Vanished in Victoria — The Case of Emma Fillipoff
How did a sensitive soul seemingly disappear into thin air?
A concerned acquaintance noticed Emma Fillipoff walking anxiously in front of Victoria, British Columbia’s Empress Hotel. Back and forth, she paced, barefoot and alone. Her observer noted her visible mental distress and ducked into a nearby restaurant to notify the Canadian police.
Almost two hours later, after being declared not a risk to herself or anyone else, the officers left the scene only to later find out that their interactions would be final.
While they wrote the report and moved on, Emma Fillipoff was never seen again.
Emma Fillipoff was born in Perth, Ontario in 1986. According to the website Help Find Emma Fillipoff, she moved around to various locations when her parents divorced. A whimsical yet private person, she enjoyed the arts, dancing, and even traveled to China to teach English. When Fillipoff came home, she studied photojournalism in Ontario and attended culinary school in the city of Campbell River. Then, due to a congenital knee disorder, Emma had to put her entire career on hold.
Once she finally settled in Victoria, Fillipoff finished seasonal work at Red Fish Blue Fish, a restaurant that she hoped to return to in the Spring. Ending her stay at a friend’s home around the same time, Fillipoff purchased a van which she planned to live in. Adopting “monk-like” habits, she cut out sugar, caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes to fit her newly transient lifestyle. She was let go from her short-lived barista position, quit all social media and momentarily paused dating following a brief three-month relationship that ended amicably.
Prior to her disappearance in November 2012, her personality had shifted to something unrecognizable, with others noticing increasing signs of paranoia and depression.
Fillipoff kept a journal chronicling her inner thoughts, but still rarely spoke of any struggles to friends, family or acquaintances. The only clue indicative of her worries was when three friends mentioned that Fillipoff was wary of a man she knew back in Campbell River and had become afraid of men in general. She often felt that she was being chased or pursued.
Shelley Fillipoff, her mother, said that the family had a history of mental illness and that Emma had reported troubles since childhood. The divorce of her parents weighed on her daughter heavily, and she often wrote journal entries about feeling burdened:
“My parents’ marriage in shambles.
My father turning to me.
My mother hating us both.
And me. Always the good listener.
Too nice to say that it hurt me too.”
Shelley openly admits that she exhibited mentally disturbed behavior after Emma’s father James left her for a younger woman. She said to author Erica J. Schmidt in her series “Where is Emma Fillipoff” that Emma had to call the police on Shelley when her mother threatened James with a knife; the events caused a rift in the two women’s relationship, and they refused to speak about it afterwards. Then, Emma moved to Victoria.
Despite having the van and other living options, Emma decided to stay at the Sandy Merriman House, a women’s shelter. It is unknown exactly why Emma had chosen to reside at the shelter, as she had money in her bank account alongside a slew of friends who had offered her places to stay in the past.
Staff reported that Fillipoff became incredibly agitated in her time at the shelter. They claimed she “required both physical and medical intervention.” Those working at Sandy Merriman House corroborated a report that she took all of the furniture out of her room at one point, saying that the furniture was “talking to her.” In one instance, the police had been called for a mental health check to assess Emma’s safety. The shelter was to call back if the situation worsened. A second call was never made.
“I feel like there’s someone following me,” Fillipoff wrote in her journal, “Feel weird sometimes. Feel like I’m being stalked.”
On November 20, Fillipoff was seen outside of a YMCA repeatedly going from inside to outside, as if avoiding someone. The footage is unclear on whether the young woman is fidgeting in view of the camera or holding a phone.
The next day, she hired a tow truck company with the apparent intention of moving back to Ontario, telling the driver it was a surprise for her family. Things did not go according to plan.
Before her hired tow truck arrived, her van was towed, which upset her greatly.
Fillipoff called her mother several times over the following days, each one an erratic switch between two extremes. First, Emma told Shelley that she wanted to either come home or have her mother come out to Victoria, only to pick up the phone hours later and reverse her earlier decision. The rest of the family cited that Emma was simply asserting her independence, but Shelley thought otherwise.
“I don’t know how I can face you,” Emma had said to her. This repetition went on until the last recorded conversation between Emma and her mother on the morning of November 28, 2012. Upon hearing her daughter insist for her not to come again, Shelley decided to fly out to Victoria that afternoon, sensing something was very wrong.
At a nearby 7-Eleven, Fillipoff was caught on video buying a prepaid card worth $200 and a prepaid cell phone. Somehow, staff at the Sandy Merriman House found out that her mother was coming down and informed Emma upon her return from the store. She was horrified and left the shelter in a hurry, abandoning most of her possessions.
Around 6:10 p.m., Fillipoff entered a taxi cab, where the driver asked for a destination. She mentioned the airport, then hesitated. According to Vice, she anxiously left the vehicle, saying she did not have enough money to pay for the fare; this is all while the prepaid credit card was actively in her possession coupled with an estimated $2,000–3,000 available in digital savings.
An acquaintance named Dennis Quay observed Emma in front of The Empress Hotel around six that night, seemingly dazed and without footwear. He called the police, saying that a woman was in “severe distress,” then left believing everything would be handled.
