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'Elaborate ruse': Prosecutor says Saskatoon mother in custody dispute faked deaths

Federal prosecutors in the United States have accused a Saskatoon woman of faking her own death and that of her son in what they describe as an elaborate scheme to illegally enter the country.
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Federal prosecutors in the United States have accused a Saskatoon woman of faking her own death and that of her son in what they describe as an elaborate scheme to illegally enter the country.

Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Oregon, says 48-year-old Dawn Marie Walker is being detained as a flight risk as she faces two charges related to identity theft.

Walker was reported missing with her seven-year-old son last month. Police discovered them "safe and well" in a rental unit in Oregon City on Friday, following two weeks of search-and-rescue efforts that included scouring the South Saskatchewan River and its banks, where her pickup truck was abandoned.

Court documents filed Monday in Oregon allege Walker "went through extreme efforts to steal identities for her and her son that allowed them to unlawfully enter the United States and hide."

The documents allege she "thoughtfully planned and engaged in an elaborate ruse in which she faked her death and that of her son."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has charged her with the felony offence of knowingly producing a passport of another person and a misdemeanour charge of possessing identification that was stolen or produced illegally.

The felony charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison if found guilty, while the misdemeanour charge carries up to six months' imprisonment, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. 

Saskatoon police said they have charged Walker with public mischief and parental abduction in contravention of a custody order, and are looking to extradite her back to Canada.

The boy was returned to Canada on Sunday after a legal guardian picked him up, police said.

Saskatoon police said they began searching for Walker and her son on July 24 after friends reported them missing.

Her red Ford F-150 truck had been found at Chief Whitecap Park, just south of Saskatoon, along with some of her belongings.

The court documents allege Walker took the identities of a colleague and that colleague's child to open a bank account, and she bought an SUV and drove across the border on July 23. Saskatoon police said she crossed the border south of Lethbridge, Alta., into Montana.

An affidavit from Clinton Lindsly, a special agent with Homeland Security, says Walker and her son's biological father had been engaged in a lengthy custody dispute and she was supposed to return the boy on July 25.

Lindsly says in the document he told Walker, after her arrest, that "people presumed that she and her son died in the river, to which she spontaneously stated, 'He doesn’t want to be with his father.'"

The court documents further allege Walker "put a lot of time and effort in planning her crime." 

The documents say officers found a series of notebooks and handwritten notes in Walker's SUV that included a checklist: dye hair, cover tattoo, pack car, get toys, throw phone in water, ditch car by bridge, possibly buy fishing rod and find the nearest border.

The documents say Walker has no ties to the U.S. and allege she funded her scheme through hidden financial accounts and assets totalling over $100,000.

"The defendant’s kidnapping of her child is extremely serious. While the child has been safely rescued there are no assurances that if the defendant were released she would not try once again to kidnap her child," say the court documents.

Walker, who remains in custody, is to next appear in court in Oregon on Sept. 7. A defence lawyer believed to be representing Walker could not be reached for comment.

"As the criminal investigation progresses, there may be further charges that Ms. Walker will face as a result," Saskatoon police Deputy Chief Randy Huisman said Monday.

"Investigators are looking at several different charges, and in relation to the false identity documents that were alluded to, and how she was able to prepare those documents."

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, where Walker worked as its chief executive officer, had organized a vigil and walks through the park to raise awareness about the disappearance of the woman and her son. 

The federation also issued its own Amber Alert for the pair, and asked police to do the same. Police said there wasn't evidence to suggest they were in imminent danger.

The boy's family said in a statement Saturday that "over the past two weeks of hell," all they had wished for was the safe return of Walker and the boy.

"When we found out they were both safe, there was sobbing, laughing, dancing, shouting, throwing of shoes and hugging."

Walker, who is from Okanese First Nation, is also a well-known author. Her recent book "The Prairie Chicken Dance Tour,” published under the name Dawn Dumont, was named last week as a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Aug. 8, 2022. 

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Dawn Walker is 38.