VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Police raise tally of missing women
Eighteen names are added to Eastside list, bringing it to 45
Wednesday, December 5, 2001
Two months after The Vancouver Sun revealed the number of women missing from the city's Downtown Eastside was much higher than police had said, photos and names of an additional 18 women were released Tuesday by police.
The RCMP and the Vancouver police department confirmed they are now investigating the disappearance of 45 women, which is the number uncovered by The Sun's months-long investigation.
But while police are asking for the public's assistance in finding out what happened to the women, Vancouver police detective Scott Driemel said they are still not formally added to the original list of 27 names.
"If efforts fail to locate these women, their names will be added to the existing list of missing women," he told a packed news conference.
Families of the newly identified women, who went missing between 1985 and last August, said they were happy to finally have their loved ones' disappearances publicized. But they also wondered why it has taken so long to get the names and photographs released.
"It has been very frustrating," said Patricia Young, whose daughter Frances disappeared in 1996. "I don't know why it has taken so long."
Young said she has tried aggressively for two years to get her missing daughter's case publicized, but was unsuccessful until Tuesday.
"My theory is that police don't have a mandate to search for missing people," said Young, whose daughter was a chef but had also been involved in the sex trade.
Young said she and some of the other family members have got a petition started to establish a clearing house for missing people that would speed up the investigation process in future disappearances.
The most recent disappearance on the list is that of Serena Abbotsway, last seen Aug. 1. Her aunt told The Sun that Abbotsway, who disappeared weeks before her 30th birthday, had a difficult childhood and spent years in foster care before ending up in the Downtown Eastside.
"I think she is basically one of those people who has been misplaced all of her life," said her aunt, who asked not to be named.
Others who went missing this year are Angela Joesbury, who disappeared in June, Heather Chinnock, who went missing in April and Patricia Johnson, who vanished in March.
Dawn Crey and Debra Jones disappeared in 2000, while Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe, Jennifer Furminger and Wendy Crawford all went missing in 1999. Sherry Irving and Cindy Feliks both disappeared in 1997.
Angela Arseneault was a 17-year-old when she was last seen in 1994, while Leigh Miner went missing in 1993. Elsie Sebastien disappeared in 1992, although her case was reported to police only last May.
Nancy Clark, also known as Nancy Greek, was last seen in Victoria in 1991.
According to Victoria police Sergeant Don Bland, Greek did not have a connection to Vancouver, but was a sex trade worker in the capital and was last seen about midnight on Aug. 22, 1991 at the corner of Broughton and Gordon streets in Victoria.
Greek, 25 at the time, failed to return home the next day to look after her two daughters, aged eight years and eight months.
"It was the birthday of her child that day, and for a sex street worker she was a bit of a home-body. That's what was very suspicious at the start, because she would never have done that," said Bland.
The oldest case on the new list is that of Laura Mah, who went missing in August 1985, but her disappearance was not reported to police until the summer of 1999.
All but five of the new names were first reported in The Sun in September. Family members expressed concern then about how long it was taking to get police to publicize the disappearances.
Leigh Miner's sister, Erin McGrath, said other women's lives may have been saved if the Vancouver police department had followed up on her sister's disappearance more quickly.
Instead, she said she was told the VPD had lost her sister's file.
"Since my sister went missing, more than 30 women have vanished," McGrath said. "Might they have been saved if the VPD acted sooner?"
The VPD's Driemel said he doesn't know why it has taken so long to publicize the new list.
But he said the review has involved "thousands upon thousands of files. As you can see, it is a daunting task," he said.
Driemel said the review team is trying to get more money.
"These investigators would like to, of course, consider increasing their strength, their manpower, their personnel, their deployment to try to go to try and go and work a little more aggressively on the file," he said.
A tip line for the missing women task force has now been established. The number is 1-877-687-3377.
RCMP Constable Danielle Efford said the women had a common profile.