When two officers came to the aid of Fillipoff, she refused to speak for thirty minutes, merely nodding or shaking her head as answers to their questions. Insisting that she was fine, did not want to wear shoes and that she was only waiting for a friend, the woman convinced the pair of her safety. They stood and watched as Fillipoff then vanished away into the Victorian nighttime, a petite frame against the ominous November sky.
A report was filed. Emma never resurfaced. Three hours too late, Shelley arrived at the women’s shelter looking for her daughter, who never claimed the bed, which had been her home for months. Staff instructed her to call the police, and Emma was declared a missing person.
No one ever activated the cell phone for usage, but the credit card was tracked to a gas station payment by a man who claimed he had found it lying on the ground. Despite speculation, the unnamed individual was cleared.
Scrambling for leads, suspicion soon fell on Julien Huard, a friend who claimed to have a crush on Emma and said they had a brief interaction on the day of her disappearance. He told others Emma had coldly ignored him when he got off the bus to talk to her around 10 a.m.
Huard, a French man, was the subject of direct blame by Fillipoff’s parents for his demeanor and actions. In an unread FaceBook message to Emma’s father wishing to pass along a music festival invitation, Huard accidentally implicated himself before she disappeared.
“The last thing I want to do is be stalking her like I did the last time,” he wrote, referring to the fact that they had both been in Perth and Victoria during the same period. When questioned during an episode of The Nighttime Podcast in their series called Emma Fillipoff is Missing, he claimed to have misused the word, citing that English was not his first language.
He seemed to be an easy scapegoat, but authorities cleared him, too.
In 2014, a man walked into a clothing store in Gastown, Vancouver and threw out a missing poster of Emma that listed a $25,000 reward. He was clad in a green shirt, limped as if he had a prosthetic limb, and maintained a “creepy vibe” according to witnesses.
“It’s one of those missing persons posters, except she’s not missing, she’s my girlfriend and she ran away because she hates her parents,” he said. Shocked store owners called 911, immediately. Police did not come until the next day. The man has never been identified.
Shelley Fillipoff was the subject of news headlines in 2016, but not for the joyful reunion of her and her daughter. Raids of her property uncovered a stash of cocaine and weapons, which she directly attributed to her older son Matthew. She alleged that her son, a real-estate agent, had been possessing the illicit substances unbeknownst to her while she was under continued mental duress due to Emma’s disappearance. Police found bundles of cash, marijuana and other trafficking materials after monitoring his movements. He was also charged with fleeing from police as well as dangerous operation of a vehicle. CBC later reported that all charges against Shelley were promptly dropped after an investigation showed she was truly unaware of what was going on under her roof.
In 2018, hope was seemingly renewed. A man known simply as “William” to the public revealed that years earlier, he had encountered a woman resembling Emma on the day she was last seen. He cited becoming a father recently as his reason for coming out with the truth, and stated that he picked up someone matching her description nine hours after when police encountered Fillipoff.
“His account was more than believable,” Shelley said. “He described Emma to a T, her mannerisms, everything.”
William told the public that Emma wanted to be driven to Colwood to meet a friend, but he could not take her all the way there. In the actual vehicle, she appeared calm, yet when standing outside, appeared nothing short of terrified. Since this had potential, a famous search dog handler named Kim Cooper was flown out to the area,, where they launched a cadaver search.
Nevertheless, nothing new indicating the presence of Emma Fillipoff was ever discovered from the search teams or dogs after William’s revelation.
In 2019, Shelley and her “right-hand person” Kimberly Bordage, a filmmaker, announced a documentary chronicling Emma’s case to be unveiled in Fall 2020 titled “Good Luck Everyheart: The Search for Emma Fillipoff.” Bordage had also been the creator of a podcast called “The Search for Emma Fillipoff” which was released after William’s new information came to public knowledge. Inside Ottawa Valley reports police are actively participating in the movie as well.
“It is my hope that this film will revive interest in Emma’s case, and that with this renewed interest, someone may very well come forward,” Shelley Fillipoff said in a press release on November 18, 2019 that coincided with the official announcement of the documentary. “It’s imperative that Emma’s unsolved disappearance be kept in the public eye as it may very well be the only hope of finding my daughter.”
The sheer fame of Fillipoff’s case has people debating any possibilities:
Did she contract a serious mental illness and become unaware of her own identity? Did she have a B12 deficiency from relying on little food and excess water due to her nomadic nature? Severe symptoms of a deficiency correlate with her actions such as paranoia, delusions and worsening depression. She could be kidnapped, sex trafficked, or deceased. She could have run away or ended her own life.
Those are all hypotheticals. What is real, though, is that Emma Fillipoff is still actively a missing person.
Eight years ago, she was terrified, whether of a real or perceived threat; fear controlled her every movement, her tormentor taking the form of anyone from an unknown assailant to an untreated mental illness.
Regardless of what circumstances are responsible, Shelley has never stopped looking for the answer to what happened to her daughter.
“I do think it may be inevitable that Emma is no longer alive after so long,” Shelley said after the news of the promising lead came about in 2018, “But I have hope.”
If you have any information that could lead to finding Emma Fillipoff, reach out using the Find Emma Fillipoff Contact page.