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My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria

(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria. Should the situation change or any breakthroughs be achieved, I will post it here*)



My sister, Jacqueline "Nicole" Vienneau, a Canadian tourist, disappeared in Syria on Saturday, March 31st, 2007 at the age of 32. She was in her fifth month of a six-month solo adventure through West Africa and the Middle East. She was last seen by the desk clerk at 8:30 in the morning as she left the Cairo Hotel in Hama, two hours north of Damascus.


She definitely intended to return to the hotel as her backpack was left in her room along with the memory cards from her camera, full of photos. She also left her journals that include an entry made the night before she disappeared. Canadian police retrieved her Hotmail account email records indicating she attempted to login around 8:30 Friday night but was unable to (Syrian Internet connections are not reliable). Her last completed emails were sent Thursday night.

Nicole's guidebook was also left in her room. In the back of her Lonely Planet "Middle East" guidebook she wrote directions to a number of places in Syria that we believe she copied from the Cairo Hotel's copy of the Lonely Planet "Syria" guidebook. Nicole spoke with some guests about these locations earlier in the week and the hotel clerk indicated that on the morning she disappeared, she asked for directions to the "Beehive Houses", a local sightseeing destination, as well as Qasr Ibn Wardan (a nearby castle).


No one at these locations recalls seeing Nicole (and they are not heavily visited) and the Qasr Ibn Wardan logbook has a record of only one visitor, Amin Ben Yahia, a person of interest to us (b. 1984, Algerian/Swiss nationality, father is Abbas, mother is Monica) in hopes that he remembers something unusual about that day.  UPDATE:  On January 19th, 2019, Amine contacted me.  He does not remember anything unusual.

Nicole preferred taking local transit, but none of the minibus drivers or locals remembers seeing her. As a foreigner, Nicole stood out in all of Syria, but particularly in Hama where the majority of women in Hama dress in robes and cover their hair. The streets from the hotel to the minibus pick-up are main streets with lots of people, even at 8:30 in the morning.


In May 2007, I flew to Syria with Nicole's fiancé Gary to re-trace her steps and meet with police and local officials. Gary spent an additional two months criss-crossing Syria searching for clues. My mother joined Gary in Syria in July 2007 and met with the Grand Mufti as well as the Minister of the Interior. She also made a personal plea on Syrian television and we put ads in the newspapers and local flyers. Gary and my mother returned to Syria in April 2008 to raise awareness and follow up on leads with officials and the police.

My mother returned to Syria with Gary for a third visit in March 2009 and we continue to work with Syrian government and police officials on the investigation.

There is up to 2,250,000 Syrian pounds ($45,000) in reward money for information leading us to Nicole.

We are currently looking for other guests at the Cairo Hotel in case they spoke with Nicole. A list is at the bottom of this page.


For pictures of Nicole and what she was wearing when she disappeared, as well as relevant personal information and summaries of the search so far, please visit:

From the "official" website, you can also submit anonymous tips, view the picture gallery and download posters and Nicole's notes. Arabic versions of most pages are also available.

You can always email me directly and anonymously at

All comments and emails, public and private, are read immediately, but unfortunately I cannot respond to everyone. Feel free to respond in any language that you're comfortable with, though all of my responses will likely be in English.


March 31st, 2012 (Afternoon):

Today marks five years since Nicole disappeared from the Cairo Hotel or in the vicinity in Hama. Despite five years of searching, we really have no new clues as to what has happened to her, though we strongly suspect one of the hotel staff was involved.

Syria today is very different from Syria of five years ago. There are certainly no tourists in Hama anymore, and there probably won't be any going there in the immediate future either.

Hollywood tells us that stories always have an ending, but unfortunately that's just not true. In those first few weeks we were so confident we'd figure out what happened. And then as each lead dried up the worry in the back of our minds increased, "what if we never find her?". That has turned out to be the case and we may end up being one of those families still searching 20 or 30 years later. You can never really give up.

An old friend of Nicole's has been putting huge amounts of effort into finding her. He's been posting on Twitter and updating a blog with details. You can read some updates here, here, and here.

Other people continue to offer suggestions and take action. It is very difficult to keep up hope after so much time has passed. All we need is one person who knows or suspects what happens to come to us, but they'll probably be in Syria and unlikely to have access to us anymore. Hopefully one day.

March 6th, 2012 (Afternoon):

Canada has withdrawn all diplomats and government staff from Syria. All Canadians have been urged to leave Syria. As per the official Government of Canada Travel Report:

"Civil unrest and demonstrations have been occurring in many Syrian cities since March 2011. There has been extensive use of force by the security forces and military in suppressing demonstrations across the country. Many casualties and fatalities have been reported and protests and violent repression are likely to continue. Security operations have involved the complete lock-down of entire towns for periods varying from a few days to a few weeks. This may take place with little warning."