"They frequented the Downtown Eastside. They were addicted to a substance, whether it be drugs or alcohol, and the majority of them were in the sex trade business," she said.
Police have indicated there is strong possibility a serial killer may be preying on vulnerable women of the Downtown Eastside. And they have said they plan to go to Seattle as soon as possible to meet with investigators there to determine if the man arrested last week in the Green River killings might have frequented B.C.
Gary Leon Ridgway, 52, is expected to be charged today in the murders of four of the 49 victims linked to the Green River killer between 1982 and 1984. Most of the Seattle women were also prostitutes or runaways.
While some Vancouver sex trade workers have told reporters they think they may have seen Ridgway cruising the streets of the Downtown Eastside, Efford said the missing women's task force has not received a single phone call from anyone in B.C. who claims to have encountered Ridgway here.
"To this point, we don't have any information that he has been in British Columbia, but we are still looking into that," Efford said.
© Copyright2001 Vancouver Sun
B.C. task force considers adding 18 to list of missing women
Tuesday, December 4, 2001
VANCOUVER (CP) - Police are asking for more help and more money for an investigation that now includes almost four dozen women apparently missing from Vancouver's gritty Downtown Eastside.
After reviewing missing-women reports from across the province, police are considering adding 18 more women to the list of those who have disappeared from the poverty-stricken area in the last two decades, bringing the total to 45.
But they have no bodies, no crime scenes, no strong suspects and no proof that any of the missing women met with foul play.
Some of the women have been missing since 1984. Police want to hear from anyone who might know if these women are still alive.
The women police are considering adding to the list have similarities to others who have disappeared from the Downtown Eastside, said RCMP Const. Danielle Efford.
"They frequented the Downtown Eastside," Efford told a news conference Tuesday. "They were addicted to a substance, whether it be drugs or alcohol. And the majority of them were in the sex trade business."
A task force of 16 RCMP and Vancouver city police officers is investigating the disappearances.
Police said they need more funding for their investigation, which in recent months saw officers review reports of 485 missing women in British Columbia to find 18 that fit the same profile.
Police say they've looked through thousands of files and have 600 to 1,000 suspects in the missing women's cases.
Efford said those suspects are all in British Columbia files. Police have yet to look at the man recently arrested in connection with four of the 49 Green River murders in Washington state between 1982 and 1984.
Canadian police will be travelling to Seattle soon to meet with Green River investigators.
However, Efford said police don't have any information yet to suggest Gary Ridgeway has been in British Columbia.
Police will talk to American investigators soon about any possible connections, she said.
The Washington murders involved prostitutes and runaways, some as young as 12.
"That's one of the common denominators, the fact that the majority of our missing women were in the sex trade business," Efford said.
Sixty B.C. prostitutes have been murdered in the last two decades. Forty cases remain unsolved.
The joint police task force took over from a previous special unit earlier this year following repeated criticism that Vancouver city police failed to act because of the women's background as prostitutes and drug addicts.
Some family members have said police would have acted much sooner, had the women been living middle-class lives.
Toll-free telephone number for missing-women task force - 1-877-687-3377
© Copyright 2001 The Canadian Press
Police move 100 suspects to top of list
Kim Bolan, Lori Culbert and Lindsay Kines
Monday, November 26, 2001
The task force investigating the disappearance of 45 sex-trade workers from the Downtown Eastside has classified about 100 potential suspects as "high priority," The Vancouver Sun has learned.
In October, police said they had a list of 600 possible suspects that included men from across B.C. convicted of violent attacks against sex-trade workers. The task force has been prioritizing those 600 men, and those at the top of the list are getting closer scrutiny.
Investigators are looking at the number of convictions each man has for violent crimes, as well as what each potential suspect did. They are analyzing the vehicles they drive, whether they have any links to the Downtown Eastside, and when they were incarcerated.
Police say it is painstaking work. For example, officers must check corrections and parole reports to determine when suspects were in and out of prison, and compare that to the dates the women went missing.
