2nd-degree murder charge laid in death of woman found in RM of Portage la Prairie last fall

A 37-year-old man has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the death of a Manitoba woman whose remains were found last September, months after she was reported missing.

Ryan Peters, of Long Plain First Nation, was arrested on Wednesday in connection with the death of Tamara (Norman) Benoit, RCMP Supt. Michael Koppang said at a police news conference Thursday.

Peters remains in custody.

Benoit, 36, was found dead in the rural municipality of Portage la Prairie on Sept. 3. She last had contact with her family in May 2020.

Police say Peters and Benoit were known to each other.

“This was not a random act of violence,” Koppang said. “At least one more arrest and charges are expected imminently.”

RCMP worked with Winnipeg police and the Manitoba First Nations Police Service on the investigation, Koppang said.

However, he said he couldn’t provide further details about the techniques used in the investigation or any possible motive because the case is still before the courts.

Two other people were also arrested, including a 15-year-old boy arrested in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Koppang said. The teen was later released without charges.

‘Our hearts go out to them’

Benoit was reported missing to Winnipeg police in July 2020. She had last been seen in May in the area of Portage la Prairie, about 85 kilometres west of Winnipeg, and in Long Plain First Nation, just southwest of Portage la Prairie.

Benoit was a mother to seven children, Koppang said. She lived primarily in Winnipeg.

Acting Chief Bruno Rossi of the Manitoba First Nations Police Service said Thursday that investigators hope to see justice for Benoit’s family.

“Our hearts go out to them, as it’s a tragic, tragic situation that happened,” Rossi said. “And we’re just happy to be part of it and bring people to justice.”

Peters also faces an accessory after the fact charge. Koppang said he couldn’t say specifically what prompted that charge, but in general, it describes assisting in a homicide after the victim’s death.

Koppang said the investigation was long and complex, made even more so by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The partnership among multiple police services was crucial to the case, he said, and he hopes to see it become a “template” for future investigations.

“Throughout, the investigative team never lost sight of who Tamara was, the violence she endured and the loss her family suffered,” he said.

In a news release Thursday, newly appointed Justice Minister Cameron Friesen thanked investigators for their work and said his government supports continued joint efforts.

“Too often, Indigenous women and girls have been the victims of violence and their families don’t receive the closure and sense of justice they need to heal,” Friesen said.

Benoit was M├ętis, police said, and was in the process of learning more about her background, family history and culture before her life was cut short.

“She loved her family and found strength in them,” Koppang said.