Lisa Mitchell was a young mother of two who loved to sing, dance and draw.
By the time she was in her late 20s, spare time to enjoy her favourite hobbies had become scarce.
In fall 2012, Lisa’s common-law husband, Allan Shyback, was unemployed, and Lisa juggled two jobs to help make ends meet.
The couple was also going through relationship issues but had decided they would try to make it work for the kids.
Then Lisa disappeared.
The only clues were a few short emails to both her husband and her mother, Peggy Mitchell.
“There was an email: ‘Just had to get away,’” Peggy said. “You know, ‘We’ll be in touch, love ya.’”
Peggy couldn’t believe it. It just wasn’t like her daughter.
You can watch Crime Beat ‘The disappearance of Lisa Mitchell’ on Global TV — Saturday, May 9 at 7 p.m.
“I was scared,” Peggy said. “You know how someone talks from the words that they used, by the way they express themselves … and it was her but it wasn’t her.”
She knew Lisa had been under a lot of pressure but Peggy struggled to accept she would just pick up and leave — and abandon her husband and two children.
Lisa and Peggy emailed back and forth for a few weeks, but there was never enough information in those messages to alleviate Peggy’s concerns.
She slept with her phone beside her bed and hoped and prayed Lisa would reach out.
When that call finally came, Peggy missed it.
As she slept, Peggy received a cryptic, disjointed-sounding voicemail:
“Hey, I’m OK. Sometimes my weeks get crazy, you know, and it was quiet for a while, and then all of a sudden, this happened, and within a half a day, I should, but he’s back now and I gotta go. Love you.”
Peggy was more confused than ever.
Was her daughter being held captive somewhere? She envisioned Lisa chained up in a basement and decided she needed to call the police.
The Calgary Police Service’s missing persons unit began investigating Lisa’s disappearance.
The question was, did Lisa just pick up and leave? Or was there a more sinister answer?
A search of the home Lisa shared with her husband came up empty.
Every possible lead turned into a dead end.
Police said it appeared Lisa had, in fact, just picked up and left, which isn’t a crime.
For more than two years, it appeared the case had gone cold.
But her mother didn’t give up hope, and investigators didn’t quit searching for answers.
The voicemail her mother received while she slept turned out to be key evidence in the case.
That call showed up as a private number, but with the help of the phone service provider, police were able to trace the call to a phone that only ever made a handful of calls: four to Shyback and one to Peggy Mitchell.
But Shyback had never mentioned to investigators that he received a call from Lisa.
That led police to question Shyback’s statement altogether, and he became a suspect in the case.
A search of his bank records revealed he had done some shopping in the days following Lisa’s disappearance.
He bought a large plastic tub, cat litter, bleach, gloves, cement, mixing buckets and plywood — items police believed added up to a “burial kit.”
At that point, police believed Lisa had been killed, but they still didn’t know where her body was.
What investigators needed was a confession.
To get that, they used a “Mr. Big” sting operation — a tactic used in a lot of major crimes investigations in Canada that often involves police creating fake criminal organizations that lead to the suspects confessing to a crime boss, a.k.a. Mr. Big.
In this case, undercover officers befriended Shyback to try and learn more about what happened.
In this case, the covert operation worked, and Shyback confessed to killing Lisa and hiding her body in the basement of their home.
As he confessed, police did another search of the home, and on Dec. 6, 2014, officers made a grisly discovery.
Investigators found Lisa’s body. She had been hidden in plain sight — in the basement of her own home — all along.
The story Shyback gave to undercover officers matched the evidence police found once they completed a full search of his basement.
A forensic examination of Shyback’s laptop also revealed a history of online queries in the weeks and months after Lisa vanished.
In December 2012, he searched “how body decomposition is affected by various things such as salt, lye, concrete, lack of air and lack of insect activity.”
Similar searches were done in April and May 2014, along with other searches about murder legislation in Canada.
Police also enlisted the help of an audio specialist from their tech crimes unit to examine the voicemail Lisa sent her mother when she first disappeared.
Investigators found what they refer to as “stalker ware” on Lisa’s phone and evidence that Shyback had been tracking her communications for some time leading up to her disappearance.
Police believed he used those calls to splice together the cryptic voicemail.
In April 2017, four and a half years after Lisa disappeared, Shyback stood trial on charges of second-degree murder and causing an indignity to a body.
Court heard Shyback strangled Lisa then placed her in a plastic tub, covered her in salt and cat litter and duct-taped the tub shut.
He then poured cement over top the container, entombing her body.
A judge found Shyback not guilty of second-degree murder and instead convicted him of the lesser offence of manslaughter.
He was also found guilty of interfering with Lisa’s remains.
At his sentencing hearing, Shyback said he was deeply sorry for what had happened.
He was sentenced to seven years in prison: five years for manslaughter and two for indignity to the body.
But the prosecution wasn’t satisfied with that sentence and filed an appeal.
Alberta’s top court found the original sentence was unfit and pointed to Shyback’s deception in leading Lisa’s family to believe she was alive for two years.
The Alberta Court of Appeal increased Shyback’s overall sentence by three years: two for the manslaughter conviction and one additional year for interfering with human remains.