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Without a trace

By Trevor Wilhelm, Windsor Star

October 21, 2009


WINDSOR, Ont. — Some days it would be easier for Amanda Farnham to just know that her mom is dead.


Nearly nine years after Debbie Campeau suddenly disappeared without a trace, it's not knowing her mother's fate — and the faint sliver of hope that won't let go — that is most painful.


Farnham spends every day unable to shake that agonizing hope and move on with her life, despite what even she states is the obvious: her mom was murdered and somebody out there is harbouring a dark secret.


"I do believe that," said Farnham, 27. "I do believe there are certain people that know more. Somebody has to know something. I just wish that somebody — if it were their family, they'd want to know. We have to suffer every day. Every day it's on my mind. What happened to her?"


Campeau, who was 40 when she was last seen, is one of 1,573 women across Canada currently listed as missing. She disappeared April 18, 2001, leaving her children Amanda and Joe, now 30, adrift in a sea of sorrow and confusion.


Campeau may have been headed for Bracebridge, Ont., about 200 km north of Toronto, where she had an old boyfriend. Windsor police said she also went to Detroit a lot, as well as Sudbury in northern Ontario where she had family.


Her ex-husband Gerry Farnham reported her missing after she didn't show up on Mother's Day and her son's birthday. It was out of character.


The two had taken different paths in life — Campeau fought an often losing battle with drug addiction. But if there was anything Gerry Farnham still knew about his ex-wife, it was that her kids took a back seat to nothing.


Even when Campeau was out of town or unable to see her children, she called on the important days.


"She never missed a birthday or Christmas," said Gerry, well known in Windsor as the president of CAW Local 195. "When those things started to happen, that was really peculiar. Even in the worst of times when she was struggling, she always, always kept contact with her children. She was a good mom. Those kids were her life."


Then came the birth of three grandchildren. There is Joe's daughter Sierra, 6, and Amanda's children Kaleb, 6, and Trinity, 2. Gerry Farnham said Campeau would never miss out on sharing their lives, if it was in her power.


"She was better than that," he said. "If she was around, if she was following any type of media, she would have come back."


He and Campeau got married as teenagers and split up a decade later after having their two kids.


"Nobody sees the type of pain that goes through my children," said Gerry Farnham. "There is no closure for my children. Nobody can relate or understand, including myself, what my kids are going through. They wake up on a daily basis and wonder about their mom. There is an emptiness there. I just see the sadness in them. They are struggling, just to know what happened."


Campeau's family thought they had their answer in 2005 when Sudbury police found a decomposed body. Investigation later revealed that tragedy was another family's.


"It was accounted for up in that area," said Windsor police Sgt. Brett Corey. "It definitely wasn't her."


That ordeal forced Amanda Farnham to relive losing her mother. She had to face the chance there might no longer be a reason for hope, then once again confront the realization she might never know what happened.


"I can't describe that feeling," said Farnham. "I mean, it's your mom. You just have to sit there and wait to hear if it's her. Then when you hear it's not. . ."


It's hard for Campeau's daughter to verbalize such emotional agony — coming to terms with the complicated and competing desires to either find her mom alive or finally learn that she's dead.


As she sits on her sofa searching for the words, Farnham gives up fighting back her tears and buries her face into her own little girl's long blond hair.


"As much as you don't want to hear that's what happened to her, you need closure. But we have to wait. The only thing you can do is pray something happens, somebody comes up with something. It would be nice to hear she's OK. I want to believe she just couldn't be here and she needed to go somewhere else. It's confusing. I do want to believe she's still alive."


But it's been such a long time. And Farnham knows her mother battled drugs and alcohol. She believes someone from the darker side of her mother's life is responsible for her disappearance.


"The people she hung around with at that point in her life weren't the nicest people," said Farnham.


She may have been going to meet one of those people the last time her children saw her.


Farnham doesn't remember the exact day, but she saw her mom that morning before Campeau went out for dinner with Joe. He dropped Campeau off at a bar afterwards. She was supposed to meet her daughter later but never showed up.


"That was the last I heard of her," said Farnham.


As weeks went by the family wondered, but Campeau had temporarily dropped out of touch before. She had told her daughter she might go to Bracebridge where her boyfriend had a place. Then she started missing the birthdays and family events.


"I just wanted to not believe it was happening," said Farnham.


Farnham said her mother battled demons but they didn't define who she was. She tried more than once to get help. She took her daughter to church. She loved to cook for her kids and had perogy parties at Christmas.


"My mom was my best friend," said Farnham. "I could talk to her about everything. Just because she was an alcoholic doesn't mean she was a horrible person."


And now, the pain of losing her confidante is deepening as time slowly steals away what little of her mom Farnham has left.


"I forget what she looked like, I forget what she sounded like," said Farnham. "I have to take out a picture to remind myself."


But the fight to remember is a battle Farnham is determined she won't lose.


When Kaleb asks about the grandmother he never met, Farnham tells him stories about happier times. She tells him what Campeau used to tell her.


"'I love you up to the sky, down to the ground, side to side and all around,'" Farnham repeated as a salty tear trickled down her cheek. "That's a part of her we passed down. Just to keep a memory."


Windsor Star

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

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Uploaded on October 25, 2009