‘A ray of sunshine’: friends remember homicide victim Lisa Dawn MacPherson

The Bridgman Park Trail that runs beside North Vancouver’s Lynn Creek is a quiet place. Sword ferns sprout in the nearby forest floor and slim trees lean over the trail, covered with moss. The creek washes over stones.

It was here, on Nov. 28, that a dog walker made a grisly discovery: a charred body inside a picnic shelter. It took another six weeks before homicide investigators publicly identified the victim as 41-year-old Lisa Dawn MacPherson of North Vancouver.

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Those who knew MacPherson were shocked and left struggling to understand what happened.

“I was blown away. I’m still trying to figure it out,” said Geoff Ingeberg, a friend who first met MacPherson when she worked as a welder on the Millennium Line in the late 1990s. They connected again years later on Facebook. When MacPherson needed a place to stay in 2015, she moved in with Ingeberg at his home in Langley.

“She had a way to light up a room with her smile,” he said.

Jimmy Webster had a six-year relationship with MacPherson and worked with her at Allied Shipyards in North Vancouver.

“For me she was like a ball of energy,” said Webster. In the good times, they lived together in Squamish and spent time exploring nearby peaks.

“We’d hike to the top of Diamond Head and watch the sunset,” he said.

He remembers her glee at fun events like a family Easter egg hunt. “She’d get so excited,” he said.

He found out about her death when someone texted him a newspaper story. He read about her described as transient and homeless.

His first thought was “No. She’s a mother and fun-loving person and she’s full of energy. She loves her children. She had a big heart.”

Today, a padlocked yellow construction fence surrounds the shelter where MacPherson’s body was found. A bouquet of pink and yellow roses has recently been threaded through the fence. A framed photo of her sits inside the fence, next to a concrete pillar covered in graffiti.

Six red roses lie withered, next to a dark stain on the concrete. There is a card that incongruously reads “Happy Birthday.” The day she was publicly identified by police she would have turned 42.

Flowers adorn a padlocked construction fence surrounding the shelter where the body of Lisa Dawn MacPherson was found in November. photo Jane Seyd

A laminated sign from homicide investigators is duct taped to a concrete pillar, asking anyone with information to call them.

MacPherson grew up not far from where she was found, in a middle-class cul-de-sac across Lynn Creek. She was one of three girls in the family who went to Lynnmour elementary. Her father was president of the shipyard workers union. Neighbours remember it as a tight-knit community where kids played out on the street.

MacPherson is remembered as an independent spirit.

She was a young mom and left home early. Those who knew her say she struggled in relationships with men that didn’t seem good for her. Later, as a single mom to two kids – a son and a daughter – she earned her welding ticket and got her first job working for Bombardier on the SkyTrain line. “She was the first female welder I ever met,” said Ingeberg.

“She was competent,” said Malcolm McLaren, whose family founded Allied Shipbuilders. “She wasn’t the type to complain. She did what the guys did.”

McLaren didn’t know her well. “It’s very sad,” he said. “She fell from grace. I don’t know how she got into the situation.

“She was a working person with kids and things just worked out terribly.”

According to Webster, a downward slide began about three years ago when MacPherson started taking methamphetamine.

“I don’t know this Lisa,” he said. “I tried to talk her out of it. . . . Everything changed.”

The couple split up and MacPherson left Squamish. By then she was also estranged from her family, according to friends.

She stayed with Ingeberg for a while, who said she told him at the time she was afraid of being stalked. She changed her email addresses and phone numbers frequently and dropped off social media.

One day last year she told Ingeberg she was going to get her life on track. “She seemed very positive,” he said. “She seemed very sure everything was OK. And that I’d hear from her very soon.”

But after that, MacPherson was in and out of the North Shore homeless shelter, sometimes sleeping rough outside.

Ranald MacDonald spoke to her a few times during that period. “She was friendly, she was personable, she was outgoing,” he said. “From what I understand she was living in an abandoned house over by Norgate.”

Elizabeth Patriquin also knew MacPherson when she was homeless. “She was the kindest, nicest, beautiful soul,” said Patriquin. “She was a bright ray of sunshine.”

Patriquin said what happened to MacPherson was tragic. “You don’t let homeless girls stay on the streets,” she said. “Lisa was a good girl. She got messed up with the wrong people. She fell on hard times. The people who should have been there for her weren’t.”

Geoff Bodnarek, an outreach worker with the Canadian Mental Association in North Vancouver, knew MacPherson and had worked with her to try to get stable housing for the past year and a half and to re-establish relationships with her children.

“She had her struggles,” he said. “She was very dedicated to her children.”

Bodnarek said it’s possible MacPherson was dealing with mental health problems, but she was never formally assessed.

Bodnarek said he last saw MacPherson on Nov. 23 or 24 when she came into his office to say hello. At the time, they agreed he would help her with paperwork towards getting a room in a boarding house.

But after that, “I never saw her,” he said.

He learned about what happened to her from another client.

Her death has had a big impact in the community, he said.

“You can’t predict these things,”he said. “You can only work with what you have and the time you have."

MacPherson’s family declined to comment for this story.

The investigation into her death remains active. Anyone with info can call the IHIT info line at 1-877-551-4448 or CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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