The sheer number of men who police say may be capable of attacking sex-trade workers is staggering, and creates obvious challenges for investigators.
"What's amazed me is the amount of men and what they do to these women," said Sergeant Wayne Clary of the joint Vancouver Police-RCMP missing women task force.
He said it is impossible to know right now whether police are close to finding the man or men responsible for the disappearances of the women, who started to vanish from Vancouver's prostitution strip in 1984. "We could be, but we just don't know it."
Police have said in the past that some men convicted in connection with attacks on prostitutes could be responsible for even more incidents.
The missing women task force is trying to pinpoint suspects by compiling data on sophisticated case management software known as the Specialized Investigative Unit Support System, or SIUSS. It is the same system police used during the Abbotsford Killer case.
The software allows investigators to analyze thousands of pieces of information by entering each piece of evidence in the computer -- which can determine in seconds whether a person has surfaced previously during the case.
RCMP Inspector Keith Davidson, a psychological profiler, also hopes to use computers to assist the task force.
"The problem with investigations of this kind is, in some ways, not a shortage of suspects, but a massive amount of people that you have to consider," Davidson said. "And then, how do you winnow that down to focus on the individual?"
Davidson said geographic and psychological profilers can help by suggesting where the suspect might live or what characteristics and personality traits he might exhibit.
But the profiles often fit hundreds of people, so investigators end up acquiring databases full of information and compiling long lists of names.
The missing women case, for instance, could be linked to the unsolved murders of three sex trade workers who were found murdered in the Fraser Valley in 1995.
And police investigating those murders are considering the possibility the killer or killers were familiar with the area, either because they lived, hunted or fished in the region, or perhaps were incarcerated at one of the prisons located nearby.
As a result, investigators have put together lists of the area's voters and people who hold fishing or hunting licences.
But police have yet to figure out how to cross-reference those lists to see whose name turns up on all of them, and then determine which of those names also turns up in police, parole and corrections databases.
It's a massive logistical problem, but if Davidson finds the solution it could help investigators pare down the list of suspects.
"They do it on Star Trek really fast, but sadly we're not there yet," he said.
Finding the answer will be complicated, expensive and time-consuming. At present, Davidson is the only person assigned to the project, which is just one of many he has on his plate.
"This is something that will take a long time," he said. "We're talking in terms of months -- probably more than a calendar year."
But if it works, it could lead to improvements in the way police catch killers, just as the Clifford Olson child killer case prompted RCMP to create the Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System (ViCLAS) -- a computer database that alerts police if a number of crimes appear to have been committed by the same person.
Davidson, who helped develop ViCLAS, hopes to make a similar breakthrough again.
"It's been something we've been discussing for a long time and this was a catalyst to try and move forward on it because of the particular needs of this project," Davidson said.
"But we know there are other projects that also have the same need."
© Copyright2001 Vancouver Sun
More women featured in new poster
Monday, November 26, 2001
A police task force investigating the disappearances of women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is expected to release a new poster within two weeks of 18 more women who have vanished.
RCMP Sergeant Wayne Clary said the new names on the poster will bring the total number of missing women cases being investigated by the task force to 45, which is the number first reported in The Vancouver Sun in September.
Two years ago, Vancouver police released a reward poster with the names of 31 women, most of whom were involved in drugs and the sex trade, who had disappeared from the Downtown Eastside.
Four of those women were found alive, but the other 27 files were handed over to an RCMP review team last spring that has come up with the additional 18 cases now being investigated by the joint RCMP-Vancouver police task force.
Clary outlined the status of the investigation to about 55 relatives of the missing women who attended a four-hour information meeting in Surrey on Sunday. It was the second meeting in two months that police had organized for the relatives.
He said many of the families had travelled from outside the Lower Mainland, including one family that flew in from Ontario.
"People were very supportive. We talked about different things and where we are going and what we want to do and just reinforced that it is not a quick fix," Clary said.