Needless to say, our hopes of getting any information about what happened to Nicole have diminished greatly in the short term.

February 11th, 2012 (Morning):

Syria continues to be in the news as world opinion is slowly being swayed by the stories of what is happening. Once again, no progress on our search as we approach nearly five years since Nicole went missing. To think that at first I thought this could be resolved in five days or at worse, five weeks!

January 7th, 2012 (Afternoon):

Another month of chaos in Syria. In early 2011, the violence in Syria wasn't making the international news very frequently, but that has certainly changed. It is not surprising that we have heard nothing from Syrian officials, Canadian embassy officials, or our own contacts within Syria. This makes it difficult to move forward in the search.

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Tags: jacqueline nicole vienneau missing syria

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Re: the article in the Quebec newspaper that doesn't mention the website or email address....

You could probably contact the paper to ask them to include the contact info in the online version of the article.

Sorry, I don't speak French myself....
I'm so saddened by this story. Keep up the diggin! Once a backpacker, always a backpacker. My thoughts and heart are with you and your family as you continue this search. You'll find her.
Hey Matthew. I believe the castle in question (from Flickr) is Qalaat Sheizar - just off the road near Mhardeh, on the route to Apamea.

It could also be, however, Qalaat Barzeh, near Jisr al-Shaghur (much further northwest). I think this is less likely.
Thank you very much - that confirms the one other suggestion we've received and tells me what I need to know. Since it's too the Northwest, Nicole would not likely have been heading in that direction as she had just visited Apamea the day before and hated to repeat travel.
The name of the Belgian lady Carine is probably De Rijck and not Derick.
Saddly, De Rijck is a quite common name in Belgium and will not be usefull to find her.
Most of the Belgian people pays with Credit Card or through a travel agency and you may found more informations contacting the travel agency that has organised their holiday trip.


July 18 2007, 12:57:15 UTC 14 years ago


I have this deep, sincere feeling she's not even in Syria. I know you checked the borders and if she crossed over to Turkey and there was no luck there. But something tells me if she was abducted or kidnapped, her taker wouldnt do it and stay in Syria, let alone in Hama (it's too close for comfort).

With all these weeks going by and no sign of anyone seeing her/noticing her, it just seems too far fetched that she would still be in Syria or around the areas you're checking. I know it's the most sensible thing to do, but if i was abducting someone i would make sure to take them as far away from the place where i found them.

Now, that's just my guess...cause i cant imagine she got lost and i almost know for certain she didnt escape!

Have you ruled certain options out?! Have you investigated or read about what happens when someone goes missing?! What's been said?!

I am sorry if this post has caused you pain to think of the worst. I am just trying to help. I pray for the best!

Syrian border controls are relatively good, though open at times to anyone with enough US currency. There is definitely a possibility that she was taken out of the country, but there's nothing we can do to follow up on that. We can't go into Lebanon or Iraq and randomly begin asking people, we need a lead or trail that points us in that direction and gives us a place to start.


14 years ago


July 23 2007, 11:27:16 UTC 14 years ago

hi matt, i've been following your story and have even commented before. i've been thinking - i feel as if the clues and the story do not lay with syria, but maybe with someone she met, whether it be a fellow traveler or a member of the hotel staff. is it possible by reading her journal if you could tell if she had crossed paths with the same person more than once? what of the hotel staff? at this point, because of how rare this happens in syria - i think it's time to focus on the people she may have met..

That's exactly what we've been doing with our search for all the various hotel guests that may have crossed Nicole's path, as well as the publishing of Nicole's itinerary and asking for people to fill in the blanks or let us know whether they might have met her or been in the same area. The journals never use names and don't indicate any multiple meetings, unfortunately.

Losing Sleep


July 26 2007, 15:11:33 UTC 14 years ago

I just saw the comment about losing sleep. This may be extreme. But you may want to try getting a prescription for Provigil(modafonil).
Here is an entertaining article about it.
Hello Matt,

Just a thought: I was in Syria 5 years ago and one thing I noticed is that they do not ensure construction sites are very safe. So there could be a hole in the middle of a sidewalk and it would be just open with nothing covering it. Could she have gotten into that sort of accident?

An accident seems unlikely as there are people everywhere who would find her (presuming she was able to yell out, and hoping that if she couldn't, they would notice her before they filled the hole).

An intentional burial in a construction site is a much more worrisome possibility. Unfortunately, I don't know how to follow up on it, especially this late. We can only hope that someone who is involved wants to talk to us, either out of guilt or desire for the reward.

