When a family member goes missing, the whole world can change for those who love them. Mothers crusade for long searches, siblings follow every available clue and aunts and uncles offer help and comfort when they can.
While most missing persons cases are solved, sometimes without happy endings, there are still quite a few people out there who remain unfound, sometimes by their own accord, other times through accident or sickness, and sometimes through less savory things.
For Emma Fillipoff, any one of these could apply, but since no one has seen her for five years, no one can know what happened. Clues have popped up over the years, but without finding any firm evidence, no one can be certain of their veracity.
Still, her mother isn’t giving up. Click ‘Start Slideshow’ to begin.
Last Words from Emma
The calls Shelley Fillipoff was getting from her daughter Emma were disturbing to her. Emma first claimed she wanted to go home. She later called back and said she changed her mind. Then she called and said she had been staying in a women’s shelter. Without even telling her daughter, Shelley Fillipoff hopped onto a plain and made her way to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, to bring her daughter home, or to at least assess her situation. Unfortunately, she would end up doing no such thing. This was Wednesday, November 28, 2012.
Just Missed Her
When Shelley Fillipoff touched down in Vancouver at 11 p.m., she made her way to the shelter to find her daughter only to be told Emma had left just a few hours earlier. When asked why Emma had been staying at the women’s shelter, no one seemed to have an answer for her. Hitting the streets, she didn’t find too many leads, save for a sighting of Emma walking barefoot down the street. Shelley says her daughter was kind and generous, not someone who would invite harm. As the investigation into Emma’s disappearance began, information started to come out about some odd behavior she had been exhibiting in recent days.
What Was Left Behind
Perhaps what was most disconcerting were the items left behind by Emma Fillipoff. The day she disappeared, she had spoken to the staff at the Chateau Victoria Hotel. In the hotel’s parking lot, authorities found her van, and inside it was some previous and important items. Most everything she owned was contained within, perhaps most importantly her passport, laptop and camera. She had also left behind journals. These would serve to provide some insight into what may have been going on with Emma and why she vanished. The fact that everything she owned seemed to be in one place and seemed to have pulled up roots may speak to her having some sort of larger plan. Her other activities for the day point to that, as well.
The Day’s Activities
A blurry picture began to form when police began to look at Emma Fillipoff’s movements the day she vanished. Early in the morning, following the call she made to her mother, Emma went to a convenience store and purchased a prepaid credit card with $200. As she went to leave the store, she stopped. She looked outside, then moved away from the door, then back to look outside, as though she was looking for something. Later that day, she bought a prepaid cell phone, never having owned a cell phone before. Again, after buying the phone, she seemed hesitant to leave the convenience store from which she had purchased it. She eventually found her way back to the shelter, though the staff say they saw her leave only minutes after she purchased the phone, so it had to be a short trip.
A Cab Ride
After she left the shelter at 6 p.m., Emma Fillipoff found herself in a cab at 6:10 p.m. She asked the driver to take her to the airport, at which point he said the fare would be $60. Emma told him she didn’t have the money, though she did have several thousand dollars in her bank account. When asked about her, the cabby said Emma was behaving strangely. At one point, she changed her mind about the airport and had him take her back to where she had been picked up. Upon arrival, she requested to stay in the car for a time, as though she was afraid of exiting the vehicle. She also behaved strangely, he said, when his radio started making noise. It frightened her, the cabby said. She then paid and exited the car.
That night, between 7 and 8 p.m., just as her mother was flying into Victoria, Emma Fillipoff ran into a friend of hers near the Empress Hotel. He said she seemed disoriented and anxious, and she was walking barefoot along the street while holding her shoes. This alarmed him, so he called the police who arrived and began to question Emma. When asked if she was okay, Emma said “I’m just working through some things right now. I’m going for a walk and then I’m going to a friend’s house,” an officer recalls. Once they determined she wouldn’t be a harm to herself or anyone else, they sent her on her way, never to be seen again.
Reading Between the Lines
When the deeper investigation into Emma Fillipoff’s disappearance kicked off, the journals came into play in a big way. Emma had written poetry, notes about her life, and more. Looking at the journal entries, it would seem Emma had started suffering from mental health issues at around 11 years old. Later entries appeared to be poems describing someone following her. Was she truly being followed, or was she suffering from some sort of mental breakdown? The strange behavior at the convenience store and in the cab, could point to her being overly cautious about someone watching her, and her doing her best to avoid them. Until Emma is found, we may never know what was going on.
A Mental Breakdown?
In an interview, Shelley Fillipoff stated the family had a history of mental illness. It is this which has led many, including Shelley herself, that perhaps Emma had suffered some sort of mental break which caused her to behave so strangely and apparently go on the run. Paranoia, depression and more seemed like common themes in her writings. A roommate told Emma’s father, James, that she had once seen Emma outside, apparently reacting very strangely to the grass and the stars. Emma had no history of alcohol or drug abuse, so this would definitely be considered strange behavior. When asked by Shelley about Emma’s behavior, the shelter at which Emma had been staying admitted to her behaving strangely, sometimes moving items she owned out of her room, even out of the building, saying “It’s making too much noise. It’s saying things to me.”
Several years before Emma’s disappearance, her parents divorced. When it happened, it was a very rough time for the whole family, and Emma’s mother had a breakdown, herself. She took three years off from her job and went on disability. She would lay for hours on the bathroom floor, she chased after her husband, who had left her for a younger woman, and did all manner of things, including once attacking him, which forced Emma to call the police on her mother. Perhaps it was this which eventually lead to something of a rift between the two. Emma seemed to enjoy spending time with her father and siblings, but wouldn’t spend a lot with her mother. In her journals was found a poem about this time:
My parents’ marriage in shambles.
