized their own searches, hired private planes to search the area and announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to Lois’ whereabouts. They say the Kincardine police at the time focused their efforts not on looking for Lois but on stonewalling the brothers, preventing them from using the town’s fire hall and then a school as a base of operations. The family reluctantly settled on Lois’ home as a base.
“Using the house was not the right thing to do, because we destroyed any evidence that might have been there, but we had no help. The Kincardine police were running interference against us. It was just a case of the lesser of two evils,” Jim said. “If there was any chance of finding her, it had to happen right away.”
The OPP entered the investigation later that week and communication immediately improved between the family and law enforcement. Massive searches combed the area, aided by volunteers and OPP helicopters, dive teams and tracking dogs. Nothing worthwhile was found, but the family appreciated that people cared enough to help, taking time off work and using their own equipment and vehicles.
“The word went out that we needed help, and there were hundreds and hundreds of people that showed up day after day,” Dave said.
“We never did print anything in the papers thanking all the volunteers that came out. I guess at that time you aren’t thinking that way because we were still focusing on the fact that we didn’t have Lois back. But that was probably the biggest single demonstration of how your neighbours care for one another in rural Ontario and we were damned lucky to have it.”
Many theories have been considered and many have been discounted. Police say Lois did not fall prey to Paul Bernardo or any other known serial predator, nor is there any link between her disappearance and that of Lisa Maas, an Owen Sound woman who also vanished in July 1988.
A case summary provided by the OPP says more than 600 people have been interviewed as part of the investigation into Lois’ disappearance. Technical identification experts, a police artist, polygraph technicians, behavioural profilers and scientists from the Centre of Forensic Sciences have all worked with uniformed and plain-clothed officers on the case.
More than 20 searches took place over a period of about 10 years, but “have yet to yield anything of value to this investigation other than removing one more place in the county that has been searched.”
Despite the efforts of law enforcement, family and friends, no trace of Lois has ever been found.
* * *
The Hanna brothers are all in middle age now and have tried to move on. Jim works at Bruce Power and is a member of Huron-Kinloss township council. Dave owns the Silver Lake Tent and Trailer Park. Both are fathers, each with a daughter of his own.
But time has not eased their pain, nor has it lessened their frustration, anger and feelings of helplessness. That’s especially evident when they talk about the relationship between Olive and Lois. It was special, they say.
“They were buddies. They used to spend time together because they liked each other’s company,” Jim says.
Olive was in Lois’ circle of close friends who were always at the family homestead, always coming and going. But after Lois disappeared, the other girls in the circle found it too awkward to continue to visit Olive.
“It was just easier for the girls not to show up again, so Mom lost that whole group of friends,” Dave says, adding he understands why it happened.
“Nobody knew what to say. People would come up to you and say, ‘We don’t know what to say to you.’ That’s fine, because we don’t know what we want to hear anyway.”
Olive is now 81 years old, and her sons fear that her life will end without her ever having learned what happened to her daughter.
“Could you imagine not knowing what happened to one of your kids? That’s what she’s had to deal with,” Jim said.
“I’ve missed my sister terribly since she went missing. But I had no idea what Mom was going through until I had a daughter.
“If (whoever took Lois) would have enough decency just to let Mom bury her daughter, that would be small consolation. But it might be enough to give Mom some peace, because she has no peace now.”
Rewards totalling $50,000 remain available to anyone who can disclose what happened to Lois. Appeals over the years have kept the case and her name in the public eye.
New tips flood in every time a new appeal is made, but police seem no closer to cracking the case than they were 19 years ago.
“There’s just so little information to work with,” said Det.-Const. Andre Bayard, who is overseeing the case as part of the OPP’s cold case squad, Project Consolidation II. “It’s a really tough file.”
Whatever happens, her family will never forget the young woman who brightened their lives, and they’re thankful for the 25 years they got to spend with her.
“You’re lucky if you find somebody through your lifetime that you enjoy spending time with,” Dave said. “We were fortunate to have that with Lois.”
* * *
Two pea-sized drops of blood.
They are the only usable physical evidence ever found by police in the Lois Hanna case.
The drops were found on a wall next to the side door of Lois’ Kincardine home. For years, all that was known about the blood was that it came from a male.
In 1998, DNA technology provided the OPP with a list of 14 persons of interest, all men. Police worked to eliminate names from that list, and said in early 1999 they had been watching one of those men for the nine months. OPP Det.-Insp. Walter Baker said at the time that police were “cautiously optimistic there will be some resolution.”
That resolution is still awaited. Det.-Const. Andre Bayard says all but one person has been excluded from consideration. One name remains on the list. Bayard will not identify that person, nor will he discuss what police are trying to do to either exclude or implicate him. He will not comment on whether it is the same person the OPP tried to focus on in July 1988. When Lois had been missing for less than a week the OPP believed they knew who had taken her from her home.
They also believed Lois had known that person well. But the Hanna family initially refused to consider the possibility and the suspect was never taken into custody.
“We were thinking that for someone to have brought harm to Lois, it must have been some stranger, because no one who knew her would want to harm her,” said her brother Jim Hanna.
The person in question was a man the Hannas had known for many years. They thought they knew the man well enough to be able to say there was no way he was involved. The Hannas convinced the police to back off.
“We went more in his defence than anybody would have done, just to get the cops back on track again,” said Dave Hanna, another of Lois’ brothers.
“I remember almost the exact words I used: ‘If this is the guy you like for this crime, we’re really screwed, because this guy wouldn’t harm a fly,'” Jim said. “That was what I felt at the time. I believed it, I said it.”
But the idea of a suspect familiar to Lois now makes a lot more sense to the family.
“You think about it,” Jim says. “There was no disturbance in the house, there was no disturbance anywhere to be found. There was no physical evidence of any kind of a struggle in any way, shape or form in that house. No money was taken. All this stuff would indicate that if she left that house, chances are she left with someone she knew. She was under no stress whatsoever.
“Looking back at it, it seems pretty obvious.”
* * *
NOTE: The Lois Hanna case remains unsolved. Anyone with any information that may assist the investigation is asked to call the OPP at 1-888-310-1122 or 1-877-9FINDME (934-6363) or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Emails can also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org