Im so sorry


July 28 2007, 23:09:29 UTC 14 years ago

Dear Matt,
i just knew about the whole thing today and i feel terribly bad for you and your family , i am a syrian girl , i was really so surprised to hear that something like this happend in syria because its one of the safiest countries in the world if you review the polls , anyway , i wanna tell you to be almost sure that she is not kidnapped or anything like this , because these stuff dont usually happen in syria and because no one called you and asked for any money to bring her back .. i can only hope the best for you in finding her and pray that you do .
your sister's story is so heartbreaking and i dont know if i can help in anything but the least thing i can do is to publish the story on my personal website so that if anyone of the people i know can help in anything .

p.s. you can look in countries on syrian borders like jordan , lebanon ,or look more in turkey .
you can also check hospitals or police stations in hama , and i encourage you to check the ones in damascus too because she might have got lost and asked someone to take to damascus or mistakingly got into some bus going to damascus .




July 29 2007, 05:01:15 UTC 14 years ago

Hi Matt, I can feel the sadness in the latest post and my heart goes out for you...I've got some ideas.

I think the only person you can trust to get things done (following up leads etc.,) is only yourself. Why not just pack up and spend a year or two over there? Learn the language, culture and get further contacts in the country to help you.

The major news companies will pick up this story in time, as at the moment they maybe view the story as "Experienced traveller goes missing/runs away to country that's not well known". The news story should be about you and your family's efforts in finding your sister and doing everything you can to find the story a different spin, which they would be interested in.

Also, to those saying how safe Syria is, not kidnapped etc., the country might be safe but it only takes one individual with a warped mind to go against the norm.

Reading from the diary, it seems she frequently took car lifts - wouldn't it be safe to say that she would of taken another car lift than say walking along the street where more people could of recognised her and helped with this inquiry.

Don't the police have a list of suspects or have they not determined this is a criminal case?

I'm not sure heading over there for a year or two would work out too well. Not only would my mom lose two kids, I would lose my job, make life difficult for my live-in girlfriend, and risk it all being for nothing if she's not found or is no longer alive (which, unfortunately, is very likely at this point).

Gary looks like he may go this route, and I worry what it will do to him. Nicole would not have wanted us to ruin our lives if she cannot be rescued.

Nicole would only hitch a ride if necessary - she preferred not to do that for safety reasons. So if there's a site you can only access by car, and hitching is an option over "expensive" cab rides, she would consider hitching. The in-town walk is only 10 minutes, so there's no reason for her to hitch to the bus station. She might have hitched all the way to one of the sites, but she would have had to have arranged it ahead of time or negotiated with someone at the bus station in Hama. She wouldn't have accepted a random car on the street with an offer for a ride, and they would have no way of knowing where she wanted to go so it would look suspicious.

Maybe she stopped to buy fruit/water and the vendor was chatty and knew someone going that way who turned out to be bad? That's a scenario that just struck me. But again, it involves two people, spur of the moment decision to perform a criminal act, and no witnesses. Tricky to pull off.

The police have no suspects that they've told us about. There are no clues to lead us to suspects, unfortunately.

Re: Info


14 years ago

Re: Info


14 years ago

New Articale


July 29 2007, 13:01:08 UTC 14 years ago

Plz check this articale
God bring her safe.
Just letting you know that I still tune in to your blog everyday looking for positive news! I'm still wishing you, your sister, family & friends all the best. Sending more hope your way.
The full story here:

It says that one girl with dark colored hair has been found dead in a big bag today. One man has found her on Damascus - Hims Highway.
Title: A naked dead girl body found in a suitcase on Damascus-Homs autostrad

A passerby citizen from the Nabk area has found a "large black suitcase" on Damascus-Homs autostrad thrown on the side of the main road and the surprise was when he opened it he found the body of a naked woman curled up inside.

A mysterious crime

Medical sources said the murdered is nearly 25 years old, dark skinned and with black hair with average height and body. The body has been transferred to a fridge in the Qalmoon hospital in the Nabk and a forensic doctor and a judge inspected it. It is probable that she died by strangulation. There are no signs of a struggle or violance on the rest of her body other than some spots resembling ink stains on her breast.

A search for the family of the girl to hand her over for burial

The police in the Nabk area is trying to determine the identity of the murdered girl and has asked for a list of names and descriptions of missing women in the country. This is to determine her name and city and residence and those surrounding her and to hand her over to her family for proper burial. Investigations have been ongoing since Thursday to uncover the secrets and the details for this mysterious crime.



This is very disturbing. A similar crime has happened a few months ago. It seems like a serial killer or something. There are over a million refugees nowadays in Syria. From the description of the victim, it seems this is happening in their communities.
Good luck to you and your family.

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