My father turning to me.
My mother hating us both.
And me. Always the good listener.
Too nice to say it hurt me too.
Who Was Emma?
Emma Fillipoff was, much like her father, a creative spirit. She was a photographer. She was a chef. She had worked in restaurants. She had an eye for beauty. She avoided negative influences and lived a vegan lifestyle. Social media wasn’t her thing, and she never owned a cell phone until the day she vanished, and even then, she never activated it. By all accounts, she was a loving woman who kept to herself. Perhaps, however, it was this secrecy which allowed he to drift so far into whatever it was that caused her to run away.
For two months, Shelley Fillipoff scoured the streets of Victoria, asking at all of Emma’s hangout spots if anyone had seen her. She moved on to the homeless, hoping one of them may have seen Emma somewhere, even among their ranks. She then moved on to Vancouver and did the same. Nothing panned out, and she realized for the time being she had to head home. She still had family there who needed her, and if Emma had simply run away, Shelley held out hope she would turn up soon enough, safe and sound. So, she went home. “It’s time for me to go,” Shelley said. “I don’t want to, because it feels like I’m leaving her behind, but my other kids need me, too. It’s time.” This didn’t mean she was giving up, however.
A Possible Sighting
More than a year after Emma Fillipoff went missing, her mother continued to search, hitting the streets and showing her picture around. She posted flyers and did what she could, but nothing turned up any worthwhile information. People believed they had seen her, but no one could ever be sure. Then, in July of 2014, a photo started to be circulated which showed a woman sitting in a coffee shop in Vancouver. It was a profile shot, but there was no question this woman looked very much like Emma. Everyone in Emma’s family agreed, and Shelley set out to investigate further. Unfortunately, the woman caught wind of the photo being floated around and revealed herself, showing it was not, in fact, Emma Fillipoff.
Potential Outside Influences
There were three people who had some sort of interaction with Emma Fillipoff around the time she went missing. The first was the acquaintance she ran into the night she disappeared. He saw her walking barefoot on the street and called the police to alert them to the fact she seemed out of sorts. He was cleared of having anything to do with the issue after receiving a polygraph test. A second suspect came in the form of a man named Julian who had met Emma in Ontario. He had fallen for her and ended up bumping into her again in Victoria, though he claims it was pure coincidence, even though he had gotten a little close to her a previous time in a way she didn’t wanted. He was quotes as saying he didn’t want to “stalk her” like he had previously. An odd choice of words. He was also cleared by a polygraph test.
The Credit Card
The third person involved was the man who ended up with the credit card Emma Fillipoff had bought the day she disappeared. It went unused for a time, then in December suddenly showed a charge for a pack of cigarettes. As can be expected, this set off a lot of signals. Even though Emma didn’t smoke, perhaps she was buying them for someone else or had given the card to someone. When the person who used the card was tracked down, it turned out to be a homeless man who claimed to have found the card along a road bear the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre, a fair distance from where Emma had last been seen.
A Bigger Break
Perhaps the biggest break of all took place in May of 2014 when a strange man made his way into a store in Vancouver. According to Shelley Fillipoff, who relayed the story to the media after hearing details from the police, a man walked into the store with a crumpled-up piece of paper in his hand. He looked around a bit and threw away the piece of paper, which happened to be one of Emma’s missing person posters. The man told the owners of the store “It’s one of those missing persons posters, except she’s not missing, she’s my girlfriend and she ran away because she hates her parents.” The owners found this strange, and found the man had a super creepy feeling, so they immediately phoned the police. While his image was captured on camera, police have not yet been able to track him down.
Just a couple weeks before the third anniversary of Emma’s disappearance, CBC News’ The Fifth Estate aired an episode on the disappearance and investigation. They brought in a panel of experts to look at all the information which had been gathered to see if they could come to some sort of conclusion. They all greed, however, that there were simply too many loose ends to come to a real conclusion. They suggested suicide could be possible, though the poems and such left behind could not be construed as any sort of suicide note. Foul play could have been something, though they don’t believe that is necessarily the case. There was one sort of prevailing theory, however.
Doesn’t Want to Be Found
One thing most of the group brought together for “Finding Emma” could agree on one thing: It’s very difficult to find someone who doesn’t want to be found. If she did commit suicide, she likely went somewhere she couldn’t be found. If she thought someone was following her, she may have run and hid, leaving behind anything to track her movements. At one point, one of the panel members even suggested something it seemed hadn’t been considered. Perhaps Emma, as she was obviously smart and creative, and something of a chameleon, simply dropped her persona and became someone else and started a new life. There are so many possibilities. Her mother also had one of her own.
One of Shelley Fillipoff’s primary concerns about her daughter is her mental state. Her theory is that, perhaps, Emma has had such a mental breakdown that she doesn’t realize she needs help. Emma believes she is perfectly fine, living somewhere she doesn’t belong and being somebody else. This is what drives her search for her daughter among the homeless of the bigger cities around the country.
In Recent Years
Since The Fifth Estate took a stab at the Emma Fillipoff search, not much has been heard. Her brother and mother came under fire for alleged money laundering and drug trafficking charges, but Shelley Fillipoff was cleared. “Some people did jump to conclusions – one of them was that I was doing that to raise money to continue to look for Emma,” she told a newspaper. Her search for Emma continues. She rented a billboard at one point, but it brought in nothing new. She still feels anger for the police and for the shelter in which Emma had stayed, believing both organizations could have done more for her daughter. When asked about the upcoming fourth anniversary of Emma’s disappearance, Shelley said “It’ll be a sad day, but every day is a sad day.”