The new poster will ask for the public's assistance in finding out what happened to the 18 women. Police are also expected to set up a tip line in the coming weeks.
Clary said the task force is up to 14 investigators and five clerks, some of whom are starting work today.
"We are well on our way, we know where we need to go and we are going there. That is not to say we are going to get there quickly, but we are going there," Clary said.
Sunday's meeting was also attended by several Vancouver police officers who answered questions about their investigation, which a Sun investigation found had been hampered by a lack of resources, inexperience and in-fighting.
Sandra Gagnon, whose sister Janet Henry is among the missing, said she generally found Sunday's meeting positive and hopes the renewed police effort will bring closure.
"Maybe some day we will finally get some answers," Gagnon said.
© Copyright2001 Vancouver Sun
Book chronicles disappearances in Canada's poorest postal code
Sunday, November 25, 2001
VANCOUVER (CP) - They were there and then they were gone. There are no bodies, no crime scenes, no clues as to what happened to 27 women who have disappeared from the underworld of drug addiction and prostitution in Vancouver's downtown eastside.
So far, answers have eluded police but in his recently released book Bad Date, author Trevor Greene offers some possibilities about not only where they ended up, but how they got there.
Over two years, Greene spent just about every day in the impoverished neighbourhood, eventually earning the trust of prostitutes, police and the families left behind.
He paints a graphic picture of life in the 's most drug-addicted neighbourhood.
"What I was shocked at is the violence that is perpetrated on these women by normal, everyday johns every single day," Greene said in an interview.
"You get guys who go down there not for sex but for violence."
Against this desolate backdrop, the disappearances are not surprising. Some women weren't reported missing for years.
There are 16 RCMP and Vancouver city police investigating the disappearances.
They have reviewed reports of 485 missing women in B.C. and found 18 that fit the same profile.
"We anticipate adding some new names (to the missing list) but we're not at that point yet," said RCMP spokesman Const. Danielle Efford.
The nature of life on the downtown eastside makes residents easy prey.
"They're in and out of rehab, they're in and out of jail," Greene said. "They're going up to somewhere in the Interior, they're going to Winnipeg. . . . They're on the move all the time, they never stop."
In the book, published by ECW Press, Greene ponders what could have happened to these women.
Have some died aboard freighter ships while servicing foreign crews? Did they fall prey to sexual sadists known to police? Have American serial killers crossed the border for their murderous sprees?
"I think a serial killer is knocking them all off," one woman tells Greene, after recounting a beating she suffered at the hands of a violent john.
Of the many prostitutes Greene spoke to, every single one had been beaten up, brutalized or raped.
Sixty B.C. prostitutes have been murdered in the past two decades. Forty cases remain unsolved.
A $100,000 reward for information on each of the women hasn't helped locate them.
Pat deVries, whose daughter Sarah has been missing since April 1998, tells Greene these women didn't choose to live that way.
"She desperately wanted out, but was unable to break free," she says in the book. "Heroin and cocaine owned her. I knew her as a very caring person who was tormented by her life on the eastside."
Sarah deVries' friend, Wayne Leng, hopes the book will keep the women in the public eye.
"There's not a day that doesn't go by that I don't think about Sarah, think about what's happened," he said in an interview.
Leng, who maintains a Web site on the missing women, said he spoke to Greene because he wants people to know the human stories of these women.
"They weren't throw-aways. They were good people."
Greene said he started out believing many of the women had simply escaped the drug scene. He no longer does.
Sandra Gagnon, whose sister Janet Henry was reported missing in June 1997, says she dreams of her sister still.
"I honestly don't think I'll have peace until we find Janet's remains and bring her home," she tells Greene.
Greene is hopeful that will happen.
"Something has to turn up," he said "It's so difficult to vanish. It's so difficult not to be found."
© Copyright 2001 The Canadian Press
Bad Date, The lost girls of Vancouver's Low Track
Updated: August 21, 2016