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Rhody Lake's family still seeks answers about B.C. mother's 2005 disappearance

Jennifer Lake Tipper met with the Sunshine Coast SAR manager who helped lead the extensive search for her mother in 2005. No trace has ever been found after the 80-year-old's late November disappearance from the Sandy Hook neighbourhood of Sechelt.

It has been nearly 17 years since Search and Rescue (SAR) volunteers combed the woods and shoreline of Sandy Hook and Porpoise Bay Provincial Park in Sechelt, where Rhody Lake was last reported to be seen in 2005, but the 80-year-old woman’s “haunting” disappearance is still unsolved.

Now, on April 28, one of the volunteers who helped lead the initial six-day search met with Lake’s daughter, Jennifer Lake Tipper, at a coffee shop in Sechelt, where they discussed one of the Sunshine Coast’s biggest organized search efforts. 

Lake’s family still doesn’t have answers about what happened. What they do know is Lake left her Sandy Hook home in the afternoon of November 27. She often walked at least once a day since moving to the Coast in 1997. “It was sunny that day, a little bit of snow – her favourite kind of weather,” Tipper said. Lake had already been out twice that day when she was spotted by a neighbour around 2:30 p.m. Near 3 p.m., witnesses reported seeing Lake speaking with a man by the entrance of Porpoise Bay Provincial Park. As far as Tipper knows, no one has ever come forward identifying such a man. 

Tipper said Lake would have been recognizable, as she walked in the Sandy Hook neighbourhood regularly, always carried a walking stick and often wore a colourful hat. At 80 years old, Lake was an experienced hiker, but refused to get a cell phone. Tipper says her mother was very outgoing, creative as a writer and an artist, “a staunch advocate for health," and loved nature. “She was always chatting with people and making friends,” her daughter said. Lake was still very active, but had a couple of mini strokes a year before and a few falls at home. 

The search

Lake’s son reported her missing the next day, when he came home from a night out for the Grey Cup, and it became clear she hadn’t slept at home that night. By the time Tipper arrived from the Lower Mainland, the search was under way.

Sunshine Coast SAR search manager Alec Tebbutt said the search he led for Lake was the biggest organized search on the Coast at that time. More than 200 volunteers helped cover 40 square kilometres, as four police dogs, a CARDA dog, and an RCMP helicopter joined 16 trained search and rescue teams, the Coast Guard auxiliary, and a private helicopter, the Coast Reporter previously reported.

It’s fairly unusual for the team not to find who they’re searching for, Tebbutt said. “I think about this search regularly. It was one of my first really big searches where I was the SAR manager, and it's a very difficult thing to realize I didn't solve this. I didn’t bring a resolution or a conclusion or something for the family, for the person, and for our team.”

It was challenging, given that reports on Lake’s location were not confirmed, and no clues indicating where she went were ever found, Tebbutt said.

He pointed to a recent case where the body of a missing man was pulled out of Waugh Lake in Egmont after going missing nearly three years ago in 2019. But it’s not likely there’s anything left to find in Sechelt Inlet, he said, as the ocean moves things around more, there are more creatures, and the water nearby is not very deep. And that’s if Lake went in the water at all.

After the initial search, Tipper organized a few more searches based on psychic readings. She also hired a private investigator who brought a dog in to search her mother’s property and the park, and re-interviewed people, but nothing was conclusive.

In 2010, the RCMP and Crime Stoppers created a re-enactment of Lake’s disappearance for the five-year anniversary of her disappearance,  in an effort to raise awareness of the case and inspire people to come forward with information. Tipper said one of the officers working on the recreation was convinced it was foul play, telling Tipper it was “so clean.” 

Current status of investigation

Sunshine Coast RCMP Cst. Karen Whitby confirmed Lake’s case is still an open investigation, and as such, foul play has not been ruled out. Anyone with tips or information is asked to contact the file’s lead investigator, Cpl. Stacey Robinson at or 604-885-2266. The file number is #2005-10522.

Looking for answers

By sharing her mother’s story again, Tipper said she hopes someone knows something, and comes forward with any information they may have. She’s not sure her mother met foul play, and thinks an accident was possible. 

“It would mean a lot, actually just being able to put it into some perspective, instead of wild, crazy ideas. And even though I know the outcome may be horrible, it still would be something. It still would be some sort of answer,” she said.

“It's a kind of resolution to put your mind at ease,” Tebbutt said. 

“I often see people walking that road now, and it gives me the creeps,” Tipper said. “Just because it would be so easy to get hit by a vehicle. It’s a windy road, barely a shoulder, there's certainly no sidewalk. People do speed on that road. I just think, ‘Wow, there's so many places to walk, why would you walk on that highway?’ And also, just personally, because I feel that that could have happened to her.”

It was November, and would have been dark early in the evening at that time of year. Lake’s hearing wasn’t great, and Tipper believes she may not have been able to hear an approaching car. She had a tendency to walk on the road, and Tipper had pulled her out of the way before. Other theories include a fall or a wild animal attack.

Tebbutt said a cougar attack seems the most likely to him, “Because there certainly are cougars out there, and that would explain not finding anything.” But animals can be messy, Tipper pointed out. Her brightly coloured clothing and walking stick were never recovered.

Sometime after the initial search, Tebbutt said, someone reported the smell of death, of decomposing, but another significant search did not find anything.

“I'm quite careful about talking about it with people in the neighborhood, especially because it is a little bit haunting and it can be upsetting for people,” Tipper said. 

17 years later

It took nearly a decade for Lake to officially be presumed dead. In January 2015, Tipper applied to the B.C. Supreme Court for her mother’s death certificate, which was granted. 

When asked what it’s been like going nearly 17 years without answers, Tipper said, “It’s just really sort of tormenting. You try not to think about it too much, kind of just put it to rest. But you know, there's always that question.”

Public interest in the case has been amazing, Tipper said. In 2005, social media wasn’t as prevalent and Tipper said she wishes that level of connectivity to spread awareness had existed then.

“I love the fact that there's more going on. It is hard to see those things pop up, but at the same time, I welcome it for sure,” she said. “Sometimes, I think we could have solved it.”

Tebbutt agreed that social media can help spread the word to community, get more people looking, and it has helped resolve some searches.

As they sat together, Tipper thanked Tebbutt for SAR’s efforts. To all the volunteers who helped look for Rhody Lake, she said she has “total gratitude” for their support.

“They sort of brought some sanity to the situation,” she said. “I know that it was equally as hard for them to stop searching as it was for us.”