June 05, 2015 - 4:30 PM
KAMLOOPS - Katherine Oystryk, 44, remembers hearing about Jennifer Cusworth and watching out for her own safety after the 19-year-old girl went missing from a Kelowna house party her then-husband attended 21 years ago.
Now Oystryk's ex-husband, Neil George Snelson, 48, stands accused of manslaughter in Cusworth’s killing. This is his second trial.
Oystryk testified to jurors in a Kamloops Supreme Courtroom today, June 5 via video conference from Mexico where she now lives.
On the night before Cusworth’s disappearance on Oct. 16, 1993, Oystryk was working at Splashes, a nightclub downtown. It was one of her two part-time jobs while she attended university.
She never saw Cusworth that evening, she said, but was approached by police the next day.
"The RCMP came to Splashes to ask if she had been there that night,” she said. “None of us could recall seeing her in the club."
Oystryk said after learning of the girl’s disapperance and killing, staff at the bar became vigilant - everyone started watching out for one another.
“The guys wanted to make sure we were safe getting into our cars,” she said.
The witness recalled asking Snelson about Cusworth and the party on Richter Street after finding out he attended. She remembered several media outlets reporting the case and seeing Cusworth’s photo on TV.
“It was big news back then. It was a topic that everyone was talking about,” she said. “I think I questioned (Snelson) a little bit simply because it was close to what was happening. I was curious to know what had happened."
After Cusworth’s body was discovered on Swamp Road, where Oystryk said she and her then-husband would go for leisurely drives, investigators distributed a questionnaire to those who attended the party. Oystryk said Snelson showed her his question sheet as he filled it out.
“I found it quite odd and even a little bit morbid that some of the questions were saying things like 'if you were the killer what would you have done?' or 'what do you think happened to her?’” she said.
Her husband told her he and his friends didn’t know Cusworth and didn’t see her that night. Under cross-examination from the defence, Oystryk said Snelson didn’t behave oddly at home after the party and she never noticed him cleaning out his truck or washing his clothes.
The Crown alleges Snelson’s sperm was found on Cusworth’s body. A pumpkin farmer discovered her body in a ditch next to his driveway on Swamp Road a day after the party.
In 2009, police asked Oystryk for several photographs of the house she and Snelson lived in on Glenmore Drive - a suburb of Kelowna. Oystryk described photos of the home to the jury, and was questioned on the truck Snelson drove.
“It was a brown truck with a canopy on top,” she said adding it used to belong to his father. He gave it to Snelson so he could lock his work tools which he used for his job as a cabinet-maker, she said.
Ray Rowe said he saw a truck with a similar description near the drive way on Swamp Road around 6 a.m. before police recovered Cusworth’s body. Snelson's lawyer, Richard Fowler, challenged him on previous statements and testimony where he described the truck as white.
“It was just unusual that the vehicle was there,” he said.
Fowler also tested party host Erik Mikkelsen’s memory of the last time he saw Cusworth.
"I was speaking with some people and she had come up to me and in a different mood than the rest of the evening. Her mood was agitated. She was nervous - perturbed. The words I remember (her saying were) ‘I’m outta here,’” Mikkelsen said. Fowler asked why he waited until 2010 to tell police about Cusworth’s mood and what she said.
“I was debating that memory. I fought myself for quite a bit. I knew if I came forward and put it on paper, I better be dang sure. I made the decision to myself that it was a true memory,” Mikkelsen said. He added after that he noticed her go back into the house and never saw her again. He found her purse in the kitchen the next morning.
“It seems through reading your statements you sometimes have memories that come and go,” Fowler said.
The witness said the party began at his house after the bar flush downtown. He said he and his roommate both agreed to announce the house’s location over the Iggy’s bar sound system. Unbeknownst to him, news of the party spread across several other bars. By the time he returned home, Mikkelsen said there was about 30 people lined up outside his front door.
Nervous about his belongings and an RCMP presence, Mikkelsen said he made regular rounds at the party and introduced himself to people he didn’t know, which included the accused.
The host described the meeting as “a very short hello.”
"I shook his hand - that was the extent of it,” he said.
The trial will continue next week.
For previous stories on this trial, click here.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015