Helen Betty Osborne, or Betty Osborne (1952 - November 13, 1971), was a Cree Aboriginal woman from Norway House reserve who was kidnapped and murdered while walking down Third Street in The Pas, Manitoba on the evening of November 13, 1971.
Osborne was born in Norway House, Manitoba, the eldest of many children born to Joe and Justine (née McKay) Osborne. Her ambition was to go to college and become a teacher. However, the only way to succeed in doing so was to continue her education away from the reserve as secondary education was not available. She spent two years at Guy Hill Residential School, just outside of The Pas, and in the fall of 1971 went to live with a white family (in a government programme where the families were reimbursed for hosting Native students) in The Pas, Manitoba. The Pas was a culturally-mixed town of whites, Métis and Cree people. Helen Betty attended Margaret Barbour Collegiate in The Pas.
On the evening of her death, she had spent the evening with friends at The Northern Lite Cafe and then at the Bensons' place (where she was staying) before heading back downtown. After her friends went home, little is known of her whereabouts after this time, around midnight. She was walking home at approximately 2:30am when she was abducted, brutally beaten, sexually assaulted and killed. The following day Kenny Gurba, a fourteen year old in the town, grew tired of fishing and went off looking for rabbit tracks when he discovered her unclothed body. He and his father reported the discovery to the police.
Police at first suspected her ex-boyfriend, Cornelius Bighetty, but his name was later cleared after a lie detector test. She and Cornelius had had an argument earlier in the evening at the Cambrian Hotel. During the initial days of the investigation, attention was placed on Betty's friends. Unfortunately, unacceptable recording and preserving of evidence at the Pump House (the crime scene) seriously crippled the investigation .
Four young local white men were eventually implicated in her death: Dwayne Archie Johnston, James Robert Paul Houghton, Lee Scott Colgan and Norman Bernard Manger. It was not until December 1987, sixteen years after her death, that any of them were convicted of the crime after Constable Rob Urbanoski took over the investigation and placed an ad in the local newspaper for witnesses to come forward. Even then, only Johnston was convicted, as Houghton had been acquitted, Colgan had received immunity for testifying against Houghton and Johnston, and Manger had never been charged.
The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission conducted an investigation into concerns surrounding the length of time involved in resolving the case. The Commission concluded that the most significant factors prolonging the case were racism, sexism and indifference.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police officially closed the Osborne case on February 12, 1999.
A formal apology from the Manitoba government was issued by Gordon Mackintosh, Manitoba's Minister of Justice, on July 14, 2000. The apology addressed the failure of the province's justice system in Osborne's case. A scholarship was created in Osborne's name, by the province, for aboriginal women.
However, to this day, the small town of The Pas, Manitoba is still affected by this event. Recently, there has been a movement by the Aboriginal community to make strides in building healthier communities and this is having a positive impact on the town and surrounding community.
On March 26, 2008, the Osborne family again grieved as her brother was found slain in his apartment in downtown Winnipeg. It was Winnipeg’s sixth homicide of 2008.
On December 2, 2008, a graphic novel entitled 'The Life of Helen Betty Osborne' was launched by The Helen Betty Osborne Memorial Foundation . The purpose of the graphic novel was to educate youth about racism, sexism and indifference.
As a way to remember Helen Betty Osborne, the town of Norway House named the school after her. The school is called Helen Betty Osborne Ininew Education Resource Centre. Helen Betty Osborne will be sadly missed by all who knew her and her community.
Canadian Indie-Folk Rock band The Wooden Sky has produced a four song EP entitled "The Lonesome Death of Helen Betty Osborne" and has also released a song with the same title on their full length album "When Lost At Sea" in recognition of Osborne. Lyrics to the song depict the night of Osborne's murder.
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