Chilliwack, British Columbia - On February 19, 1983, at approximately 8:15 pm, Joanne Marie Pedersen, 10, went missing from the Penny Pincher Store near the corner of Vedder Road and Watson Road in the Vedder Crossing area of Chilliwack, BC., after a trivial argument with her sister, who was then 11.
Fast forward to 2023 and, days before the 40th anniversary of Joanne's disappearance on February 19, 2022, Chilliwack RCMP has identified the man in the phone booth.
"It grabbed at everybody's heartstrings - it was a very, very troubling case," recalled retired Global BC crime reporter John L. Daly.
According to The Globe and Mail, the spat occurred while the girls were walking home from the mall with their 14-year-old cousin. Joanne's mother and stepfather were at a nearby Legion hall, Constable Lea-Anne Dunlop of the Upper Fraser Valley detachment said.
Joanne's sister and cousin ran ahead and, as a prank, locked Joanne out of the house. Joanne tried for a few minutes to get in. But it was cold and raining, Constable Dunlop said, and she went to a corner store close to the house to phone her parents. By the time her sister opened the door, Joanne had already left.
Joanne reached the store, but the clerk was busy with other customers. Joanne went outside to use a pay phone. She called the operator for the number at the Legion and then phoned her stepfather, who arranged to pick her up. When he arrived at the store a half-hour later, she was gone.
"It's perplexing to learn RCMP have finally identified the mystery man after all these years, and are publicly stating that he's not even a person of interest. One can only wonder what they've told him and why it took so long to find him, and why he didn't come forward earlier," said Daly. "Or have they discovered who he was, determined who he was, and he's dead - we don't know."
In 2008, Joanne's mother made an impassioned plea for an unidentified man who was seen with her daughter shortly before she vanished to finally speak to police.
"As a mother, I have suffered very much through the years. I really miss Joanne," Angela Reilly says in an emotional videotaped message distributed by the RCMP.
"She was so happy. She sang a lot," Ms. Reilly says despondently, as she urges the man to contact police. "As a mother, I'm pleading with you to come forward. Please do that for me."
Police say Joanne was last seen with an adult man at a telephone booth. The man was described as Caucasian, approximately 20 to 30 years old, 5'6" to 5'7" in height, slim to medium build, with light to dark hair that was below the ears. He was clean shaven and wearing a dark jacket.
Initially, the unidentified man was painted in a negative light, Constable Dunlop said. But after consulting with a behavioural scientist, police now believe the man last seen with Joanne was there to help her. "Our hope is that the individual will know we understand he was trying to help and will come forward to talk to police," she said.
In 2011, an anonymous letter was sent to the Chilliwack RCMP about Joanne's disappearance, but while it generated lots of tips, her case remains a mystery. They believe the man is still somewhere in the Fraser Valley and aware of the media coverage, Constable Dunlop said.
Joanne's family did not want to speak to the media about their ordeal, the constable added. A re-enactment of the incident, staged by the Chilliwack RCMP and Crime Stoppers, is on YouTube.
While there may now be more questions than answers, Chilliwack RCMP say the investigation into Joanne's disappearance has never stopped and they have not lost hope that they will find out what happened to her.
The Chilliwack RCMP Serious Crime Unit is seeking information from the public that can assist in solving this mystery. If you have any information relating to Joanne's disappearance please contact the Chilliwack RCMP Community Policing Office, Serious Crime Unit, at 1-604-792-4611 or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.